Packing and Moving and Dreaming of Alaska

Last week was spent with a whirlwind trip to Chicago to house-hunt (success!) and this week will be spent in a whirlwind of sorting and packing (two of my least favorite activities). All this to say, there hasn’t been, and may not be for a little while, time to reflect upon, write about, and share our adventures in Alaska.

As I face the daunting, and rather stressful, task of packing and moving, I’m trying to hold on to the memories of the beauty and relaxation we experienced throughout Alaska. Trying to remember that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel in a few weeks where my floors are not littered with boxes and my brain is not cluttered with details of the move. Soon, I promise (to myself as much as you dear friends), I’ll sit down and write more than a couple of sentences and share something coherent.

Until then, I’ll share with you this brief, very roughly edited video “teaser” of our Alaska trip. Just a glimpse of some of the beauty and fun we experienced along the way. Be forewarned – I’m not  videographer or video editor – so please excuse the shaky hand and rough cuts. Nonetheless, the scenes make me happy, so perhaps it will provide a happy start to your week as well!

(Spoiler alert: The long snowy bit in the middle is when we flew up and landed on a glacier at the base of Mount McKinley / Denali. Story and pictures to come…)

Home

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After a long few (and fantastic) weeks away, we are finally home! Though I have so many more photos and stories to share, for this brief moment I am basking in the glorious feeling of simply being back at home. Along with the not so glorious tasks of unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and the list goes on…

But that’s ok. Because no matter the tasks at hand, there’s something so comforting about doing them in a place so familiar. A place we’ve made our mark on and is a reflection of us. A place that in turn has made its mark on us.

My mom gave me the beautiful print pictured, a Charles Dickens quote. In my traveling and wandering I’ve discovered the truth of this sentiment more and more. There are few things I love more than exploring and experiencing new places, and one of the reasons is because it makes me truly appreciate my home. Traveling shifts my perspective in a way that allows me to recognize what I already have; and for that I am so grateful.

This place we now call home will only be ours for a bit longer. In a few short weeks we’re packing up yet again and moving on to our next more permanent adventure – Chicago. Looking at the daunting task of finding a new place and moving, I’m scared the new house won’t feel like home. We’ll be in a new city without close friends or family, and though we’ve done it before, it’s no less frightening. So I just have to remind myself one other thing I’ve learned from my wandering: home doesn’t have to be a specific geographic location, but something you carry with you in your heart. It’s what Andrew and I have created together – the love, the joy, the fun, the humor, the honesty; the essence of us – that will fill our new house and make it a home.

Fun fact: While I was writing this post, Phillip Phillips’ song “Home” randomly started playing. It’s a good one folks…

Airplanes Over Alaska

Before we pulled out of Fairbanks this morning on the train, we had one last little adventure. At Andrew’s insistence, we visited the city’s smaller airport – built for recreational pilots and float planes.

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Alaska is a vast land, with cities spread hundreds of miles apart and smaller towns or residences in remote areas not easily accessible by car. For this reason Alaska is a decidedly aviation centered culture. For this reason Andrew loves Alaska.

As we strolled around the small airport, Andrew was convinced that it was the most beautiful and tranquil place in the world. And I have to say, he had a point…

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We got to watch a float plane land for the first time, which was surprisingly very neat. Dual purpose as a plane and boat? Yes please!

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As a former member of the Civil Air Patrol, Andrew was pretty excited to spot one of their planes up here.

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And we came this close to buying a plane. What’s another $168,000? Maybe next trip.

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If you’re going to be at an airport (which we often are), this one’s a great place to be. It really was a wonderfully peaceful way to wrap up this first phase of our trip.

Falling in Love with the Golden Heart

It’s hard to believe we’ve already been here over a week. In a way though, it also feels like so much longer. Usually when we travel, we’re constantly on the move, but with Andrew’s job, it’s allowed us to settle into Fairbanks more, get to know the town a little better.

The first few days, before Andrew began work, we spent our time being total tourists around Fairbanks.

