Days 114-121 – Asheville Week 2

To say we have a rhythm or a schedule would be an exaggeration but we are settling into being settled.

We try to keep track of the weather so that we’re planning hikes for nice days. So far there have been more nice days than we have wanted to hike, which is a good thing. We pick out a nice 7.1-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail to Max Patch. The Hiking Upward website says Max Patch is bald mountain with 360-degree views but it’s not a rocky bald. Rather it’s a grassy bald maintained by controlled burns and mowing, something we’ve never experienced. Usually mountains are either bald or not because nature deemed it, not man.

It’s still a beautiful day and a gorgeous hike with some 2,000 feet of elevation gain. We’re surprised that on a mid-October weekday there are more than a couple of dozen people and several dogs at the top. And the people are not all retirement age. (Not sure about the dogs.) I like that there are lots of active, outdoorsy people in the Asheville area. On our way back – there’s a much shorter hike to the top, so we have the AT pretty much to ourselves – we run into two couples who tell us they are section hiking the AT by doing two weeks every year. At the rate Walt and I hike, we figure it would take us about 15 years to complete the whole AT if we were to hike it only two weeks a year. It’s a moot point, though, since we have no interest in hiking the whole 2,100 miles.

On our non-hiking days we try to go to the gym and explore Asheville. One day we spend an entire afternoon wandering through a row of antiques shops located in a huge converted warehouse. There is one store that specializes in salvage – iron fences, stained glass windows, church pews, etc – and another that has lots of jewelry and porcelain. We don’t buy anything but we enjoy looking. Asheville has many more antiques stores for us to explore.

Looking at upcoming events in Asheville, I find a bonsai show this weekend at the North Carolina Arboretum, which is very close. I’m a little hesitant to mention it to Walt. I don’t actually want to own or cultivate any bonsai, I’ve just found it interesting ever since a friend took me to the exhibit at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., a few years ago. Some of the trees there are hundreds of years old and only 3 feet tall.

I’m surprised when Walt also finds the bonsai show online and says he would like to attend. So off, we go. There are vendors selling bonsai and all sorts of tools, pots and cultivating materials. There’s a show with entries from regional bonsai clubs and a class on creating a bonsai, followed by an auction and raffle. We stay through the auction, marveling at the heated bidding and the prices. The first dozen or so items mostly sell for less than $200 each but then there are older trees and groupings that are selling for $500-$900 with a final grouping garnering more than $1,000. I am fascinated to learn that many of the items being sold have been donated by aging bonsai enthusiasts who are “getting out of bonsai” as the auctioneer puts it and don’t have anyone in their family interested in their collection. I never thought of it but donating your collection to a specialized group like this – the auction benefits – is a good way to start weeding out possessions.

We don’t bid on anything (although Walt is tempted, being way more interested in bonsai than I ever knew) but Walt has also bought a raffle ticket, just to support the arboretum and we stick around for it. Of course, the first number they pull is his. Walt has his choice of a 4-foot-tall maple tree (that could be planted indoors or outdoors) or a large ceramic bonsai planter. We have neither room nor need for either object. He chooses the planter. I suggest to Walt that he sell it cheaply to one of the other attendees before we leave. He declines. It now sits on our rented kitchen counter and I have zero idea what we will do with it.

The weather stays nice – cool nights, sunny and 70+-degree days – so we find another hike: Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi River. When we were in New Hampshire in July, I didn’t want to leave without hiking to the top of Mt. Washington, the second-highest peak east of the Mississippi. Mt. Washington, via the Ammonoosuc Ravine was a much harder hike than Mt. Mitchell where we started at the park ranger station, leaving only about 1,100 feet of elevation. We ascended nearly 4,000 feet in 4.5 miles to reach the top of Mt. Washington. Plus, let’s face it, hiking in New Hampshire is harder – rockier, rootier, wetter – than hiking in North Carolina. If you don’t believe me, ask pretty much any AT thru-hiker, who will tell you the high peaks of North Carolina are harder than anything on the trail, until they hit New Hampshire.

Anyway, we have a gorgeous, 60-degree, blue-sky day to hike a 6-mile loop to the top of Mt. Mitchell and back. There’s a good number of people of all ages on top of Mt. Mitchell, just like there was on top of Max Patch. We knock another item off our list – highest peak east of the Mississippi – and head for home.

