After spending three nights backpacking through the mountains in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, eating little more than granola and crackers, all we could think about was food. Hot food. Fried food. Cheese-covered food. Cheese-filled food. Really, any kind of food that’s unhealthy, hot and greasy.
As we left the mountains we picked a random restaurant and sat down, suddenly acutely aware of our appearance and smell, but not caring cause we were starving. We’d been at the table for less than a minute when a waitress came over and directed us towards the buffet. Ummm, what? That was definitely not what we had in mind. Hard pass on the mountain buffet, thanks. So instead of getting up and getting in the line, we got up and headed right back out the door.
However, once we’d smelled food, we went from starving to freaking ravenous. Of course, there was essentially nothing between the buffet restaurant and Asheville, so we had a while to wait before our hangriness would be satiated.
While trying not to think about our stomachs, our focus turned to how unbelievably sweaty and filthy we were. It’s amazing how amplified smells become once in a confined space–like my car. We had the windows down, but dayyy-um. We stunk. Had we not left the buffet on our own, we may have been asked to leave anyway. Since we needed gas and wanted something to drink, we pulled into a gas station, grabbed a clean change of clothes, and headed inside.
Lindsey went in the ladies room and, since they were single occupant rooms, I went into the men’s room to get cleaned up. My clothes felt like they’d fused with my skin as I peeled them off. I was covered in sweat, dirt, scrapes and bruises, and I don’t even want to think about the mixture of smells coming off me as I dropped my dirty clothes to the floor, and wiped myself down with paper towels and gas station handsoap.
Meanwhile, as I was finishing up, someone started pulling on the door of the bathroom. Not knocking on the door like a normal person, mind you, but jiggling the doorknob and shaking the door like they’d never come across a locked bathroom in their entire lives, and couldn’t imagine what was preventing it from opening. After the third time they tried, I yelled, “Occupied!” and finished getting dressed.
I exited the bathroom to see a very angry, confused looking man standing by the potato chips, arms folded across his chest, staring at me. Not only was he perplexed by a locked men’s room door, but when it finally opened, and a woman came out I think I blew his mind. He muttered something under his breath as he went in, and I simply smiled and said, “Yeah, you have a great day, too.” in my most passive aggressive, condescending, but not overtly rude voice. I already missed the solitude of the mountains.
I think one of the biggest challenges Lindsey and I face on our Ladycations is finding restaurants that accommodate both my unbelievable pickiness, and Lindsey’s healthy vegetarian diet. There are probably five foods we both actually like (thank god she likes cheese). Luckily, we found a place that had a veggie burger and fried cheese curds just a few minutes from our AirBnb, that also had a patio. And since I was pretty sure our gas station baths hadn’t completely solved our stench problem, a restaurant with outdoor seating had serious appeal.
Lindsey ordered a beer, I got a Coke, and we sat there sipping our drinks, and munching on the giant basket of cheese curds we ordered, while listening to the locals around us. I’ve never spent any length of time in the South, so it was quite a new experience for me to hear so many southern accents and people saying “y’all” as often as I say, “you betcha.”
We devoured our food until we were both so full I wasn’t sure we’d be able to walk. I felt like I needed a wheelbarrow to carry my gut as we walked back to the car. We passed several hippie shops and street fairs on our way to the beer store, so we decided to explore the neighborhood before heading back to the AirBnb for the night.
From everything I’d heard about Asheville, I was expecting to immediately fall in love with the place. Unfortunately, I don’t think we were in the area people fall in love with. The number of homeless people sitting and sleeping on the sidewalks was both heartbreaking and rather shocking. There was a homeless man sleeping in a storefront doorway, several folks with their dogs taking up the entire sidewalk in front of another shop. I’ve never seen so many homeless people congregated in the same place like that anywhere but New York City. So while I’m sure the rest of Asheville is amazing, the area we were in sort of just made me sad.
We did some window shopping and checked out one of the street fairs, but ultimately decided that we were way too exhausted to explore, or deal with the throngs of people wandering around. All we could think about was the amazing shower and hot tub awaiting us at our AirBnb.
I was the first to shower, and wow. . . I honestly don’t think I’ve ever taken a more glorious shower in all my life. The bathroom at our AirBnb was as large as my bedroom at home. The shower itself was big enough for two people and even equipped with a dual rainfall shower head and a bench to sit on. I stood in there for far longer than necessary simply because I didn’t want to get out.
After we’d both taken extra long showers (double hair washing, deep scrubbing of every inch of flesh) we realized we were actually hungry again. Since we had no desire to go anywhere we ordered some pizza, then climbed into the hot tub in the backyard. We were still in the hot tub when the pizza arrived (much to the amusement of the pizza delivery guy), and only stayed out of it long enough to stuff our faces and grab another beer.
We stayed in that heavenly hot tub for hours and hours, talking and laughing and drinking our beers, before Lindsey finally decided she needed to hit the sack. I smoked a little bit before deciding it was time to get out. It felt so good, and I knew that once I woke up it meant our Ladycation was over, so I resisted going to bed until far later than was probably wise. But that’s just how I roll.
Once inside and dry, I surveyed the damage to my body. The dirt was washed away, leaving a multitude of scrapes, scratches, bruises, and bug bites in all their glory. I couldn’t help but laugh. I looked like a 7 year old boy on summer vacation. Battle scars, I thought. I’d climbed up that mountain, across rivers, over trees, through swarms of bugs, and had lived to tell the tale.
Even now, 4 months later, as I write this, I’m looking at the scar where one of the overturned trees caught my shin and tore away the flesh. My whole body has scars: my left knee from when I slid down a gravel hill as a teenager, the finger I sliced with an Xacto knife as a kid when I was trying to teach myself to whittle, the stretch marks from growing three human lives. Our scars tell a story, they show where we’ve been, what we’ve been through, what we’ve survived. I realized that each and every unsightly mark on my body has a story, and all those stories help make up my story. I wouldn’t be who I am without them and the experiences that they resulted from.
That night I went to bed with a grateful heart. I was grateful for the hot tub that had just soothed away 3 days worth of aches and pains. I was grateful for the break from reality, and the chance to get out of town for a few days. I was grateful that those days were spent with my best friend and number one travel companion. I was even grateful for the struggle of Day Three when I thought I might not make it up that damn mountain, for it’s the struggle that helped me appreciate everything else.
Would that hot tub have felt as incredible if I hadn’t worked my ass off trudging up the mountain? Hell no. It’s the struggle, the pain, the hurt, that allow us to appreciate so much more thoroughly when we aren’t struggling, in pain, or hurt. If everything is great, nothing is great. We need the contrast to provide perspective.
The next morning we stopped for breakfast at the Sunny Point Cafe before we hit the road. A bright, eclectic, hipster-type establishment, the food was delicious, the helpings plentiful, and the service was great. As an added bonus, the restaurant chooses a different local non-profit organization each month to partner with. When you leave your tip, you can also leave a donation in the dedicated envelope on the table. Breakfast with a conscience. This is the kind of place I’d expected when coming to Asheville.
The long drive home was a relatively quiet one. I think we were both still tired from all our adventures, and all talked out from the night before. Instead of conversation we were both in our own worlds, silently reflecting on our trip and the battle scars we were taking home with us, proud of what we’d accomplished, and ready to start planning our next Ladycation.
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