North Carolina

My Epic Journey: One Year Later

Have a good trip AVERY

Well, tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of the start of my Epic Journey.  One year ago, I pulled out of the driveway in search of God, inner peace, purpose and a new way of life.  As I look back on the ideals I had before I left, I think how foolish I was.  I expected this trip around the country to change my life and change me as a person.  My life has changed as have I as a person, but not because of the physicality of driving around from state to state.  Seeing the largest ball of yarn or the ocean, those things did not create the change I am experiencing today.  It was wonderful to see all the things I saw but much of it left me still wanting for something more.

Over and over again in this blog, I have mentioned how the people I have met have changed me.  That fact is still true.  This journey has allowed me to meet all kinds of people: ex-convicts, possible gang members, homeless people, wanderers, and everything in between.  My perception of people has vastly changed.  I have had the hardest of people look after me, without a request, while I sat alone in a bus station at 3 in the morning.  I have had complete strangers care about me and my well-being in situations I never imagined.  People I would have been afraid of in my old life have shown me compassion without expecting anything in return.  My heart swells just thinking about it.

When I first came up with this crazy idea I was terrified to even speak about it out loud.  I was sure my friends and family would have me committed.  Then I slowly started to feel the waters and found out that everyone was ready to stand with me and show me support I never imagined.  I could never have done this without them.

The people have definitely changed me.  But there has been other aspects to this journey that have changed me also.  Flying without a safety net (or not having a home base any longer) proved to more than I could bear in the beginning, then became more and more of a blessing as time ticked on. I have a home base now, but it is different in ways I still have yet to imagine.  The concept of not owning much, which was scary at first, is something I freely embrace now.  The weight of “things” has lifted and I can breathe again.  Goodbye things, I do not miss you.

I have learned the difference between alone and lonely.  I am alone a lot, and yes, I am lonely sometimes, but I do not have to be both all the time.  Same with sad and depressed, I no longer let the sadness turn into depression.  I have learned that having control over everything is like a prison, you are locked in and there is no way out.  Giving up control, just like giving up things, is the key that unlocks the prison door.  Trying to control everything is just too tiring and it never quite works out.  These are just some of the things I have learned over the past year.

This year has been a year of changes and re-evaluating everything I knew before.  I am still not “there” but I now have the first year under my belt and I survived.  That is a glorious feeling.  Now my heart is open to more possibilities and more opportunities.  I am looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring.  This journey is not over by any means, but it is easier to see outside of myself now.  There really is a big world out there and it actually does not revolve around me. I no longer need to carry the burden of having everything in the world depend on me (one of my major misconceptions).  I can now start to live a life that is open, even raw at times, but not closed off because of fears and uncertainty.  Every new day is uncertain, I am learning to embrace it.

Here’s to experiencing more pain, more joy, more love….just more of everything.  It is scary indeed, but worth it every step of the way!

From Ohio to North Carolina….I wonder what’s next?

IMG_1517

 

Advertisement

Hiking Clingman’s Dome

Scenery No 1

Part of my North Carolina plan was to start hiking.  I have a friend that I used to work with (shout out to Jan!) who moved here and started hiking.  She is so healthy now and I want to be like her. She is my inspiration.  Except I really do not like the outdoors, or sweating, or hiking for that matter.  I am an indoor, read a book, or binge-watch Netflix kinda gal.

Unfortunately I have found all my years of non-outdoor activity have made me rather soft.  Walking the parking lot at the grocery store can cause me to want to take a nap.  I am actually afraid that I am so out of shape that I can never recover.  Everyone says it’s never too late to start getting in shape, but I think I am the exception to that rule.  I am marshmallow soft.

Mike came to visit for his birthday and he gets hold of Jan who happens to be in town and we all meet up.  We catch up for a while and then the talk goes to taking a hike.  I start to get nervous because everything around here seems so hilly.  I am not good with hills or non-paved walkways.  But I figure I can tough it out, it is the least I can do.

They decide on Clingman’s Dome and off we go to the National Park.  I learned along  the way that it is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at 6,643 feet.  Obviously, I realize we are not going to actually climb this peak, like from the bottom of it to the top.  That is not an adventure you start at 3:30 pm on a Wednesday.  There is a parking lot with a half mile walk to the top.  I was much more at ease as I know I can probably walk that amount without major injury.

