Asheville; boondocking, breakdowns and beer

That morning the whether was back again, and the views we had missed from the parkway the day before were clear to see as we headed for the city. The colours appeared to have really changed overnight and it was a beautiful drive.

P1010074P1010075Arriving at Asheville we went to visit St Helens bridge, which is apparently haunted. Maybe that’s why someone has decided to throw pumpkins off it?

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The next priority was a clothes wash and then to get some food in. With this sorted the last thing to be done was to find some wifi, we settled for a bar called Ole Shakey’s Getaway and headed off. We parked up in the car park at the back of the pub, and were met by the stares of the locals. We went over and introduced ourselves, and it turns out that one of them, Heath, has got several classic VW’s including a bus. He told us that there was a VW meet that Saturday and that a load of people would be gathering in their VW’s to drive up on the parkway and visit some local breweries. This sounded great, but we had planned to head for Savannah the next day, so we debated what we would do.

In the meantime, Budweiser’s were $2 each and we chatted with some more of the locals including Walt who offered us a spot to stay. We also met someone who owned his own Mexican restaurant and promised us free veggie food! It was all looking quite promising, especially compared to the hasty instant noodle meal we had had in the car park earlier. It was another late night for us, and it is probably a fair to say that a few too many beers (and weed for Lee) is the reason I got up the following morning and realised I had gone to bed wearing 3 jumpers and no trousers.

In definitely no fit state to drive any distance, we finally made use of the bars wifi which was originally the purpose of our visit. A few hours, and cups of tea later, feeling capable of driving we deciding to go somewhere to enjoy the sun. We had just got Aimee used to wearing a harness and took her outside down by the river for a little walk around, she wasn’t convinced in the slightest and spent her time in three very specific ways; trying to climb my leg, trying to crawl inside my t-shirt and or whining at either of us. No doubt she will get used to it, the world must seem like a very big place from down there. We ended up driving a short way to Carrier park in order to lie in the sun and nurse our hangovers. We cooked ourselves some brunch in the carpark which mainly featured egg out of a carton, and wasn’t actually that bad. Then again, hungover me has the same appetite for stodge as drunk me does for beer.

We then went and enjoyed the sun in the middle of what is actually some kind of cycle racing track, accessible by a large wooden bridge across the track. Being fenced, it was the perfect place to let Amiee have another go at outdoors, her reluctance in being outside was in no way off putting to the local children, who enthusiastically petted her. Despite being a beautiful sunny day with not a cloud in the sky, there was a mountain chill in the air and around 5 o’clock I was getting decidedly chilly.

The area that we are in is surrounded by mountains, so over the week we were able to find a few options on a new website we had been using (freecampsites.net). We went for the closest, roughly a 30 minute drive from our current location and also near the post office which was supposed to have our gear shift parts. Driving through some more countryside, the road forks off the right just before an actual paid campsite. Shortly after this becoming a dirt track with designated free camping spots down the side, there was only two spots that were suitable for vehicles, the other only being small lay-bys to park a car with access to a camp spot in the forest below. We kept driving in search of something, with no luck. Eventually we ended up at a car park at the end for the Trace Ridge trailhead. Deciding that absolutely no one could be bothered to drive 3 miles down a dead end dirt road to kick us out, we pitched up, finding the only slightly level spot in the car park.

As our leisure batteries are not charging while we drive, we are running the generator a lot more than normal. Soon though, night fell leaving us and one other empty car in the car park. As we sat there watching something on the laptop, we heard a distinct cough very close to us. Lee said maybe we should turn the generator off, not wanting to be anti social at night as there was clearly someone else there. Upon getting out of the van however, no one was in sight…

The morning we were allowed to lie in till 8.30am before any other cars arrived to disturb us, which is pretty damn good for a car park. This is clearly a popular spot for two things, mountain biking and fishing. The fishermen are always the early ones, arriving and spending an inordinate amount of time waterproofing themselves before heading out. The bikers are a different kind of dedicated, take twice as long, but seem to favour the evening and riding in the complete darkness or even better, the raining dark.

