A Travellerspoint blog

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

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Matt and I enjoyed spending Christmas at a cabin in Sapphire, NC so much last year, that we decided to do it again this year. What we didn’t know was that the entire Southeast would be experiencing the most bizarre Christmas weather on record.

My visions of a white Christmas, of gazing out at snow frosted trees stretching as far as the eye could see while curling up next to a roaring fire were replaced with….

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Okay, so maybe the weather wasn’t entirely cooperative, and maybe I spent much of Christmas wondering if we were going to get washed down the mountainside in a mudslide, but even the weather couldn’t put a damper on our Christmas spirit, especially when spent at such a wonderful place.

Because we did nothing more than sit inside by the fire and stuff ourselves with Christmas cookies for 4 days, there isn’t much of a story to tell, but this place was so exquisitely cozy and lovely, that I feel compelled to share the highlight reel.

Here's the Christmas in Sapphire Top 10:

#1: Buying a Christmas tree from Tom Sawyer Tree Farm. Sure, I had already put up 4 trees at home, but what's one more, right?

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#2: Sapphire Heaven, the most wonderful cabin on the planet.

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#3: Cozying up by the fire with hot coffee, hot chocolate, cocktails, or my sweet pups.

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#4. Making goodies in the coolest cabin kitchen ever.

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(While I would love to take credit for this amazing red velvet cake, the credit goes to Magpies Bakery. All I did was make the trees! But hey, they are pretty awesome!)

#5. Wonderful dinner at Table 64 in Cashiers, NC.

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#6. Christmas Eve at the Log Cabin Restaurant in Highlands, NC.

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#7. Never getting out of our PJs on Christmas Day.

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#8. Christmas Dinner at the cabin, decorating with whatever I could find.

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#9. One beautiful day where the sun came out and we were able to host Matt's family for lunch (just before the torrential rains returned!).

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#10. A lovely dinner with Matt's mom at The Orchard in Cashiers.

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I hope each and every one of you enjoyed a very Merry Christmas and that the New Year brings you much joy and happiness!

Posted by vicki_h 08:47 Archived in USA Tagged mountains highlands north_carolina rustic blue_ridge sapphire cashiers log_cabin Comments (1)

It’s beginning to look at lot like Christmas

A pre-holiday weekend at Barnsley Resort

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Nothing gets you in the mood for Christmas like a quaint English village festively decorated with an extraordinary number of Christmas trees, countless twinkling lights, and a firepit on every corner. That’s exactly what we found at Barnsley Resort in Adairsville, GA when we were invited to spend a weekend just weeks before Christmas.

The history of the property was a story in itself. A story of love, despair, restoration and hope, it read like something from a historical romance novel.

The original Barnsley Estate was a dazzling mansion named Woodland, built by Godfrey Barnsley, an extremely wealthy cotton broker, for his true love, Julia. Godfrey ignored the Indian legend that said the land was cursed and he began construction on the graceful Italianate villa and its elaborate gardens in the mid 1800’s, only to have Julia fall ill and die before the home was ever finished. In his grief, Godfrey ceased work on the grand manor house.

He resumed construction when Julia visited him in a dream and told him to finish the home for their children. The house was completed and Godfrey lived there with the children but a series of calamities befell them. First, his infant son died, followed by his daughter. Chinese pirates killed another son. The house was then severely damaged during the Civil War. Finally, Godfrey left the estate for New Orleans, to try to rebuild his ruined fortune (he never did). His daughter, Julia, remained at the house. Her husband was crushed by a falling tree. Julia's daughter, Adelaide married and returned to the house, but her husband died shortly thereafter.

In 1906, a tornado damaged the lovely house, ripping away the roof, forcing Miss Addie to move into the kitchen wing with her sons as the house fell into ruin around her. One of her sons, Preston, grew to be a prize fighter, but sustained a serious head injury and was institutionalized. He escaped from the institution, returned to the cursed estate, and gunned down his brother, who died in Miss Addie's arms.

Miss Addie lost her love of the estate and let it fall into neglect. When she died in 1942, the house was roofless and crumbling, it's once beautiful walls now buried in vines and kudzu.

The estate was auctioned off and the land was used for farming for several decades as what remained of the manor house crumbled, and the beautiful gardens grew wild.

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The gardens and manor house proceeded to fall into disrepair. In 1988, a Bavarian prince purchased the dilapidated estate and its 4,000 acres and asked the Cherokee Indians to bless the land and remove the curse. He then revived and expanded the gardens and salvaged the ruins of the once beautiful home. Over time, it has been developed into a beautiful resort, built to resemble a quaint English village, with a central Town Hall and adorable cottages that house the resort’s cozy guest suites.

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With no idea what to expect, we were absolutely enchanted when we pulled onto the property. “Quaint” is simply inadequate. Barnsley’s charms were immediate. We were assaulted by a tasteful display of extraordinary Christmas décor, delightful cottages that looked like something from a fairy tale, and an enormous suite in a cottage that would have put a smile on even the Grinch’s face.

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The property was opulent, without being overdone. It felt genteel, elegant, and genuine. Nothing felt contrived or counterfeit. It was truly like stepping into another time and place, a place where Christmas reigned supreme.

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We got settled and set off to find the Wine Snob’s social hour. The Wine Snob is the gentleman's actual job title at Barnsley. His only purpose is to ensure you enjoy your wine while you are there. On Friday evenings, he hosts a complimentary social hour where he selects a few choice wines that he offers with fruit and cheese for your sampling pleasure.

Wine tastings make me a little nervous. I was afraid it was going to be like our experience with the sommelier at Blackberry Farm, who was so offended by our cheap wine choice (at $95 I didn’t really consider it cheap….) that he refused to even pour it himself and sent the waiter over to do the dirty work.

I was worried I wouldn’t sniff it properly or that my pre-sip swirl would lack the verve with which a true wine connoisseur would approach it.

Even if I managed to sniff, swirl, swoosh, and sip properly, what if he asked me for commentary? What would I say?????

I could just hear myself, “It has hints of frankenberry and bitter clown tears. I think it would pair nicely with a mild bout of depression.”

Would he be able to look into my eyes and know there was a time when the only wine I would drink came in a plastic bottle with a screw top?

Wine Snob.

It sounded so intimidating.

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I am happy to report that the Wine Snob was anything BUT a snob. He was the sweetest man EVER. He didn’t mind that we were not sophisticated wine drinkers and proceeded to provide us with a stellar tasting of two very unique wines, despite the fact that it was pretty obvious our taste currently resides in the $12 range.

With time to kill before dinner, we walked the grounds and marveled at the old world ambience and how simply gorgeous everything was.

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We found ourselves at K.O. Dugan’s Tavern, a rustic bar named after prizefighter K.O. Dugan, the great-grandson of Godfrey Barnsley (yes, the one that shot his brother). Filled with leather club chairs and a stone fireplace, it also sported an excellent selection of fine scotch and bourbon.

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We spent too much time at Dugan’s getting holly jolly, and missed the evening s’mores. Yes, in the evening, the resort sets out complimentary s’mores makings at the fire pits.

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HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THE S’MORES?????

No matter, it was time for dinner.

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Dinner was at the Rice House, the resort’s fine dining restaurant located in one of the historic homes on the property. The white glove treatment that we had been enjoying so far throughout Barnsley Resort continued as we were seated before a roaring fireplace.

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We opted for the prix-fixe four course menu, and as we typically do, we chose almost the same four courses, deviating only on the main entrée.

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We both started with the apple cider brined plantation quail served over course ground grits with a fall vegetable “nest,”, sorghum-jalapeno, and quail jus.