IMG_1517

The drive to Clingmans is worth the experience.  The National Park is overwhelmingly beautiful and is beautiful from all angles.  As we climbed, in the car, the temperature dropped and dropped from a hot and humid 90 to a refreshing 70.  Ok, I was loving this trip so far.  We did not see any wildlife on the way in but we did see a black bear and a few elk on the return trip.  That was very cool.

After about an hour, we get to the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome.  Remembering it is only a half a mile, I put a spring in my step and we started off. Little did I know that, although it would make sense since this is a mountain, that the half a mile was all uphill.  Not just up a hill, but intense, steep grades that would make a grown man or woman cry.  Luckily, there were benches every few feet and I utilized them all.  Finally, I told my walking companions that I was never going to make it before sunset and that they should go without me.  They tried to talk me into continuing but I fought them on it.  So they eventually went on without me.

As I sat on the bench I watched a variety of people coming down from the top.  Each person shouting encouragement and saying how worth it the trip was.  I saw older than me people, some were handicapped, some were out of shape like me and many other varieties of shapes and sizes.  I was wimping out and became very disappointed with myself.  Quitting, especially this early on, was not what this adventure was all about.  So I started walking up some more.  After several stops, some short and some longer, I made it to the top just as Mike and Jan were heading down.  Their faces showed such surprise and happiness that I had made it. It was worth doing just to see them. They accompanied me to the top of the observatory where it is said you can see up to five states because you are so high up.

The scenery was breathtaking and surreal at the same time.  It did not seem possible to be over 6,600 feet up, on top of a mountain.  My brain was having a hard time believing what my eyes were seeing.  It was beautiful.  As I took some time to catch my breath, I realized that climbing this mountain, albeit not so much climbing as walking a path, was more than just taking a hike for me.  It was overcoming my fears of heights, and fears of having a panic attack due to the strain.  The fact that I even made it without collapsing made me so inspired to keep trying new things.

By the time we got back to the car, I was exhausted but in a good way.  I was thrilled that I toughened up and did it.  Mike and Jan were proud of me and that encourages me to do more.  At first glance, the mountain seemed to have won, but I steadied myself and talked myself into completing the journey.  I also prayed a lot for strength as I struggled up the walkway.  But it got done and I could not be happier.

Muhammad Ali said “Don’t count the days.  Make the days count” and that day counted in my book as an accomplishment that I can be proud of.  If you ever get the chance to “climb” Clingmans Dome, I highly advise you do it.

Observatory

Please note:  the photographs in this post were not taken by me.  I have some great shots that I took.  Once I figure out how to get them transferred from my camera, I will post separately.

Chillin’ at the NOC

IMG_1465

As I have mentioned in previous posts, my current job on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is spectacular.  The people are great, the train is very cool, the waters of the river clear as can be and the scenery is absolutely stunning.

IMG_1467

The railroad takes a westbound excursion to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (AKA the NOC) where passengers get to experience the sights of Fontana Lake and the Nantahala River among other things.  As the train melodically moves down the track at its leisurely pace,  one can see rafters and other outdoor people enjoying the natural beauty that is Western North Carolina.

IMG_1468

The NOC has over one million visitors a year.  Activities they can choose from include: whitewater rafting, paddling school, an outdoor leadership institute, fishing, hiking, biking, climbing, great food and zip lining.  The center also hosts festivals and other events during the year.

IMG_1480IMG_1473

Personally, I am not the outdoorsy type, but I have found myself considering a whitewater rafting trip and/or a zip line adventure.  Oddly enough, the last time I through caution to the wind was a trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  On that vacation, I parasailed and did a few other things that the “old Lois” would never have done.  It only makes sense that I create a few more adventures during my time in North Carolina.

IMG_1517

North Carolina was never a place I would have intentionally chosen to visit, let alone stay for a time.  Yet, I have fallen in love with its natural beauty and elegance.  The people are friendly and welcoming.  It is a lovely place and I am glad I get to chill here for a while.  I am thankful for all the adventures I have had so far and look forward to more.

