We left Asheville and drove up over the Appalachian Mountains along Interstate 26, passing through Sam’s Gap at 3,760 feet above sea level. We stopped at a “Scenic Overlook” along the highway, and looked back at the Great Smoky Mountains, mysterious and blue behind us.
The peaks around us were obscured by low drifting clouds. “They shouldn’t be called the Great Smoky Mountains,” Carol said. “They should call them the Misty Mountains.” I agreed.
The rest of the drive to Alexandria wasn’t particularly notable: we just drove through Western Virginia, turned east, and watched as the population density crept up and up, until at last we were in Alexandria. We sat up late talking with a college friend of Carol’s who works for Pew Charitable Trust, doing research on American religion. He said that Pew Charitable Trust, which has long been known for its helpful mix of quantitative and qualitative research, will be de-emphasizing qualitative research and focusing almost exclusively on quantitative research. I told him why I thought that was a bad idea, and he wisely did not engage with me. Instead, he and Carol talked about old college friends while his wife and I listened and enjoyed their stories.
Yesterday evening and this morning we had to complete some necessary tasks — do the laundry, get the oil changed in the car, and so on. We grabbed a quick and unexciting lunch in a fast food place in Alpharetta, then started driving north.
Pretty soon we were in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the highest mountains in North America east of the Mississippi River. Compared to the mountains in California, these are not high mountains — the highest is Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina, at 6,684 feet — but they are just as beautiful. Perhaps they are more beautiful, because they are greener and shaped in more interesting ways by glaciers, and because the air here has more moisture which lends a mysterious bluish cast to objects in the distance, and because the weather is more variable at any season, with passing sunshine and rain showers and thunder showers and mist and fog in the summer, and snow and sleet and hail and hail and freezing rain and even occasional sunshine at other times of the year. And as a result of all that variable precipitation, everything is so brilliantly green.
Above: the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, from U.S. 23
After driving through thunder and lightning and showers and downpours and sunshine on winding and sometimes steep mountain highways, we arrived in Asheville, N.C., where we are staying in a 1930s-era motor court, where each of the bedrooms is a little log cabin — not a conventionally-framed building with fake log cabin siding, but an actual log cabin. When you stay in an actual log cabin, the first thing you want to do is get out your guitar and sit in the rocking chair on the front porch, and play a little something while you rock back and forth.
But it looked like it was going to rain, so we walked down to the Bavarian restaurant at the entrance to the motor court, and had some gourmet turkey bratwurst.