Friday, July 2, 2010

A Taste of Asheville

Sitting on a stool at the small bar in the tasting room of the Craggie Brewing Co. with his long, parted, salt-and-pepper hair, Lee greeted me warmly as I noticed his resemblance to Jackson Browne.  Behind the bar stood a man with long and curly black hair surrounding his beaming smile.  He could have passed for a high school senior.  Johathon was, in fact, the co-owner of the Craggie. I asked for a sampler of the five Craggie beers.  Jonathon worked the taps while Lee and I learned that we are both chemists with an interest in brewing.  Lee and I agreed that all of the Craggie offerings were good beers.  We especially liked the Meet Your Maker barley wine was well above average with its slight hoppiness infused into the bitter/sweet barley flavors.  My favorite was the Antebellum Ale which incorporated molasses, ginger, and spruce tips into the flavor/aroma blend.  Well done!  I wanted to buy a growler of it, but it was too early in a car trip for such a purchase.

Asheville, I learned, was voted the number one beer city in America.  More people voted for this small mountain town than for much larger brewing communities in CO, OR, or WA.  Asheville also reigns as the highest brewery percapita town in the U.S.  So, I spent the day visiting breweries like the Asheville Pizza and Brewing Co., Wedge Brewery, Highland Brewing Co., Green Man Brewing and Tasting Co., and Jack of the Wood.  I did not get to Barley's or French Broad.  I did not have a bad taste all day.  Asheville's brewers not only brew a lot of beer, they brew a lot of great tasting beers.

It was easy to see the complex nature of Asheville's inhabitants.  There was the college crowd who seemed to be fashionably dressed and in possession of a lot of spending money.  Standing in groups along every street were the scruffy, mostly ti-dyed instrument-packing musicians who ranged from the teens all the way up into middle-aged.  Their attire and demeanor were not too different from the transients and homeless who seemed to be everywhere.  They could be seen throughout Battery Park, in alleys, and on almost every street corner.  None of them seemed to be interacting with the locals or tourists.

Just before the sun went down I made my way to Jack of the Wood.  This brewpub serves good beers, their own and many other brands, as well as a complete food menu.  I had already eaten, so I sat at the bar and ordered a Foothills Wheat and waited for the music to begin.  Jack of the Woods has a rustic, old west environment; floor-to-ceiling aged wood and very little light.  In one corner is a raised triangle that serves as a stage.  When my beer arrived there were eight musicians playing guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and a bass.  It wasn't a band.  This was an open jam session where just anybody could walk in off of the street to play and or sing. 

I stumbled upon Jack of the Wood a few years back when passing through town.  It was open jam that night, too.  I absolutely love live music, especially emotional music like blues or bluegrass.  Wednesday night, my rest night, I sipped a fine wheat beer and listened to the sweet and soulful sounds of bluegrass.  I decided that my house needed a little stage and a regular supply of my own brews to entice talented musicians to come and play.  Dream on.

When she sat down beside me at the bar, I could not help but notice how beautiful she was.  When she ordered the Foothills Wheat, I recognized how smart she was.  Katie (-ie or -y, embarrassingly, I forgot to ask!) noticed I had the same taste in beer.  With the face of an angel, long black hair framing, high cheek bones, a big smile, and dark eyes, Katie began to talk and I realized she was as outgoing as gregarious as I.  Before long she told me that she had to go out to the street to be with her brother, who was out there because he was not yet 21.  She asked me to come outside and meet him.

I went to the restroom and thought about going out to where I could see them sitting on a bench along the front wall of the bar.  When I realized that there was a pretty rough looking transient man standing close to Katie's brother while making strong hand gestures, I thought I should check it out.  It turns out that Noah, Katie's brother, was trying to rid himself of this guy aptly self-named "Teardrop."  Aptly named because he had a small teardrop tattooed under his left eye.  This is sometimes a gang symbol for committing a murder, but Teardrop denied his meant that.  I told him that I had made the assumption because of the swastika tattooed on his neck.  I also asked him how his left eyebrow came to be busted up like a UFC fighter's.  He said he got into it with a pigeon.  I raised my eyebrows, cut a look at Noah, and said "That must have been one big pigeon!"  "Oh, he was big all right."  Then I asked the question that made him smile a knowing smile.  "What was he carrying and why were you fighting with him?"  Teardrop changed the subject and Katie caught him in a lie about his need for money.  That upset him and Katie went back into the pub.  Teardrop was agitated, but not yet willing to leave us alone.