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For seconds, we both had the vanilla poached Maine lobster with cheese, local apple, garden herb wafers, grapes, corn salad, Woodford sea salt, and truffle aioli.

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For our main, Matt had the bison ribeye, while I had the nightly special which was an extraordinary pork loin. We both agreed that, while both were excellent, mine was the winner.

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For dessert, we both ordered the Georgia pecan pie with bourbon-soaked pecans, sea salt, and dulce de leche gelato.

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We made the leisurely walk back to our cottage, drinking in the beautiful Christmas lights along the way.

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The next morning, we slept in. We had a 10:00 spa appointment, so there was no reason to be in a hurry.

We grabbed breakfast at the casual Woodlands Grill before heading to the spa. Like everything else at the resort, it was draped in garland, lights, and wreaths, making us feel like we were part of a Christmas parade, everywhere we went.

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They had an ENORMOUS breakfast buffet, but I didn’t want to eat that much food before a massage. Eat a bunch of food and then have someone push around on you? No thanks. That’s an awkward moment just waiting to happen.

It didn’t stop Matt.

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The next hour was spent at the spa getting a wonderfully relaxing massage.

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Because he was willing to go to the spa with me, I had agreed to go sport shooting with Matt. Barnsley is well-renowned for their gentlemen’s shooting club. It offers sporting clays as well as a variety of wildlife hunts in the nearby woods.

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Matt was doing the 100 clay shooting course, which was set up on 15 stations throughout the forest. It was a gorgeous day, so I asked if I could tag along.

Each station had two clay throwers and included 6 – 8 shots using a Caesar Guerini over and under shotgun.

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Matt finally talked me into trying to shoot one clay. The 12-gauge shotgun only weighed 8 lbs. but it could have weighed 40, for all I could do to lift it. Despite the number of times I assured Matt and our guide that this wasn’t a good idea, they insisted I try to hit a target.

Can you believe I hit it? I couldn’t. I know they couldn’t.

I immediately retired from my brief clay shooting career while my record was 100%.

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It was such a gorgeous and unseasonably warm day, that we wanted to stay outdoors as long as possible. We decided to visit the Barnsley equestrian center. Matt had never ridden a horse.

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No, riding a pony at the county fair does not count.

As they saddled up a couple of horses, we visited with the other guests of the barn.

There was an adorably fat goat, a miniature white donkey and horse who were obviously inseparable, and a little pig that was so fast, it’s picture was nothing more than a pink blur.

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I’m happy to report that Matt’s first trail ride went extremely well. Thankfully, I was paired with the “lively” horse who preferred to drop far behind the other two before taking off at a spirited gallop until he caught back up. “If you don’t watch him,” the guide said, “He’ll bite the other horse in the butt when he catches back up. That’s just what he likes to do.”

Great.

He also liked to rub his body all over the hay bales in the field, like an oversized cat with a scratching post.

“Just lift your feet up on top of the saddle until he’s done,” our guide kept telling me, “Or he’ll get hay all over ya’.”

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I left a little stiffer and a lot smellier than I arrived.

After our ride, we took a walk through the remains of the estate house and the gardens. The house had lovely decorations inside and it gave it a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. Julia never saw her house, but they put a tree up in her parlor every year.

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We grabbed a late bite at the Beer Garden, Barnsley’s choice for casual al-fresco dining. It was the place for craft brews, giant pretzels, bratwurst, and fresh grilled burgers covered with gooey cheese.

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We lounged in the afternoon sunshine until it was time to get ready for the Christmas party. Our weekend invitation to Barnsley was a gift from one of Matt’s generous charter clients and it included an invitation to their formal Christmas party.

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I’d love to tell you all about it but,

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Well, almost.

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Sunday morning came too soon, mainly because we’d been dancing until the wee hours of the morning with our good friends Jose and Jack, but also because we were loath to leave this beautiful property.

With no spa appointment or tight dress to squeeze into later, I dove headfirst into the breakfast buffet.

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We took a final stroll through the property.

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There was nothing left to do but head home. Goodbye giant Santa and his rabbit! Farewell huge Christmas tree! Au Revoir Wine Snob and fat goat!

You threw me all the Christmas spirit you had and now I’m ready for old Kris Kringle, goodwill towards mankind, and all things merry and bright!

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Next Stop? A return to the Christmas Cabin in Sapphire, NC....

Posted by vicki_h 09:39 Archived in USA Tagged georgia ga adairsville barnsley_gardens barnsley_resort Comments (2)

Puppies, Rainbows, and Chickenheads....Tortola has it ALL.

“What do you mean there isn’t a 5:00 ferry today?”

It was taking every ounce of self-control I had not to leap across the desk and begin choking the smug, unhelpful woman behind the Smith Ferry desk at the Charlotte Amalie ferry dock.

“We have no 5:00 ferry today,” she repeated without even looking up. I think she was afraid if she looked me in the eye, I could turn her into stone with one stare. If I thought it was possible, I would have tried.

“But your website shows a 5:00 ferry today. I even called to confirm.”

Our late afternoon flight had only given us one ferry option that we could make on time: the 5:00 Smith Ferry from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas to West End, Tortola. If we didn’t get on this ferry, we weren’t getting to Tortola until tomorrow.

“You have a ticket?” she asked, smugly. I could see by her smirk that she knew good and well I didn’t have an advance ticket. It’s too risky to buy a ticket in advance. You never really know what time your flight will arrive and what ferry options you will realistically have. You could very well buy a ticket for the 5:00 on Smith and end up arriving in time to get on the 4:15 Fast Ferry.

I was just about ready to admit defeat when a voice spoke from behind me.

“I have a ticket for the 5:00 ferry.”

I turned and saw my savior: a petite young woman holding a suitcase and a ticket. I immediately hitched my wagon to her star. Her ticket gave her superpowers I did not possess. I moved in beside her and let her speak to the uncompromising mountain of a woman behind the counter.

“I have a ticket and you’re telling me there is no ferry????” I quickly learned that she was an attorney from Texas and she had purchased a ticket for the 5:00 ferry on their website. It was in her hand. She was small but mighty. I started to feel something akin to hope.

Within moments, she had free cab fare for all of us to the Red Hook ferry dock and had the woman at the Smith Ferry desk agreeing to call and hold the 5:30 Native Son ferry to Tortola until we arrived, no matter what time that was.

We then made the roller coaster ride from Charlotte Amalie across the mountains to Red Hook, St. Thomas. In 5:00 p.m. traffic it was a good 45 minutes. We'd have never made it without her.

I sighed as we were finally seated on the ferry to Tortola at almost 6:00 p.m. God bless Ms. Attorney From Texas, wherever she is.

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We arrived at West End, Tortola in the dark. To me, that’s the biggest drawback to visiting the Caribbean in the winter months: the short days. This meant we would be making the drive to Indigo House in the dark. We had never driven on Tortola before, but I knew enough about it to know that finding our way, alone, in the dark, wasn’t ideal.

No worries. We were just happy to be there.

We quickly went through customs, got our Jeep, and were on our way to Cane Garden Bay.

The drive was INSANE.

Tortola’s roads go in 2 directions: Up and Down. We found ourselves on the way up. Up. UP. UP. The road between Carrot Bay and Cane Garden Bay seemed to be nothing but a series of gravity defying switch backs.

At least until we hit a sharp 180 degree turn and started to go down.

I held my breath and closed my eyes and prayed for a blessed end.

It came in the form of a GIGANTIC speedbump that Matt didn’t see because it had no paint on it whatsoever, had no sign announcing its impending arrival, and came at us in the dark.

With my spine now lodged between my ears, we realized we had arrived in Cane Garden Bay.

