Monthly Archives: February 2014

NC Road Trip: Tail of the Dragon – Two More Runs

Having just had a small taste of what it was like driving the Tail of the Dragon in 2005, I knew I needed more.  So when my wife and I were looking for a place to get away to for Labor Day weekend 2006, I of course suggested driving the Dragon.  This was the same wife who had just the year before, flatly declined this suggestion.  But things were different this year for a number of reasons.

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One of which was in April of 2006, I purchased a Mini Cooper S.  I still had my red Miata but now I also had a more comfortable car for my wife to ride in.  And since it was a hardtop, there was no chance of me suggesting to drive with the top down.  My wife found and booked us a cabin at the historic Tapoco Lodge—one of the lodging sites for Miatas at the Gap and for a similar gathering of Minis, Minis on the Dragon.  With arrangements set, we set out on our weekend adventure.

This was the first road trip in the Mini and I must say it was most comfortable—but this coming from someone who had been driving a Miata for almost 10 years.  Nonetheless, the almost daylong interstate drive from Memphis was pleasant, but the highlight of the day was the Dragon.  With the fun of my first Dragon experience still in my mind, I took the curves in the little Mini with similar delight.  But while the Miata drive was a fun wind-in-your-hair roller coaster ride, the Mini was an incredible go cart ride over the 318 curves.  And with 30 more horsepower than the Miata, it shot out of one turn and into another with ease, the whine of the supercharger adding a delightful auditory backdrop to the road.

Since it was getting late in the day and my wife had been in the car all day, we decided to make our way to our lodging for the evening.  On the way, we passed a familiar looking dam.  Turns out, it was the one Harrison Ford (or more likely his double) actually jumped from in the movie, Fugitive.

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The next day, we explored the area visiting the Fontana Dam and discovering the Appalachian Trail (AT) actually ran right across the top of the dam.  Since my wife has had for some time, the desire to hike the AT, we had to capture her photo on the trail.

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Since we weren’t going to have time to make it onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP), we left the Tapoco Lodge and headed for the Cherohala Skyway on our return trip home.

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This road, which was just completed in 1996, was definitely a worthy cousin to the BRP.  Although it didn’t soar to the same heights as the BRP, it still offered fantastic views of the Smokey Mountains.  And similar to the BRP, it is just a two-lane road designed for easy driving while taking in the majestic mountains.

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As we returned to interstate driving on our way home, I was again saddened that the fun-driving roads were behind us.  My second road trip had certainly given me more than just that first taste, but I knew I wasn’t satiated.  There would need to be more.

And more came the next year in 2007 when we decided to vacation in the Asheville area.  For this trip, our daughter travelled with us since she just happened to be in town.  This time, we left early enough in the morning so that we would get to the Dragon with plenty of daylight left.  As we neared the beginning of the Dragon, I noticed something I had never seen before—a parking lot full of police and state troopers less than a mile from the beginning of the Dragon.

I tried to put this out of my mind as I began to take the curves.  It was another exhilarating experience, at least for me—my wife and daughter will have to speak for themselves.

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When we got to the end, my wife and daughter suggested they would hang out at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort while I ran the course again.

This was the first time for me to drive the Dragon by myself; and the first time for me to drive it South to North.  Without fear of scaring my passengers to death, I took the curves with even more speed and aggression.  On one particular curve, just as my tires began to squeal around the corner, I saw one of the policemen with a radar gun.  Fortunately he had it pointed in the opposite direction.  When he heard my tires, he turned to look in my direction but since I had managed to slow down quickly, he just shook his finger at me like a naughty boy.

I finished the run at the northern end of the Dragon and turned around to go back.   I unfortunately had to drive back past that same policeman to get back to Deal’s Gap to pick up my wife and daughter waiting at the restaurant.  I don’t know if he recognized me as the same car that had just received the shaking-finger warning but I do know that I was certainly saved that day from getting a speeding ticket.

During this trip, I also got to visit Montreat and got my picture driving through the Montreat gate, this time in the Mini and with no rain.

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And on our return home, I convinced my wife and daughter to take the BRP south of Asheville for the first leg of our trip, which gave me a chance to drive this picturesque road one more time and to get a shot of the Mini at the highest point on the BRP (Note for you detail-oriented people, Mt. Mitchell, at 6,683 feet is actually the highest peak East of the Mississippi River but it is not on the BRP, just accessible from the BRP).