IMG_1535

A Day Spent with the Lady on the Hill

IMG_0897

These are photographs I took for my blog, they have no commercial value and are not being used commercially.

Last Monday was an extra calendar day this leap year, so I wanted to take advantage of the time and do something different.  I decided to visit the Biltmore Estate in Asheville.  The Biltmore Estate was opened on Christmas Eve 1895 for the Vanderbilt family.  I believe it is the largest private residence in the United States.

Here are a few interesting stats:

  • It has four acres of floor space.
  • 250 rooms:  33 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, 3 kitchens, an indoor swimming pool, a bowling alley and a gym
  • 125,000 acres of forest and farms
  • 250 acre park
  • Garden and conservatory with orchids and other plants
  • Elevators, indoor plumbing and refrigeration were just some of the extras (remember it was built in the 1890s)

IMG_0942

I expected some garish home that was only lived in a couple weeks a year.  I was incorrect. Do not get me wrong, the house is over the top, even by today’s standards but the house was actually lived in and their children were raised there.  It was much more than just some rich family’s fancy weekend home. There were many parties and extended family was always invited to stay for a while.

IMG_0905

The house is amazing, way different from the tiny house models I love (obviously).  But I could appreciate the added touches that were everywhere, especially given when it was built.  Although the house is not what you would call cozy, it was not cold and unlivable either.  According to reports, the staff were treated well and the family was very philanthropic. You read about these people who have homes all over the world and hardly even go to them. That was not the case with the Biltmore.

After touring the home, I toured the gardens and walked on one of the many trails.  The day was beautiful.  The leaves had not budded yet nor were the flowers in bloom but it was still breathtaking.  I cannot even imagine how stunning it is when everything comes back to life after a winter’s nap.  There are streams, ponds and a waterfall.  So much beauty all in one place.

IMG_0917

All in all, it was a great way to spend the extra time given from Leap Year!!

IMG_0922

IMG_0925

IMG_0932

 

IMG_0924IMG_0938

Riding the Tail of the Dragon

Dragon #3

I do not own any of the images used in this post.

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the lovely Tapoco Lodge and I purposely left out the information about how I got there.  Today, I will explain about the Tail of the Dragon (also known as US 129)

The Tail of the Dragon is a 11-mile stretch of paved road between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest.  It is, unbeknownst to me the first time I drove it, a coveted road for motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts.  I have read that there are no intersections or driveways to interfere with the drive.  To be honest, I never even noticed that and I have driven it three times now.  When you ride the dragon, you keep your eyes on the road and that is it, end of story.

You see it is not just a scenic little drive through the mountains-although it is that–there are actually 318 curves, twists, and switchbacks on that 11 mile strip of road.  318!!!!  Did I mention the sheer drops, no berms and the possibility of animals crossing the road?  And there is always the chance of rock slides and fallen trees in the road.

Dragon #1

The first time I drove it I was totally ignorant of the dragon.  I had never heard of it.  In fact, it was my third time driving it that I even realized what was going on.  Then it all made sense.  Until then I thought it was just some poorly executed road through the mountains.  My first drive on the dragon was at night and during a rainstorm.  The absolute terror I felt has basically wiped most of the memories away of that night.  I thought I was in some bad horror movie.  The dark (very dark) road went on and on for what seemed like hours.  I had motorcycles and sports cars passing me at high speeds and there was no where to turn off or turn around.  There is very little phone reception due to the mountains.  I was sure that somewhere along the road was going to be my final resting place.

I made it to my destination about an hour late, then I had the great pleasure of driving it again to get back to where I was staying.  Luckily, the GPS found a different route back but it was still a challenge especially at night.

The second time I drove it was during the day and I just took my time.  Again, motorcycles and sports cars passed me with a vengeance.  It had to look funny seeing this middle-aged woman driving this four-door SUV on this road.  I was still clueless as to what was going on.  Again, I made it to my destination.  This time I stayed a while and did not give the dragon another thought.

It was when I booked the room at the Tapoco Lodge (I had stopped there on one of  my trips looking for directions–that is when I decided I wanted to stay there) that I started to read about the Tail of the Dragon and learned just how many curves there actually are. 318!!  Sitting on the porch of my cabin at the Tapoco Lodge I watched dozens of motorcycles, Corvettes, Porsches and other sports cars zoom past on their way to quite an adventurous drive.  That was in December, I cannot imagine how crowded the road can get in the summer.