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Days 101-107 – Asheville, Week 1

It’s not hard physically to settle into our new temporary home.

After we unpack our car, we go to our storage unit and pick up our hiking gear. We put everything away, settling into closets, dresser drawers and the vanity, before going grocery shopping. We stick to the basics: some meats for dinners, pasta and sauce, sandwich fixings, eggs, butter, chips, beer, wine, coffee, milk, fresh fruit and veggies, yogurt.

We spend most of the next day doing laundry – we haven’t done it in 2 weeks, plus we have stuff from our packs that needed a washing. Then we walk down to the Biltmore Village to explore the shops. There’s an interesting mix of chain stores – Talbots, J. Crew, White House/Black Market, etc. – and locally owned boutiques. I’m more interested in the boutiques, finding some cute dress stores, a neat stationery/pen store selling unusual clocks, an estate jewelry store and a great bakery (chocolate-orange cookie, anyone?).

After a little online research, we’ve chosen a nearby gym to join for three months. We realized toward the end of summer that while our legs are in pretty good shaping from hiking, our arms need attention. Plus, we’re not going to be able (or want) to hike every day so having a gym nearby will help keep us in shape. A few years ago, I hired a personal trainer who focused on deadlifts, chest presses and squats. I enjoyed working out with free weights much more than using the machines or body-weight exercises (step-ups, anyone?). I spent six months working out twice a week with him and didn’t see any reduction in weight, although I did see an increase in the amount of weight I could lift. Then Walt and I hiked the Tour du Mont Blanc circuit and at the end – after having eaten Nutella every day for breakfast, chocolate and cookies at every mid-morning break, and wine with every dinner – I had lost a few pounds. So, I’m a believer in the equation that hiking plus weight training equals weight loss and greater strength.

After signing up at the gym, I drop Walt back off “home” to await the delivery of our golf clubs and clothes from D.C. I head off to a nearby HomeGoods store. While our house is very well furnished, we need a few small items like a laundry basket, a mat by the front door for our shoes, a tray for the top of the vanity. It’s hard to keep myself focused on what I need. I keep looking at dishes, glasses, pillows, candle holders, etc. All things we have in plenty in our pod.

When I get home, our stuff has arrived and we spend more time unpacking and sorting.

We had picked up the local weekly paper in Biltmore Village to determine our options for the weekend. We decide to visit downtown Asheville for the First Friday Gallery Walk. There are very avant-garde art galleries, jewelry shops, fun little boutiques, all participating. We are intrigued by a few things but aren’t tempted to buy anything that we will just have to take to our storage pod in three months.

I’ve also spent some time in the past couple of days looking up hikes nearby, so we head off (on a Saturday because it’s our first available day) to John Rock and Cedar Rock Falls in the Pisgah Ranger District of Pisgah National Forest. It’s a pretty easy 6-mile loop with great views of Looking Glass Rock and the Great Balsam Mountains and a really pretty waterfall near the end. It’s still pretty warm – temperatures in the 70s and humid. We did not miss the humidity when we were out West.

The views are as nice as advertised. Even better, as far as I’m concerned, because most people just hike up to John Rock and back instead of the 2 ½ mile longer loop, once we leave the rock, we have the trail pretty much to ourselves. The waterfall is delightful and, since we’re in no hurry, I take off my shoes for a little toe dipping. I do love wading in cold water and this water does not disappoint!

We had noticed on our way to the parking lot an ice cream stand off a main road. Happily it’s open on our way out (score one for hiking on weekends and score one for Asheville) so we stop for soft ice cream cones. Yeah!

Despite some initial misgivings that I might be bored now that we’re not moving every day or two, time is moving well.

We take a down day on Sunday to Internet surf for more hikes, catch up on the news and go to the gym. Monday we head for the nearby town of Black Mountain to check it out. It’s got quaint little shops, antique stores, restaurants, etc. It’s not nearly as large as Asheville but it’s nice. We enjoy a great lunch on the veranda of the Veranda restaurant and check in at a local real estate agent, who agrees to help us try to narrow our search. She points us in the direction of a few local communities and we head off to see what they’re like.

