North Carolina or Bust!
by Ruby Bayan
Memorial Day gave the residents of America a much anticipated 3-day weekend -- a breather, and a chance to hit the road.
Not exactly thrilled over the prospect of standing by the water cooler with no Memorial Day escapade to share, Mike and I decided to pack an overnight bag, load the camera, and roll out of Florida.
Where to go... hmm. It had been some time since we've inhaled mountain air. And this past year, the closest we got to being "one with nature" was when we took the Safari Ride in Disney's Animal Kingdom. It was time to go up to the mountains again. Our destination, the famous Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina.
We highlighted the I-95/I-26 route from Orlando FL to Asheville NC on the map, packed the cooler with ice and cold drinks, and loaded a full tank. We put on our shades, turned the stereo volume all the way, and sped up to 70 miles per hour. We took off under the noonday sun, and figured we'd be at the exit to the Blue Ridge Parkway by 9 PM.
The highways weren't as jammed as we thought. The weather was beautiful, we had assorted snacks in the back seat, and the Grand Am drove smooth all the way. We made a couple of stops to fill up, and stretched our legs in those strategically located rest areas (I always wondered why every time I felt the urge to visit the john, we'd shortly pass a sign that says "Rest Area 1 Mile". Uncanny!).
Although we were just passing through, we stopped at the state line crossing between Jacksonville and Brunswick, and took a picture beside the sign post that said "Welcome! We're glad Georgia's on your mind!" A few more miles along the shoreline led to Savannah, where we bid goodbye to Georgia and said hello to South Carolina.
Cutting westward through Columbia, we approached Spartanburg where, finally, the road started to show some serious upward contour. It was a little past 8 when we entered North Carolina. We decided to have dinner in the heart of Asheville, but we soon realized that everyone else had the same idea.
All the restaurants had people outside waiting to be seated, so we drove back towards the highway for a quick meal at a Denny's or a Cracker Barrel. But bless the stars, we caught a fantastic Japanese place called Tomo, where we feasted on our favorite sushi. The trip was excellent, so far. We didn't expect what we had to deal with next.
By the time we finished our teriyaki, Mike and I wanted only two things: a hot shower and a warm bed. Exhausted from the 9-hour drive, we headed for the nearest Hampton Inn. It was fully booked. So was the Holiday Inn, the Comfort Inn, the Quality Inn, and all the other inns nearby! We started to get nervous.
We quickly drove to the next exit, hoping to find another clump of hotels that would have one vacant room for our tired bones. No luck. We drove to the next exit and the next, moving farther and farther away from Asheville. We hadn't anticipated this at all! No, we didn't make reservations, because we've done walk-ins many times before -- well, ok, not on a 3-day weekend.
Two hours and six exits later, when we were starting to resign ourselves to spending the night in a rest area, we noticed a sign that said "Heavenly View Motel - Truckers Welcome." Mike looked at me and said, "You want to try this?" Between sleeping in a rest area and a truckers' motel, I'd take the motel anytime.
I think we woke up the proprietor (it was almost midnight) but he was glad to take us in. Obviously, he knew that all the hotels would be fully booked that weekend, and some stragglers would end up in his motel, so his room price wasn't exactly "the usual." Nevertheless, Mike and I were just happy we could finally get a bath and a good night's sleep.
We woke up the next morning to a beautiful sunrise -- fresh mountain air and a hint of fog drifting over the 3-D layers of hills of varying shades of green and blue. It was, indeed, a heavenly view! After coffee and left-over sushi for breakfast (you should try that sometime!), we checked out of Heavenly View and attended to what we thought was the first order of the day -- check into a hotel for an ensured lodging that night.
All settled, we jumped back into the car and drove off to marvel at the stretch of Blue Ridge Parkway leading to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park at the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. The sights were incredible! But that's another story.