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As we got back onto the interstate after the BRP ended, I felt much more satisfied.  On my third trip here, I had gotten to make multiple runs on the Dragon and spend more time driving the BRP in another fun little sports car.  But little did I know that my future held even more exciting trips for both the Dragon and the BRP.

NC Road Trip: Tail of the Dragon – First Experience

Cold wintery weather makes me long for warm summer days when I can drive with the top down in my little red sports car.

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And it was a warm August in 2005 when I got my first chance to experience the fun little road in eastern Tennessee—Tail of the Dragon.  I first learned about this highway that brags of 318 curves in just 11 miles in one of my car magazines.  The article featured a weekend Miata gathering—Miatas at the Gap—that included photos of Miatas everywhere on this road that runs along the western edge of the Great Smokey Mountains.

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When I first approached my wife about the idea of taking a trip to drive this road she had no interest.  While she thoroughly enjoys taking trips, it is the destination that interests her, not the driving itself, which would be the focus of this trip.  I mentioned the idea to my sister who happened to live in Memphis at the time and when we discussed this idea along with a visit to Montreat, a special place for us growing up, she was sold.  We made our plans and soon took off.

When we left home the weather was nice for almost a daylong interstate drive.   Once we were close to Knoxville, we pulled over and put the top down.  From there, it was a relatively short drive to the beginning of the Dragon.

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Having owned and enjoyed a Miata for almost 10 years, I had never experienced anything like driving it on this road.  With a grin on my face and a short laugh at almost every curve, I zoomed over the too short 11 miles in no time.  At one point as I was weaving up and down from one curve to the next, I literally felt we were on a roller coaster ride.  When we got to the end of the road right at the North Carolina state line and pulled to a stop, my sister admitted she had been scared to death the whole time but that it was so much fun, she would do it again.  Unfortunately, we still had to reach our final destination for the day—Asheville, NC—so we continued on our way satisfied that we had survived our first encounter with the Dragon.

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Once my sister was no longer fearing for her life, she—who is quite the photographer in her own right—became my personal paparazzi for the rest of the trip snapping pictures left and right while I drove.

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Once we neared Asheville, the weather took a turn for the worse and sadly we had to put the top up due to the rain.

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The next day, we made our way to Montreat, my enticement to get my sister to come along.  But the rain followed us there as well.

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Nestled among several mountains, rain is not uncommon in Montreat; it’s just when you only have one day out of 365 to be there, it seems it could have held off.  But undeterred, we snapped away photos as we dodged the raindrops.

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And upon leaving, my sister even agreed to stand in the rain and get my shot driving through the well-known Montreat gate.

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Our next excursion for our road trip was to hop onto the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) and take in some of the sights we had so often seen growing up.  As we began our ascent up the BRP, the rain held off and the mountains living true to their name stood majestically among the smoky-looking clouds.

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As we made our way up the winding roads, my sister would agree to jump out and get a shot of me in the car on a particularly pretty stretch.  My intent was not just to get shots of the Smoky Mountains but of me in my little red car with the mountains as the backdrop.

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As we emerged from one tunnel on the BRP, the weather immediately changed and became not just cloudy, but rainy as well.

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As we neared our ultimate destination, Mt. Mitchell—tallest mountain east of the Mississippi River and site of many cookouts growing up—the rain really began to come down and visibility was essentially nil as we were right in the middle of a rain cloud.  But my sister willingly braved the cold and rain to snap some shots of me in the car.

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I must say that my sister was really a good sport when it came to driving with the top down.  For anyone who has a convertible knows, we will endure almost any poor weather to get to drive with the top down.  And my sister never complained although we did have to stop to buy her a hoodie when it got rather chilly on the BRP.

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The last day of our trip, I suggested we take the BRP south of Asheville as the first leg of our return home to experience a little more fun on the road.  We loaded up on coffee and began our ascent of the BRP.

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The Smoky Mountains again lived true to their name as we got some of the best photos of our trip, and with no rain.

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As we neared the end of the BRP at milepost 469, I knew that this road trip had just given me a small taste of the exhilarating experience of driving the BRP and the Tail of the Dragon in a fun little sports car.  I knew there would have to be more; and there would be!

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One Year

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Happy Birthday!  It has been one year to the day since I first published my blog post.  I must say it was my daughter and my wife—both who blog—that served as the inspiration for me to start this blog.  And since that day, I have been coming to you every Sunday morning with stories and photos, wit and revelations.  I started writing this blog to tell some stories to my kids and family.  And along the way, I picked up some other followers.  I hope all of my readers have enjoyed the year.

