Many of us can relate to Clark Griswold’s tirade in the National Lampoon movie. He turns to his wife with eyes bulging, How can it get any worse? Look around Ellen, we’re on the threshold of hell! Holiday commercialism, family interaction, logistics, shopping and unexpected twists get many of us worked into a tizzy. So how do you cope and survive the Christmas season still standing and grinning?
Plan a trip out of town of course!
It’s a good time to travel with built in vacation days for Christmas and New Years…4 days of PTO to be exact. We’ll only miss three office days during a nine-day excursion. For Josh and I, the real trick was convincing our families that we needed to leave on Christmas Eve to capitalize on some much needed vacation time. My mom was disappointed we’re not around on the DAY, her supreme matriarchal wish is to be surrounded by (grand)kids. Josh’s mom and step dad are committed to a ravioli making tradition with a tight time frame for visitation. It’s a tough go to fit everyone in but tis’ the season for frantic packing and travel in inclement weather. As the storm gathered I started packing the cooler. It was filled with a variety of craft beer and several bottles of wine. Thankfully, neither family expects us to bring the turkey or ham. And, since we have not produced any grandchildren our priority status remains low and under the radar. No one will notice as we sneak out of town.
It was a harrowing drive on the eve out of Michigan in a winter storm and into southern Ohio, where we succumbed to fatigue around midnight in Dayton. It was not a typical Christmas morning either, waking up in a Comfort Inn to a sub par continental breakfast. I much prefer my mom’s sausage and egg frittata over rubbery eggs and Yoplait. But, the sun shone and the roads had been cleared. We survived six more hours on dry roads to our rental on Christmas Day. In time for dinner, we dined on leftover raviolis and propped up our paper cut-out Christmas tree made by the nephews. We cranked the electric heaters in the cottage, snuggled under blankets and exchanged gifts while watching Hallmark movies.
It was our third time to North Carolina, this time celebrating a one-year anniversary and a return to the scene at Looking Glass Falls. It’s about 11 hours by car to Brevard (just south of Asheville) and much cheaper than an over-priced holiday airline ticket. We would have normally been thrilled with temps 30 degrees higher than the Mitten. Except, the entire country put global warming on hold and entered a deep freeze for our exact trip dates. Most of our days were spent in layers, hats, gloves and hiking boots. Though, the crisp Carolina air did not diminish gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge/Appalachian range in Pisgah National Forest. Looking Glass Rock and John Rock are must-do’s for a panoramic vista from a slab of granite. There was more hiking and less biking this time around and plenty of waterfalls to discover. We found out that portions of the Hunger Games had been filmed in nearby forests.
A non-traditional holiday week continued at the Red Fox cottage, surrounded by farmland, white fences, a single cow in the pasture and chicken corpses! We had heard the coyotes howling in delight in the dark, a trigger that a kill had been made. They had clearly found their way into the nearby chicken coop and as a bonus chased a skunk under our cottage deck. There would be no farm fresh eggs to gather on this trip. The next morning, we awoke to a fog of skunk stench, strong enough to almost taste as I sipped my coffee. We skedaddled to Brevard for breakfast and to clear our heads. I left a message for our host that we had been skunked. While our host scrambled to find a solution to our unwanted guest, we headed out for a hike in the fresh Appalachian air.
Adventure pals, Steve and Kim joined us midweek. They had grown tired of us bragging about how much fun we’d had in Blue Ridge country. We tour guided them around our favorite bike trails in Dupont State Forest. The hilly terrain tested our fitness but Ridgeline as always was a lengthy downhill reward after many miles in the saddle. The varied terrain also had us pedaling over sections of slab rock (some with icy sections) to the Big Cedar Rock summit. I, admittedly, walked down many sections of the rocky and technical downhill. Evenings were filled with stops along the Asheville Ale Trail. We toasted to the upcoming New Year at Sierra Nevada Brewing, The Thirsty Monk and Ecusta Brewing to start. We were also just a few miles from Oskar Blues Brewery and the namesake Brevard Brewing.
The brew tour continued with rosy cheeks and icy roads. We had apparently brought the north wind with us for NYE. After a satisfying lunch at Hillman Beer near Biltmore Village and a stop at French Broad River Brewing, the rain began to ice. We were mystified at the rain with a temperature of 24! There are few Carolinians who are a comfortable driving in winter conditions so we found ourselves trapped in a gridlock for two hours. A van nearly sideswiped us as we merged on to I-26…. we escaped and crawled along until our exit to Brevard. Once out of the Asheville, the traffic and the ice magically lessened. We decided on sushi take out and crowlers of chocolate oatmeal stout instead of staying out late and driving on more ice. We toasted to 2018 and to the skunk taking his leave of our cottage.