Secrets of Saxapahaw: Spoiler It’s Yurtastic

The trip originally winded me up north. While exploring AirBnB, I came across the yurt at Frog Pond. This had to happen. I know, I’ve been roughing it for almost two months, why in the world if I was going to pay somewhere would I not stay somewhere with all of life’s luxuries? The answer is: I don’t know. There was just something about it and I was hooked. I could not get this yurt out of my mind. Even after the northern portions of my adventure fell out of place, I wanted to book it.

I attempted to dissuade myself and started looking at yurts, even teepees, along the new route. No. Then someone booked the yurt out from under me! Was I interested in the other yurt on the property? Maybe the converted school bus? No. It had to be that yurt. I was going tomorrow. It was done.

It was phenomenal, all of it. The people, the village, the food, the yurt…All of it. Where do I even start?

So where is this magical village of Saxapahaw, NC? (and yes, it’s a village with just less than 2,000 people) It sits outside of Durham, North Carolina, a couple of hours from Charlotte, and 4.5 hours from Charleston. It made for an easy drive.

If you’ve been following along on Facebook or Instagram, you’ll know I was somewhat concerned about starting a fire. I stopped along the way at the exit before at the local Food Lion. It was crazy busy. I told myself it was just the regular Tuesday after work rush. Then I overheard someone say “you’d think it was going to snow!” Crap. I really should have checked the weather forecast. Even though it didn’t smell like snow (it’s something you pick up after many snowy winters), I picked up two packs of fire starters, grabbed a jug of water, and a 6 pack of hard cider (it seemed appropriate and I love a good theme) then headed onward. I had already let Linda & Steve know I would arrive after the usual check in time (the whole trying to just go with the flow thing #struggle) and secretly sent up a prayer they wouldn’t be put out by me asking for assistance in starting a fire for me.

Pulling up the mountain with plenty of daylight left, I passed giant foliage photographs hung like banners in the trees.

img_3671-1 I was greeted by not just Linda & Steve but lots of pups!img_3664

Linda was delightful from the get go and seemed like she was ready to give me a hug the moment I stepped out of the car. A quick introduction to the pups then she showed me around. The bath house was right there not 50 yards from my yurt. We stopped to to turn the heat on there for me before our parade of creatures headed down to the yurt that sits directly on the pond. Linda pointed out where the lights were along the path (how smart of them) and took me to the doll house-esque mini front door. “Here goes nothing,” I thought to myself. I knew it was 30 ft in diameter, it just seemed my head didn’t realize how large  30 ft in diameters was in real life. Spacious with with a high ceiling capped by a ginormous circular skylight, the yurt was cozy. Imagine a grandmother decorating a tent. It was that only perfect.

This had clearly all been well thought out. Linda showed me where the light switches were, which ones controlled the Christmas lights, made suggestions about the ceiling fans, gave a guided tour of the space. The “closet” had more than enough linens and towels. There were arts & crafts supplies, board games, kitchen accessories, etc. They even had a big old water cooler! No need for my jug!img_3646

On the deck she pointed out my lighting options: fire pit, tiki torches, or remote activated fairy lights all over looking the pond. To the right of the deck, she showed me all the buttons for the hot tub.IMG_3649.JPG

This was not going to be roughing it. This was glamping at it’s best.

Back inside, Linda showed me the workings of the wood burning stove that already had a roaring fire blazing! Blankets were piled up at the foot of each bed. Everything had been thought of and considered. It was like a woodsy version of Hotel KLA!  On the table, Linda had information on all that Frog Pond and Saxapahaw had to offer.

They had to be old hands at this, not so! Linda moved to Saxapahaw 23 years prior from LA, buying Frog Pond. For the life of me, I wish I had thought to ask her why there. Frog Pond had originally been a massage therapy school. The main yurt where I was staying was where they held classes. The hot tub was used for therapy, equipped with mega jets and lounge seats underwater.img_3697

Even though they’ve owned the property for 23 years, they have only started renting it in September! They didn’t think anyone would be interested in renting there, the whole bathhouse bit.

My dates could be off, but I think Linda said while they were closing or shortly after, a tornado came through ripping off the roof of the local cotton mill and dye house. Getting the hint from Mother Nature, the village reinvented itself. The old mill now houses shops, businesses, a school, and restaurants in what seems to essentially be the entire village. Linda informed me that I needed to go down the hill and have dinner. The Saxapahaw General Store was renowned. She’s from LA and knows I’m from Charleston, I feel like I can take her word on that. Though the Haw River Ballroom gets a lot of shows, nothing was really going on on a Tuesday night.

