Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville

by Christy Anselmi /
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Jun 08, 2023 / 0 comments

This summer, my husband and I undertook a move. A relocation from Massachusetts to Arizona has been undertaken by others, no doubt. We decided to make things a little more interesting than a direct route. We headed north. Our circuitous route is winding us through Newfoundland, Portugal, and North Carolina. When one would think to take the southerly route from the Carolina’s to Arizona in the winter months, we will make Bugs Bunny’s famous right turn at Albuquerque to get to Bozeman, Montana. Then, we’ll drive to Arizona. Our 100 pound Golden Doodle, Kipper, was not consulted in the making of these plans, but we plied him with treats for the first three years of his life to the point he considers us his pack and blindly follows our direction. Our two sons weren’t consulted either. But, given that they abandoned us in their selfish quest to get a college education, we felt at liberty to leave a note on the front door explaining why other people now live in their house.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville

John and I decided to take up running again. And to motivate us, we signed up for the Army 10 miler in Washington, D.C.

There are times in history when a savant brings to light the flaws in a universal theory. For instance, at one point in history, it was widely believed that the heart was the center of thinking and emotions. Whoops on that one. The Earth used to be the center of the universe until it wasn't, and that darn Sun claimed top billing. 

Well, folks, I have been hiding my genius for too long and now it is time to unhumble myself by ripping apart a basic tenant of logic. We have been taught (and blindly accepted), if A is B and B is C, then A is C. Right here and now, I will crush this transitive principle! If "the jogger" is "Christy" and "Christy" is "joyful," then the "jogger" is "joyful". Theory FAILS!!!! (Yale can send me my honorary degree anytime now!)

John and I have been runners for periods of time in our past and John has even survived three marathons. There are many things we like about running...a cold beer when we are done, a warm shower when we are done, knowing we're done when we are done. And with that spirit, we started training during our time in Newfoundland.

It didn't take us long to realize we are in our 50s. When Christy started the first step of every run with, "Oh please just make it stop!" and John ended each run with, "Today it was my (ankles, knees, shoulder, hips,...)," we began to question our resolve. It became clear around the fourth week of training that we would really enjoy the 10 mile race if it were a fifth of that distance and a walk. We also realized that in order to run the race, we would have to drive 7 hours north from Asheville three days after arriving in Asheville to be in D.C. which we passed on the drive to Asheville. So, "run the race" + "drive to race"= "no fun at all". Lucky for us, however, the race officials gave us a virtual running option, which we promptly switched our registration to and never planned on actually doing. The t-shirt they sent me fits perfectly, though!

We did feel somewhat guilty and signed up for two road races in Asheville for a total mileage that was just over half of the distance of the D.C. race. (John ran both of those races, and Christy found an excuse to get out of one.) The race we ran together started at Catawba Brewery and ended there with the promise of a free beer for every participant. I mostly run for chocolate and cheese, but throw me a beer at 9:30 in the morning after jogging 3 miles...I'm flexible.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
Starting the day off with my complex carbs!

Later in the day after the Catawba Brewery road race, the town of Asheville hosted a Beer Crawl. Asheville has been branded Beer Town USA, and for good reason. It has more breweries per capita than any other city or town in the U.S.. The internet is confused about the actual number of breweries Asheville has, but suffice it to say the 94,000 people that live here and the countless people who visit are not going to go thirsty any time soon. The beer crawl sounded like fun, but for a $50 per person ticket, we reasoned we could skip the paying extra money part and just go to some breweries on our own. We started by splitting our free 9:30am beer at Catawba after the race. Then, we skipped over to Our House (no, actually we went back to our house) to take a shower and nap. Around 5:00pm, we went to a distillery called The Chemist for a gin and tonic. Then, to a very filling dinner. Around 6:30pm, we found ourselves at Highland Brewery (Asheville's oldest brewery), where we ordered one beer between us and left over half of it unconsumed. (Nothing at all wrong with that beer! We were just full and frankly more interested in people watching.) 

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
Refreshments at The Chemist

Raucousness ensued with a stop at a dive bar in West Asheville. We stayed 20 minutes without ordering anything. (Again, the pour was less important to us than the environment, people, and conversation, plus what I really want after dinner is a hot fudge sundae.) We ended the evening at The Soccer Club (sports bar) with a shot of Bailey's. We were home at 7:45pm. Bars visited, hangover averted, dark chocolate hour still within range, next Netflix episode watched. It was a fantastic evening!

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
Asheville's Soccer Club

Reflecting on the Asheville Beer Crawl made me wonder why you never hear about other "crawls". In fact, encouraging people to hop around from bar to bar seems fairly dangerous if locations are not within walking distance—and even within walking distance, a bar crawl might invite police intervention. (Is my age showing?) Not so with a Bakery Crawl! I had passed many a bakery in this town and thought, "I want to go there before we leave." 