Indigo House was a private villa that was part of Myett’s, a well-known restaurant and inn. However, unlike Myett’s, which is located on the end of the bay populated with a variety of bars, restaurants, and guest houses, Indigo house was on the more secluded end and was delightfully private and shrouded in tropical foliage.

It was hard to see much of the house in the dark, so we simply dumped our bags, checked to see that our groceries had been delivered and put away (Thank You, Bobby’s Marketplace and Myett’s!!), and quickly changed into something more presentable so we could head to dinner to let the stress of travel day dissipate.

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Unfortunately, this required a drive back to Carrot Bay. Up, down, up, down, up, down…..by the time we reached the Sugar Mill Restaurant, I had vertigo. It was nothing a strong cocktail wouldn’t solve. Despite our late arrival, they had agreed to hold our reservation and we were still able to enjoy a romantic first night’s dinner.

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The Sugar Mill’s history is almost as old as that of the island itself. Built within the rum house of an old Sugar Mill Estate, where sugar cane was once boiled to make rum, the restaurant welcomed us with rough stone walls and glowing candlelight. We learned that the walls of this beautiful restaurant contained cobblestones that the estate’s ship crews swiped from 17th-century Liverpool streets to use as ballast in their boats for the voyage to the New World to pick up sugar and rum.

Tropical cocktails were followed by the starter of the evening, jerk chicken spring rolls. They were crispy on the outside and oozing with spicy goodness on the inside. For dinner, we both had the Lobster Thermidor: tender lobster meat tossed with egg yolks and a splash of brandy and placed back in the shell to be topped with a fine crust of cheese.

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As I listened to the night creatures on the hillsides surrounding us, I found myself growing drowsy under the twinkling lights of the Sugar Mill.

It had been a long, hard day, but we were here.

It was time to see Tortola.

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Day One: BBQ and Budgy Smugglers

My first order of business was to explore my surroundings. Arriving in the dark is not my preference, so I was eager to see Cane Garden Bay and get a good look at the Indigo House.

Indigo House was everything I hoped it would be.

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Most villas on Tortola are situated high on the hillside, with sweeping views of the bays and islands below. I had opted for Indigo House when I saw that it sat literally feet from the edge of the water. I wanted to wake up and see the waves lapping the shore below my feet as I sipped my coffee in the morning.

Indigo House offered just that. Located on the quiet end of Cane Garden Bay, it was situated mere feet from the water’s edge. Surrounded by palm trees and tropical plants, I felt like I was in a tropical garden. The main floor of the house had a large open floor plan with a well equipped kitchen and large living/dining room with floor to ceiling doors that opened on every side, letting in the breeze and the sound of the waves. Delightful patios, courtyards, and decks filled with tropical plants surrounded the house on every side.

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There was a bedroom and bath downstairs, but we opted to use the upstairs bedroom and bathroom because it was larger and had sweeping views of the bay below. I loved that we had the choice of open windows or a/c. I also loved the heavy shutters that kept the room insanely dark at night if we chose to close them.

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There was only one part of Indigo House I didn’t love.

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This narrow, winding staircase, while being a great space saver, was an absolute horror after a few beach cocktails. Not only was it similar to swinging round and round on a giant merry-go-round after a couple of drinks, but if you needed to get to the bathroom quickly, you literally put your life in danger.

It was nothing short of a miracle that I made it through the entire week without wetting my pants or falling down the stairs.

Cane Garden Bay was as wonderful a beach as one is likely to find. It was a perfect crescent of white sand fringed with leaning palms and surrounded by towering, lush, green mountains. On the far end, it had a smattering of great beach bars and restaurants that we could easily walk to and stumble back home without even having to get in the Jeep. It was perfect.

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Well, except for the fact that the Tortola taxis dump 80% of the cruise ship passengers here.

I knew this in advance and made the decision to stay on Cane Garden Bay anyway because 1) I loved Indigo House, 2) Cane Garden Bay was beautiful and 3) Matt and I rarely stay at our villa past 10:00 a.m., so we had plenty of time each day to get the heck out of dodge before the cruise shippers showed up and ruined everything.

It was unfortunate that most of the cruise ship passengers ended up on Cane Garden Bay, lured in by an endless supply of cheap , plastic beach loungers and countless signs offering $2 daiquiris. In the morning and evening, when no one was there, it was an incredibly beautiful beach.

We had decided in advance that we would hang around Indigo House and relax until the first taxis showed up. That’s when we’d go check out the other beaches and explore the island. Most of the cruise ship passengers were there from about 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. This worked pretty well for us.

Except that first day.

We should have stuck to the plan. We had a plan. Why didn’t we stick to the plan????

We were tired. Travel day had us up at 3:30 a.m. and had us in airports or on planes, taxis, or ferries from 5:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. We thought, maybe just this one day, we could endure the crowd and stay on Cane Garden Bay for the day. Get some rest.

It started off well.

We had the beach to ourselves….and what a beautiful beach it was.

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We pulled our beach chairs into the sun, grabbed some books and music, mixed up some bloody marys, and started seeing how quickly we could turn our pasty-white November skin into a golden tan.

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This went pretty well until around 11:00 p.m. By this time, the chairs on the far end of the beach were filled with people. We could see them milling around like ants from our remote position on the other end.

“Don’t worry,” I told Matt. “No one will come down this far. There are no bars down here and there are no chairs.”

It was about that time that the first couple showed up, content to spread their towels in the sand and eat crackers out of a backpack to avoid the crowds at the other end. Then a few more showed up. Before we knew it, hoardes of excessively white, speedo-clad beach goers lined up in front of our house like it was a tourist attraction. The countless speedos clued us in that this group was most likely European. Some of them were so bold, I was surprised they didn’t ask to use my beach chairs or ask me to go inside and make them a drink.

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We decided to walk down to Myett’s and grab some lunch. After lunch, we planned to head out to Brewer’s Bay.

As we approached Myett’s, the crowds got thick. We had to navigate our way through rows and rows of beach lounges to even get to the steps. Makeshift bars were set up all along the beach, each one promising a better drink for a lower price. Rum punch for $3? Seriously…how good could THAT be?

I started to worry that Myett’s would be overrun, but was surprised to find the actual restaurant almost empty. Apparently, the cruise shippers were too cheap to actually eat inside the restaurant.

Yay for us!

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I LOVE Myett’s. Not only is the view amazing (even if it was mostly of giant white bellies in speedos that day), and not only does it have the most amazing tropical-tree-house vibe, they have the BEST BBQ sauce in the world. BEST.

Paired with anything made with their house spiced rum….it’s near perfection. Speedos be damned.

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We started off with a combo plate of conch fritters and cracked conch. This might have been the most perfect Caribbean appetizer ever designed for me and Matt. He loves cracked conch (I hate it) and I love conch fritters (he hates them). Served with their own calypso sauce and paired with a rum punch and a shot of house spiced rum, I was as happy as a fat European in a speedo shop.

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We followed that with the wings, which are fried extra crispy and slathered in the house BBQ sauce and the sweet and spicy boneless chicken thighs on salad greens. The chicken thighs were frenched and marinated in Saba Island sauce, cooked crisp and served with a lemon vinaigrette, toasted nuts, and scallions.

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We were staring into our spiced rum, trying to decide whether to make the drive to Brewer’s Bay when we saw two things that sent us running back to Indigo House in horror:

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The rest of the afternoon was spent reading inside while listening to the rain on the metal roof and hiding from any more speedos.

We were so tired, and the rain sounded so amazing, and the rum had been so plentiful and strong that we fell asleep. We woke up in the dark and decided a walk to Myett’s for dinner sounded far better than a drive up and down the hills of horror.

