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We woke up fairly early because there was a lot of thunder going on and the radar showed a line of rain coming directly towards us (it actually did end up blowing over, ah well).  We had about an hour drive to where we were supposed to catch the ferry, but we thought we’d take our time and maybe get there a early and see if we could catch an earlier ride over.

Along the way, we stopped at a visitors’ center and a museum, learning more about the Cape Lookout National Seashore, and trying to decide whether or not we should take Pruitt (our ’08 Honda Element) across on the ferry and try driving it along the shore.  Tom was pretty apprehensive about it, since the Toaster is all-wheel, not four-wheel, drive.  However, I’d already made the reservation to take it across and paid a deposit.  In the end, we decided that if they ferry would give us back our deposit (since we were still going across just ourselves) then well and good, but if they wouldn’t, then we’d go ahead and go across and, if nothing else, just park the Element right by the ferry landing.

When we got to the ferry, no one was there, and there wasn’t any place particularly marked as an office.  We wandered around, starting to feel apprehensive, since the place looked a little sketch.  In the end, we figured that we were there over two hours before our scheduled departure time, so hopefully someone would show up by then.  We were super hungry, but hadn’t really passed any place to eat since Beaufort – we were catching the Morris Marina Ferry in Atlantic to go across to the North Core.  We decided to continue driving north on 70 to see if we could find someplace to eat and, if nothing else, see how far it was to the state-operated ferry we were going to have to catch Thursday.  We eventually ended up eating sandwiches from a little everything-store and then went back to the still-deserted marina to play cards while waiting to see if anyone showed up to take us across.

About twenty minutes before departure time, the place suddenly came alive.  Several other passengers arrived, the ferry owners appeared, and we all heaved a sigh of relief.  The people running the place were super friendly and relaxed.  We got the impression that this time of year, most of their passengers were people wanting to go stay a day or two and fish, and most of the other passengers had been over before.  One young couple, in a Jeep, were first-timers like ourselves, and just as confused.

We couldn’t get our deposit back, so we decided to see what Pruitt could really do.  The ferry people were totally confident, telling us just to let a bit of air out of the tires and go with it.  Then they loaded up the cars, and we headed across.

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The trip over was about a half-hour long.  The North Core (and South, from what I understand) is super long and skinny.  The cottages are all close to the ferry landing.  If you have a car, you can either drive on the sand road that runs along the middle of the island, or on the shore itself.  Still feeling uncertain about Pruitt’s capabilities, we cautiously began driving up the road.  We went about a mile, just far enough to be away from the cottages and the people there, and then drove to the shore and parked.  (Pruitt was doing fine, but Tom didn’t want to push our luck.)  We found sheltered places for our tents and set up camp, all the while enjoying the most beautiful and perfect beach I’ve ever seen.

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Loads of seashells, perfect sand, and just miles of empty, peaceful shore.  It was lovely.  And there is nothing quite like camping right next to the ocean.  We spent the afternoon walking along the beach, finding shells, and just watching the ocean.

After a hearty supper of Mountain House, Tom and I decided to take an evening stroll up the beach and back.  The moon was out, and it was just perfectly magical.  The night was fairly warm and completely clear, so we slept with the rainfly off, able to see the stars and moonlight.  Lovely, lovely.

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So, any votes on whether or not I’ll actually finish posting about this vacation???  Someday!

Tuesday dawned bright and clear, and we got an early start (sadly foregoing breakfast by Joe…  while delicious, it wasn’t the fastest breakfast choice).  While we had originally talked about only driving part way across North Carolina, we concluded that we’d rather do the whole drive at once, and camp in the Croatan National Forest near the coast.

First off, though, we went back to Crabtree Falls.  It was just so beautiful that we really didn’t think Timmy and Erin should miss out on it entirely.  While it wasn’t as mysterious as it had been in the rainy fog, it still held up quite well in the sunshine.

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One advantage to traveling with other people is that Tom and I actually got to have pictures taken together – when we were in Colorado last year, we got one picture of both of us (except for a few terrible selfies lol) because not only were we not traveling with anyone we knew, most of the time there weren’t even other people in sight!

Anyway, after a quick breakfast stop in Spruce Pine, we headed down out of the mountains and east towards the coast.

So “Piedmont” is  a new word for me, but apparently it is the official term for that boring area between the mountains and the ocean.  We concluded that we did not want to live in the Piedmont, as its easy accessibility to both mountains and ocean seem to be the only thing to recommend it.  Still, the drive was easy enough.  We swapped around driving and pushed through, with only minor disasters, like the worst service I think we’ve ever had at a fast-food restaurant (ole Bojangles).  But when you’re on vacation, even troubles turn into entertaining adventures and much laughter.

We camped that night at a small campground in Croatan National Forest.  While the camp host seemed to be suspicious of people under the age of 67, we kept things quiet.  It was good to just unpack, unload, and stretch our legs.  We’d stopped at a random Food Lion and picked up hot dogs and fixins for supper, and enjoyed our fire, including gigantic marshmallows.

