Taking Valdese, Bat Cave, Old Fort Exits

Published 10:07 am Thursday, May 7, 2015

A hundred times I had sped by the exit and wondered about the Town of Valdese and the Waldensians. A hundred times I had seen the Bat Cave exit off Interstate 40 in Asheville and wondered about the bats. A hundred times I had sped by Old Fort and wondered about that foot-of-the-mountain town once on the very edge of the colonial wilderness.

Zipping down the interstate at 75 mph, I had always been in too much of a hurry to do anything more than wonder … until Sunday.

We took the exits.

Desperate to clock the final 60 required hours to qualify for a driver’s license, my youngest steered into uncharted waters. Except for three, we have driven every road in Davie County, meandered through Clemmons and Lewisville, southern Yadkin, northern Rowan and Winston-Salem to meet the new stringent driving requirements to qualify for a license.

Every road in Davie? Not the dead-ends. We skipped Ratledge Road so he could see the Bullhole. We somehow missed Bethel Church Road and John Crotts Road. Otherwise, we’ve covered Davie like the dew.

On Sunday, I hankered for breakfast in Asheville.

We went to a place called Biscuit Head in the shadow of Mission Hospital. The monster biscuits came with gravy and an assortment of breakfasts meats. I may have stared a little at some Asheville hippies.

In Valdese, population 4,500, there’s a stunning Old Rock School on the hill which has been converted for other uses. We saw the beautiful Presbyterian church with a full parking lot. We saw the bakery, but I couldn’t decide if it was still operational. The Waldensians were a persecuted religious sect of the Middle Ages in Europe and consecrated the first Moravian bishop.

We took U.S. 70 from Marion to Old Fort, entering on the northern side of town. Population less than 1,000. We saw the giant arrowhead in the center of town, a 14-foot chunk of granite erected in 1930 as a symbol of peace between the Cherokee and Catawba tribes. Another landmark, Andrews Geyser, was not working. It’s a fountain, not a geyser. When working, it can shoot water 80 feet high. There’s also a waterfall nearby, but we kept going.

The Bat Cave exit had always caught my eye. I had always assumed — very wrongly — that it was a smaller version of Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. From Asheville, we passed A.C. Reynolds High, a frequent opponent of West Forsyth during western regional playoffs. The road has an identity crisis. The name morphs from Charlotte Highway to Drovers Road to Gerton Highway. Ten miles outside Asheville, the highway reduced to a two-lane, twisting mountain road with hairpin turns that would test a young driver. In the Fairview community, we encountered a couple hundred runners climbing the mountain. We saw mountain laurel in bloom and hundreds of tiny cabins precariously built on the slopes.

Mountain cabins, not bats, can be seen in Bat Cave.

Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are further south, but we turned on N.C. 9 heading northeast to Black Mountain. The road is a favorite of motorcyclists, and plenty of them were out on Sunday.

We clocked seven hours on the road, and I climbed out with saddle sores. Only a few more nighttime hours are left until the boy can get a real license.

His driving coach is exhausted.

— Dwight Sparks