To get up to speed on our Alaskan history and culture, we checked out the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Museum of the North. Not only did we gain a wealth of interesting information, we also got to meet the museum’s mascot – Otto the grizzly.

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We then headed down to Pike’s Landing, a local recreation area along the Chena River.

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In the summer this area is teeming with outdoor activities such as river-boating and kayaking, golf over the river, and waterfront walking and dining.

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When winter comes, the river freezes over, creating an ice bridge and perfect setting for snowmobiling, dogsledding, and skating or skiing.

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But in the current shoulder season, the banks of the river are just plain peaceful.

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Over the weekends we’ve enjoyed one of our favorite places regardless of what town we’re in – the farmer’s market. Fairbanks’ Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market is a great combination of delicious local produce (yes, Alaska actually does have so much incredible produce), as well as craft artisans inspired by the beauty and resources that are uniquely Alaskan.

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Even the view from the farmer’s market parking lot is incredible.

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We also explored Pioneer Park, “Alaska’s only historic theme park.”

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The park is filled with a few small rides, lots of open park area, historic buildings and exhibits, museums, shops, and food vendors.

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And of course there was an aviation museum that someone loved.

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Later we headed to downtown Fairbanks, which was not so much an urban Mecca as a quiet riverfront town. A lovely place to relax and enjoy the flowing water and evening sun.

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To top it all off, we couldn’t miss a visit to North Pole.

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The town of North Pole, Alaska is just outside of Fairbanks and draws in visitors to enjoy the year-round Christmas cheer. The main attraction is Santa Clause House, where the big man himself greets visitors, offers seasonal delights, and preps his reindeer for the big December journey.

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It’s safe to say we got into the Christmas spirit!

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Though our first week here hasn’t been the Discovery Channel style “Alaskan Adventure” most people imagine, it has been so wonderful to experience and become a small part of the Fairbanks community. As Alaska’s third largest city (behind Anchorage and Juneau), Fairbanks is still relatively small, with a population of only about 100,000 people throughout the greater metropolitan region. This gives Fairbanks a small town feel and a rich community, where residents and tourists alike enjoy the simple pleasures of good food, friendly people and just living in this beautiful place. It’s easy to see why Fairbanks is affectionately known as “The Golden Heart City.”

Alaskan Anniversary

A few months ago when I thought about how me might spend our first anniversary, I figured we would maybe go out to a nice dinner to celebrate, perhaps even escape to a bed and breakfast in the mountains for a weekend. Never did I think that we would get to celebrate in the biggest way possible, out in the great big estate of Alaska. Turns out, that was the absolute perfect way to celebrate the big day.

We considered beginning our anniversary with a 15 mile hike, but instead decided to indulge in sleeping in, since there are only so many more mornings we can enjoy this simple pleasure. So after a relaxed morning and a hearty breakfast, we set off towards the Chena Hot Springs about an hour outside of Fairbanks.

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The drive was gorgeous, winding through valleys surrounded by spruce-filled mountains and meandering rivers. As cell phone reception diminished within the first few miles, we were able to just focus on each other and this beautiful land we were exploring.

Finally we reached the end of the road – the hot springs.

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The entire resort was lovely. Secluded, but bustling with uniquely Alaskan activities – flight-seeing, dog-sled tours, ice museum, and Aurora watching, just to name a few. Beautiful flowers peeked out from every imaginable container.

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I had never been to a hot springs before and it was quite a treat. Having just flown in from 90 degree heat a few days before, I was chilled to the bone by the cool Alaskan air with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. So climbing in the steaming water felt like a bear hug, warming me from the inside out. There’s something surreal and so relaxing about sitting in a warm natural pool with a cold mountain breeze blowing around you.

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Since the average temperature of the springs is a little over 100 degrees, I spent most of the time lounging on a chilled rock with my feet submerged in the hot springs so as not to overheat our little one. Still so very enjoyable.

