After a day's worth of rest we can truly say we had ourselves an adventure this past weekend. "Adventure" is the term we use when we inform Ben we're about to put him in his car seat for a drive longer than across town to visit Me-Maw. The crew experienced unexpected weather and obstacles along the way yet we can say the weekend was an overall success.
We left late Friday morning expecting to encounter some showers along the way. Sure enough, gray clouds seemed to follow us up the twisting mountain roads. But it wasn't until we had just unhooked the camper from the van that we felt the first significant rain of the day. Ever pop up a fold-out camper with one hand while holding an umbrella in the other? Other than those few brief showers our end of the week was fairly uneventful.
Early Saturday morning however provided me an omen that would serve as the perfect sign of things to come. First I overslept about 15 minutes. Second the pilot light of our hot water heater blew out during the night. I discovered that fact while trying to take my morning shower. I can honestly tell you how cold 28 degrees feels wrapped in just a towel, wearing your wife's undersized slippers' trying to light a stupid pilot nozzle, while your hands are shaking violently from putting them under a shower head expecting warmth and comfort only to find water only fitting for salmon to spawn in.
Just as I got back into the camper, another artist camping in the same campground called me to let me know he was ready to go and was waiting for me at the gate. Being the nice guy that I am, I insisted about 8 hours earlier over too many beers that I lead him the 10 miles or so through the foggy two-lane mountain roads to our destination of downtown Banner Elk. Part three of the omen occurred about a minute later after getting dressed faster than Dale Earnhardt, Jr. can make a lap at Richmond: ice on the windshield.
Things were looking much better later that morning as the temps rose and the huge crowd started to make its way through the gates. I made my first sale about 10:30 which is rather unusual (I generally don't do well in the mornings at any show - much less when about 99 percent of the crowd is in a line to sign up so they can race an inch and a half worm three feet up a string) so I was happy. Little did any of us know that hour would be the warmest of the day.
Ironically, with the agreement of many of the artists I knew there, I am quite certain the Woolly Worm Festival had to have set a crowd record Saturday. Around noon I actually felt just a tad claustrophobic. The weirdness pervading over the festival continued into the afternoon. Despite the unexpected cold folks continued to stick around. Unfortunately for them the woolly worms only have so much wool. They quit racing. Some of the darn things just fell off the string rather than be subjected such horrible racing conditions. It eventually got to the point where the officials began timing the races so that whichever worm was ahead when the race was called won.
By the time Joan and the kids arrived the temperature had to be in the high thirties. Notice there are no pictures of Ben? That's because he was covered up by about 4 blankets Saturday. The family finally had enough and left. When the festival closed for the day I honestly felt like I'd spent the day skiing down nearby Sugar Mountain.
Despite waking up to a frost covered field Sunday morning I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the greatest hot showers known to mankind. The Banner Elk Cafe welcomed me with open arms via its mocha latte. And I got about an hour of photo time under a crisp blue autumn sky before the gates opened (hence all of the birds of prey pics).
Joan and the kids joined me during the afternoon when the thermometer hit a nice balmy 55 degrees. After the festival closed they helped me pack up the booth and we rewarded ourselves with some fancy grub at the Cafe. Our plan was to wake up early Monday and explore Grandfather Mountain before heading home. Ah, the peak of our adventure.
We went to plan B early Monday morning. Jessie barely slept due to an earache (she's just missed the second day of school this week with a certified ear and sinus infection). The propane tank ran out during the night but I did have a backup. It wasn't quite the sideshow of Saturday but it's still pretty miserable to wait the half hour for the camper to heat back up. So we headed home early.
We arrived there late though, delayed by Ben and a chihuahua named Blaze almost simultaneously barfing from car sickness. About an hour after that I taught Joan and Jessie how to change a camper tire somewhere near Forest City, North Carolina. After a little more barfing later from the boys in the back seat we arrived home a little rougher for the wear but very much intact (sans one camper tire).
And tomorrow I get to head out once again. I'm exactly halfway through a six-week stretch of shows. This weekend I'll be at Holden Beach, North Carolina. If you're in the Wilmington area come see me. Better yet, watch my booth for me so I can take a nap. You can bet there will be some artwork in it for ya'!
The area between Spruce Pine and Banner Elk, NC is considered the Christmas Tree Capitol of the World. It includes some really huge farms and a few little plots like this one next to our campground. Just about any acreage around has some type of balsam, fir, cedar, or evergreen tree in all shapes and sizes. Note the Woolly Worm stage. That is fresh garland draped from the guardrail with two fresh cut trees up front. Those people are no dummies. In between races shoppers were told how they could order any type of tree, shape, or height cut to order and shipped to one's door right after Turkey Day.
This is a red tail hawk. Yes, I did the same thing and said "posh!" This guy is not quite an albino but close. They are very rare.
This was a heat race on Sunday. The organizers of the event have this racing thing down pat. Note the gentlemen pointing at a worm that is leading. There is a volunteer watching about 3 to 4 lanes which can total 24 at times. Out where I'm standing there are other volunteers watching the ones on stage waiting to hear a whistle or to see the opposite hand go up in the air signaling to stop. Essentially these folks have zero controversies in regards to the winning worm. did I mention the winner Saturday took home $1000 in cash?
A horned owl, also full grown.
And the lovely Jessie shows off her new tie-dyed wardrobe courtesy of my good friend Ken Ramsey. In fact all of us have at least a tie-dyed shirt. Note her new earrings to match.