For dinner, Myett’s had a 2 lb lobster special. Oh my. The lobster was so tender it literally melted in my mouth and came with a selection of steamed and buttered vegetables artfully displayed on top of the lobster. It also came with a side of Myett’s hand cut fries, which were out of this world. It was even better than the BBQ.

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Our first day might not have been very exciting, but it was unbelievably relaxing and went a long way toward recharging our batteries so that we could dive into the rest of the trip with gusto.

Day Two: Nature Boy, Chicken Heads, and Why Columbus Run Like Hell

I always wake up before Matt on vacation. This is my “quiet time.” At Indigo House, I came to love the first hour of the morning, where I would make my coffee and sit out on the deck, watching the fisherman cast their nets and listening to the waves roll in.

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BANG!!!

BANG!! BANG BANG!

BANG!

What the? My peaceful reverie was interrupted by the falling of extremely hard little green fruits, about the size of my fist, every 20 minutes or so.
It wasn’t the sound that was disturbing. It was the force with which they hit the deck from so high above.

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BANG!

I got nervous and went inside.

I could just see one of those little suckers slamming down onto my head and knocking me out cold. It would be hours before Matt woke up and found me. I could be dead by then. My eyes would be pecked out by the chickens.

That’s when I got an idea.

I needed a helmet.

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Now I could sit outside without the fear of "death by fruit."

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We were rested up and ready to see more of the island. Our first destination of the day was Long Bay Beach and the Nature Boy Beach Bar. We headed down the switchbacks toward Carrot Bay.

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We made an unexpected stop along the way. When we saw the Original Shell Museum of Carrot Bay, we just had to stop.

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There was art.

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There was history.

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There was shopping and fine dining.

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This place apparently had it all.

We hadn’t done a lot of driving yet, but already knew getting around Tortola was challenging. The island wa only 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, but it was extremely mountainous. Many of the roads simply went straight up and down and had multiple 180 degree switchbacks thrown in just to keep things interesting. This made for beautiful sightseeing and horrifying driving. We wanted to look at the spectacular views, but we were afraid to take our eyes off the road, lest we round a rogue curve and get smashed by a water truck on the wrong side of the road.

We shot up one vertical hill, crested the top, then immediately tilted down 50 degrees. It was madness.

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We also realized that road signs were hit or miss. The lack of good signage easily turned simple beach excursions into exercises in frustration (it took us 3 days to finally find Smuggler’s Cove).

We managed to find Long Bay without hitting an errant chicken or plunging off the side of a sharp turn, but finding Nature Boy Beach Bar was another matter.

The bay was very long, with a bump of green on the very end. How were we supposed to know exactly where this place was on this long, dirt road? Where should we park?

And there it was.

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Sort of.

At least we knew where to park, but once we walked out onto the enormous expanse of beach, we saw nothing that resembled a bar.

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“And remind me why we need to find this place?” Matt sighed, tired of lugging my crap up and down the beach.

“He has CHAIRS,” I explained.

I wanted a chair.

We finally gave up and picked a spot under a palm tree.

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“Wait, let’s go over there,” Matt said. “There’s more shade.”

And just as we rounded the curve, there it was: one of the most interesting beach bars I have seen to date. And I have seen some interesting beach bars.

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The bar was assembled from an extraordinary number of giant palm leaves that had been woven into huge panels and painted. These created tunnels and arches going up the hillside that lead to several structures with some chairs, tables and benches. It was extensive and bizarre.

No one seemed to be home.

We grabbed a couple of chairs and made ourselves comfortable. Since Nature Boy didn’t seem to be anywhere to be found, we just set up our own bar.

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After a couple of hours, a guy showed up with a cooler and some jugs of water. We watched with interest as he straightened up the place, put ice in several coolers, filled some Igloo containers with water, and began setting up his bar with 3 cans of tropical juice and several bottles of Paradise Rum.

Nature Boy had arrived.

We immediately headed over to pay for our chairs and order a drink. We learned that his name was Winston, he only had a few teeth, and no matter what we ordered, he poured us juice with Paradise Rum.

But for $4, who cared?

He proceeded to mix us up the two strongest $4 rum punches in the entire B.V.I. while he talked non-stop. Because of the missing teeth, it was hard to catch everything he was saying, but I am pretty sure I heard “platters of cocaine,” “mushrooms,” and “Spanish girls are the best.” Matt just kept nodding and smiling, looking for a good opportunity to make a break for it. We were finally released when two new victims showed up to order a drink.

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I’m 99.99% sure they got fruit juice with Paradise Rum.

We took the golden opportunity and took a walk down the beach with our rum punch. Long Bay was beautiful. We never wanted to leave.

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At least until we got hungry.

We made the mistake of “taking a shortcut” (what a stupid thing to do when you are on an island you’ve never visited before, you know the roads are horrific, and you have a really bad map), but somehow we finally made our way out of a maze of small dirt roads to find ourselves near Soper’s Hole.

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Soper’s Hole got my vote for the prettiest village on Tortola. Not really a town but more of a sailing port, Soper’s Hole was filled with colorful shops and restaurants.

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My goal was to try Scaramouche, but they weren’t yet open for lunch for the season. I made us a dinner reservation for another night and headed in search of other options.

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We ended up at Pusser’s for wings and painkillers. (And maybe a giant pile of kettle chips with blue cheese and a huge bowl of lobster macaroni and cheese).

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On our way back to Cane Garden Bay, we made a stop at the famous Bomba Shack to see what all the fuss was about. The Bomba Shack is, in fact, a shack. It appeared to be made up of handmade plywood signs held together with driftwood and corrugated tin, then tastefully decorated with dirty bras and panties. There were handpainted signs everywhere, most of them sharing information that would not be appropriate for mixed audiences.

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Best known for its Full Moon Parties and mushroom tea, the Bomba Shack was something to see. Somehow, it’s been standing since 1971, when Bomba Smith Callwood took some salvaged driftwood, a case of beer, and a bottle of rum and set out to create what has become one of the world’s most famous beach bars.

It wasn’t a full moon, so it was mostly filled with surfers looking for a break from the waves. Matt claims I am attracted to all things considered “low rent,” so it was no surprise that I was mesmerized. I loved the colorful crappiness of it.

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We had a Bomba Rum and left before anyone could suggest that I leave my underwear on the wall.

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on Cane Garden Bay before heading to Bananakeet for dinner.

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We knew Bananakeet had a spectacular sunset view, but weren’t disappointed about missing it until we found out that they passed around free “sunset shots.”

Vowing to make the sunset on another night, we dove into the menu with gusto.

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Matt started with the “fritter of the day,” which was a saltfish fritter and I opted for the creamy delicious curried vegetable soup. We both ended up with seafood pasta for dinner. Matt’s was a spicy scallop and mine was a citrus shrimp.

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We were getting used to the harrowing drive back to Indigo House in the dark, but we could never seem to remember that speed bump.

WHAM!

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Day Three: Heading Off Island - Jost For Fun

We woke to a beautiful rainbow and a puppy on our porch.

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The tone of the day was officially set to AWESOME.

We had decided to spend the day off island and decided to take the ferry over to Jost Van Dyke. We had reached the point where the hairpin turns no longer caused us to white knuckle the steering wheel (or in my case, grab the “Oh Shit” Handle that comes on the passenger side of every Jeep), so we were able to enjoy some of the stellar hilltop views that the drive from Cane Garden Bay to West End offered.

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The ferry ride was short and sweet, and before we knew it, our toes were buried in the luxurious sand outside the Soggy Dollar Bar.

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As we always do, we ended up at Getrudes for Olga’s “pour your own rum punch.” I opted for the $6 size, not quite ready for $10 worth of rum, but she still gave us the chairs for free. I LOVE Gertrude’s.

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We did nothing all morning.

