State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

hiking

by Natalia

Grandfather Mountain trails are marked permit required on the map. I thought: finally, someone protects over billion years old (one of the oldest on the planet) mountain from destruction.

It turns out it's only profit that's protected. The mountain is privately owned and, as such ventures do, offers numerous attractions including road access to the summit, swinging bridge over a gorge and local animals' habitats. Seemingly in transition toward a more discerning public as selling food to people to feed bears begging for it is being replaced by educational programs called enrichments. It's not clear who's being enriched as the entry fee leaves you undeniably $15 poorer while animals, with the exception of overfed bears, don't look particularly happy.

We passed the swinging bridge back and forth. It is being advertised as 1 mile high but that's above the sea level. Actual distance from the bottom of the gorge is far less impressive but not less deadly. We didn't hike Grandfather Mountain (what's the point when you are already on the top?) but went to Linville Falls.

One meets all kinds of people on a trail from teenagers wearing flip-flops to snicker shod moms to professionally outfitted weekend mountaineers.The latter I understand. I really do. Every time I visit a camping equipment store I want to get all those pocket stoves, pen torches and under 1 pounds tents. So never mind the parking lot is 0.5 mile away let's cook some emergency meals on the flameless stove and deploy those made for high altitude plastic forks. Modern life is too busy to spend more then few hours playing a pioneer.

Afterwards we hiked Mount Mitchell (highest mountain east of Mississippi). And by hiking I mean driving up and then walking the last 300 yards (what's up with paving roads to mountaintops in this country?) The high point (pun intended) was overtaking grandpas on bicycles racing up in the fog while grandmas in SUVs were egging them on.

2 for non

We are merely driving through South Carolina this time. No time for more than just a cursory glance. We probably should stay longer. This is not your average state. None really is. It's late, so we opt for a meal in a chain restaurant. As chain restaurants go, this particular one is lower upper shelf. The nice thing about chains is they are familiar. Nothing really changes anywhere. Or so we thought. The greeting lady welcomes us asking 'two for non?'. Huh?

parkway

Americans practically live in their cars. Or at least they eat and drink in them, besides commuting over ridiculously large distance (half an hour one way being on the short side). The number of cup holders often exceeds the number of passengers (2010 Honda Odyssey has 13 cup holders for 8 passengers). It's no wonder that the most visited national park is Blue Ridge Parkway where one can commune with nature not leaving one's car.