This morning however, was a beautiful day. We needed to head to the post office to see if our gear parts had been forwarded from Charlotte, as we didn’t want them to send it back if we took too long. At the end of our dirt track we went to look at the campsite and see the prices. The manager came over and told us that it was $22 a night but that we could use the water for free. This was perfect for us as our water tanks were completely empty. As I was waiting for Lee to finish talking I noticed that the engine was a bit hot with the fans on, and just down the road we pulled over to use the campsite toilets and I noticed a fairly prominent coolant leak. By the time Lee was out of the toilet I was already armed with tools. Looks like one of the jubilee clips had loosened off and allowed enough coolant out to empty the tank and let air through, must have been the vibration of driving down some of these roads. Having bled the system again, and fitted extra clips I went for a test drive to check the system was airlock free. The good news is that the cooling was fine, however the engine, which misfired slightly last night, was a lot worse today. Down on power and struggling at low rpm, I headed back to the campsite. It’s hard to diagnose such a general problem with no diagnostic equipment, so I wasn’t particularly happy. Engine problems and fuel system issues running through my head…

On looking in the engine bay, I noticed that one of the HT leads had worked itself loose and after a good wack, the misfire was sorted. Couldn’t have been an easier solution, so I was back in good spirits again when we finally headed off after filling up on water.

Turns out that the post office didn’t get the parts, which is of no great surprise as according to Lee the people in the Charlotte post office were massive twats. Deciding that it was definitely time to hoover all the kitty litter out of the floor air vents, we went to a self service car wash and gave Ruby a good clean inside. We also spent some time washing the outside, as I didn’t want to turn up to a VW meet in a filthy campervan. I may have got a little carried away as I wanted to clean our also filthy engine, and being (I thought) very careful with the jet wash, I got some of the worst bits off. Apparently I managed to push all the oil past the spark plug seals in the rocker cover though, which became apparent as we pulled over at the library down the road, misfiring gently. This is problem I am very familiar with, albeit normally coolant. So I took one of the plugs out that looked like the culprit, cleaned it up and we headed back to camp.

Back at the camp, I realised I should have done the other plug as it was still not running right. So while I sorted that, Lee tried to stop the wobbly sliding door bracket. Issues all fixed, deciding Ruby had had more than her allocated time for that day, we took Aimee for a walk in her backpack.

It was only a short walk, but she didn’t seem very keen and we apparently took a track that went nowhere so we turned back. Leaving her in the van we went down the right track, only to find after a mile or so that the path crosses a river with no bridge or stepping stones. Not fancying it, we called it a night.

Tomorrow would be a proper walk.

Tomorrow came and brought the rain with it.

Not ones to be put off by a bit of bad weather, we set off for an 8 mile hike around the area. The paths starts off nice and level, following the stream.

Soon you arrive at a picturesque reservoir.

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From here we continued up the valley some way, before starting to ascend Copper Pot mountain.

P1010082After the incident of not being able to continue the walk yesterday, due to the river, I packed our flips flops in preparation. However, while we crossed the stream many times it was fairly small in comparison and also had stepping stones as well. I am sure if I didn’t pack flip flops, we would have been greeted by a raging torrent, such is life.

P1010084The autumn leaves were really beautiful in places, which can be a little odd. You can really see how the weather must hit the mountain side as you can walk through a completely green patch of trees, and within a few feet be surrounded by completely red and yellow ones of the same species. You can kind of see this in the photo below. P1010086

I got somewhat distracted by trying to photograph all of this. These are my best attempts, which still probably don’t do it justice. The forest is interesting though, the two photos below are of the same wood, a matter of minutes apart.

P1010087P1010096P1010102Before too long we were on the the ridge itself, on the final stretch of the walk. The colours continued to be beautiful.

P1010103P1010106I resisted the urge to take all the fir cones.

P1010112And the weather started coming in. Although it’s hard to see here, the clouds had sunk down onto the mountain tops. 

P1010117We were both enjoying the walk so much that we didn’t really notice though. I was glad that we stayed in the area longer than we intended as the colours really were amazing, and had changed a lot in a few days.