Dragon #2

Riding the Tail of the Dragon (not once, but three times) was never on my plan when I started this trip.  But it actually has turned out to be one of my proudest achievements.  I am not sure how many SUVs make the trip, but Devi rose to the challenge, hugged that road and kept going.  She is an amazing vehicle!  The things I have put her through!

There are many accidents along this road.  I have read that it can take an hour or longer to get emergency personnel to an accident scene due to the remoteness.  This road is to be respected and not thought of lightly.  People have lost their lives here.  So if you ever find yourself on the tail, tread lightly but have fun.  It is quite a road and the scenery is breathtaking if you get a chance to see it.

dragon #4

 

 

 

One Night in Tapoco

Tapoco

These are photographs from the brochure. I will add my photographs shortly.

Have you ever tried something out of the blue and it turned out to be magical?  One night in Tapoco proved to be that for me.  Let me explain.

I had one night to myself between home stays and I thought I would treat myself to a night in a hotel. The night before the stay I made my reservation at the Historic Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville, North Carolina.  I had been there once for a few moments when I was lost, and I thought then that I wanted to return there one day.

The Tapoco Lodge was built in 1930 by ALCOA.  It was used for company functions and corporate getaways during the hydroelectric efforts going on at the time.  It changed hands over the years and reopened to the public in 1955. Now the lodge has a rightful place on the National Register of Historic Places.

I am going to save the details of actually getting to The Tapoco for another post.  You get there by “riding the dragon”.  My friends, that is a story in and of itself!

At The Tapoco you have several choices for lodging.  You can stay in the hotel or one of several cabins sprinkled throughout the woods. I opted to stay in one of the cabins. I was thinking it would be rustic but I was wrong.  The cabin was so absolutely cozy and inviting.  It was small (which is right up my alley) but it felt like home as soon as I walked in the door.  I never wanted to leave.  I am sure the hotel rooms are lovely, but I cannot imagine that they can even compare to the comfort of the cabins.

The timing of this visit was just after Thanksgiving and the lobby was decorated so beautifully with Christmas trees, sparkling lights, giant bulbs and wreaths galore.  A fire was blazing and I set there for a while enjoying the exquisite view of the river nearby.  Never have I felt so relaxed sitting in a hotel lobby.

Since the hotel is not an easy place to get to, their hours are curtailed during the winter months.  I believe they even close completely for the brunt of winter.  Luckily, I wanted to stay over a weekend night and they were still open.  As I walked the grounds on a cool, yet sunny, November afternoon, I noticed a rather large quonset hut which turned out to be an actual working movie theater.  At 7:30, the movies start.  I thought that was wonderful.  At 8:00, you can go to the communal fire pit and enjoy smore’s and popcorn.  Those are amenities you just do not get everywhere.

I was starting to get hungry and wondered what my choices were going to be out here in the middle of, basically, nowhere.  There are two restaurants on the premises.  You can enjoy a very fine and proper Appalachian meal at Jasper’s or you can sink your teeth into some good old-fashioned cooking at the Slickrock Riverside Grill.  Since I am more of a hamburger-kinda gal, I went to the grill.  The salad, burger and fries were some of the best I had eaten and very fresh.   You can sit outside enjoying the river or watch a game on the inside.   Could this place get any better?

Yes, it can.  The grounds of The Tapoco are breathtaking.  There are 120 acres of the most stunning landscapes you can find.  There are mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and forest all around.  You can choose from several hiking trails or go biking…it is your choice.  Beauty is all around.

Everyone I met there was truly friendly, even the maintenance man waved as he drove by in his golf cart.  The staff are trained in the art of customer service and it shows everywhere.

I know this sounds like a long-winded commercial for the hotel, but I was just really impressed.   It was one of those respites that comes along when you are so tired and overwhelmed.  My few hours there proved to be so healing.  Everything from seeing the Christmas lights to enjoying a small hike around the grounds helped to calm me and restored my focus.  A place can do that and I am so glad I got to visit this place.