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After a long, hard day spent relaxing at the hot springs, it was time to feed our appetites. Originally we had planned to head back to Fairbanks for dinner. I’d brought a nice dress for the occasion, we’d picked out a recommended restaurant. But in typical Andrew and Courtney fashion, our plans changed at the last minute and we decided to dine at Chena – no fancy clothes, no fancy plans, we didn’t even have our wedding rings! But it was delightful and perfectly our style.

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Besides, you can’t go wrong with fresh made creamy smoked salmon pasta.

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After dinner we toured the world renowned ice museum.

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Where I warmed up by the fire place.

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And used the icy outhouse.

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And for a mere $600 we could stay a night in this cold Christmas-themed room.

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We decided to pass.

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Having our fill of the hot springs and cold ice, we headed back to Fairbanks. The sunset drive was indescribably gorgeous. One of the magical things about Alaska is that the brilliant twilight sunset time, that breathtaking light that most of us barely manage to catch a glimpse of on our drive home from work, lasts for hours up here. It creates the most stunning colors cast across the sky and landscape, giving the appearance of a watercolor painting.

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But our anniversary wasn’t over yet! Because back at the hotel it was time to dig into the dessert that had traveled over 4,000 miles for this special day – the top to our wedding cake.

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Yes, despite Andrew’s protestatations, I somehow managed to get that frozen chunk of sugary goodness past airport security and lugged it all the way across the country to enjoy this first anniversary tradition.

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Being the kind husband that he is, Andrew waited to tell me that the cake had become a little dry. And of course, nothing goes better with wedding cake than a nice mug of beer.

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Cheers to the most wonderful Alaskan anniversary and many more adventurous years to come!

The Greatest Adventure of All

Anyone who knows Andrew and I know that we love adventure. The drive to pursue paths that are out of the ordinary seems ingrained in our souls. We seek out experiences that make each day unpredictable and completely unique from the one before. This sense of adventure has taken us from Washington, DC to South Florida, from Tennessee to Europe, and now to Alaska.

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Yet these adventures pale in comparison to the thrill and unpredictability of simple everyday living together. In just one short year, we’ve discovered that marriage is our greatest adventure to date. Both more challenging at times, and more rewarding overall, than either of us ever could have imagined. There have been moments when we’re trekking over rough terrain, uphill, with all the elements bearing down upon us. We think we couldn’t possibly go one more step. But our strength and unity carries us and somehow we reach the the summit once again. The beauty up there is breathtaking and we know we would make the climb a thousand times over just to see this majestic beauty – the love and life we have created together. So we capture that beauty and love and carry it with us, over the tough trails and the mundane paths, always forward. Sometimes not knowing where the path may lead, but always trusting in this adventure we’ve chosen together.

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It’s this journey of learning and loving through marriage that prepares us for what lies ahead – the greatest adventure of all – parenthood. We are overjoyed to announce that we’re growing our family and will have a new little one to join in the fun and adventure next March!

Having children is something we have both spent a lifetime looking forward to – the culmination of so many hopes and dreams. What could be more important, more adventurous, than bringing someone new into this great big world and teaching then how to live and love and embrace all it’s beauty? We’re so honored to have this opportunity.

There’s no doubt that the path to parenthood will be filled with so many new and wonderful adventures, as well as it’s own share of challenges. The months and years ahead will be unpredictable for sure, which is both exhilarating and terrifying. But the rewards, getting to watch our child grow, are already so very extraordinary.

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We’re overwhelmed with excitement for every step of this next great adventure! We love you so much already little one…

Wanderlust & Adventures Ahead

This past weekend while visiting the lovely Pleasanton Goods in Paris, Kentucky for my cousin’s baby shower, my eye caught sight of a beautiful magazine. I was instantly drawn in by a single caption on the cover.

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Wander.  Defined as to “walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way,” wander is one of my favorite words and activities. Intrigued, I picked up the magazine and, flipping to the back cover, found the most wonderful quote.

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Yes. Yes. Yes. If I were to choose a life mantra, that might just be it.

While the love of wandering is always close to my heart; this quote, this idea, resonates with me even more in my current phase of life. Because, well, I’m doing it again. Quitting my job, that is, to take off on another grand adventure. Taking that leap of faith to live free and ready to wander.

