Hey y’all, welcome back to Cleverly Caroline. In today’s post I’m going to talk about my recent trip to Asheville, North Carolina. I was able to go through my school as part of an Alternative Service Break. There were 10 other people on my trip and I had never met any of them before. Luckily, because of our 16 hour drive, hours of service, and sleeping in a church basement together, we were all able to become very close.
In Asheville, we volunteered with an amazing organization called Conserving Carolina, a land trust that works across western North Carolina. They work to maintain the natural resources of the area, restore native habitats, create sustainable public recreation trails, and much much more. I highly recommend checking out their website and volunteering if you live in the area.
Day 1: Boston to Western Virginia
The first day of our trip was a 9 hour drive from Boston to Western Virginia. That’s one way to get to know total strangers, right? We left the city at 5 am to get to our overnight in time for dinner. Fortunately, most of us were able to sleep through a good chunk of the morning. One exciting thing that happened on this day was our lunch stop at Chick-fil-A. If you know me, you know that I love Chick-fil-A nuggets like nothing else, but there isn’t a Chick-fil-A in Boston. My chicken cravings were satisfied during this stop in Pennsylvania.
Another exciting part of this drive was getting to check a new state off of my bucket list, West Virginia. I am on a mission to visit all 50 states and I was able to check off one more that day. We spent the night in the gym of a schoolhouse turned apartment building in a small, rural town in Western Virginia right near Shenandoah National Park. It was pretty cloudy where we were so we couldn’t see the mountains, but it felt special to be near the park and it was certainly a fitting way to begin the trip. While there, we also had the amazing opportunity to see a bluegrass band play in a small, local theater.
Day 2: Western Virginia to Asheville North Carolina
Our second day of driving was much shorter than the day before. I checked off two new states, Tennessee and North Carolina. We also went to Taco Bell, which I had been craving. I was eager to try out their nacho fries, but they were disappointing. Our first stop in Asheville was Walmart. When we got out of the van, we were excited because it was 70 degrees outside! It was an amazing change from 20 degree Boston weather. We stocked up on snacks and celebrated the weather by eating pints of ice cream in the parking lot.
After Walmart, we went to the church where we were staying and settled in. We made pasta for dinner and went to bed, eager to start our first day of service.
Day 3: Service begins!
We woke up early and left the church by 8:30 to start our first day of service. We accidentally went to the wrong location at first, but the detour was worth it to see some beautiful countryside. Our task that day, when we got to the right place, was to bushwhack to the top of a mountain, where we would remove invasive species. We had lunch on some rocks at the summit before beginning to remove invasive tree species.
Pulling out the saplings was hard work and required nifty footwork on steep parts of the mountain. This work was particularly rewarding though because we were able to clearly see our progress. It was hard knowing, however, that there were many more saplings than we could possibly remove in one day or even the whole week we were there. As we started hiking back down, it began to rain and we found our first salamander of the tripe. When we got back into the city, we explored downtown Asheville and went to Mellow Mushroom for dinner. We were so grateful that they donated to our trip and the food was so good! After dinner, we went back to the church and called it a night.
Day 4: Trailblazing
We got up early once again to head out to the mountains. We went to the right place this time and met up with the folks from Conserving Carolina. Trail cleanup was our assignment for the day; our work was intended to make an existing trail more sustainable by building drainages and making other changes to help with the flow of water. After a few hours of work, we stopped for lunch at a waterfall where we dunked our heads to cool off.
After lunch, we hiked down the mountain and hit the road for a hike to a different waterfall. The Conserving Carolina employees led our hike, and were surprised when we wanted to swim at the falls; they thought that 60 degrees was too cold to swim but we did so happily, being used to much colder temperatures up north. Admittedly, the water was pretty cold but we were all grateful for the opportunity to take full advantage of the outdoors and warm weather. We walked back to the van cold and dripping but revitalized. From there, we headed back into the city.
After changing into dry clothes, we went back to exploring downtown Asheville before calling it a day.
Day 5: Street Clean Up
Our third day of service was a bit different than the two days prior because we focused on picking up litter. Conserving Carolina has two adopted areas: a local multi-use path and a highway. We spent the day collecting litter from the two areas, which was much more fun than expected. The most eventful part of the service that day was getting our van stuck in the mud and needing to push it out ourselves.
