The answers to the questions posed at the end of Part 13 are: (1) Yes, 

(2) Hannibal, (3) Asheville Mini owner, and (4) All stayed at the Grove Park 

Inn. Read on for more details.



    We left EG and me all but coasting into Asheville just off the Blue Ridge 

Parkway desperately looking for a gas station and seeing a sign indicating 

Asheville was 5 more miles. I turned the corner, and there was a gas station! 

Sort of makes up for driving up Mount Mitchell to see the sights and only 

seeing clouds.



    With a full fuel tank I headed towards Asheville to find the Biltmore 

Estate. All you need is a grandfather named Cornelius Vanderbilt who made his 

money in railroads and you too can build a mansion on 8,000 acres. George 

Washington Vanderbilt opened this little hideaway on Christmas Day in 1895; 

although, the house had been started in 1888. It takes a while to build a 

250-room mansion in the middle of 75 acres of formal gardens. Fortunately, 

Olmsted (the park designer for many US cities) talked old George out of 

destroying the entire 8,000 acres (by making it into French style chateau 

grounds). Most of the acreage has been preserved as it was, or close to it.



    Eventually, I found my way to the Estate and, after hesitating about 

paying the exorbitant fee of $32, bought a ticket. Before leaving the 

ticketing area to drive to the parking lot, I called Neal Weinmann to see 

when we could meet. Neal is a Mini owner in the area and we'd arranged to 

meet, talk Minis, tour Asheville, talk Minis, and go out to dinner, at which 

time we'd probably talk about Minis. Neal would be ready about the time I 

could finish the Estate tour.



    Off I went to drive to the Mansion. Much too far to walk! It was a 

pleasant wandering drive through nice scenery. Then you park. Then you walk. 

Then you are suitably impressed with the sight that greets you when you walk 

through the gates and look to your right down a huge expanse of lawn. Now 

that's a house! Of course, not all is perfect. The few cars allowed in that 

area parked along one drive spoil the picture a bit, but, worse, the row of 

semi-trailers parked along the other drive really looked out of place. It 

turned out that some scenes from the upcoming movie, "Hannibal" were being 

filmed in the house. The trailers were support for the movie. Even a couple 

of the rooms were blocked off and in one section of the house we were 

politely reminded to be "Quiet on the set," because live filming was taking 

place as we toured.




Just your average little hideaway. But where's the
garage?




    I rented a Walkman for $5 (for a $32 admission fee I would have expected 

to be given a Walkman) and did the self-guided tour. OK. I'll admit to being 

impressed. The interior is just as impressive as the exterior and the house 

was fitted with the most modern labor saving devices -- labor saving for the 

servants, of course. And also, of course, they still lived in small rooms in 

the basement. Besides the usual, the house has a workout room, a huge indoor 

pool and a bowling alley. Don't tell me these people didn't know how to live!



    I wasn't asked to take part in the film (evidently, Hannibal didn't need 

a Wolseley 1000 getaway car) so when I finished the house tour I left and 

drove off by the nice gardens and through the many acres before I found my 

way back to reality. One could spend hours wandering the gardens and visiting 

the winery, but I had more important things to do.



    The next stop was to meet Neal at his place of work where I arrived in 

time to give him an excuse to leave a little early. A copy of the recent "USA 

Today" article was hanging on the wall. I couldn't resist autographing it. 

Bet that will wow his coworkers! Well, OK, probably not.



    I followed Neal home where I was introduced to his wife Sharon and son 

Phil and a friendly cat that had obviously just had a good roll in the mud. 

(A daughter was AWOL.) 



    Scattered around the outside of the garage were various MGBs that had 

seen better days and there were a few more inside the garage as well. More 

important, there was a nice blue Mini. Some of you may recognize it as the 

former Flower Power Mini of Joyce Priest, even though it is now without the 

distinctive decals.




Blue meets EG. The tippy-toe stance is
because of new cones or Blue is 


just happy to see EG! "Not tonight. I'm
tired. I've now driven 2090 miles from Miami."




    I noticed the license plate on the car right away and Neal explained it 

dated back to a previous car and the days when we labored under the 55 mph 

national speed limit. Neal's other plate (something like No 2 55 - sorry, 

don't remember it exactly) was taken back by North Carolina as improper) so 

he replaced it with this one.




 


A political statement that North
Carolina could put up with.




    Neal's first Mini (in body shell form) was tucked away in the garage, and 

will probably be on the road someday. (Don't we all have at least one like 

that?)