Last time it was South Florida, so this time we’re going for the extreme opposite: Alaska. Since we’re older and wiser now, this trek comes with a little more foresight, in the form of a job. Andrew’s job offered him an unparalleled opportunity to do work in various regions throughout the 49th state and, fortunately, he was willing and able to respond with a resounding yes. The only caveat was, I wasn’t letting him go alone. No way was I going to miss out on an opportunity to explore the final frontier of American wilderness.

So we decided that Andrew would finish up the first leg of his work in the the tiny town of Unalakleet before I head up on to meet him in the comparatively populous Fairbanks. Once he finishes up another week of work there we’re off to, well, wander. Denali, the Kenai Peninsula, Homer, and Seward are just a few of the spots we hope to hit, but really it’s up to wherever the open road (or sky or sea) takes us.

As great as it is to have a plan sometimes, especially when traveling on a timeline or budget and trying to fit everything in; I believe there is something even more blissful about not having a plan. Allowing a trip, or life in general to become it’s own adventure.

I realize that we can’t all take off on an Alaskan voyage, as I feel simultaneously blessed that my life currently allows me this opportunity but also acutely aware that my days of flying to a far off land to spend a month are quickly coming to a close. Still, I don’t think adventure has to be limited to grand journeys.

As I flipped through the pages of that beautiful Folk magazine I picked up, I found that Tyler Axtell had already worded this very idea so eloquently in his article:

“Adventure is not just about physically traveling to the unknown. I think that the underlying truth of all adventures is that it draws a boundary, a line in the sand. We get to choose whether to cross it. I think that adventurous living can take place in locations other than the mountains or woods or overseas (although these adventures are highly encouraged). I believe it is a lifestyle choice, just as much as it is for someone who only purchases ethical, organic, handmade goods. So, too, the life of adventure can be chosen.”

Wherever you are in your life or in this world, don’t ignore that adventurous spirit within. The world is just waiting for wanderers like us.

A Lasting Legacy

If you’ve ever met a Cochrane, you’ve probably very quickly learned a few things about us. We’re strong and stubborn, honest and opinionated, kind-hearted and determined. No matter how different we are or how many thousands of miles separate us we share these traits; like a common thread weaving together various pieces of fabric to create a beautiful quilt to provide warmth and comfort. That’s family.

In the Cochrane family, the weaver of our unique tapestry was my grandmother Louise. More commonly known as Grandma Cochrane, she was the family matriarch.

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Just over a week before Grandma Cochrane passed away, I visited her briefly. Andrew and I were late – a mortal sin in Grandma’s book since any number of catastrophes could have befallen us and “why would you keep your grandmother waiting and worried?” As I embraced her, she released a sigh of relief at our safety and a smile curled on her lips at the joy of being with family. She was perfectly dressed, hair and makeup done, ready to go a party. We were there to pick up a chair for my desk – an old wooden ladder-back chair given to her and my late Grandpa George by his parents as a wedding gift. Grandma was in a rush, anxious to get to her event and even more anxious to get us on the road before dark. In the hustle though, she paused and looked at the chair longingly, saying “I can still see George sitting in that chair…” As I stood there with my husband, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my Grandma to have outlived her love by more than three decades. In that moment it was as if she was saying it was time – time to go home to her husband, finally.

Though Grandma was nearly 93, she was feisty as anything and sharp as a tack, so none of us could have predicted that the end was imminent.  But life doesn’t grant you the ability to predict the future. After a quick series of events Grandma lay surrounded by her three children, filling the room with love, as she breathed her last breath.

As I sit now in this Cochrane heirloom of a chair, strong and sturdy supporting me, I remember what it means to be a family. Grandma and Grandpa Cochrane are the foundation upon which our family is built. They labored throughout their lives to create this strong and sturdy support system, which continues to grow and flourish with each new marriage, each new birth. And though it is with heavy heart that we say goodbye to Grandma, our essential key-stone, we don’t have to look any further than each other – Judy and John and Scott, Chip and Ashley and Elizabeth and Courtney and Katie and Wesley, Barbara and Kim and Cameron and Andrew and Landon and Greg – to see that she is still here. Pieces of Grandma live on in each of us. So we celebrate this – her beautiful life and her immortal legacy.

