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North Carolina

Happy New Year - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

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Happy New Year - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, no matter what and where you celebrated it. I was at home in Washington D.C. with my family, trying to catch my breath for a minute, fix some of my equipment and enjoy some holiday cheer. It is, of course, always a good opportunity to look back at the year gone by, and look ahead at the year to come.

A year ago, I was getting ready to set out for the second time on this trip. I had had a fascinating month in West Virginia at the end of 2017, learning about the wonderful history of the Mountain State and seeing some truly spectacular scenery. I had never taken such a deep, in-depth look at a state before, and I really connected with West Virginia on so many different levels. From deep in the heart of coal country to their wonderful state park system to the little big cities of Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling, West Virginia had so much to offer. On the other hand, it was December, so it was cold and the sun was going down at around 4:30 in the afternoon. These were probably not the best of conditions to try and learn the ins and outs of my new van and my new lifestyle, but then again I am a big supporter of a trial by fire. The challenges I faced in my first month of this journey were real, but I persevered as there was no way I was giving up...

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In Focus: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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In Focus: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Our National Parks are our greatest treasure here in the United States. They are magical places which thankfully our forefathers had the foresight to set aside in perpetuity for their children and our children and their children. They preserve some of our most amazing landscapes and ecosystems and protect all manner of flora and fauna. From the Everglades in Florida to Denali in Alaska, even the names call forth wildness in our imaginations. Have no doubt, these are our lands, and if we want to keep them that way, we need to protect them. But most of all, we need to enjoy them. This is the second post in a series I have titled In Focus, which will take a look deeper into our National Parks. These are primarily photography posts, trying to show you the beauty of our parks and take you inside of them with me. My hope is that you will get out and see them for yourself. After all, they belong to you too. 

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This Week on the Road - April 20th-26th

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This Week on the Road - April 20th-26th

It's going to be a short one this week as I haven't been able to get out and do a whole lot. I'm coming to you this week from Bryson City, just outside of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, in North Carolina.

Last week was, in fact, my last in South Carolina. I did get out to Cowpens National Battlefield as mentioned last week, and it's a really interesting Revolutionary War Site. From there I took a nice slow drive down scenic Route 11, and then took the 25 straight out of the state. It's a strangely emotional feeling to move out of a state I've been in for over a month. Even though I move around quite a bit, I feel like I become a part of it and it becomes a part of me. It's like I've been living there for a while. I had a great time in South Carolina and really think it has a lot to offer. Having gone into the state with little knowledge of it beyond the coast, I was surprised at how much it had to offer. It certainly was another great month on the road in America… 

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Down the North Carolina Barbecue Trail

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Down the North Carolina Barbecue Trail

In any discussion of barbecue, North Carolina likes to describe itself as the "Capital of 'Cue". And when you're talking barbecue in North Carolina, you are talking about one thing and one thing only: pork. Forget the brisket, the chicken, even ribs for that matter, it's all about the hog here in NC. 

There are two different schools of thought within the state, and the topic of which is better probably depends on where you are from. In the east, purists focus on cooking the whole hog, whereas western North Carolina 'cue, often called "Lexington Style" is just the shoulder. Eastern barbecue joints also give you a liquidy pepper-vinegar sauce whereas in the west you are more likely to find what most would consider a more traditional barbecue sauce, but still heavy on the vinegar... 

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Music in the Tar Heel State

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Music in the Tar Heel State

North Carolina has a wonderful musical tradition. From the mountain music roots in the west to the urban sounds of jazz and hip-hop in the cities, you are never far from some great music anywhere in the state. North Carolina has produced such musical legends as Earl Scruggs, Randy Travis, Charlie Daniels, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Maceo Parker and too many more to list. I got to see some wonderful live music in my time in North Carolina and visit some great venues as well. Here are a few of my favorites... 

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North Carolina Cuisine

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North Carolina Cuisine

During my five weeks in North Carolina, I have had some really wonderful food. It is always great to be back in the south where food is often simple, hearty and delicious. In this post I want to highlight some of the unique, iconic and delicious meals I've had here in North Carolina. 

This culinary journey began at Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina. I'll start by saying that North Carolina barbecue is not my favorite. As much as I love pork, it is the beginning and the end in classic North Carolina barbecue joints. There isn't a brisket or a rack of ribs to be found. Then there's the sauce - a sweet liquid pepper-vinegar concoction in the east and the same with some ketchup in it in the west - generally it just doesn't really do it for me. I did find some decent barbecue places in North Carolina, but none even held a candle to Skylight Inn. Skylight Inn was a whole different experience...

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Wonderful Westmore Pottery

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Wonderful Westmore Pottery

I am always in awe of true craftspeople. In an era of mass production, anyone who has continued to work with their hands to create something both useful and beautiful is pretty awesome in my book. When I can visit somewhere where each piece was produced with love and attention to detail, I can get lost just looking around. And when you add in an historic angle to it, I'm sold. That's why I was so thrilled to visit Westmoore Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, a truly special place. 

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An Incredible Look Inside Intheoaks

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An Incredible Look Inside Intheoaks

Most people have probably never heard of Intheoaks, the magnificent one-time home of incandescent lighting pioneer Franklin Terry and his second wife Lillian. Frank and Lillian would probably be happy about that. This wonderful 24,000 square foot home hidden, quite literally, in the oaks of Black Mountain, North Carolina was never meant to be boastful or showy, it was meant to be lived in and enjoyed. Even people in Black Mountain, the town where it is located, seemed to have no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned it. I had never heard of it myself until a friend of mine tipped me off to check it out. I'm really glad he did. Visiting Intheoaks (yes, that is how it's spelled) was truly one of the highlights of my entire month in North Carolina... 

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The Best Beers in Beer City

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The Best Beers in Beer City

Although the North Carolina beer scene has really taken off in the last decade, Asheville has definitely risen to the top of the heap. Take one of the highest number of breweries per capita in the United States and add a craft-beer loving population and you have a recipe for some pretty amazing brews. This combination has even led to the opening of east coast operations for New Belgium and Sierra Nevada in the Asheville area in recent years. As a beer lover, I set out to find the best beers in "Beer City". I started by asking some friends for recommendations, did a little research on my own, and then set out to explore the beer scene. As I was only there for a few days, my method was to ask the bartender for their favorite beer. Not their best-seller or newest beer, but the one they themselves would drink if they could only drink one. I went to almost a dozen breweries, but have narrowed this list down to my favorite six. 

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Happy Marshall Gras!

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Happy Marshall Gras!

Having lived in New Orleans for a few years, the music and culture have become a part of me. I listen to brass music and can cook a mean pot of Gumbo, and a bottle of Abita beer always makes me smile. Never do I miss New Orleans more than during Mardi Gras. For those who don't know, Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday" and is the day before Ash Wedesday, the first day of lent. Before giving up things for the forty days before Easter, you should do them in excess, and that is what Mardi Gras is all about: fun, dancing, silly costumes, food and drink. While I would love to spend every Mardi Gras in Louisiana, it's not always possible, but I do always try and celebrate it in whatever way I can. Even when I lived in Japan, I had a Mardi Gras party to celebrate with my friends. This year, I celebrated it with the wonderful people of Marshall, North Carolina with a parade, music, food and drink...

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Pickin' and Trimmin' - Bluegrass at the Barber Shop

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Pickin' and Trimmin' - Bluegrass at the Barber Shop

f you had told me a few weeks ago that some of the best music I would see in North Carolina would be in the back room at a Barber Shop, I would have looked at you a little funny. Today I'm here to tell you it's true. For over 50 years, local musicians have gathered in the back room at The Barber Shop in Drexel, North Carolina and picked some tunes, chewed the fat and created one of the most wonderful music experiences in the country. 

It all started when Lawrence Anthony was getting ready to deploy for the European theater during World War II. He picked up a guitar in Washington State for just $3 and carried it with him throughout the war. The guitar rode with him in his tank as he followed General Patton into battle and he would  pick it during his downtime...

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Traditional Moravian Food in Old Salem

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Traditional Moravian Food in Old Salem

I am always up to try new things, especially when it comes to food. One of the places I was most looking forward to trying as I traveled around North Carolina was the Tavern in Old Salem, which offers a traditional Moravian menu. When I finally got to that part of the state and made it to the tavern, I was not disappointed. 

The Moravians are an interesting group which trace their history back to Moravia and Bohemia in what is today the Czech Republic. Their beliefs stem from the teachings of John Hus, a professor of philosophy and a rector at the University of Prague, who protested certain aspects of the Catholic Church. He would be tried as a heretic and burned at the stake in 1415. His ideas did not die with him and in 1457 in the town of Kunvald, The Moravian Church or Unitas Fratrum (Unity of Brethren) was founded. Seeing as this was 60 years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Catholic church in Wittenburg, the Moravians are considered one of, if not the earliest Protestant group...

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