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It was perfect and peaceful here though, how could I venture out? Linda told me she understood. The last guest was a mother who came alone for the weekend. She slept the entire time. Linda left me to be inspired and told me to help myself to the art supplies! A cider and a selfie later, I settled on the porch listening to the woods around me come alive and the creatures of Frog Pond lived up to their name.img_3612

 

It wasn’t long before the honking started. A pair of geese were making their way past the chickens to the pond for the evening. After all this driving, it was exactly the type of traffic jam I wanted.img_3615

The sun finally dropped down taking the temperature with it. The fire pit seemed beyond my capabilities, with my luck, I’d take the whole property down with me. Realizing I of course didn’t have anything I needed in the bag I brought in, I headed out the front to the car. Right by the front door were a pair of flashlights to help guide my way. Further investigation found another set at the back door. See what I’m saying about all the details! Grabbing a handful of dog treats from the jar, aso by the door, I walked up to my car with my new dog posse. Down the hill I go!

It’s all right there in one strip, which I drove right past without even realizing it was where I was going. Between the General Store and Eddy’s Pub, I went with the pub. Sitting at a bar having small talk held more appeal.

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I’ve attempted to think back on what I was expecting when opening the doors, it’s impossible. What I walked into was so far beyond my expectation that I can’t grasp the concept I had preconceived. Linda had told me that the Ballroom had a hipster crowd for the shows, the pub reflected that; not that the Ballroom and Eddy Pub are the same place.

A jazz trio played to a room pf people amid obvious historical wood beams and industrial touches. It was modern and timeless all at the same time giving nods to the mill it house in another life.

Grabbing one of the few empty seats at the bar, I was disappointed to hear from Maggie, the bartender, that despite being above the brewery they didn’t offer beer flights. Not disappointed enough to inform her that my new dog friend at the yurt also named Maggie. She did offer insight and suggestion before letting me try a sample of local brew. Largely based on her suggestion, but mostly swayed by how well the name fit my yurtastic adventure in the woods, I started off with the Sisters of the Moon IPAimg_3621

It is often that my enthusiasm and overly friendly persona comes across as….in-genuine? Alright, if I’m being honest, when servers don’t know me, they think I come off as a patronizing bitch. Luckily, Maggie took it in stride when I asked her what she thought I should try on the menu. Everyone is crazy for the eggplant fritters, meatloaf, and the housemade sourdough bread and honey butter. Great. I’ll take all three. I had been leaning towards the charcuterie, but if that’s what is to be had then let’s do it. In hindsight, I’m a little perturbed about the charcuterie. Someone later asked me if I had any of the meats, they were made right there. If I had known that, I definitely would have given them a try as well. Plus, hello! 5 choices for only $18?!

While waiting on my food, I fell into conversation with the gentlemen next to me. Both locals one is an artisan jewelry maker, the other a writer. Much to my surprise, they didn’t know about the yurt at Frog Pond. They did know Steve. Unbeknownst to me, Steve is a famous photographer. I made a mental note to pay more attention to the poetry walk prints. The writer was Mark Spano who had just self published his first after writing it 30 years ago. Unfortunately for me, he didn’t have any copies for me to buy. Since I don’t have an address to ship to and I like my books without batteries, it looks like I am out of luck for now. If one of you reads it before me, let me know what you think.

After sampling the Cottonwood Pumpkin Ale, I agreed that the pumpkin flavor wasn’t overpowering (I’m not a PSL kind of girl), the aroma was too much. I switched over to Haw River’s St. Benedicts Breakfast Dubbel. Warned that it was dark, it wasn’t too heavy. By now my food had arrived and I was glad I had ordered multiple things.img_3623

Of course, the sourdough and the honey butter was wonderful and served as a perfect breakfast the next day. The bed of coleslaw that the fritters sat upon had a mustard base. Referencing back to the menu, I realized that I couldn’t taste any cheese in the eggplant fritters because eggplant fritters didn’t exist. I clearly had the pig head fritters. They were better than alright, just falling somewhere above good. The coleslaw mustard was the zinger. The pickled onions paired well with the meatloaf, the sauce was just there. Nothing made me clear my plate. The majority of it was boxed up to go for a late night snack or a modge podge  breakfast. The leftovers have a point that I’ll circle back round to in a few.

For the briefest moment, right here in writing and not in real life, I am going to live up to the misconception of being a bitch. Give me a second, I need to put on my Sarah with an H hat for this (dude, I am never going to let that go).