Nothing with bloody marys, bushwackers, and rum punches, but still….nothing.

There is no better place than White Bay to do nothing.

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Lunch found us at Seddy's One Love. Sure, maybe I’m in a rut, but I always end up there because I think they have the best lunch and the most colorful atmosphere.

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I also had to see if they had dragged out the Christmas tree again and if yes, did it look any better than last year?

Yes they had and no it did not.

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Seddy’s One Love served us delicious lobster and the best lobster quesadillas. We ate ourselves silly before heading back down the beach.

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We made a stop at the Soggy Dollar for afternoon painkillers and were sad to find out that Mic had finally retired. We consoled ourselves with copious amounts of rum. We also bought some drinks for friends that would be coming down in December. Merry Christmas, Robert and Stacey!!! Have a painkiller on us!

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After a bit, we decided to walk the treacherous goat path (it’s really not treacherous, I just always seem to do it without shoes on….) to see the changes at Ivan’s Stress Free Bar.

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I have to admit, I was disappointed. Ivan’s used to be one of my favorite places. It was unique and eclectic, made of seashells and love and looking like it could fall down any minute:

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The "new and improved Ivan's" was nice, but it seems to have lost its heart. It just looked like any other beach bar.

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We returned to our chairs and entered the “giggly” phase of the afternoon. This always happens on White Bay. This is the point where the number of beach drinks overtakes the amount of food we’ve eaten and we can do nothing but lie on a chair and laugh.

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the antics of the party-goers up and down the beach.

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We had vowed to make it to the Bananakeet Sunset, so we did a quick spit bath and change of clothes in Gertrude’s bathroom before heading to the ferry.

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The ferry left at 5:00 p.m. The ferry ride was 25 minutes. Sunset was at 5:30 p.m. We had to drive that dreadful road from Carrot Bay to get to Bananakeet.

Matt was determined to make it.

We were definitely going to die.

Even though my eyes were closed, I could hear the tires squealing and could smell the rubber as we took each turn. There was smoke.

“I don’t really care about the sunset,” I whispered.

“We’re making the sunset,” he responded.

I grabbed the “Oh Shit!” bar and held on for dear life.

Can you believe we made it? On time and intact?

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We even made it in time for the sunset shot.

By then, I needed that shot.

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When the sunset was over, we agreed on dinner at Myett’s again. Matt desperately wanted another 2 lb. lobster and I was in dire need of more BBQ sauce.

Myett’s didn’t disappoint.

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The only thing that would have been better would have been a rainbow and a puppy.

Day Four: Around and Around We Go

It was another beautiful morning on Cane Garden Bay.

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It was our last full day, so we decided to circumnavigate the island. Given the road conditions, we realized the plan was bold, but we felt up to it. We wanted to see all of Tortola.

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We headed toward Smuggler’s Cove first. We had tried to find it on other days, but it was buried in a maze of tiny dirt roads with no signs and we hadn’t had any luck so far.

Every day of our drive, we had passed this mural on Zion Hill which honored the governors of the BVI. I understood that this was a touching tribute, but the painting of the Honorable Wilfred W. Smith made me pause. I am hopeful that is not an accurate rendering.

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The views along the way were stellar.

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We soon found ourselves in Road Town. I had been hoping to eat at the Dove, what appeared to be one of the best restaurants on the island, but was reduced to a sniveling pile of tears on the first day of our trip:

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There appeared to be nothing else worthwhile in Road Town. It was simply a confusing maze of heavily trafficked streets littered with cruise ship day passengers swarming around with plastic tote bags. I decided that unless you need to purchase an engagement ring without paying tax, catch a ferry or meet the Chief Minister, it’s best to avoid Road Town.

We drove straight through.

My Plan B for lunch was Brandywine Estates, just past Road Town. Before long, we found ourselves at Brandywine Bay Beach, and stopped to take a walk because of the inordinate number of shells that were washed up on the beach.

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We then made our way up the hillside to Brandywine Estates to have lunch in their elegant open-air restaurant, with panoramic views on two sides of the restaurant.

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There was a large party on the rear deck, so we requested to sit alone in the garden overlooking Brandywine Bay. There couldn't have been a more perfect spot.

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We both felt like we were in Greece again, with the blue tile table scattered with fresh bread and olive oil and a couple of cocktails, staring out at a vast blue sea, a cat contentedly lounging at our feet.

A lunch of caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and basil drizzled in balsamic vinegar, a curried seafood pasta, and moules frites paired with a crisp white wine only intensified the similarity. It was simply a perfect meal.

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Because we wanted to drive all the way to the end, we drove all the way to Lambert Bay Beach on the far end of the island, not sure what we would find.

We found a spectacular beach with absolutely no one on it.

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There were even a couple of reasonably usable chairs and a palapa that we could use.

We spent a couple of hours soaking in the sun before steeling our nerves to drive the Ridge Road all the way back to Cane Garden Bay.

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Ridge Road ran along the central spine of Tortola and offered spectacular views.

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Our final stop was to take the road down to Brewer's Bay, since we had gotten rained out on that first day.

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We were back in Cane Garden Bay in time for sunset cocktails, snacks, and an emergency rooster rescue.

We found this poor rooster so tied up with string behind our villa that he couldn't move. We didn't know how long he'd been that way, but was completely still, obviously having exhausted himself. Both of his feet were completely bound tightly with a long piece of string that the wind had blown into a tree.

We had no scissors, so Matt held him and slowly cut all of the string away. That poor, exhausted rooster never even struggled. When Matt had him freed, he gently set him on the sand. He sat for a few minutes, recovering from the shock of his ordeal, and then made his way back to his hen who was squawking in the shrubbery nearby.

We celebrated with snacks and drinks!

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Our dinner reservation that night was at Scaramouche in Soper's Hole. Not really knowing what to expect, it turned out to be a little slice of heaven. The owners were Italian, the music was Brazilian and the vibe was all Caribbean.

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Watching the chefs prepare the plates was like watching an artist paint a canvas. The time and attention they took with each small aesthetic detail of each meal was inspiring.

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They started us off with a little amuse bouche and cocktails.

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Next came a tangy snapper and passion fruit ceviche carefully arranged on a slab of fresh watermelon and topped with lovely vegetable ribbons.

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For his entree, Matt had a spinach tagliatelle with seared scallops and I had the chili tagliatelle with grilled jumbo shrimp, blistered tomatoes, basil coulis, and sundries tomato pesto.

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We finished the meal with a peanut butter semifreddo with caramelized bananas with a sugar crust and chocorum sauce.

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They even made the bill special with dark chocolate dipped ginger candies and a lovely shell.

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They even had a lovely coffee shop downstairs.

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It was time for one final sleep.

Day Five: Don't Cry Because It's Over. Cry Because You Have To Go To The St. Thomas Airport Soon.

It helps to wake up on departure day to a dark, rainy sky.

We didn't.

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At least it wasn't a rainbow and a puppy.

We had a late flight, so we took advantage of the morning sun to soak up some final rays before packing it in.

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Before I knew what was happening, I was sitting at the ferry dock waiting for my ride to St. Thomas.

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We had time for one final meal, so we made the short walk from the Charlotte Amalie ferry dock to the Pie Whole in Frenchtown. Pie Whole might be the best thing about St. Thomas.

We fortified ourselves with wine and pizza before making the dreaded trip to the airport.

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Don't cry because it's over. Smile because you made it through another rum fueled vacation with all your teeth intact.

What's next???? A pre-Christmas weekend at Barnsley Resort! Can I get a "Ho, Ho, Ho?"

Posted by vicki_h 09:58 Archived in British Virgin Islands Tagged tortola virgin_islands bvi british_virgin_islands Comments (0)

Let the Shenanigans Begin: Girls Weekend Asheville!