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Isn’t our little campsite so cozy??  I actually really enjoy car camping.

While Croatan isn’t on the ocean, it is along a very wide river mouth.  After setting up camp, we had some couples-time taking walks and enjoying the lovely evening.

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As we settled into our tents that night, completely happy, listening to the distant roll of thunder that never seemed to get closer, I couldn’t help but be excited – we were only 20 miles from the ocean!!!

The next morning, we woke up to see that our view was not nearly as spectacular as the day before!

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Along with the rain, the fog had rolled in.  It was a lot chillier, too.  However, we had planned a day of indoor activities to avoid the weather (after eating our spectacular breakfast cooked to order by Joe!).

First stop, the Linville Caverns.  While not huge, the Caverns are a fun stop, especially on a day where the outdoor weather isn’t so great.  There’s a nifty gift shop that we puttered about in for a while, and then took the tour.  I’m not a huge cave person, so I’m not going to rave about the caverns themselves, but our tour guide for that trip was absolutely hilarious.  She was honestly one of the best tour guides I’ve ever had for any tour ever (and I *love* tours, so this is saying something).  I got the impression that she actually knew a lot more about caves/geology than is normal for the job, and now she’s trapped telling amateurs about stupid shapes in the rock that kind of look like pickles or bats.  She was the perfect level of sarcasm, and she had the four of us laughing out loud on multiple occasions.

The caverns themselves were interesting but not amazing.  They are limestone caves, and very watery – before floors were added to make walkways, they were really just underground streams.  We had a good time at the Caverns, but the pictures didn’t really come out well, so you’ll just have to use your imagination.

We were still pretty stuffed from our huge breakfast (Joe seriously knows how to cook), so we decided to check out the little town of Spruce Pine.  We’d already seen their WalMart, but we were pretty sure that the town had to have more to offer.  We visited a sketchy thrift shop (every single thrift store we visited/passed in North Carolina was linked to women’s shelters; it was weird), and meandered around before finally finding the actual downtown.  Tragically, it was a Monday, so most of the stores were closed.  But we poked around a bit before deciding we were hungry.  Pizza Hut for a late lunch, and then back to the hotel.  Timmy and Erin decided to rest for a bit, but Tom and I were feeling the need to be outside, despite the continuing drizzle and fog.  So we headed back south on the Parkway a bit, destination Crabtree Falls.

The fog actually gave the drive (and hike) a lot of ambiance.  The tunnels were especially fun.

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We chose the Crabtree Falls hike because it was not only close, but it didn’t have the word “vista” in the trail description.  Obviously, the weather didn’t lend itself to vistas, but a hike down into a valley to see a waterfall sounded perfect.

Hiking through the misty rhododendrons down the rocky trail was actually delightful – mysterious, quiet, otherworldly.

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We could hear the falls long before we could see them.  When we finally found them, we were delighted to see a picture-perfect waterfall.

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It was a great hike, about 3 miles all around.  The climb back up was steep, but the falls were so beautiful and the weather so fun that it was well worth it.

The evening was spent watching a movie and shooting some pool.  Because of the weather, the expected other guests hadn’t shown up (Joe told us), so we had the place to ourselves for a second night.  Good times indeed.  :-D

Well, I didn’t do such a great job updating while actually traveling this time.  I’m just too lazy to do all that typing on my phone!  We’re home now, and happy to be getting back into regular life, but I’m hoping to finish updating about the trip, if for no other reason than my own personal records.  :-D

Sunday morning dawned clear and beautiful, if a little cool.  The sun was coming up over the mountains, and we enjoyed a peaceful breakfast of oatmeal before breaking camp.  We hiked back to the parking lot and rearranged our packs so that we just had a day pack before climbing up Table Top.  The weather was brilliantly clear, making the views breathtaking.  However, I have to admit that there was a huge forest fire in Linville Gorge in November, so many areas are still a bit…  well, burnt.  We definitely would love to back in the summer when everything has greened up.  Despite that, the views were still fantastic.

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Tom was also able to continue his Nalgene water bottle photo shoot.

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(Sometimes my water bottle photo-bombs.)

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Originally, we had talked about hiking from Table Top all the way down to the bottom of the gorge (you can barely see the river in picture #2 above) and then back to the car, but Erin and I convinced the husbands that it was not a total cop-out to park at the lower parking area and hike from there, since all we would be missing would be about 1200 feet of down/up through a burned-out forest.  I’m glad we won the guys over, because we still hiked around 1000 feet from the lower parking lot to get down to the river.

It was worth the hike, though, because the river was gorgeous.  Unfortunately, a flood earlier this year wiped out the bridge (hasn’t been a good year for Linville Gorge), and this time of year, with the water high and cold, it really is impassable without the bridge.  But we cooked ourselves lunch and rested up before climbing back up to the car.