I am sure summers are a little more chaotic due but the time I spent was time well spent and I would do it again!

Here’s to a respite for a weary traveler and for enjoying the little luxuries that make life truly amazing.

P.S.  I have pictures, but I cannot find them now. Once I locate them I will post them.

 

 

 

 

Morning Comes Early

Having never been one to jump out of bed and start the day, my new life requires that I do that now.  The morning comes early when there are horses, dogs, cats, birds, turkeys, ducks and the occasional goats to feed.  These lovely living creatures need me to care for them.

Walking outside to see the sun starting to stream over the mountains, smelling the pure mountain air and feeling the cool breeze on my skin has transformed me into a morning person.  The absolute quiet of the day and the stillness have made me fall in love with this new, albeit temporary, lifestyle.  As the kitties rub my leg and the horses nudge me toward the barn, I realize that there is much more to life than I had ever imagined.  My view was certainly very narrow.

The day continues as it always does with more chores to do and errands to run.  Then the cycle starts again as night begins to fall.  I will hear the animal voices reminding me not to forget to feed them, as if I could.  But now the sun is disappearing behind the mountain and the fresh air still brushes against my face but just with a cooler temperature.  Life is good on the farm.

I am learning that taking care of something other than myself is its own reward.  I so quickly fall into a pattern that revolves around myself.  That only leads to frustration and depression.  Caring for others opens the heart and the mind to a new way of thinking.  It makes no difference if you are helping another person or a furry friend, the mind cannot seem to concentrate on both self and others at the same time.  Thinking of others is not an automatic response for me, but the more I do, the easier it becomes.

A few more things to do then off to bed as morning does come early to the farm.

Here is to the opportunity to see a new and different life than the one I knew and to constantly expanding my horizons.

I’m Not in Kansas, I Mean Ohio, Anymore!!

So it was a normal Friday, except that it was Friday the 13th, in the mountains of North Carolina.  Our host family was at work and school and Mike was doing some work for another friend.  The dogs, Lolly and Panda, and I were grooving at the house doing some projects that needed done.  The day was cold and windy, but nothing really out of the ordinary.  I am from Cleveland, so cold and windy I know.

It was a quiet day with not a lot going on.  As the sun started to go down, I was finishing my tasks for the day.  Lolly and Panda seemed a little on edge, but I figured it was because their family was not home yet.  They had made other plans so they were not going to be home early.  I fed the dogs and thought about letting them out but decided I should wait until Mike got back to the house just so there were no problems.

I get a text from Mike that he is on his way.  I promised him, that morning, that I would take the recycling out but completely forgot about it during the days activities.  I was going to go then, but I thought I better wait.  Since we have been here, we have had two black bear sightings and I did not particularly want to have a close encounter with one.

All of a sudden the dogs started barking and I figured it was Mike coming in.  I am not sure how much time had passed but it seemed reasonable it would be him.  I thought the dogs seemed very excited to see him tonight (I guess my company is not as thrilling as you would hope 🙂 ).  When I opened the front door Lolly head butted the screen door and got right out with Panda right behind.  So I opened the door further and walked outside.  I did not see Mike, I did, however, come face to face (within about ten feet) with a black bear trying to eat the bird feeder.  It had climbed onto the railing of the porch and was munching on bird seed.

Lolly, the ever-vigilant guard dog, was literally face to face with this bear.  I started screaming for the dogs to get back in the house.  Finally, I had to grab them and push them back in.  When everyone was secure, I looked out the window and saw the bear was gone.  My heart was racing, then Lolly started to growl again.  The persistent bear was on the other side of the porch trying for another feeder.  Between the barking and my banging on the wall, the bear must have gotten tired of the noise and moved on.

It took Lolly, Panda and I quite a while to calm down from the excitement.  I have been told that black bears are not overly aggressive unless they feel threatened which was not a real comfort when I was just feet away from it.  What an exciting night.  Everyone is okay, no one got hurt.  All I can say is that never happened in Ohio!!!

Side Note:  The bear came back during the night, actually made it onto the porch and destroyed one of the bird feeders.  Thanks to Lolly and Panda, it moved on again.

Lolly and Panda - Defenders of the family home!!

Lolly and Panda – Defenders of the family home!!

seemed