When Matt told me he was going on a duck hunting trip with the guys in November, I knew it was time to plan a girls’ weekend. Travel in our household must be fair and equitable. It was necessary to keep the balance.

I immediately sent the Batsignal into the sky to alert the girls.

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Bags were packed, credit cards were shined up, and husbands were kissed goodbye. We left with modest goals: laugh, shop, and eat. With only 48 hours, it was best to keep things realistic. Finding a cure for cellulite or mastering Italian wasn’t within the realm of possibilities. This trip was for us. It was for reconnecting, renewing our bonds, and wearing pink wigs while drinking copious amounts of wine and beer.

We were headed to Asheville. Asheville has a walkable downtown that is packed with almost 100 eateries in only 1 square mile with everything from Indian street food to classic Carolina barbeque, two dozen breweries (it’s not nicknamed Beer City, USA for nothing), countless craft bars, and endless shopping. It was a perfect location, only 2 hours from home, where everything we wanted was stumbling distance from our loft.

We headed over in 2 cars in an attempt to minimize the mayhem that having all of us in one vehicle might create. This attempt was unsuccessful. Mayhem began almost immediately.

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My crew arrived slightly before the other car, and it was too early to check in at the loft, so we made the short walk to the French Broad Chocolate Lounge to kill an hour. We also managed to kill 2 glasses of wine, a cider float, and a dark chocolate pot de crème. Also massacred were my genuine intentions to “eat reasonably” on this trip.

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It was obvious that I would simply have to rationalize my eating. Chocolate comes from cocoa. Which is a tree. That makes it a plant. So chocolate is a salad.

It was a crisp fall weekend and fun was in the air.

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Within an hour, the rest of our group had arrived and we were able to meet at the Lofts at 16 Church for our check-in. Because our trip had been planned at the last minute (one needs a lot of advance planning time to book a place in Asheville, NC for a fall weekend), we couldn’t find a place large enough to accommodate all 7 of us. So, we had opted for 2 adjacent lofts.

It was perfect. The lofts were roomy and beautifully decorated. They also offered us some privacy and separation from one another in the event that we felt it necessary to segregate and talk about each other before the weekend was over.

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The original plan involved a 9:30 p.m. dinner reservation at the Admiral so that we could stay late and enjoy the “funky dance party” that takes place around 10:30.

I should have known that “plans” were not going to work with 7 women. At precisely 6:37 p.m. I received the following text from the downstairs loft:

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You don’t tell an apartment full of hungry women that they should just eat some crackers because dinner will be in 2 hours and 53 minutes.

Reservations were quickly cancelled and we made the short walk to Salsas. There would be a wait anywhere at this point, but at least we knew at Salsas we could get some chips to hold everyone over so that we didn’t have a “hangry” incident (hungry + angry = not good).

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Salsas had a cool outside window where we could order margaritas and chips and salsa while we waited for a table.

Salsas was a small, cozy restaurant that touted itself as “Mexican Caribbean.”

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The menu was a smorgasboard of things we couldn’t pronounce and didn’t understand, but that sounded delicious: molcajetes, pom pom poms, paquetes….we didn’t know where to begin.

We started things off with the Anafre Bean Dip, a savory mix of beans, ancho sauce, avocado sauce, queso, sour cream, and pico de gallo served with giant, warm corn chips.

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I went safe with the slow roasted pork quesadilla, but I have to give kudos to Alison who went bold with the pom pom pom, which turned out to be a pile of awesomeness crammed into a giant Puerto Rican pilon.

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After dinner, we grabbed some cocktails at MG Road, but even as mesmerizing as the giant disco ball was, we were tired from travel day and called it a night.

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Our original plans for breakfast the next morning were to head to Biscuit Head, but when we got up, we decided to find someplace that didn’t require driving. I mean, that WAS the point of staying downtown, after all.

I made a quick change and diverted us to Mayfel’s (SEE….I CAN be flexible. I can.)

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Mayfel’s is an eclectic little place that serves up some of the finest southern cooking in Asheville, served with a side of funky.

Breakfast started off with beignets and mimosas, or champagne for those of us who don’t really see any reason to mess up a perfectly good glass of bubbly with pulp. The beignets were warm and crispy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside, dusted with powdered sugar and served with jam. They were almost as good as the ones from Café du Monde, but came without the mimes and trombone players or the hoarde of onlookers with cameras and sun visors glaring at you from the line on the street.

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The best things about breakfast at Mayfel’s: 1) You can order southern sides like collard greens and fried okra with breakfast and 2) the biscuits are as big as your head.

I had a giant biscuit topped with fried chicken and slathered in creamy sausage gravy with a side of smoked collard greens.

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I ate the whole thing because I didn’t want to look back later and say, “I could have eaten that.” I just can’t live with that kind of remorse.

It was time to do some shopping, so we headed down Wall St. only to find that some mad knitter had gone and covered everything with sweaters. Seriously. There were sweaters on the light poles, sweaters on the parking meters, there was even a sweater on the giant iron. The yarn bombers appeared to have left nothing uncovered.

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We spent the next few hours browsing through Asheville's quaint downtown, filled with unique shops, artisans, and street performers. As we shopped, everyone found something that matched her personality.

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After we were all shopped out (okay, that was a joke – that never really happens), I had a surprise for everyone. I had told all the girls to bring hats, wigs, boas…whatever tacky crap they had in their closet and throw it on.

Seriously, why do they always do what I ask? It’s like magic.

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WE WERE GOING ON THE AMAZING PUBCYCLE!!!!

What is the Amazing Pubcycle, you ask? Why, it’s a pedaling bar that blasts awesome retro music while you pedal around the city with drinks.

Why the costumes, you ask? Why, to add to the fun and levity of it all (or possibly so that no one would recognize us, should someone we actually knew be in the vicinity of said Pubcycle).

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I can hear you now, “Let me get this straight…You’re drank while pedaling your way through the city on a moving bar? How was this possibly a good idea?”

Because there's nothing quite like pedaling a giant mass of steel and wood uphill to the tune of cheesy '80s music while two fisting a beer or solo cup filled with wine. Everyone we passed….the drivers, shoppers, pedestrians, cyclers…..couldn't decide whether to laugh or be jealous and stare in awe. (Jealous. They were definitely jealous.)

Sure, our thighs were burning a little, but that was nothing a few drinks and a rousing chorus of "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fun" couldn't fix.

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I wasn’t sure how this was legal, but I didn’t care. It was a helluva lot of fun. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed it.

At least until we ran out of drinks. And then it was a bit like being in the gym, tipsy, if the gym was in the middle of the street.

As with all good things, the Amazing Pubcycle eventually came to an end and despite attempts at bribery, crying, and clinging to our seats, we had to get off.

It was someone else's turn.

And to avoid an uncomfortable scene where the bride-to-be and her bachelorette party starting beating us off the Pubcycle seats with their giant inflatable penis, we made the wise decision to scoot.

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We ran all the way to Barley's for pizza.

All the way across the street.

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After pizza, it was a quick change back into our respectable selves for a trip to the Battery Park Book Exchange, a delightful combination of champagne bar and old book store.

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After the champagne, I had another surprise for the girls. We were heading to the Wake Foot Sanctuary to reward our tired tooties for all the shopping and pedaling they had done that day.

None of us really knew what to expect. We were a little leery and after a few glasses of champagne, not sure how seriously we could take a foot spa.

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I turned out to be AMAZING.

I can't recommend this place enough.

We were each changed into slippers and ushered into a quiet oasis - a dark room filled with large comfy chairs, each with its own giant copper tub of warm sudsy foot soak. While getting a foot soak, each of us also had someone simultaneously giving us a head/neck/shoulder massage or a foot/leg massage, depending on our preference.