As I’ve mentioned, we want views but we don’t want to be far away from the grocery store. We also have a very modern house design in mind, which complicates our search. The first gated community (there are a lot of gated communities here) we look at is very nice but the houses all have a very similar Craftsman home look. The houses are pretty; they’re just not want we want. The second gated community is even nicer and we see a couple of building lots that have stunning views. We might be able to build a modern house here but the drive from the community to the grocery store is half a dozen miles down a narrow, twisty mountain road. I can’t see us making this 15-minute drive every time we want peanut butter.

At least we end the day knowing of some places we can rule out and, as we continue to look online, we now know of some areas we can rule out.

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Day 100 – Headed for Home (Temporarily)

After three months of roaming, we’ve come to Asheville, North Carolina, to spend the next three months in one place.

As we drive across the state, I’m not sure how I feel about this. It’s been a lot of fun to travel around the country. We’ve seen all sorts of landscapes that we’ve never experienced – the fields of sunflowers in North Dakota, the gigantic expanse of Lake Superior, the badlands of several states, the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, the jungle room of Graceland. The list could continue. We haven’t minded getting up and heading to the next place, sleeping in different hotel rooms every night or two, driving long distances, never really unpacking.

We also haven’t minded not having a home to take care of. The only “chore” we’ve had to do on a regular basis is laundry and that’s really not very taxing, especially since we got in the habit of staying in hotels every week or so that offered an on-site laundry room.

Now we have to go grocery shopping, cook, clean up, change the sheets, vacuum, scrub the tub…

Even odder, at least to me, is that we spent so much time downsizing our four-bedroom, 2 ½ bath home but now we’re renting a three-bedroom, 2 ½ bath house complete with a laundry room, an outdoor patio with a grill. This rental is a lot of space for the two of us. We’re hoping to have family and friends visit while we’re here, which is why we’ve got the extra bedrooms.

We’ve come to Asheville to spend some time getting to know the area and see if it’s someplace we’d like to settle permanently. We’ve put Asheville on our short list because it’s got much of what we think we want for our retirement home: proximity (3 hour-drive) to Lauren and Bobby; mountains for hiking; a downtown area with arts, restaurants and culture; a temperate climate; plenty of sunshine; good medical facilities. I know, we’re not asking for much.

I’ve talked with many people about our search and realized that many retirees already have a base (usually somewhere with cold winters and lovely summers) with a home and family and they go looking for someplace to relocate just for the cold winters. We don’t have the base, having sold our house and most of our possessions. We’re looking for someplace that is lovely about 10 months out of the year. That doesn’t mean perfect weather for 10 months but we know, for instance that we don’t want to live in the Northeast. The winters are just too long and bleak, as I had to keep reminding myself all of July when we were in New Hampshire, Maine and Ontario, Canada, when every place we visited was prettier than the last!

We haven’t decided whether to move to Asheville full time, this is just a trial to see if we like it. While we’re here, we intend to hike as much as possible, enjoy the various cultural opportunities, and look around at housing developments and land.

Did I mention that complicating our search for the perfect retirement spot is our desire to build our own, modern house – think concrete, steel and walls of glass. Which means that we need a piece of land in a community that will allow us to build what we want.

Early in our retirement-home search, we thought we had found the perfect piece of land: a peninsula on a small lake in a lovely community close to Colonial Williamsburg. However the type of house we want is far more likely to be found on the West Coast. It certainly didn’t fly with the community’s architectural review board.

Finding vacant land that we can afford that is close to town and in a community that will let us build what we want is proving a bit of a challenge. I’m reminded of the old Rule of 3: Fast, Cheap or Good. Pick two. In our case, the rule seems to be modified to: Great Town. Great Views. Great (within budget) Price. I’m beginning to think one of those items is going to have to go and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be one of the first two, barring a lottery windfall.

Meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy exploring the Asheville area.

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Days 98-99 – Back to Durham

We’re taking a short break on our way to Asheville in order to visit Walt’s daughter and our grandpuppy, Ragnar. (Son-in-law Bobby is out of town working.) It’s the workweek and we don’t want to get in Lauren’s way (she works from home) so we head out to the yard and trim some trees limbs, deadhead perennials, plant some mums for the front the porch, etc.

We enjoy playing around in the yard and Lauren and Bobby are kind enough to let us.