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United

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I don’t really like sports. As much as I’ve tried to get into being a great fan, watching a game doesn’t generally hold my interest. But I love the World Cup.

Part of this love comes from my belief that soccer is the most entertaining of all the athletic activities out there. The game is not too long, the action is consistent, and it’s usually played in an outdoor arena.

But what really gets me interested in the game every four years is the unity that this international event brings.

I don’t think I’m breaking new ground to say that America has become increasingly divisive. If you look at the political climate over recent years, things seem to have shifted from semi-friendly debate to all out ideological warfare. With the ever present internet and media, every personal choice one makes is up for judgment – what you eat, how you parent, how you spend your time or money. Even within American athletics, people seem to forget the notion of being a good sport and rudeness is shown to opposing teams, fights break out among fans. There’s you and there’s them, but there does not seem to be much us.

But we are an us – the U.S. – united, despite the fact that we often forget it. And I love the World Cup because, for many of us, it forces us to remember, even if just for a few short weeks, that we are in this together. Democrats and Republicans, Broncos fans and Seahawks fans, Americans of different races and socioeconomic classes, can come together to cheer for the talented men who represent the United States. A common citizenship, a common goal.

Furthermore, it reminds us that we are connected to the rest of the world. When you put a group of men or women on the field, no matter where they’re from or how fierce the competition, they are playing as equals. It levels the international playing field, allowing us to disregard politics and stereotypes for a moment and just enjoy the game.

Once the World Cup wraps up, I can’t say that I will be spending my free time becoming a soccer fanatic. But any event that breeds unity over division, encouragement over derision is something I want to be a part of.

 

If you haven’t yet caught USA World Cup fever, this video will help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uEpcfonkt4&feature=kp.

Weekend Wandering: Cheesy Trails to You

There are a few things I love in life – my family and friends, my dogs, travel, the mountains, and cheese. I feel like that list really defines me as a person. So what happens when you combine all of these great things? Only the best birthday surprise ever! Otherwise known as the Western North Carolina Cheese Trail.

If you’ve never heard of the WNC Cheese trail, join the club. Only in it’s second year, the trail showcases local artisan cheese-makers from across the Western Carolina region. Andrew just happened upon an article in an airline magazine featuring the cheesy excursion. In hindsight though, I’m amazed I didn’t come up with the idea myself – what could be better than a day spent driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains sampling some of the regions finest dairy offerings?

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We began the trek with a night in Asheville, one of our favorite weekend destinations. After an evening dining on tile fish, lemon thyme risotto, scallops, and coconut custard cake at the incredible Black Bird restaurant in downtown Asheville, we set off to explore.

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As we left the city limits, I had no idea where we were going or what was in store. Winding down country roads, the options became ever more limited – based on the road signs we were either going to one of a dozen Freewill Baptist churches or we were going to a creamery. I’m happy to report it was the latter. We pulled up to a small farmhouse with the most beautiful view of the mountains in the distance and a couple goats and sheep standing guard.

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Looking Glass Creamery in Fairview, NC was our first stop. Upon entering the small shop, we were greeted by the delightful Ashley, who didn’t hesitate to offer us endless samples their dairy delicacies. Their soft creamy chevre goat cheese served on local Roots & Branches crackers invited us to indulge. The plain chevre is fantastic, but the unique flavors they offered really took the cheese to the next level. Not wanting to choose between sweet and savory, we picked a chevre flavor from each category – delicately sweetened coconut chevre and tangy garlic & chive. The real standout cheese, though, was their signature award-winning Ellington. This lovely pyramid of goat cheese covered in a thin layer of ash tastes to me like the most delicious hybrid of goat cheese, brie, and blue cheese and is perfect on it’s own or paired with a freshly cooked steak.