After the obligatory, posed photo the three of us were joined by Neal's wife 

and we headed off for dinner (guess what the main topic of conversation was) 

and then a quick tour of the area.




 


Neal with future Mini driver, son
Phil.



    Asheville is a nice town situated in a nice area of the country. There 

are two rivers (Swannanoa and the French Broad - no jokes, please) and it is 

smack dab in the middle of the Great Smokey and Blue Ridge Mountains. Thomas 

Wolfe called Asheville home and the area attracted many famous people; 

especially, when the Grove Park Inn was opened in 1913. It seems everybody 

who was anybody showed up there at one time or another (including the people 

mentioned at the end of Part 13) to luxuriate in this palace of a hotel. But 

don't take "palace" the wrong way. The style is not Upper Class Snob. The 

hotel is made from hand-hewn rock cut from nearby Sunset Mountain and hauled 

by tractor-train to the site. Although a bit hedonistic (and expensive) for 

me it is very impressive. We wondered about a bit and made the proper 

"impressed" noises and marveled at the method of construction as shown in the 

many old photographs tucked away in back halls. Go visit. It is worth the 

stop. And if you ever win the Lottery, go and stay a few days.



    The next morning, Tuesday the 22nd, it was off back to the Blue Ridge 

Parkway to finish the amazing 469-mile drive. Neal lead me back to the 

entrance where I'd left the Parkway the previous afternoon and followed me 

for a while until he had to turn off and head for work. Lights flashed, a 

wave, and off I went sorry to be leaving the hospitality and the area behind.



    The Blue Ridge Parkway continues on for another spectacular 140 miles or 

so and ends near the town of Cherokee on the Cherokee Indian Reservation and 

near the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are no 

gas stations in the Park so I stopped in Cherokee to fill up.



    Before heading off through the Great Smokies, I stopped at the 

Oconaluftee Visitors' Center to pick up one of the excellent Official Map and 

Guides. The National Park Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior 

publish these and I found them very helpful having collected them from other 

stops along the way. When I pulled into the parking lot I found a photo 

opportunity I couldn't pass up.



 


A PT Cruiser parked next to EG, who
had been doing a little cruising herself!




    The PT Cruiser was all tricked out 50s style with flames, wide 

whitewalls, dice hanging from the mirror, etc.. I parked EG, got out, stepped 

back a ways and took a photo. Before I could get back to the car, people were 

coming from all over the parking lot to look over the two unusual cars, so I 

just stayed back a ways and listened to the comments. People would walk 

around them both, then go back to their cars for the cameras. When they 

returned the most often took picture was of EG!



    Although not a huge park by some standards this 53-mile by 18-mile area 

is named for the smoke-like haze that seems to hang about it much of the 

time. The haze is, or was, naturally formed by the mountain range but has 

been added to over the years as industrialization developed in the east. And 

although small by other standards, most of the biggest mountains in the 

eastern US are located here with 16 peaks over 6,000 feet and the main ridge 

not dropping below 5,000 for 36 miles. It is also one of the oldest exposed 

land areas in the world.



    The southern half of this east-west stretching park is in North Carolina 

and the northern in Tennessee, and it is bisected north/south by highway 441. 

The highway comes out of the park in the north at Gatlinburg, but I'd heard 

it is a bit on the commercial side, and, since I wanted to prolong the drive 

in the park, I headed off west from 441 before the end of the Park on Little 

River Road until highway 73. The drive is well worth the time. Nice roads and 

nice scenery; although, having just been spoiled by the Blue Ridge, its 

impact wasn't as great as if I'd started in the Smokies. The roads were not 

as well planned as the Blue Ridge, either. Blue Ridge roads always seemed to 

have constant radius turns with no surprises in their design. Several times I 

ran into decreasing radius turns in the Smokies. OK, if you're following the 

suggested speed limits. Dangerous if you are not.



 


 


No "Welcome" but crossing into Tennessee
in the 


Middle of the Great Smokey
Mountains.




    After driving 441 and the Little River Road (which looks on the map like 

a tracing from an earthquake on a seismograph) I picked up 73 to take me out 

of the park and on through Townsend and Maryville. From there I followed the 

boring 129 to the 140 to Interstate 75 just west of Knoxville where I found a 

motel for the night and called a Knoxville Mini owner for the start of more 

adventures.



    EG continued to perform well with the exceptions of the minor annoyances 

of warm running at idle and the fan noise when first started up in the 

morning. Well, I grumble a bit in the early morning, too.