Wake was able to transition 7 loud, laughing, wound-up women into silence, relaxation, and serenity in a matter of moments. We all agreed it was one of the most awesome things ever.

It had been a pretty fabulous day. The only thing that could wrap this party up was a quest for the best burger in Asheville. We found it at the Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge. This tiny hole-in-the-wall served up a monster of a burger with a giant side of tater tots.

The burger was a an oozing mess of cheese and bacon and it was absolute perfection.

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After that, the girls were nestled all snug in their beds while visions of tater tots danced in their heads.

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Sunday morning brought one final carb-loaded breakfast and Early Girl Eatery served it up just right in the form of the Porky Bowl, filled with grits, fried potatoes, barbecue pork, and an egg coated with Benton's Bacon gravy served with a giant biscuit and a gob of gooey blueberry jam.

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It was a delicious ending to a decadent weekend.

It was that kind of weekend where, when someone at work on Monday asks you what you did over the weekend, your first response is, "Why? What did you hear?", that kind of weekend that puts a smile on your face for the next 5 days, that kind of weekend that makes you laugh until you pee a little.

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Here's to the girls!

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What's Next??? Come with us as we escape to Tortola!

Posted by vicki_h 13:11 Archived in USA Tagged mountains north_carolina nc asheville girls_weekend girls_trip Comments (0)

Into the Woods: Unplugging in Big South Fork

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Picture yourself trapped in the middle of the woods without electricity, wi-fi, or cell phone service. You have no car. The only way to get out is to hike through the woods for miles until you reach a dirt road….a dirt road with nothing on it for 4 miles.

No, this is not a story about how Matt and I crashed the plane and foraged our way through the wilderness surviving on pine cones and crickets. This is a story about our recent vacation “off the grid” at Charit Creek Lodge in Big South Fork, although, no weekend that begins by hiking your luggage in on a 2 mile trail can really be called a “vacation.”

I have tried and failed to wean Matt from his technology addiction. Even on vacation, he is continuously plugged in. The photos below demonstrate the severity of his dependence on electronic things and the difficult challenge that I face.

Matt on his phone in Hawaii:

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Matt on his phone in the BVI:

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Matt on his phone in Philly:

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Matt on his iPad on Jost Van Dyke:

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Matt on his phone in Italy:

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Okay, so he's not actually on the phone in that photo. I just wanted you to see that he's reading Twilight, because that's funny stuff.

Matt on his phone at the Chattanooga Aquarium (as evidenced by the "flip phone," this problem has been ongoing for quite some time.....):

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Matt on his phone in Anguilla with a curious donkey looking on - I'm pretty sure the donkey is saying, "Man, what are you DOING?"

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The only way to uplug Matt is to take him somewhere with no cell phone service and no wi-fi. If there is no electricity and the nearest road is at least a 2 hour walk….all the better.

When I stumbled upon a description of the Charit Creek Lodge, I was immediately intrigued.

"Charit Creek Lodge is a rustic wilderness lodge located in a valley in the heart of Big South Fork. While reasonably accessible, it is both peacefully isolated and remote. It is accessible by hiking, biking or horseback only. The lodge is a wonderful place to escape the modern world. The lodge is completely off the grid with no wi-fi, phones, or electricity. Hand-built fences zigzag the collective area, encasing it within a hollow, emerald grassland peppered with wildflowers. All cabins offer toasty, wood-burning stoves and comfortable bedding. Every meal is fully-prepared beforehand by the staff, dinner experienced by the comely flicker of kerosene lamps. Chosen foods are familiar to Southern, home-style cuisine, featured plates ranging from cornbread and cast iron fried chicken, candied yams and spicy turnip greens, and fresh chocolate cake or apple pie. Bellies filled, residents may proceed to the rocking chairs upon the decks to stargaze into the infinitesimal beauty of the Cosmos, exceedingly clear amongst the solitude of nature. Novels may be read by candlelight or roaring fires kindled outside, all the while listening to the chorus of cicadas, glow bugs streaking the star-ridden sky above. The experience of Charit Creek Lodge is true charm. It offers a classical feel like no other. It returns visitors to their center, their sense of peace and belonging in the world. The spirit becomes reawakened by the placidity of nature in this place, and after gazing back in time here, one returns to the daily grind at home increasingly self-aware."

Forget the placidity of nature and the reawakened spirit. They had me at fried chicken and apple pie.

Friday:

The drive from Knoxville to the remote dirt road where we would access the hiking trail was about 3 hours, so we grabbed a pizza and hit the road, boots and backpacks loaded and ready.

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It was a perfect fall day with a clear blue sky and leaves at their peak.

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The drive took us through Rugby, TN. I don’t know how I have lived in Tennessee for 25 years without hearing about Rugby.

Rugby was founded by Thomas Hughes, the novelist famous for Tom Brown’s School Days (don’t feel bad, I haven’t heard of it either). Hughes was an idealist who founded the town to provide a place for the younger sons of titled English nobility and give them a means of gainful employment. Because their elder brothers inherited the family wealth and titles, these youth were dependent on handouts from the family patriarch yet were prohibited by social custom from actual employment. So these younger sons wasted their days drinking, gambling and chasing after loose women.

Hughes’ idea was to provide a place of their own, where they could learn a trade and be productive members of society. He funded the construction of a little Victorian English village in the Southern highlands of Tennessee. At its peak Rugby had 65 buildings, more than 350 residents, a large inn, a weekly newspaper, tennis courts, and even a factory that canned tomatoes. For a short while the experiment seemed to be working.

Unfortunately, when given the chance to spend their days working instead of drinking, gambling and chasing after loose women, the only ones that ended up working were the ones pouring the drinks, dealing the cards, and hiking up their skirts. Within about a decade it became obvious that the settlement of Rugby wasn't working out, and most of Rugby's original settlers moved away or died. (Probably from cirrhosis or syphilis.)

What the late nineteenth century social experiment left behind was this village of quaint and beautiful Victorian homes and a number of mostly English ghosts in the heart of Dixie. Today Rugby is merely a ghost of an ideal village that almost was. What’s left behind is a charming village of beautiful homes, churches, and shops.

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We spent some time walking through Rugby’s picturesque streets before getting back on the road for the final stretch to Big South Fork.

After a long drive down some winding dirt roads, we found ourselves at the trailhead. Unfortunately, it was the WRONG trailhead because I am not very good at reading maps. There are several ways to hike into Charit Creek Lodge, the shortest being only a .8 mile hike. This was obviously the one I had targeted because I had to make sure we got there in time for pie dinner. The trailhead I actually took us to required a 2 mile hike. Still, not too bad.

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The hike in was a beautiful display of blue sky and show stopping leaves, so I was secretly glad we went the long way.

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The trail eventually took us to a clearing down in a hollow where the Charit Creek Lodge sat nestled among the golden trees. There was a main lodge building with cabin accommodations on each end and the communal dining hall in the middle, a kitchen cabin, 2 field cabins, a bath house, and the adorable "corn crib," a small cabin for 3.

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Each of the 4 main cabins had a front porch with rocking chairs and a screened back porch, perfect for wasting the afternoon with a good book while drinking in the crisp fall air. The interior of the cabins was made up of one large room with several double sized bunk beds with cozy bedding, some handmade furniture like tables and benches, a wood stove, and a gas lantern for light.

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There was also a shiny red cooler.

"What's that for?" I asked, knowing good and well that no one was packing in ice and cold beer.

"Varmints," was the quick reply.

