The Valley of Christmas

After we took our obligatory group photos, we loaded the bikes and our zillion bags into Stephen’s pickup and set off. No matter how many times we pack it is never an easy process and leads us to the conclusion that we have too much “stuff”. Down the mountain, we stopped at his daugter’s house to meet his family and check out an alcohol stove design that his son-in-law made. A outdoorsman himself he sent us away with several different stoves, fuel, and a hand carved wooden spork. Wow!!

Driving down the mountain of a driveway was enough to sink in the magnitude of Stephen’s offer to drive us. We drove in the valley, passing Grandfather Mountain and several other 5000+ foot peaks. Although it didn’t feel like much in the truck, we spared our legs 13 miles and a half mile ascent between Valle Crucis and Linville. Thanks Stephen!

Under our own power we still had another 20 miles to ride to Spruce Pine to pickup mail. We had been to this area before when we hiked Mount Mitchell, we drove through at night and could recall fleeting details about the drive. As we headed south from Linville, the memories came back quickly. This area that is bordered on both sides by park land embraces the Western North Carolina Christmas culture fully.

As much as Stephen spared us in the beginning of the day, the ride to Spruce Pine was not without any hills. This was after all mountain country. We slogged up a few climbs and rested our legs on the downhill coasts; stopping for only a few breaks, one outside the grandest Chinese restaurant and motel that we had ever seen.

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Eventually we made it to Spruce Pine, our mail was waiting for us at the Post Office. General Delivery was a success! Our spirits only soared for a few moments before we realized that despite its potential and intentions to become a small town revival success story, Spruce Pine was a few years away from realizing this goal. We wandered around the town looking for who knows what. The restaurant on the lower level looked good, but was out of the budget for this trip. Instead we had horrible coffee with Santa.

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Hours ticked by and every lodging option was either a rip off or booked. We made our way to the chamber of commerce office where they suggested (with reservation) the last remaining option…Lemon Tree Inn. We found out that a pipeline project is getting started soon and that was the cause of all the bookings.

Under the cover of darkness we rode to the grocery store where we loaded the pannier pantry and and spoke to someone about stealth camping. Not wanting to hunt for the camp spot in the darkness we chose the motel. Once again the potential was there but year of neglect and poorly executed repairs left a lot to be desired. Dinner was prepared in true nomad fashion, cooked in the room on our newly acquired alcohol stove.

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