As I began to probe the streets for the police who had been everywhere all the time a few hours ago, Teardrop offered Noah some whiskey and some mushrooms.  WTH!  Noah is as good looking as his sister, with the same dark hair, skin tone, and eyes.  He is also a big, muscular young man.  Much bigger than either Teardrop or me.  Still, I worried about him.  I looked for the police and stretched my arms - a quick back fist would have dropped Teardrop if he got out of hand. 

Katie returned with Lloyd.  Lloyd was a grayed and bearded man of about seventy.  He, too, was pretty big.  Katie had said something to the bartender, but he had no interest in getting involved.  Lloyd agreed to come out and sit with us.  Martha, an Ivy League educated, middle-aged trades person also sat down with us.

I really just wanted to go back inside where I could hear the music better.  But first I wanted to get rid of Teardrop.  I didn't have to.  He saw someone across the street who really scared him and he quickly disappeared in the large crowd of people along the sidewalk.  Once he was gone the rest of us settled into a roaming conversation that covered politics, economy as related to mining and oil drilling, work ethics, education, and achieving happiness in life.  We all agreed that learning to think, i.e. acquiring critical thinking, was an important step in life.  When she left, Martha drove past and gave me a bumper sticker that says "Critical Thinking - America's Other National Deficit."  Perfect! 

Meanwhile, Lloyd was demonstrating his song writing talents by singing part of his song "You Wouldn't Call Me if You Knew What I Called You."  It was funny and, actually, quite good. Lloyd reminded me of my uncles in charm and whit.  Katie seemed to be quite fascinated by him.

The whole incident with Teardrop probably only lasted 15-20 minutes, but left me unsettled for hours.  As with all of my trips, I have met and talked to dozens of people from all over the country.  Every single person, except for Teardrop, was warm, kind, and likable.  (Note:  This was especially true of ALL Harley riders I encountered along the BRP.)  Katie, Noah, Lloyd, and Martha were all really nice people.  I especially enjoyed talking to Katie and Noah.  These two siblings were on a short trip together and would be in Charleston the next day before returning to Pennsylvania.  They were easy to talk to, intelligent, and inspirational.  I am truly glad I met them.

Me, Katie, and Lloyd

Katie and Noah Self-Photo

Yesterday was waterfall day.  I used the waterfalls as reasons to run.  I visited three major falls.  The first was Roaring Fork, which was one I learned of from locals.  It is seldom seen because it is off of the beaten path.  I liked it because it was so tall.  The water split and merged over and over as it rolled down the 80 ft face of rock.  I also like the approach trail.  It was mostly an old state logging road.  Two think paths of gravel wound up 70 feet over a distance of a kilometer.  Awesome.  After slowly running an out/back to get pictures, I blasted back up it several times to get in a set of K's.  The right quad was sore from favoring the turned ankle on the Mt. Mitchell descent, but the tendons loosened up nicely.  That was a great workout on a road that reminded me of Stru Hill.

Next came the very popular Crabtree Falls.  Located along the BRP, this waterfall had a tough approach trail that drops 380 feet in 0.9 miles over many boulders and high roots.  It was a challenge to run on, especially with the weak ankle.  Again awesome waterfall.

Finally, I returned to Linville Falls.  This waterfall is coupled with a visitor center on the BRP.  It was my turn-around point on my first bike ride along the BRP.  There were several trails approaching the multi-stage waterfall from differing angles.  I ran to all of them, including the one at the bottom of the gorge.  This one also dropped almost 400 ft.  So, I got a lot of pics and a whole lot of vertical on the day.  I spent almost two hours running, taking pictures, and talking to people.  Again, I met some awesome people.  One of them saw my PU plate and boasted that she was from West Lafayette.  Awesome!

I finished the day with a 31-mile ride on the BRP.  This one had as much vertical, as the 52-mile ride - over 4100 ft.  I will not lie - I struggled on two of the climbs (1.8 and 4.1 miles long!) when the grade hit 9-11%.  Grind, baby, grind.  The legs did not have the same zip that they had on Monday.   Now I must focus on a good recovery/taper as I approach the races. 

All together, I rode more than 100 miles and ran more than 40 during these five days.  I good week of training exploration.  What a lucky man! 

Well, I am about to get timed out here at the Boone Panera, so I will have to post more pics later, after rush hour.  Right now I must go to the pharmacy to get Ty Capone another round of antibiotics.  Yest, the poor boy's left tonsil has inflamed again.  I am here, in town, to assist him.  He is a trooper and does not want to go home early.  I hope the meds work quickly!    ST

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