MagazineJuly 2012East Meets West

East Meets West

Why Appalachia Is Tops Among Mountains

If I had a penny for every time one of my friends out West said something like, “The Appalachians aren’t real mountains like we’ve got out here,” or “They should call the Blue Ridge Mountains the ‘Blue Hills,’” I’d have enough money to buy the Biltmore Estate (or at least a tiny but accurate scale model). My response is usually just to smile and shake my head. Not because I’m a non-confrontational wimp (though those are the words my wife likes to use), but because I know better.

The folks out West are always quick to compare mountain sizes with ours to make up for their shortcomings. They feel inferior to, and jealous of, everything we’ve got going in the Blue Ridge, from the history to the mountain culture, food and drink, trails, scenery, and location. I laugh off the insults to our mountains here in the Southeast much the way Lance Armstrong must have laughed off insults to his cycling talents during his prime, or Ron Jeremy laughed off people who tried to diminish his well-endowed, um, acting ability during the peak of his celebrated film career.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the mountains out West. The Rockies are a great place to visit. And without the Sierra Nevadas, the world wouldn’t have been blessed with Yosemite National Park or the Donner Party. But then again, I’ve got a strange soft spot in my heart for lots of overhyped things that lack substance, like teen vampire movies, and gelato.

If you’re one of the people in the Blue Ridge who can’t take comfort in your superiority, though, rest easy. The next time your Western friends try to pick a fight, just show them this list. I like to call it: “The Indisputable Reasons Why Southern Appalachia Crushes the West.”

Reason 1

The hooch. Show me someone who says the folks who live in the hollows (that’s pronounced “hollers”) of the Sierra Nevadas or Rockies have invented a liquor that’s smoother going down–or will leave you blind quicker–than moonshine (a.k.a white lightning, mountain dew, skull cracker, the sweet spirits of cats a-fightin’), and I’ll show you a liar. Family recipes concocted in stills hidden in the woods date back generations. So while people in the mountains of California are sipping the local vintage of pink blush, we’ll keep drinking from our mason jars, thank you very much.

Reason 2

The Appalachian Trail. The granddad of all hiking trails. It begins here in the Southern Appalachians at Springer Mountain, Ga. The Pacific Crest Trail?  Please. It’s too extreme (another word for “not doable for normal, sane people”), like so much else about the Western mountains. The 2,185-mile A.T. is a possible dream for just about any healthy person who likes to hike. There’s a reason Benton MacKaye’s blueprints for the first national scenic trail ran from Georgia to Maine, and not California to Canada—and why Bill Bryson’s book “A Walk in the Woods” didn’t take him over Mount Whitney.

Reason 3

The paddling. Nothing beats the concentrated paddling thrills of the Gauley and New rivers. People out West may brag about the size of their Snake or Colorado—but again they’re overcompensating. The whitewater selection in the Southeast has no equal, boasting epic rivers like the Chattooga, Potomac, Shenandoah, Ocoee, Nantahala, Pigeon, and Chattooga, just to scratch the surface. Best of all, the organized paddling trips here usually last only a day or two in length, and are generally affordable. Out West, you’ve got to use a whole week’s vacation and spend the cost of a Hyundai to experience the thrills of the Grand Canyon.

Reason 4

The music. Bluegrass was born in the Blue Ridge. Need I say more? A fiddle and banjo (along with a mandolin, bass, and harmonica) make for a night of dancing and drinking (see “Hooch,” above) in the Southern Appalachians. In the West, the only people who could make those instruments sing right proper are visitors. On tour. From the Southern Appalachians. There are some exceptions, like Allison Krauss and Steve Martin–but he plays with the Steep Canyon Rangers, from Asheville and Brevard. All of the great original bluegrass gods, like Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and the Stanley Brothers, came from these parts. And the North Carolina-born Avett Brothers partly carry on the tradition today. As for music born in the Western mountains, what is there? John Denver? Please.

Reason 5

The skiing. Skiing in the South: something so wrong never felt so right. I’ll concede consistent snow conditions to the West. And it’s true that no one from Colorado would ever fly east to ski in Tennessee. But that’s only part of the equation. The overlooked element in the South’s favor is location. More than one quarter of the U.S. population lives within a half-day’s drive of the 20 or so ski resorts in this region—from Snowshoe in West Virginia, to Massanutten in Virginia, and Sugar Mountain in North Carolina. As for the so-called icy slopes (I prefer the term “packed formerly frozen granular”) you may find here from time to time: it just makes you a much better skier, able to handle any kind of terrain. You’ve never heard someone say, “Oh, if you can master the fresh knee-deep powder of Tahoe, you can ski anywhere!”

Reason 6

The mountain biking. Yes, Moab is the best place to bike in the world. For a weekend. But the ultimate dream hometown for a mountain biker would have to be Asheville. Western North Carolina has more miles of mountain bike trails, and more trails, than you’ll find anywhere in the country. You’ve got your choice of epic rides in DuPont State Forest, Pisgah National Forest, Bent Creek Experimental Forest, and the Tsali Recreation Area. And those are just the spots that everyone knows about.

Reason 7

The people. All of the celebrities flock on their private jets to Aspen, Colorado, and Jackson, Wyoming, which is just fine with us. Let them keep driving up real estate prices to insanely high levels over there. For us, high cuisine means finding ways to use every single part of a pig. Our dressing up is the same as their dressing down. For us, a traffic jam means two cars stuck behind a pack of cyclists for a mile on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sure, our Mount Mitchell isn’t as tall as their Pikes Peak, our ski resorts have to offer rental gloves and parkas, and our whitewater canyons aren’t as Grand. But that’s just the way we like our outdoors served—and preferably with a mason jar of moonshine on the side.

Be sure to comment and let us know your thoughts, East Coast or West Coast?

If you don’t agree with us, maybe we can change your mind with the Georgia Weekend Getaway Contest. Enter today for your chance to win an amazing trip into the Appalachia, and experience all we have to offer!

Places to Go, Things to See: