While Lisa fills the gas tank, I ask the young woman behind the counter if she could refer us to a cheap but clean motel. In her thick southern accent, she tells us, “I recommend the Boone Trail Inn. It’s great. It’s where me and my husband stayed after my daddy kicked us out of his trailer. It’s real nice.” I am mildly surprised to hear the details of the beginnings of her marital bliss. I ask, “They have clean sheets and hot water?” She says with glee, “And cable too!”
We are following her enigmatic directions to the Boone Trail Inn. On the way we come upon another hotel that, from the outside, looks attractive enough that it could possibly be our night’s rest. Stopping in the office, I find their rates to be much higher than I am interested in paying. I ask, “Where might we find more accommodating accommodations?”
In response, the gap-toothed proprietor in the office tells me, “I’d try the Boone Trail Inn. It’s real nice.”
I figure that two unreliable sources recommending the same place must equal credibility. “And if you go there,” she adds, “make sure you get room #2. Whatever you do, stay away from room #6.”
We arrive at the Boone Trail Inn. On the office door above the word OFFICE, is a larger sign which reads NO PETS. When we enter, a string bean of a man emerges from a doorway, his entrance being preceded by two small dogs yipping like little paint mixers. Certainly they are dogs, no doubt, but as pursuant to the sign, I guess, they are not pets. Our myopic, underweight man wants to know who told us that room #2 was the best. “I need to know so that I can charge you the right amount. I need to fix the toilet in 3. Don’t park in front of the office. Watch out for Sadie. I want to know who’s recommending my place.”
We soon discover that room #2, in spite of its reputation, is no prize. The walls are carpeted. I shudder to think what room #6 might be.
Next day. Our hike is an ambitious summiting of Grandfather Mountain, the highest peak on the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway. Grandfather is one of the jewels of the South both for natural grandeur and tourist accommodations. Driving the winding road up the southwestern flank of the mountain, we pass cute, chalet-style buildings behind a gate.
There’s a sign…
I think to myself, “What the heck is the entrance to a mountain!?” A mountain is there, here, all over the place. How in Sam Hill do you enter it?!
My answer comes from the slightly bored woman at the entry station who explains that, for ten dollars a person, we can view the captive animals in the Animal Habitats area, view a film about the mountain in the Nature Museum, picnic at the Picnic Area and look over the Overlook. Oh yeah, you can also hike the Hiking Trails. Y’know, actually experience the Mountain. You could also, if you were ambitious enough, walk across the Mile High Swinging Bridge and hike to the Summit.
“All we want to do is hike the trails. What will that cost us?”
“Ten bucks, just like everybody and everything else,” she explains.
We opt to drive down the road to the Profile Trailhead and simply hike in, skipping the Amazing, Artificial Natural Wonders. Chatting with the ranger who is stationed at this trailhead, we learn that the weather will be quite friendly for January, which is to say, comfortably 52° and sunny with virtually no chance of precipitation, winds at about 10 miles per hour. “Ah, 10 mph isn’t bad at all,” I offer.
“Yah,” answered the ranger, “considering that two days ago it blew up to 186 miles per hour on the summit.” I’ll bet he’s exaggerating. “It’s gonna get windier as you get up higher.”
When I hiked this mountain in the early 1990s, I climbed a trail called the Shanty Spring Trail. Trailhead has been moved because of development. Where trailhead was ten years ago now stands the front door of a Walmart store.
Finding the new trailhead, we commence to climb. Temperatures drop as we ascend during our all-day hike and, as our ranger suggested, the wind blows a mighty force at the summit. Unfortunately for us, in spite of the wind, the summit is 100% enshrouded in cloud, taking our visibility down to no more than two hiker lengths.
Back at trailhead after our hike, it is once again sunny and warm. Our ranger is still sitting in his Range Rover, now reading <Angela’s Ashes>. Looking for an alternative to the Boone Trail Inn, I ask if he can recommend a cheap motel with clean sheets and hot water, cable not necessary. “Nothing around here I can think of. It’s Martin Luther King weekend y’know, and probably everywhere’s booked up for the skiers.”
“Skiers?” I share my skepticism. “I didn’t know King was into skiing.”
“Oh, but y’know,” he offers helpfully, “You might want to try the Boone Trail Inn.”