So I compiled my list of bakeries that looked interesting and took off with five bakeries on my route. I started my Bakery Crawl at City Bakery downtown with a delicious avocado, heirloom tomato, wild greens, and aioli sandwich on a croissant. Then to Rhu Bakery, where I browsed their baked goods, local honeys, and hot sauces and ordered a latte. Owl Bakery turned out to be mostly homemade artisan bread...a rye loaf for Reubens later in the week seemed just the thing to buy. Next stop, Short Street Cakes to peruse their made to order decadent cake list. Topping off the trek at Old Europe Bakery for their famous (and justifiably so!) chocolate covered macaroon. Got to see parts of the town I didn't know, ate and drank deliciousness, and walked away from my Crawl with the button on my pants still clasped.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
Definition of "tough decision"

John did not accompany the Bakery Crawl. But he liked the idea so much that three days later, he suggested we do a Barbecue Sauce Crawl. John whipped up some prime rib roast from a recipe he had been wanting to try, then we jumped in the car with a list of four BBQ places we had seen around town. At each, we stocked up on small containers of their signature sauces. Thirteen sauces lined up at the start, labeled with the type of sauce (sweet, hot, vinegar-based, etc.) and name of the restaurant it came from. 

There were several elimination rounds with the two judges generally agreeing on which were edging out the competition. In the end, we had five finalists: a sweet winner, a tie for two spicy winners, a vinegar-based winner, and a mustard-based winner. Of the five finalists, Luella's BBQ had three of the coveted spots. When I returned to Luella's a few days later to tell the unsuspecting staff about their win, they were initially perplexed, then as a few staff members came over to listen to my story and hear the results, they were elated! As I left, I'm pretty sure I heard the manager yell out, "Free sauce from our free serve-yourself dispensers, on the house!!!" 

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
The BBQ sauce competition was hotly contested and put us in a sticky situation

We took a break from crawls to welcome my Mom and brother for a week-long visit. Walking around parts of Asheville is a popular thing for visitors to do, which is exactly what we did when they came to town. They got the grand tour, complete with a trip to South Broad Chocolate Company for Liquid Truffle (a drinking chocolate 5 times the thickness of hot chocolate), an evening of live music from the Adam Ezra Group (for all my Massachusetts friends, "Devil Went Up to Boston" is a must listen!), and a highlight was strolling through a traveling exhibit at the North Carolina Arboretum of Joel Sartore's 15 year project to photograph one of every species in captivity, called Photo Ark. It is worth checking out on the internet, and, if you get a chance, worth seeing the traveling exhibit.

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
The sensational Adam Ezra Group!

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
The Brown-Throated Sloth is one of thousands of animals photographed by Joel Sartore for The Photo Ark project.

The last Crawl I did literally had me on my knees crawling around looking for food. This last crawl was not because we have now joined the notable population of homeless people in Asheville; it is because I went foraging. I signed up for a foraging tour in the hills around Asheville. There was only one other person at the meeting site when I arrived. She was a thin, earthy, make-up free, Doc Martin-wearing, 20-something woman with a knitted hat with ear flaps. Being an early arrival, I sat in my car hoping she was the leader of the group and thinking of what her name might be...Indigo? Vine? Wren? Aspen?

She did in fact turn out to be our foraging guide, and her name is Kat. Totally satisfied with that. Kat was an excellent guide who lives a foraging life (shocker!) and had just gotten back from foraging in France. She would show us a green plant or black walnut or air potato (my favorite!), tell us about the plant, then send us off to find them with a strict rule that we don't sample the item until she sees what we collected and approves it for human non-death consumption. At the end of the tour, she and her partner, Stephen, sauteed some of our findings on a camping stove and served samples to us on crackers. Everything was delicious! I brought back a few small amounts of many things we collected and made an egg scramble for John and my dinner that night. 

Travel with Awe and Wonder: Crawling Around Asheville
A few ingredients I used in the egg scramble from my day of foraging

I'm not sure Kat convinced me to give myself up to the foraging life. When she told us the story of her friend who was boiling Birch branches to make tea and with the Birch smell on her hand mistook a poison oak branch for an odd looking Birch branch, thus winding up in the emergency room with internal and external welts, I became skeptical of my attention to detail skills, hinging on the earlier interchange in which I brought a leafy green to Kat for inspection and she said, "Uh, yah, don't eat that. Rhododendron will kill you." I hereby leave it to meat packaging facilities and farms as far away as Peru to decide what additives and preservatives are needed to get my food to the grocery store so I can safely consume the things that will kill me more slowly than mistaken forest herbage. Unless, that is, I'm under the watchful eye of someone named Lavender.


Please click the photo below for a collection of my Travel with Awe and Wonder columns:

Travel with Awe and Wonder: A Compendium

Christy Anselmi, the Travel with Awe and Wonder Editor for Wandering Educators, taught kindergarten and first grade for 13 years in public schools in Atlanta and Massachusetts. She took a two year diversion to teach and learn in a Montessori school in Bozeman, Montana and a 10 year sabbatical to raise her own children. Christy has an abiding interest in early childhood education and how to provide developmentally appropriate experiences to engage young people in connection and communication. Raised by parents who got Christy involved in travel at a young age, she developed a curiosity about what is around each corner. Married to a Wyoming man who developed his own wanderlust after years in the Army, the two (along with two sons) have lived in five states (Georgia, Montana, Utah, Kansas, Massachusetts, and soon to be Arizona) and one country (Germany). Christy is a life-long noticer of intriguing scenarios, phrases, and ironies in everyday life. Finally putting pen to paper, she has a growing passion for insightful travel-experience writing.