A couple of weeks ago, Jason and I took a much needed break from the kids and headed to the mountains. It was four glorious nights without children. My parents took them from Sunday evening through Thursday morning.
Sunday night, we just cleaned (surprise!) and got things done around the house. I think both Jason and I find it a lot easier to relax while we are away if we know that we are coming home to clean house. There are also always so many things that need to be done at home (hanging a new towel rack, putting out the bird feeder, etc) that always go undone. It is so nice to catch up a bit.
Before we had children, if we traveled, we always flew. So we would go on more distant vacations and trips for triathlons. We never explored our state at all, and we had never been to the beach or the mountains here (or really even driven past Raleigh). Of course, now we are regular visitors of the beach (twice each summer), but it was due time to explore the mountains.
Monday morning, we left fairly early for Asheville after "sleeping in" until about 8 and having a leisurely breakfast at home. We arrived at our "Heavenly Hideaway", and it was perfect. It is a beautiful log cabin (though that makes it sounds much more rustic than it actually was) in the mountains. It has gorgeous vaulted wood ceilings and log beams, a perfect kitchen for two, a swing on the balcony outside and a hot tub under the stars. It was absolutely perfect for us.
The first thing we did was to lace on our hiking shoes and explore the land around the cabin. It is laced with artistic touches and wooden characters like this one:
There is a small pond with a paddle boat and a field of blueberries. We stopped to sample some blueberries and made our way up the nearby mountain. On our way up, we came across a couple of wild turkeys. We were on the lookout for a black bear that the owner said had been spotted on her land 3 times in the last few weeks, but it apparently wasn't too hungry that afternoon.
The map said that this trip should take about an hour and a half. We did it in about 40 minutes and were very proud of ourselves. :) At the top of the mountain, there was a little mailbox with a guest book to sign. Here we are at the top:
It became immediately clear on this hike that rhododendrons are in bloom this time of year. They were everywhere. I also found out during our trip that they are called mountain laurel.
That evening, we also went to explore downtown Asheville, which was very interesting. It is certainly the crunchiest city I have ever been to in North Carolina. There are lots of yogis and dreadlocks and vegan restaurants. It was a fun change of pace. We tried a couple local restaurants that were pretty good, but I think we preferred the mountains to the city. Though there was the French Broad Chocolate Lounge… pretty sure I could visit that place every day and never tire of it. Who doesn't love a chocolate lounge?
On Tuesday, we took the Blue Ridge Parkway to the top of Mount Mitchell. The peak is at 6,684 feet, and it is the highest point east of the Mississippi River. The views from the top were incredible. We thought we were going to hike around 11 miles. After we got started, it became abundantly clear that we were not going to make it that far. We were stepping up and down steps that were 2-3 feet high and crossing small streams and walking on slippery walks. It was incredibly fun, but a more much technical hike than we had anticipated. I had actually asked Jason earlier in the morning if he wanted to try to run it. I don't think so.
I was surprised to find that the top of Mt. Mitchell is a rain forest. It's not tropical, but it's a rain forest. It is absolutely covered in moss and ferns… incredibly beautiful. The trees are mostly spruces and firs and it's like walking through a huge natural Christmas tree farm. The air was so damp and cool and refreshing. It was a perfect day for a hike. We didn't come across any black bears, but we did startle some ruffled grouse. Sun and clouds and streams and tennis shoes and my fun husband… just a great day.
At the very end, we raced each other to the very peak of Mt. Mitchell. Jason won, of course. And then we were attacked by an incredible swarm of these tiny black bugs. I mean they were everywhere. They were all over the sidewalk and handrails and all over the people at the top. That was unfortunate, but entertaining. It was actually kind of gross, so we snapped a couple pictures and ran back down to the car.
The hike was definitely my favorite part of the trip. We would do that again in a heartbeat. Next time, I would wear our hiking boots instead of tennis shoes, though. It was very wet and slippery and boots would have been more appropriate.
After our hike, we ate at the restaurant at the top and rested our legs for a while before heading back down.
On our last morning at the Heavenly Hideaway, we gathered our own eggs from the chicken coop for breakfast. I have to say that they were dirtier than I had anticipated. But it was still really cool to eat straight from a coop, and to take a few dozen home with us as well.
We packed up our bags and headed over to the Biltmore Estate. We had been on the fence about visiting because of the expensive tickets, but we were gifted a couple tickets by someone at our church (Thank you, Bonnie!), and I'm so glad we went.
Jason and I had not been there before, and we were shocked at the opulence. This truly was the closest thing I have ever seen to European castles in America. They spared no expense. 250 rooms and thousands of acres of land with beautiful gardens. We did the audio tour, which was was informative and interesting. After that, we walked around the gardens for a while. I would have loved to have looked at the gardens longer, but it was about 95 degrees and we had gotten a late start, so we cut that a bit short.
Before heading back to Raleigh, we made one final stop at 12 Bones Smokehouse. The ribs were very good and it was the perfect way to round off our wonderful weekend away.
I have not yet mentioned that on our way to Asheville (about a 4-hour drive), Jason's air conditioner went out on his car. So we drove 4 hours in about 95 degrees with no air conditioner. It was hot and uncomfortable, but still totally worth the 2 nights away, just the two of us.
Thanks for the amazing trip, Jason! And thanks for keeping the kiddos for us, Mom and Dad! I look forward to doing this more often in the future. Hawaii, here we come! ;)