A Masshole Visits America: Asheville
I hit the road to find America, and just over the Tennessee border, I found it.
Photos by Colin Kingsbury
Continuing its standard operating procedure of banning everything that’s fun (happy hour, smoking, moshing), Massachusetts is one of just four states that bans any and all consumer fireworks. Among connoisseurs of things that can remove fingers faster than a chainsaw, Tennessee’s reputation for selling the most dangerous (read: fun) stuff you can get without a license makes it something like Abdul Qadeer Khan’s nuclear secret-of-the-month club. Where New Hampshire has liquor stores near every border, the Volunteer State welcomes you with a bang. Literally. As in, this place must look like Fallujah from the air on any holiday. For scale, this fireworks “supermarket” is about the size of a decent car dealership.
I briefly contemplated lashing several mortar tubes to my Miata’s rear-view mirror to dispatch with wayward bicyclists or cell phone-addled SUV drivers, but chose to rely on stealth and agility as I rolled on towards Asheville. To make time I’d switched back onto the interstate, but here the roads wound up and down the Great Smoky Mountains at inclines of up to 10 percent grade, which is getting into intermediate territory for a New England ski slope, so they were hardly dull driving.
Arriving in Asheville, I checked into the Hotel Indigo, a sleek modern boutique hotel where the concierge cheerfully informed me that Asheville was the “first foodtopian city” with exclusively locally-owned restaurants serving locally-sourced cuisine, as well as “beertopia” (the source of this honorific was unclear, but apparently they had a lot of local breweries and bars with large beer lists), and there was a rapidly-growing number of chocolatiers to boot, though it did not yet seem to meet the bar for “chocolatopia.” I inquired where I might find a laundromat, and she directed me to one called Bar of Soap, which inlcuded a bar offering almost two dozen craft brews—all in cans!—along with the washers and dryers. I walked up to the counter and asked if they sold detergent. The cashier/bartender handed me a mason jar and said, “we make our own.”
But if the hipster affectations made the place initially seem like Dixie Does Davis (Square), I couldn’t quite muster the bile to feel annoyed. The people were friendly, the quality of everything was high, and I knew I wasn’t in Boston when I ordered a pint of good beer and a shot of Beam and got change back from a ten. The downtown area is dense and easily walkable, and with a large number of galleries, boutiques, and live-music venues, it could easily make for a solid long weekend at a significant discount compared to a place next to an ocean.
I left the next morning bound for Atlanta, which is perhaps the only city in the U.S. I truly, actively dislike. It’s perpetually traffic-bound (even airplanes get caught in it), everybody who can lives in gated communities for fear of robbers and muggers, and there’s something about the people there that just rubs me the wrong way. I’m sure they think I’m a regular peach, too. But I had a friend to visit there, and the relatively short distance allowed for a slight detour to the town of Highlands, a hideout deep in the Nantahala National Forest, where I’d heard there were some pretty waterfalls that made for a nice afternoon hike.
The past couple days had taken me through some famously serpentine roads, but the drive up to Highlands put them all to shame, with a path that snaked through a deep wooded ravine, looking like a diagram of the small intestine. The forest was lush, and the creek that wound through it alternated between quiet pools and waterfalls, including one you could not just see from the road—you could drive behind it.
Even after the Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenery here was downright stunning. After passing through town, I pulled off into the Glen Falls trailhead. As hikes go, it’s like eating your dessert first, as the trail drops 700 feet in just over a mile, and takes you past three pretty cascades. Going down is easy, but then you have to walk all the way back up, and to put that in perspective, try standing at Kenmore looking at the top of the Hancock Tower—now imagine walking up a staircase to the roof of the building. Had I thought about it that way, I’d probably have turned around at the second waterfall, which was the prettiest one anyway.
Distance Driven: 455 miles
Waterfalls driven behind: 1
Waterfalls driven over: 0
Vertical feet ascended on foot: 700
Calories burned: ~500
Episodes of heat exhaustion suffered: 1, possible
Calories consumed in foodtopia/beertopia: 5000, at least