Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Five-Day Odyssey of NC Oddities

Headed to the mountains, near Asheville, N.C.

(near) SH*T BRITCHES CREEK, North Carolina—Ever since reading William S. Powell’s book, The North Carolina Gazetteer, I’ve wanted to write this dateline, named for a clear stream where early settlers saw a local Indian clean himself after an accident. It can be found in deeds from the 1800s, though blushing locals often called it Dirty Britches Creek.

Never mind that I didn’t, in every technical sense, find the exact location of this legacy tributary located somewhere in Buncombe County.

Oh, I know right where it is—near Cane Creek as it starts running north on Burney Mountain—but I couldn’t find those two places either. I generally stop going anywhere in the North Carolina hills when the directions include the words “turn off the paved road.”

For the last week, I’ve been on just about every paved road in the state, from the Appalachians to the Atlantic, promoting the release of Legends of NC State Basketball. I went to all 10 stops on the NC State coaches Wolfpack Club Caravan with football coach Dave Doeren, men’s basketball coach Mark Gottfried and women’s basketball coach Wes Moore.

Sounds fun, right?

The coaches' tour bus.
For the most part, it was, except that those guys either flew on a private plane or had someone drive them in a luxury RV, with a shower, a bathroom, a refrigerator and three cable-connected flat-screen televisions. I spent the whole time in my 11-year-old Honda Pilot, listening to three 35-year-old bootleg CDs of Bruce Springsteen’s legendary New Year’s Eve concert at the Nassau County Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.

Over the course of five days, by taking a few backroads and detours, I drove 1,609 miles, through 67 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, while making two stops a day on the Caravan. That’s roughly equal to driving from Murphy to Manteo three times here in the widest state east of the Mississippi.

The distance was inflated by a few miles, just because there was a little spare time between stops that allowed me to sneak over to the largest county by land (Robeson), the smallest (Clay), the most populous (Mecklenburg) and the least populous (Tyrrell), the southernmost (Brunswick) and three of the 15 northernmost counties (they are all equally north on the Virginia border).

I wasn’t able to get to the westernmost (Cherokee), though I did hit all of the Tennessee/Georgia-adjacent counties over spring break with my kids. We damned near hit an elk at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so I wasn’t eager to go back. I’m saving the easternmost (Dare) for a week when I can kick my feet up on the beach.

Anybody have a rental house on Ocracoke I can borrow?

From the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The statewide tour began Monday morning, when I drove from Raleigh to Asheville. I made it to the Country Club of Asheville in three hours and forty seven minutes without stopping. We did a two-and-a-half hour luncheon presentation, then hoofed it to Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, which was a little over two hours away. After that was over, I drove back up to Blowing Rock, where the next morning we did a breakfast and golf outing at the Blowing Rock Country Club.

Tuesday night, I went to Greensboro, where the ACC Hall of Champions hosted more than 200 Wolfpack Club members for the Caravan stop, then headed home to sleep in my bed for the only time all week. In the span of 40 hours, I drove 540 miles, without (a) needing to stop for the bathroom or (b) having to make use of an empty water bottle. (Though, after sneaking over to my favorite barbecue joint, Alston Bridges in Shelby for sliced pork, red slaw and an extra-large sweet tea, I cut it pretty close heading into Charlotte.)

Three days later, we covered the entire eastern part of the state from Goldsboro to New Bern to Williamston to Lumberton to Pinehurst to Wilmington, in that circuitous order. We ate Wilber’s barbecue, Calabash shrimp and banana pudding, among many other North Carolina favorites. I haven’t stepped on the scales since returning home.

In Jones and Onslow Counties.
I went, semi-directly, from the mountains to the sea, from the Blue Ridge Parkway to the historic Albemarle Highway, from the Pisgah National Forest to the Croatan. And I visited two NC State-owned outposts on either side of the Eastern Continental Divide: the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville and Hofmann Forest in Maysville.

So I can now say this with all the love I can muster for the home state of eight generations of Peelers: North Carolina is one weird place, cartographically speaking.

From the names of crossroads communities—I have family in Dirty Ankle and I grew up in Cat Square—to the cross-pollinated town and county names, it’s no wonder all the out-of-state transplants settled mostly in the Triangle, Charlotte, Pinehurst and the mountains. They can’t find their way around anywhere else.
I better appreciate their confusion, though I still won’t forgive the way-backers in the mountains for driving around with their left turn signal on most of the time.

Neither Asheville nor Asheboro are in Ashe County. Davidson is not in Davidson County. The town of Stanley has nothing to do with Stanly County. Rockingham is well south of Rockingham County, and only one of them has a race track.

Wrightsville Beach, just before Tropical Storm Ana arrives.
Henderson, in Vance County, is on the other side of the state from Henderson County. Vanceboro, of course, in not in Vance County. Why would it be?

Hertford is not in Hertford County. The city of Greenville is in the county adjacent to, but not in, Greene County, and Greensboro would have been a three-day march for Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Greene’s army.

The Caldwell County town of Lenoir is 252 miles away from Lenoir County. And, as you might have assumed, neither is pronounced in the French fashion.

Little Washington isn’t in Washington County, but both are named for the first president.  Polk County isn’t named for James K. Polk, one of the three presidents born in North Carolina. And Lincoln County, where I was born, isn’t named after Abraham Lincoln, who may have actually been born here, not Kentucky.

Jackson County was named for Andrew Jackson, one of the other presidents kind of born in North Carolina (the obstinate folks in South Carolina also claim him), but Jacksonville isn’t located there.

Gaston County, another place where I spent a good portion of my youth, is where Gastonia is located, but if you are expecting to swim in Lake Gaston, you will be sorely disappointed.

The latest edition.
The trip was fun. I went by my second favorite North Carolina institution of higher learning, Isothermal Community College. It’s my favorite because of its name and it’s home to WNCW-FM, the best radio station in the state. I nearly drove off the road on the Gaston-Mecklenburg county line when I saw the billboard advertising an $825 discount for breast augmentation (I can’t figure out why they didn’t go with the simple motto “pay less for more”).

I drove by and smelled quite a few dead deer, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, possums, squirrels, skunks, but no bears. I guess I have to go to NC State’s Brickyard for that.

I managed to sell a few books—the proceeds for which will go to the Reynolds Coliseum Walk of Fame and History project—and visited with two of the legends included in the book, Tommy Burleson in Blowing Rock and Eddie Biedenbach in Wilmington. I talked to a lot of great people from around the state, though I wish NC State linguistics professor Walt Wolfram had been with me to help translate some of them.

NC State graduate Johna Edmonds.
I hung out with Mr. Wuf, Ms. Wuf and a former Miss North Carolina. I saw some old friends and told stories about NC State’s athletics history. Overall, it wasn’t a bad way to spend a week of vacation.

Friday night, as I headed up Interstate-40, I passed by the coaches’ RV one last time, somewhere in the middle of Duplin County. I’m sure they were watching SportsCenter. With a few more tanks of gas, I could’ve kept going, all the way to Barstow, California, where I-40 ends. I had already traveled two-thirds of the distance of the 2,555-mile interstate, and I would have passed right through Greensboro and Albuquerque, New Mexico, the two cities where NC State basketball won national championships.

Exit 295 called my name, however, and I needed to do some laundry, just like that Indian up in Buncombe County centuries ago.

Thanks for reading “One Brick Back.” You can find all three of my books and other merchandise here. If you enjoy this blog and are so moved, make a donation to help offset travel and research expenses. It will go to helping restore Reynolds Coliseum, one of my favorite places in the state.

Home again, with a souvenir from the road.

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