It’s sort of the yard version of having grandkids (I think). We get to pick a project, play around for a day or so and then leave (we tidy up after ourselves first, of course).

After our projects, we clean up and have dinner and ice cream with Lauren before relaxing for the evening with Ragnar while Lauren heads to the gym.

We have a great time, as always, in Durham.

Days 96-97 – Washington, DC

We’re spending the weekend in the city because we have tickets to a Nationals baseball game that we bought at the beginning of the season.

The weather, which had been unseasonably hot, has turned into fall weather: cloudy with highs in the 70s, a breeze and cooler nights. This does not bode well for my wardrobe. Although I pulled a bunch of cool-weather clothes from our pod, I have put most of them in a box to be shipped to Asheville. I have no jacket, just two sweaters and two pairs of pants. I have traveled all summer with a soft-shell jacket, using it occasionally in the evenings and more than once to cover my feet in the tent but have left it in our Asheville storage unit, for some reason thinking that I couldn’t possibly need it on this leg of the trip.

I guess we’ve gotten so used to it being summer, we just weren’t thinking about fall and cooling temperatures when we grabbed our stuff for Annapolis and this weekend.

Of course, we’re going to an evening game with temperatures in the 50s, so I head out from our downtown hotel to find a jacket. It’s burning me up that if I’d only left my soft shell in the car, or pulled my other fall jacket from the pod, or kept one of the sweaters or coats I’m shipping to Asheville, I wouldn’t have to buy a jacket that I don’t really need. But I know me and I can’t sit through a 50-degree baseball game without a protective layer. Even just walking around today, I got cool with my two sweaters on. I will definitely be cold and miserable sitting for a few hours after the sun goes down.

I manage to find a wind-proof jacket with a hood, something I can wear again. While I’m at it, I pick up a cheap pair of leggings I can wear under my pants. Better to be safe.

It’s a lot of fun to be back in our home ballpark (and properly dressed for the weather). We enjoy the game right up to the last inning, when the Nats give up four runs, blowing a one-run lead to lose the game. The Nats are far enough ahead in their division that they’ve already secured a spot in the playoffs but it’s still disappointing to see them lose.

We spend most of the rest of our time in DC pretty quietly. We catch dinner downtown at Zaytinya and two short plays at the Shakespeare Theater. I make a pit stop at Red Velvet Cupcakery for a snack.

We make a trek to the National Building Museum, which is not part of the Smithsonian and so doesn’t get the crowds that many other DC museums do. Mostly Walt and I just like the building itself. It was designed and built post-Civil War as the national pensioners’ building. The huge brick building was advanced for its time, boasting fresh-air intake ducts, lots of skylights and clerestory lights, as well as extra-wide and shallow stairs because so many of the people employed originally had been injured in the war, among other embellishments.

This part of the city seems pretty quiet until we wake up on Monday morning. All the many people who work at the nearby U.S. Department of Labor, D.C. courts and other office buildings are back to work, which is our signal to head out.

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Days 91-95 – Annapolis

Before heading to Annapolis for a meeting (Walt maintains an emeritus position with the Ironworkers), we go to Baltimore for the Orioles’ last home game of the season. It’s sunny and warm and a good day for baseball.

It’s a little odd to be at a different park. We’re so used to the Washington Nationals’ ballpark. The food’s not the same, the graphics on the scoreboard take some getting used to, etc. We can’t understand why the crowd is cheering and giving a standing ovation to Orioles player J.J. Hardy (thanks to my phone, I figure out he’s a longtime player who probably won’t be coming back to Baltimore next year).

We’re staying at a lovely hotel right downtown on the water. I’d forgotten how pretty Annapolis is. Such a great little town. Lots of neat shops and restaurants, all within walking distance of our hotel.

Walt has meetings during the days so I spend my time walking, doing laundry, getting the car washed, window shopping. We meet up every evening for a lovely dinner with the rest of the group.

On Thursday, Walt heads off early for golf while I head for a ladies luncheon at Carroll’s Creek Café. A few hours later, all the ladies get on a bus to take us to the Eastern Shore for a wonderful dinner at an estate on the Wye River. We are joined by the guys, of course. It’s really a fabulous way to cap off a great week.