So why Sunday morning?

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Well it is in honor of my Dad. He was a Presbyterian minister and for over 40 years, he brought his message to his church members on Sunday mornings.  My Dad touched many lives during his lifetime, not just in his Sunday morning sermons but in the many things he did to serve his church, a life for which I am most proud (A Glimpse of My Dad).  So I thought I would try to bring my messages to you in the same tradition, every Sunday morning.

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I set out to tell my story and at the same time learn some things about myself.  I especially wanted to write down important memories I had before I lost them.  So that in the future, my kids would have a place to go to find the answer to a question they may have about events long ago.  I’m fortunate my own parents wrote down their story and gave it to each of us.  During the year, I’ve also had a chance to share some fresh memories that were worth saving as well.

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On more than one occasion I’ve mentioned that I am a scientist so I know the English scholars out there may find my writing grammatically lacking.  I have had the wonderful assistance of my wife, an excellent proofreader so whatever errors remain undetected, I must take full responsibility for those.  Hopefully these remaining errors have not diminished your reading of these posts.

As I mentioned in my very first blog post, my hope was that you, my reader would learn some things about yourself also.  So often, it is in reading someone else’s words that we make a discovery—sometimes an important one—about ourselves.    And while I know none of my writing will ever win a literary award, if it has touched your life in some way, or helped you to learn something about yourself, then that is award enough for me, an award I know my dad received many times during his lifetime.

While I have come to you every Sunday morning for a year, I must admit it sometimes has been challenging.  Going forward, I may miss a Sunday every once and a while, but not because I am playing hooky, it’s just my other life’s responsibilities may preclude me from achieving my weekly goal.  But if you don’t find a new post one Sunday morning, check back the next Sunday because I don’t intend for two weeks to go by without my bringing you some message.

Here’s to another year of blogging!

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Mom & Dad’s Wedding Anniversary

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Tuesday February 4th is my parents wedding anniversary.  And this year would have been their 65th anniversary.  But sadly, they are not still alive to celebrate it.  I started thinking about this upcoming milestone recently when I realized that it was January exactly 15 years ago that my mom went into the hospital for the last time.  My mom had been in and out of the hospital for the last several years of her life so it didn’t necessarily come as a surprise when she was hospitalized.  What was unexpected was how it ended.

My mother was diabetic for a large part of her adult life.  As she got older, she suffered as many diabetics do from foot problems due to nerve damage and reduced blood flow to the feet.  And it was a foot problem that sent her to the hospital this last time.

Following an examination, the prognosis was not good; irreversible damage had been done to her toe and it was going to have to be removed.  So on February 4th 1999—their 50th wedding anniversary—Mom went into surgery to have it removed.  I wasn’t at the hospital with them that day so I don’t know if they had a quick toast to their 50 years of marriage together but I do know my dad was truly living that declaration that all married couples state—in sickness and in health.

The surgery that day was successful but upon follow-up, further damage to her foot was uncovered that led to more surgery.  It seemed as if the infection that had started in her toe was eating away at her almost like a cancer and Mom ultimately died of septicemia at 11:00 PM on April 12th 1999.

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And it was less than three years later that Dad also died from melanoma (A Glimpse of My Dad).

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Fortunately my parents thought ahead before these fateful events took both their lives.  Recognizing that the middle of winter would not be a good time to try to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with us four kids spread all over the country, they planned a celebration for the summer of 1998 at a location that was special to all of us—Asheville, NC.

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Seated at the Grove Park Inn, it was indeed a celebration with us four siblings present along with our spouses, almost all our children and some lifelong friends of Mom and Dad.

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The four of us each wrote toasts to our parents and read them out to everyone at the dinner.

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I kept a copy of my toast in the inside pocket of the suit jacket I wore that day but sadly the suit has long since been donated and despite diligent searching through old files and old computers, I could not find a copy.  While I don’t recall the actual words I read, I know it was a tribute to Mom and Dad along with some humorous stories of how I had interacted with them over the years growing up.

Mom and Dad truly set an example of a long-term marriage and relationship together.

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On this day, it is with sadness that I reflect on the death of my parents.  But it is truly a blessing when I can think of the celebration of their life together and the family they jointly created.  It was the union of these two young 22 year olds 65 years ago that brought all of us together on that sunny August day in 1998.

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Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!