P1010110By the time we made it back to the van it was drizzling. We wanted some water for a shower, so we thought we would walk down to the river and get a bucket. Aimee accompanied us for a bit and was definitely better in the backpack. After a while though she looked unhappy and a bit soggy, so I put her in my coat and went back to the van while Lee continued to the stream. She hid inside my coat shivering the whole way back and getting even more freaked out by the hunter’s gunshots, by the time we had got back I was paranoid she would have caught a chill. However in no time the heating was on and she was chewing something she shouldn’t be, order restored.

That night, it poured. The morning it was still raining when we got up ready for our VW meet. The nice clean camper of yesterday was gone and she was completely covered in leaves and, by the end of the dirt road, mud. We made a brief detour to Ingles for some breakfast which was incredibly cheap, and some wifi which was incredibly slow. Around half 10 we pulled up to Zen Tubing, the start of the meet. We weren’t sure we had the right place to start with as there was only two other VW’s there, a modern and a classic beetle.

Within the next hour or so a few more pulled in, the majority no doubt having given up on the wet drizzly weather. Heath explained how the poker run worked and the route, and we all paid a $25 entrance fee which was going to go to a children’s charity before setting off.

The route headed up the Blue Ridge Parkway which we had previously driven along, and I’m glad to say I saw it on a clear day as the conditions today looked like this as we followed Heath.

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We stopped at the Pisagh Inn to get the first card of the poker hand we were playing.

Screen Shot 2019-10-28 at 22.42.06Then we were onto Sliding Rock for the second, we didn’t go and see the rock after being assured by the locals it wasn’t worth spending $6 unless you wanted to slide down it. We then stopping briefly at Looking Glass falls for a photo en route.

Oskar Blues Brewery was the destination the third card and a quick drink. Heath had arranged for the bar staff to sort the poker cards for us too. We tried the Old Chubb beer which was really, really good (but very expensive at $8 a pint). The final stop was the Sierra Nevada brewery where we parked up for a photo.

After this we headed back to a shop to pick up some veggie burgers for the grill before returning to Heath’s business place, Zen Tubing. Back here the BBQ was on and the beers were ready to be drank. The final card was given out meaning that each VW it’s own poker hand, the winners got $100 with 2nd and 3rd place getting $50. We managed to scrape 3rd place with our pair of 6s beating James’ pair by having a queen high card. Pretty chuffed with our prize, Heath also gave everyone a t-shirt, just for turning up which was nice. Now with the day mostly done, slowly people filtered away leaving just us, Heath and a Canadien couple called Garry and Heather. We stayed up for several hours drinking (and trying their home grown weed) around the fire in the pouring rain before heading to bed.

I felt sorry for Heath, he and his wife had clearly put so much time, effort and money into the day, for a small turn out due to the weather. This didn’t detract from it being a really fun day out, and I’m glad we stayed for it, but I do hope that he gets more support and better weather next year. If I could go back again I would, I always think there is a lovely sense of community in owning a classic car and attending events like this.

In the morning, after another night torrential of rain, Lee got out of bed and put his foot into something wet and ominous on the floor. Turns out that is wasn’t a water leak, but a toilet leak and that this was liquid shit all over the floor… Luckily for everyone out there, we didn’t take a photo. Needless to say the next hour or so were spent taking out the toilet and fridge and scrubbing the floor top to bottom. At least we were in a location where there was a handy river and portaloo!

Heather very kindly cooked us breakfast, which was particularly helpful as our van interior was in bits. We sat outside there van Oscar, and enjoying the luxury of having free food being served to us! Soon Heath and Jen turned up to collect his car and to pack away things from yesterday. Garry and Heather were packed up heading for the Blue Smokey Mountains and we were packed and heading for Savannah, having had enough of rain. It was time to say goodbye, and it this is the problem with travelling. You meet so many people, so quickly and often get on so well, but then you’re back on the road again just as quickly. We have already got several people from earlier in our trip that we are still in contact with and I hope that I can add these guys to that list. We definitely plan to visit Garry and Heather in Canada and stop on their drive as they have invited us!

It was nearly a 5 hour drive to Savannah and time to get going. After a fruitless stop to try and find a new relay for our split charge circuit, we hit the road with nearly 300 miles to cover and the promise of warm weather at the end.

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