Beyond cheese, Looking Glass has a few other tasty treats. Most tempting for me was their Bourbon Vanilla Carmelita – a rich sweet caramel sauce expertly balanced with the unbeatable flavors of bourbon and fresh vanilla. It’s my new favorite addition to coffee, but I would also gladly eat it by the spoonful on it’s own.

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After our tasting session we went outside to meet the goats of Looking Glass and thank them for their goods. Apparently they were interested in what we could offer them to eat in return.

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As much as I would like too, one can’t survive on cheese alone. So we went to find lunch at the Local Joint. The Local Joint is a Fairview, NC gem hidden in plain sight – it’s connected to a gas station. But don’t let it’s location fool you. They serve up some of the freshest, most delicious homemade food with a side of southern hospitality. I ordered The Local, an impeccable burger with bacon and blue cheese embedded into the patty on a fresh bun smothered with garlic aioli – truly one of the best burger’s I’ve had in a while. Andrew got the pastrami sandwich, which is made with local Lusty Monk mustard on a pretzel bun – also a delectably great option. And Bella certainly enjoyed the sweet potato fries and house-made chips.

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Fully satiated, we headed on to Hickory Nut Gap Farm to explore, and of course buy more food.

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Hickory Nut Gap, also in Fairview, NC, is not just a farm or store, but a full experience. Spanning endless acres across a beautiful valley intersected by a fresh mountain stream, we could have spent a day just enjoying Hickory Nut Gap.

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We wandered around the farm picking blueberries, meeting baby chicks and piglets, and tromping through the cool stream (Bella’s favorite).

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Back at the Hickory Nut Gap market, the friendly and knowledgeable staff welcomed us and didn’t hesitate to make recommendations on their favorite cuts of meat and other local treats.

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While Hickory Nut Gap is not a creamery, they offer some of the region’s best meats to accompany your cheesy finds. I could easily make a meal of their flavorful Sweet Sopressata salami and any choice of cheese.

Stocked with a cooler full of our fresh finds, we wound further east to Round Mountain Creamery in Black Mountain, NC.

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As a fully functioning goat farmstead, dairy, and creamery, as well as home to it’s owners, visiting Round Mountain is by appointment only. Fortunately the passionate owner, Linda Seligman, was kind enough welcome us to her farm on short notice.

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Round Mountain is the only producer of Grade A goat milk in all of North Carolina, so we knew their milk and cheeses were bound to be great. Linda gave us a private tour of the creamery, walking us through each step of the painstaking process – from prepping the goats to milking to processing the milk, and finally to making a delicious assortment of cheeses. Round Mountain Creamery has been a labor of love for Linda, 12 years in the making, so it was incredible to see the work and detail that goes into every aspect of making the highest quality goods.

After the tour she set us free to explore the farm and meet the hard-working goats before rejoining us in her tasting shop.

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Like a loving mother, Linda offered us endless samples of Round Mountain’s fresh cheeses, giving us the rundown of what ingredients were added and the process for making and aging each variety. To top it off, we got our first taste of goat milk, which is fairly similar to cow milk, but with just a bit to that tasty tanginess that makes goat cheese unique. We took with us a bit of everything – goat milk, various flavors of soft goat cheese, and (at Andrew’s request) a whole wheel of their award-winning Amber Moon aged goat cheese.

Bidding farewell to Linda, we headed north to enjoy the afternoon light and view of the mountains along the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Andrew had one final birthday surprise in store – going to one of my favorite places in the world, Valle Crucis, NC, to visit my dad. Upon arrival my dad greeted me with the most delicious birthday cake from Valle Crucis Bakery and Cafe, with none other than cream cheese icing!

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What a wonderfully unique birthday! Those who know me certainly know that cheese is the way to my heart…

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There were a few other creameries we wanted to get to, but you can only do so much cheese in one day. Next trip we hope to make it to the cheese cave at Blue Ridge Mountain Creamery, as well as English Farmstead, OakMoon Farm, and maybe even the Western Carolina cheese mecca of Ashe County Cheese. For a full list of cheese trail participants, visit www.wnccheesetrail.com.