After picking up trash, we headed to a hiking spot with a panoramic view of Western North Carolina. The hike was short and steep, but well worth it. This was incredibly sentimental for me because it reminded me of some similar views I had while hiking on the Appalachian Trail in 2016.
After getting back into the city and having dinner, we hit the town to go to a chocolate restaurant and find interesting night life. Our desserts were amazing, amongst the 8 of us, we had a dark chocolate milkshake, a chocolate pot de creme, various ice cream flavors, an espresso and vanilla seltzer drink (highly recommend!), and more. We proceeded to wander around, looking for live music or other interesting things to do. From afar, we heard a man playing Mr. Brightside on piano, but found out he was performing in a bar so we couldn’t go in. We then found a free comedy show at a Mexican restaurant, but that was 21+ too so we ate some sweet plantains and headed back to the church for the night.
Day 6: Waterfall hike pt. 2
Once more, we got up early to head to the mountains. Our work was a combination of what we had done on previous days in that we helped clean up litter and remove invasive species in a local open space. Here we saw another salamander!
We ended the morning by having lunch in a nearby park. One of the Conserving Carolina employees even brought pie to celebrate Pi Day. After lunch, we headed to a Pollinator Garden to help clean it up and get it ready for spring. While working, we saw a snake. After we finished cleaning, we headed to another waterfall hike. Once more, we went swimming, but this time the water was much colder. That being said, it was still a lot of fun and a refreshing way to end the day.
When we arrived in the city, we headed to a cool coffee shop near the church that we had been eyeing all week. What made it interesting is that it’s in an old fashioned UK double decker bus. Like at the chocolate restaurant, we tried a lot of different items, my favorite being the smoothies. After this we headed back to the church and called it a day.
Day 7: Last Day of Service
Our last day got off to a later start due to rain, but we were still able to begin work around 10:30. We were tasked with removing invasive saplings along the banks of a creek. Due to the rain and the waterfront environment, our last day of service was particularly muddy. We worked a few hours and then had pizza for lunch, courtesy of our kind friends at Conserving Carolina.
After eating, we headed to the Conserving Carolina office to check it out and say goodbye to all of the employees who worked with us throughout the week. From the office we went to Goodwill for some quick thrifting. I picked up a T-Shirt and sweatshirt for $9, which I am still super excited about. When we got back to the church, we changed into our newly thrifted clothes and went into town for the last time. We went to a glass studio near the church where you could watch artists blow glass and purchase their work. It was some of the most amazing art I have ever seen! From there, we went to an ice cream shop with small-batch, uniquely flavored ice cream. They also sell local sodas with similar unique flavors to the ice cream.
After the ice cream shop, it was time for dinner and sleep to prepare for 12 hours of driving the next day.
Day 8: North Carolina to New York
We woke up at 5 am to get to New York by dinner. We all slept through the first few hours of the drive, then stopped at Chick-Fil-A for breakfast. I had never had Chick-Fil-A breakfast before but I loved it and will definitely have it again. We hit the road again until stopping for lunch at Cookout, which was certainly one of the highlights of my trip. I had never been to Cookout but one of my friends at school is from North Carolina and recommended it. I got onion rings, a chicken quesadilla, and a mint Oreo shake. The shake was amazing, one of the best I had ever had! From there, we headed to New York to stay at a BU family’s house. The family was so nice and they made us so much food. They also had an adorable puppy who we got to play with until we fell asleep.
Day 9: New York to Boston
We got up at 6:30 to get home early enough for us all to finish the homework we spent the week procrastinating. The drive was short and full of sleep. When we got into the city we said goodbye for the time being and went home to unpack and decompress from the week.
Overall, I am very thankful for the opportunity to do service with Conserving Carolina and visit Asheville, a city that’s been on my bucket list for some time now. I met 10 amazing people who I otherwise would’ve never known and I am excited for our friendships to grow stronger in the future.
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Disclaimer: This post was originally published on Cleverly Caroline on March 19, 2019.