Asheville and the Biltmore Estate

We’d heard Asheville was cool and the rumors were true. We made our way from Savannah, through South Carolina, and on to Asheville.  On the way we made a quick stop at Conagree National Park. Located just outside of Columbia, this relatively small park features the largest contiguous expanse of old growth hardwood forest left in the United States. A lot of cool stuff grows here!

We did a quick walk on the raised boardwalk to get a feel for the landscape but the rain cut our time a bit short. Luckily, though, the bugs weren’t as bad as they could have been. We got another stamp in the NPS Passport book!

On to Asheville we traveled with two purposes: the Asheville Marathon and the Biltmore Estate. In between we checked out the Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs right through Asheville. Considered “America’s Favorite Drive,” the road runs 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, linking Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We did about 20 miles and enjoyed the views. Maybe we’ll do the entire thing on a future trip.

Saturday brought the big event: Steve’s 34th marathon in his 24th state. We enjoyed the warm Asheville hospitality and the finish line festivities at one of Asheville’s many breweries.

Steve finished the race in just over four hours and finished second in his age group. 

Sunday took us to the famed Biltmore Estate, built by George W. Vanderbilt in 1895. Over the course of the day we explored the grounds, the house, the winery, and the farm. Even the dogs enjoyed the property.

The 250-room chateau is considered America’s largest home with 16th century tapestries, 10,000 volume library, 65 fireplaces, an indoor pool, and an indoor bowling alley. 

The 8,000-acre property was home to the Biltmore Dairy and now the Biltmore Winery. We enjoyed the complimentary wine tasting and then Bob joined us for a glass at the wine bar afterwards.

We only scratched the surface of this incredible place and it was certainly a nice day exploring one of the most incredible estates in the US.

We’re now on to new adventures as we close out our six month road trip. Stay tuned for at least one more blog before we’re home!

Moving Northward in Florida State Parks ++

Since finishing our time in the Ft Lauderdale area we’ve been slowly working our way northward and beginning to think about the final portion of this six-month journey.

We left Ft Lauderdale and traveled to the northern part of Florida over two days. Overnight we stopped at a very cool Harvest Host, Organicaworld, where they are growing hemp that is being converted to “hempcrete” to build houses. They also had a cool farm store, a mean brisket, and some very friendly donkeys.

Our next stop was a visit to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a unique property just south of Gainesville. Paynes Prairie is the only place in Florida where wild-roaming horses and bison can be found. We didn’t find them, but we enjoyed the paved 16-mile Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, which runs through the park. 

Florida is so different from our home in Arizona. You can see from the photos that the Spanish Moss is prevalent and the forest is thick. Yes, we’ve run into bugs once in awhile but nothing a little bug spray won’t take care of.

From there we headed to the coast and to one of our favorite Florida cities: St Augustine. We stayed in this area for about 10 days last year and were lucky enough to score a seven day reservation this year at Anastasia State Park, which is located in the middle of the action. We were even warmly greeted by a local critter when we pulled in.

From our heavily wooded, secluded site, we could easily bike into town, kayak the nearby waterways, and walk to the Saturday Farmers Market.

We toured the famous lighthouse and took in the sweeping views. Overall though, we weren’t very touristy…just enjoyed the nice weather and beautiful area.

We continued the laid back vibe during our four days at the Jekyll Island Campground. We visited here last year as well and wanted to explore a little more. We rode our bikes around the island and visited the local museum to learn about the impact of the Rockefellers, Morgans, and Vanderbilts on the island in the early 1900s.

One day we took in the local art festival. I even had a chance to learn to weave.

Unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate during our final days there but we kept busy in the trailer with reading, taking in a night of Bingo, and news-watching. The inclement weather also made for some spectacular sunsets.

We’re now in Savannah for a few days to take in the country’s second largest St Patrick’s Day festivities. We will actually be on our way west on the big day, but the fountains are dyed green and the party has started. 

Over the past few weeks, we’ve kind of shifted into traveler mode, rather than tourist mode. It just means we aren’t trying to see everything and do everything possible. Traveling in the RV gives us the option to slow down, soak in the places, and go at our own pace. That’s the mode we’ve been in recently…and it’s kind of nice! 

A1a Marathon and Colorful Little Havana

This weekend we made a stop in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area so that Steve could rack up his Florida marathon. While camping at one of the worst KOAs on earth, we did a little exploration, a little shopping, and enjoyed the nice warm weather that south Florida offers up in February.

First, the KOA. We regularly stay at KOA campgrounds when another option isn’t available. In the Miami area there are very few options for RVs, so we jumped on booking this one so that we could easily get to the race. Unfortunately the place was a dump.

What was once, a long time ago, maybe a decent place was decrepit and crowded, littered with ramshackle trailers and a dried up pond. Every time we took a walk we found more reasons why this park didn’t deserve to be under the KOA umbrella. We’ll be writing some reviews. Still, we met some nice people here, and it’s kind of par for the course when you travel via RV. Win some, lose some.

The real draw to this large metro area was the Publix A1a Marathon, which ran alongside the beach in Ft. Lauderdale.

Steve ran the 26.2 miles in just over four hours, and I completed the accompanying 6K (just under four miles) race. It was a beautiful morning punctuated by a sunrise over the Atlantic, a flat course, and relatively cool and breezy weather.

As you may recall, Steve’s goal is to complete a marathon (or more) in every state. This was state number 23 and his 33rd marathon overall. It was a great way to knock Florida off the list.

While in this area we also signed up for a tour of Little Havana, a distinct cultural neighborhood in Miami.  Since we’d been to Cuba in 2019 we have an interest in the history, culture, and political evolution of this nearby island.

Our tour guide Danny has lived in Little Havana most of his life and easily rattled off significant historical events that brought Cubans to the United States and to this region of south Florida. He told us about the political, economic, and social factors that have influenced US/Cuban relations and gave us a great history lesson on the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

In contrast to our visit to Cuba, where Fidel Castro’s picture is often displayed in restaurants and businesses, Little Havana is blatant about its hatred for the communist regime, even expressing that hatred in the name of an ice cream flavor (chocolate with cayenne pepper).

The perspective in Little Havana, established by Cuban exiles who have suffered under the Castros, is clearly on the side of freedom.  

After Danny showed us the serious part of the district, he introduced us to all that is great about Cuban food. On our walking tour we tried pressed sugar cane juice, Cuban coffee, churros, Cuban ice cream, and then enjoyed a traditional Cuban lunch. If you get to Miami and are looking for an activity where you learn while you eat, this colorful tour is for you!

Since our time in the Ft Lauderdale area was short, there’s so much more we need to see and do. At least we know that the next time we visit we won’t be bored (and we won’t stay at the KOA!)