I have written a number of times before about the trips I take with all three of my siblings that we refer to as SibSab (Sibling Sabbatical), as well as the trips I take with just my brother, which we call our BroGo (Brothers Going Places).
Now I get to share another type of trip with you, one which I took with my oldest sister at the beginning of May and which I have started referring to as SisGo.
I chose not to title this post the first SisGo since it was actually in 2005 when I took my first road trip with my other sister (NC Road Trip). The occasion then was to experience the Tail of the Dragon for the first time and then to drive to our favorite vacation place, Montreat. When I asked my wife if she wanted to go, she declined once I explained that it was mostly a trip about driving. But when I told my sister, who lived in Memphis at the time, about the idea, she willingly accepted.
So, the genesis for this most recent trip with my oldest sister was once again prompted by my desire to run the Tail of the Dragon with my newest sports car.
I had been thinking about taking this trip ever since I retired in 2017 but then last year when my sister was looking for motivation to accomplish a health goal, I offered to take her along at my expense as incentive for her to reach her goal. She got busy working towards her goal and I got busy planning the trip.
When the day came, we set off early one Wednesday morning to drive the almost 400 miles from my home to reach the Tail of the Dragon. This short stretch of US 129 in eastern Tennessee boasts 318 curves in just 11 miles (which prompted its name). It probably seems crazy to drive 400 miles just so that you can run an 11 mile stretch but for someone who loves to drive, it is all worth it.
Most of the time, I had a child-like smile on my face as I ran through the gears decelerating and then accelerating through the curves. I could tell when I was driving a little too enthusiastically as out of the corner of my eye, I could see my sister tightly clinching the armrest or reaching up for the roof grab handle. But when we got to the section that mimics a roller-coaster ride, she enjoyed it. Afterwards, she admitted that she would be willing to run it again, just not on this trip.
We ended our first day with a delicious dinner of rainbow trout sitting next to a rushing stream on the porch of an historic lodge at the end of the Tail.
For our second day, we visited Cherokee, NC, an Indian reservation we often drove through on our way to Montreat, followed by a traditional lunch of Indian fry bread taco.
Then it was more fun driving, this time on the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). In 2010, I attempted to drive the entire 469 miles of the BRP, but the last 70 miles was closed for repairs. So, this time we started at the end of the BRP and drove it up to Asheville.
We got lots of great mountainous photos and although I had last driven this section in 2006, it was my sister’s first time to view some of the BRP’s most scenic overlooks.
Our ultimate destination that day was a cabin rental in Black Mountain, NC, just a short distance from Montreat. This would be our headquarters for the next four days. Our dinner that night was delicious pizza, mine being a Mexican version in celebration of Cinco de Mayo.
Friday, we spent most of the day at Biltmore, a place we had both been to before but one we longed returning to after reading this book and learning so much about the house and Vanderbilt family.
My mom always told the story when I was just a young boy of going up to one of the lions guarding the front of the house and saying, “good doggie.” Naturally we had to capture a retake of that moment.
Tickets for the tour, while not inexpensive, seemed worth it given the additional rooms of the house opened up on the tour since our last visit. And the audio guide took us on a fun route using period staff characters as they walked us on the tour just as if we were visiting at the time the Vanderbilt family was still in residence. I was so into the storyline that by the time we made it to the bowling alley in the basement, it made me want to throw down the gauntlet and bowl a few strikes.
For my birthday, my sister took me to a delicious buffet lunch at one of the estate restaurants…
…and afterwards we took in a wine tasting at their winery housed in the former dairy barn.
Saturday, we predominately spent the day in Montreat, one of our main purposes for the trip. We drove up to the spot where we always used to camp…
…and passed by other favorite spots from our childhood. Then it was time to just sit on the porch overlooking the waterfall from Lake Susan, enjoy the symphony of the crashing water, and read a good book. A late afternoon thunder shower while sitting on the porch provided the typical ambience we often experienced growing up there.
Sunday, I would have to say, turned into a very enjoyable serendipitous day. Many of the places where we wanted to eat were not open and some of the places, we wanted to visit were so crowded, we could not even find a place to park. On a whim, I tried to book a brewery tour at the recently opened (2016) New Belgium Brewery. We were in luck with two remaining spots available for the 1:30 tour.
It was an absolutely fun 90-minute tour with several good tastings and lots of interesting facts about this fairly young company. What other company has a Director of Fun and provides a looping 2-story slide down to the brewing floor?
We then made our way back into downtown Asheville (where we couldn’t find a place to park earlier) and pulled up in front of the Grove Arcade just as someone was vacating their parking spot. My sister had never been there before, and she was duly impressed. Although I had been there before, I unexpectedly found the exact Christmas present I had been looking for to give my wife for the past two years.
This was followed up with another delicious dinner, tasty salmon cakes.
It was sad to leave on Monday morning and kiss the mountains goodbye. I did provide my sister one last taste of the mountains taking a short detour up the Foothills Parkway to capture one last glance of the Smoky Mountains.
Overall, it was a great trip! We got to visit some of the places we always went on vacation growing up but got to do some new things as well. We got to eat some great meals; photos provided in honor of our mom who would have loved to see them. And we got to spend a lot of time with each other, probably more than since we were still living at home together so many years ago. Of course, back then we occasionally fought; but not this time!!