Because we were in the backcountry, we still had critters to deal with. I thought being in a cabin eliminated the need to worry whether or not a bear was going to smell my toothpaste. Apparently this was not the case. We were told that, if we left “smelly” items out, we could expect bears, raccoons, possums, and mice to join us overnight.

Had I known that, I would have simply elected to bring no food whatsoever and brushed my teeth with soap. However, I naively thought a cabin eliminated the potential for a varmint infestation and I had an inordinate number of sugary, carb-y, chocolately things from Trader Joe’s hidden in my backpack.

Thankfully, we were given the cooler so we could store our goodies without any fear of waking up with a mouse on our forehead.

We got our backpacks unloaded, hanging our clothes on neat wooden pegs at the foot of our bunk and headed out to dinner. We barely made it in time.

We were greeted warmly by Booger, the resident dog.

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He showed us to the dining hall which was warmly lit with lanterns and set beautifully with mismatched china and mason jars of fresh lemonade.

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Dinner didn't disappoint: roasted pork loin, carrot soufflé, green bean casserole, macaroni & cheese, and soft yeast rolls. The food was served family style at communal tables and there was literally more than any of us could eat.

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Charit Creek also serves beer and wine for a modest charge, or you can bring your own if you don't mind backpacking it in. I assumed Matt didn't mind and had loaded his pack generously with several full sized bottles.

For dessert, there was a decadent scratch made chocolate cake. I think it was better than my grandmother use to make.

The only thing that could appropriately follow a dinner that good was a nap by the fire pit.

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Saturday:

It was so dark in the cabin and the bedding was so comfortable that we all slept late. The soft sound of rain on the tin roof didn't help matters. Eventually, we dragged ourselves out of bed and made some coffee on the camp stove.

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We got a fire going in the wood stove and within minutes, our fire alarm was going off because the smoke was drifting into the cabin instead of drafting up the flue. It was so dark in there, we couldn’t see.

We felt foolish and sheepishly opened the doors. About that time, we heard the fire alarm go off in the cabin next door and instantly felt less stupid.

Despite many attempts, I have not yet figured out how to control the weather. Consequentially, I can’t seem to avoid the occasional vacation day that begins with a never-ending torrential downpour.

It was gray and raining when we woke up. We buried our disappointment under piles of pancakes with real maple syrup, quiche, bacon, and cheese grits.

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For those of you that aren't from Dixie, I will explain what a "grit" is, although I have found that trying to explain grits to someone from up North is a lot like trying to explain why fish love riding bicycles.

Many people think grits are made from ground up bits of white corn. This is a lie spread by Communists and Yankees. Nothing as good as Grits (except moonshine) can be made from corn. In reality, that mysterious Manna that God rained down upon the Israelites during their time in the Sinai Desert was Grits.

Sure, some grit scholars might disagree with me and say that grits are actually made from dried corn or hominy that is ground and then cooked with water. Obviously, these people have never eaten proper grits or else they would know that they are actually carried down from heaven on angel's wings.

Grits are symbolic of the South, like cornbread, guns, sweet tea, NASCAR and SEC football. Furthermore, it's a sin, comparable to saying "you guys” instead of “y’all,” farting in church, or saying "Huh?" when references are made to the Vol Nation, to put sugar on grits. Grits are appropriately served with salt and butter, maybe the occasional smattering of cheese.

Now you know. Go make some grits. You can thank me later.

With our bellies full of buttery grit goodness and pancakes, there was nothing to do but cozy in and watch the rain from the back porch.

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Around 10:00 a.m., the rain stopped and we decided to do some hiking to make us feel better about how many pancakes we had consumed at breakfast. We set off on the Slave Falls trail, planning to connect to the Twin Arches loop and then return to the Lodge. In all, it was about 9 miles of hiking and would get us back with a couple of hours of down time before dinner.

The rain had made the woods soft and quiet and the smell of earth and wet leaves hung heavy in the air.

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I love hiking. I love the peacefulness of the woods. I love the sounds and smells. I love the time spent lost in my own thoughts or talking to Matt for hours on a trail.

What I DON’T love about hiking is when there is a “call of nature.” Thankfully, it was Matt that received the call, not me.

We were about 2 miles into the trail when Matt made it clear he had some “business” to attend to and that we should move on down the trail. John, Teresa, and I moved on down the trail for about 15 minutes. I assumed this was a simple stand-up event and thought Matt would have caught back up to us by then. Guessing it might have been more of a “squat and hold onto a tree branch” event, I told John and Teresa to go on and I would wait for Matt.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It had now been about 30 minutes since Matt peeled off. I was alternating between being worried that he had suffered a more serious “event” than anticipated and had to return to the Lodge and being annoyed that I was now stuck in the middle of the woods alone. I didn’t know if I should turn back, keep waiting, or try to catch up to John and Teresa.

After several more minutes, I realized the only logical explanation for that length of time was that Matt was indeed experiencing an unfortunate gastrointestinal episode, no doubt brought on by too much butter and lard, and had returned to camp. That being the case, he would probably prefer to be alone and my best option was to try to catch John and Teresa, who were now a good half hour ahead of me on the trail.

It was about 5 minutes into my solo walk that I started thinking about bears. I don’t usually think about bears in Tennessee like I do in Montana. However, Big South Fork is home to a thriving black bear population. Hiking alone is not a good idea in bear country. Bears are more likely to attack a solo hiker than a group.

I started walking faster.

I found myself looking at every shadow, every hill….What was that??? Did that shadow move?????

Before long, I was literally sprinting up the trail. I decided it was better to trip over a root and knock out my front teeth than to be mauled by a bear. Sure, I may never be able to eat corn on the cob again, but that's what knives are for.

I reached John and Teresa, heaving and sweating.

“What’s wrong?” they asked.

“Matt never showed up. He may be sick,” I said.

“He’s right behind you,” Teresa said.

Sure enough, I spotted his orange jacket about 50 feet behind me in the woods.

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Trying to decide whether to be relieved or irritated, I settled on sympathetic, because Matt had obviously had a significantly worse experience than I had.

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We made our way back to Slave Falls, which was severely anticlimactic. The fall was little more than a dribble.

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The good news was that I had worked up a hearty appetite with all that worry and running, despite the mound of pancakes still in my belly.

We stopped at a clearing called “Jake’s Place” and had smoked trout wraps with cream cheese and dried bananas and mangoes.

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After lunch, we completed our hike with the Twin Arches Loop, which was far more scenic than the Slave Falls trail had been. We managed to finish the hike without any more dramatic events.

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We arrived back at Charit Creek Lodge around 3:00 p.m. Dinner was served at 5:00 p.m., so we had some down time for naps in the hammock, reading on the porch, or enjoying a glass of wine in a rocking chair.

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We returned to the dining room for another spectacular meal: Meatloaf, fried Brussels sprouts, asparagus casserole, sweet potatoes, cornbread, and apple pie.

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We wrapped up the night by the fire pit and retreated to our cabin for another cozy night’s sleep.

Sunday:

We enjoyed a leisurely morning with coffee, biscuits and gravy, sausage, and frittata.

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Then it was time to pack up and hike out. The hike out was as beautiful as the hike in. Despite the fact that the hike out was ALL UPHILL and that my stomach was distended with a mountain of biscuits, it was a glorious morning.

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As I threw my pack on my back, I was surprised to find that I did feel reawakened. I did feel peace. Charit Creek truly was a magical place and it exists as an oasis in the middle of the woods filled with crackling fires, warm friendship, and fluffy biscuits. My spirit did feel renewed.

And that’s not just the apple pie talking.

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Next stop: Hitting Asheville, NC with the girls!

Posted by vicki_h 07:18 Archived in USA Tagged hiking tennessee big_south_fork jamestown_tn charit_creek Comments (0)

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