Days 86-90 – Cleaning Up

We’ve come to Northern Virginia for a few days just to get our act together. After three months on the road, we need haircuts, dental and eye exams, etc. We also need to access our storage pod for fall/winter clothes.

Walt has called ahead to ask the storage facility to pull our pod. We arrive to find it sitting outside with a few others. It’s locked up with our lock and when we open it, everything looks fine. Walt spent a lot of time packing it and tying things down as he went. Of course, we didn’t pack as smoothly as we planned and we’ve got to pull out a bunch of boxes, shift some small furniture and haul out two folding Adirondack chairs before we can get to the wardrobe box labeled “Liz’s coats.” I will need a winter coat and scarf for our fall stay in Asheville, NC.

I have made a list on my phone of things I want to get – ski clothes, boots, hair dryer, Smoky Mountains map. I think I’m doing pretty well. I have a pile of stuff crammed into a suitcase, a box of shoes, my golf clubs and several nice dresses. I know this will sound crazy but one of the things I’ve thought about is “what if someone dies and I have to go to a funeral?” For the summer, I brought two dresses suitable for weddings and several light dresses for just walking around and going to dinner but nothing formal and black. I know I could always buy a dress if I need one, but it would burn me up that I have a perfectly good, plain black sheath in my pod. So, I add one to my “take” pile, along with good black pumps.

Mind you, I’m not expecting anyone I know to die anytime soon, but I was raised by a mother who liked to be prepared for problems and that upbringing is hard to shake.

Walt grabs his clubs and ski clothes as well as a couple of winter jackets.

It’s 90 degrees – at least – out here on the pavement and we are sweating and reminded of how hot it was when we packed the pod in June.

We close up the pod, packing all of our gear in a borrowed SUV. We will have most of this stuff shipped to us in Asheville. What we will do with everything after Asheville is a bit of a mystery.

I think I’ve done well until the following morning when I start reviewing the clothes I’ve pulled and realize there are some sweaters, socks and pants that I had planned to get and don’t have. There must have been another suitcase that I didn’t see or remember at the time…

Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now. The storage facility will have put our pod back away in the building somewhere. I’m hoping I can make do with what I have and won’t need to buy a bunch of stuff. Of course, if I have to buy new clothes, then I will just go shopping, whether I want to or not.

Our time is otherwise pretty enjoyable; A couple of dinners out with friends, a movie and a stroll through Tyson’s Corner mall and we’re headed off again.

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Sorting through the pod for fall/winter gear.

Day 85 – Durham, NC

We’ve deviated slightly from a direct route back to Northern Virginia, first to Asheville to drop off our hiking gear and now to Durham to visit Walt’s daughter. His son-in-law is away on business, so we don’t get to see him this visit.

Our first stop is to Monuts for a late-afternoon snack of coffee and doughnuts. We really shouldn’t but it’s just a few blocks from Lauren and Bobby’s house and we can’t resist. I have a lemon yeast doughnut with a blueberry glaze – it’s that kind of place, funky flavors and fresh doughnuts.

Our visit with Lauren and our adorable grandpuppy, Ragnar, is all too short. We get an evening with dinner and head out after breakfast (at Monuts, of course) so that she can work. It is a weekday, after all.

Day 84 – Asheville, North Carolina

We’ve come to Asheville just to rent a storage unit and drop off our hiking gear. We’re coming back here after Annapolis and are looking forward to spending the fall in the Smoky Mountain area.

As I’ve mentioned, Asheville is on our list of places we might want to make our permanent home so we’re excited to land long enough to get a true picture of what it’s like to live here. That’s one of our problems, there’s so many places we’ve seen that we like but we’ve decided we can’t know what it’s like to live somewhere until we actual try it out and a few days or a week isn’t going to be enough.

We’re staying tonight at the 1889 White Gate Inn, a B&B we’ve stayed at before and enjoy. The rooms are very nice, the location is great, the owners host a three-course, sit-down breakfast that is always different and scrumptious.

We are directed to a nearby Italian place, Chiesa, for dinner. We get a table on the patio in the perfect evening air, enjoying homemade pasta, mine with tuna and Walt’s with sausage and peppers. We finish with the blueberry bread pudding. It was a lovely meal; we will put this restaurant on our list to visit when we come back for the fall.