Picture of ocelot Despite the fact that we covered several areas of North Carolina in the first two days of this trip, all the pictures on this page are from the North Carolina Zoo. The one exception is the background picture of the Great Smoky Mountains at dusk. Thus the pictures and the story won't really match up as they usually do. The image titles generally give the names of the animals though (position the cursor over the image if you aren't sure).

Picture of meerkat We arrived in Raleigh late on Friday night and did nothing but adjourn to the hotel. The next morning we found out that Tropical Storm Dennis (which brushed us the week before in Florida) was turning towards the North Carolina coast. Thus we promptly visited the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh so that we could head west away from the storm. The museum itself was very nice (even though half was closed for renovations). As we left around noon it was just starting to rain.

Picture of porcupine As we headed west towards Asheboro (home of the North Carolina Zoo) we drove out of the rain again. The zoo itself is enormous. So large in fact that there are two parking lots on opposite ends (North America & Africa). We parked in Africa and walked back to North America (so to speak). It takes two to three hours to walk the length of the zoo, longer when you're enteratained by particularly active polar bears. After the obligatory purchasing of otter merchandise, we returned to Africa via tram. As we left the zoo, the skies were darkening again, as it turns out Dennis was still pacing us inland.

Picture of mel_otter After the Zoo we continued driving west to Lexington, home of the Lexington BBQ (naturally). Lexington, the town, is home of North Carolina's barbeque festival every year, which was unfortunately not being held while we were in town. Carolina BBQ features smoked pork in a vinegar-based sauce usually served with slaw and hushpuppies. Generally your choices in a fine Carolina BBQ establishment are limited to whether you want your pork shredded or sliced, and whether you want it on a bun or a plate. Some of the more progressive BBQs have added chicken as a menu item however. If you're ever in the vicinity we highly recommend it, but expect to wait a while if it's anywhere near dinner time.

Picture of otterswim After Lexington we continued on to Asheville (not to be confused with Asheboro. You should also not confuse Greenville with Greensboro but who could blame you if you did) finally outdistancing the storm (or so we thought). On the radio we listened to North Carolina State's football game back in Raleigh which was described as being in 'monsoon-like conditions'. A radio announcer in a different game used the phrase 'hands like waffle-irons' which has no bearing whatsoever on this story, but we liked it anyway.

Picture of polarbear Sunday morning we drove across the border to Erwin, Tennessee to kayak the Nolichucky River. It was much colder than we'd hoped for especially as we crossed back into North Carolina to the put-in. (We actually started in NC and ended in TN). Water levels were extremely low, so we took one-person inflatable kayaks as the only craft that could manage the river at that level. As it turns out, Dennis was still haunting us, and came close enough to rain all day on the Nolichucky gorge. Because of the rains, mist hung over the gorge throughout the day and it was rare that we could even see to the top of the mountains surrounding us. At times it was like kayaking in a tunnel as the river dropped away in front of us and the mists descended from above.

Picture of pb_barrel Becuase of the rain, we never stopped for lunch, kayaking more or less continuously for eight hours. Because of several novice kayakers in the group and the very low water levels, we only covered nine miles in that time. Despite that there were at least a dozen challenging class III drops and long stretches of continuous class II-III whitewater. Melanie managed to leave her kayak just long enough to bruise herself (which is a mandatory trip requirement for her). There were several non-minor injuries in the group as well, which always makes the journey more exciting.

Picture of wolves After showering (in hot water), we drove back to Asheville and the hotel. After a brief rest we went out for a very large and well deserved meal which included the largest sweet potato we've ever seen. We then attempted to partake of a beer or two at some of Asheville's fine micro-breweries but they were all either closed on Sunday night, or we got hopelessly lost trying to find them. In the end we did sample a fine local porter, but we had to buy it at a convenience store and drink it in the hotel room while watching stupid game shows. Oh well.


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