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Part of the fun of this vacation was its flexibility.  Because we were camping some of the nights, we only had certain nights where we had reservations and had to be somewhere.  The rest of the time, we were easily able to adjust plans by weather and how we felt about life.  Initially, we had talked about spending our second night along the gorge, but the washed-out bridge nixed that idea.  Our secondary plan was to camp on Mount Mitchell (the tallest mountain east of the Mississippi).  With that idea in mind, we headed south on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In May of 2010, my family, including Timmy and Erin (but not Tom, as we weren’t married yet), drove the  Blue Ridge Parkway – eight of us in an eight-passenger Honda Pilot (it’s a whole other adventure, which is actually recorded on this blog if you’re interested).  Along the way, we stopped at Mount Mitchell.  Unfortunately, it was a ridiculously foggy day, and the views were not all that impressive.  Determined to redeem Mount Mitchell, Timmy, Erin, and I were particularly keen to reach the top on a clear day.

You can drive almost to the very top of the mountain (thankfully).  However, our information on camping in the region was sketchy at best, and everything was closed because it was still so early in the season.  While trying to decide what to do, we climbed to the summit and enjoyed the view.

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You may notice that we’re wearing winter coats.  That’s because Mount Mitchell is over 2000 feet higher than we had camped Saturday night, and it was only in the mid-40’s at the top.  Rain (or snow or freezing rain or sleet) was moving into the area that night, and it was supposed to be in the low 20’s at the higher elevations.  After much dithering, we decided to see if the hotel we’d reserved for Monday night would be able to accommodate us a day early as well.  Back down the mountain and up the Parkway we went!

The Skyline Village Inn is  just off the Parkway near Little Switzerland.  Built into the side of a hill, you can enter the front of the building on the first floor, or drive around to the resident parking in the rear and walk in on the third floor.  It’s a smallish hotel (17 rooms, I think), but clean and neat.  We got there just in time – after cleaning up from their Friday/Saturday night guests, the owners were getting ready to leave for Charlotte for the night since no one had a reservation for Sunday night.  However, they fixed us right up, showed us our rooms and showed us around, told us their manager, Joe, would be there later that evening, and left us to our own devices!

We had never had a hotel to ourselves, so it was quite exciting.

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The view was lovely from our balcony.

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Tom and I took the single, and Timmy and Erin were next door with a double room.  After showering up and settling in a bit, we headed up the road towards the town of Spruce Pine, where our hosts had assured us we would find restaurants and a WalMart – and we did!  We devoured a supper at an all-you-can-eat buffet, found some supplies at WalMart, and headed back to the hotel.

There, we met Joe, the manager.  He told us that for $6.50 each they served breakfast in the mornings (cooked by his own self) – all you could eat eggs, bacon, hash browns, and waffles. Who were we to pass up a bargain like that?  He even said he’d cook it whenever we wanted since we were the only guests!  After arranging breakfast, we checked out the lounge area on the second floor – particularly fun because we could do it in our pajamas.

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Super cozy!

That night, as the wind and rain was whipping around the eaves of the building, I was very content with our decision to snag the hotel a day early!

So we are traveling yet again, but because we are spending a lot of time camping – which means nights where the car is unattended – I didn’t bring my laptop. But this morning (last night was a hotel night) I got to wondering if WordPress had an app…and they do! So I’m going to try it out. Maybe I can still post some updates on our travels!

This time around, we are spending a week in North Carolina. My brother Timmy and his wife, Erin, are along for the ride. Were traveling in Pruitt, our 08 Honda Element (that car is brilliant) and spending the first half of the week exploring mountains and the second half on the Outerbanks.

So far, the trip had been brilliant.

We left Saturday morning and headed south. The drive was fairly uneventful, but we were grateful for the clear weather.

Our destination for the day was the Linville Gorge wilderness area, which is quite near the Blue Ridge Parkway about 70 miles north of Asheville. As we wended our way up the forest roads, we were surprised at how busy the parking areas were. As we looked, though, we realized that almost all the license plates were North Carolina tags – the locals were taking advantage of the gorgeous weather before the tourist season!

We parked at the Table Rock picnic area, which, we discovered, is super popular with rock climbers and rappellers. Timmy loves rappelling, so he got quite excited about trying to come back here someday to try the cliffs.

Like I said, the weather was clear and almost too warm. We loaded up our packs and headed south down the trail. It was narrow and rugged and rocky and quite fun.

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A little over a mile out we found a perfect campsite near (I think) Chimney Rocks. The view was spectacular.

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We set up camp, and then wandered further down the trail a bit before coming back to fix supper and build a fire.

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Unfortunately, I haven’t been taking very many pics on my phone, so while I will try to update later, yesterday’s adventures won’t have very much photographic evidence!

Sarah E. McCafferty

April 2014
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