If it hadn’t been so unbelievable, it would have ruined the whole experience. Here’s what happened: Once I clearly had fall into making new friends with locals, I asked Maggie, the bartender with the same name as the dog who was almost great in menu/bar suggestions and only missed the mark by not telling me about the meats, how late they were open. “You’re fine! I’m here until whenever!” Perfect. The evening continued to develop into a lovely time. Then my check appeared in front of me and each of my new friends. I hadn’t asked for it, I was not even finished with my second beer. For nondrinkers, that means it hadn’t been long. Fine. I remember my food and bev days. ” Hey Maggie, I’ll close out, but can I get another beer before  I do?” At this point, we were far from being the last people there. With the tab closed there would be no stopping her from settling the drawer, sidework, or whatever she needed to do. Right? Legit, I’m asking. That’s how it worked in my day (which thank you very much was not that long ago. I did a stint at Wild Wings when I moved to Charleston a few years ago).

Remember how we used our imagination for the decor of the yurt? Gear it up. Imagine a child actor on a Disney Channel sitcom overacting delivering a sigh, rolling her eyes, and slumping her shoulders. It was so over dramatic I was taken back. I did manage to squeak out an apology, she had just asked that man if he wanted another beer. He works there. How was I supposed to know? Fine. She’ll let me have a smaller beer, but not a full size beer. I’ve only had two with food, it isn’t like I’m on the verge of being cutoff. Little beer or not, I think I was still charged full beer price. Stunned. Later, I heard her ask a guy from the kitchen if he was going to the bonfire. That made sense. Somewhere her nothing to do Tuesday night making money off a tourist turned into a bonfire party after work. She had places to be. Like I said, I was in F&B. I get it. And if it hadn’t been such a grand show of how much she didn’t want to have me at her bar anymore, instead replaced with a simple “sorry, we really are closing out” I would totally have gotten it. Flies with honey kiddo, flies with honey.

On the way out, I briefly met the chef, Isaiah Allen. You know the fairy tale of the witch that lures the children to her home made of gingerbread? How greedy were those kids? Chef Allen’s hearty welcome and generous smile was the happy fairy tale version of that (you never know though, I was told they do their own meats locally). Meeting him made you want to pull up a chair to his table and devour anything he put in front of you.  The excitement he had in wanting to discuss about his food is the same I have….well, frankly, when people bring me food. He’d asked me to come back the next night to do a tasting and discuss the menu. Alas, I’m a rambling rose! I’d be gone before they opened. He did give me his contact, much to my disappointment, I have not received a response from him. I waited as long as I could. Maybe this will cross his way and he reaches out. Chef Allen, reach out and I’ll do a whole bit on you!

I would really love to know how he came to Saxapahaw where they are clearly creating a culinary niche. The trio of small plates I had were good on the Charleston scale, phenom for the rest of America. Would I come back again? Absolutely, eagerly. The menu intrigued me, the scale of farm to table impressed. The flavors of the small plates were enough that I want to know what Chef Allen’s main course creations were like instead of a stand alone.

Feel that curve? That’s me circling back to the point! One of my culinary buddies who I had originally intended to see and shocking! It fell threw (damn those best laid plans) managed to close up the restaurant in record time and come down to surprise me. I bring it up only to support two points. The first is that even though I am notoriously known for being antidomestic, my palate is actually quite well developed. That is what happens when you literally eat out every meal, have restaurants as the majority of your client base, and predominantly date chefs. My culinary companion completely agreed on the food based on the leftovers. My point being, I told you so. I know what I am tasting. That zinger of the mustard slaw? It all jumbled in the to go box. While it was fine on the fritters, it added what was missing on the meatloaf and raised the standard of the dish. If you head to the pub, get the meatloaf with a Memphis of mustard slaw then let me know if I was right.

A nice bottle of wine, leftovers, a soak in the hot tub, and gossip by the roaring fire lulled me into a cocoon of much needed slumber. Knocked out like a rock, I snored like a giant. The next morning the yurt was still comfortably warm making it impossible to pull myself out of bed. Was I just beyond exhausted from traveling or was that bed crazy comfy for a futon? This is the support of point two: the futons were in fact crazy comfy. An hour easily went by listening to acorns fall while I tried to rationalize another night’s stay.

My new pup pal had stood sentinel outside on the porch all night, doubling as my escort anytime  I left. img_3665

The open road won out. I had places to be and things to explore. On my way out, I meandered to the Saxapahaw General Store.

It’s legit the local general store with gas pumps and everything. Only this general store’s shelves more closely resembled those of a Whole Foods.

I left my order up to the counter trusting them to decide. Hunger had overcome decisiveness. Their selection was spot on. This really was your 5 star general store.

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They send me the Ribeye Wrap with added homefries. Diggity.

Hunger sustained, I walked along the storefronts to see the river below. The community and the concepts were remarkable. Need something on the shelf? Take what you need, leave something for another if you choose.

Just past that was Shift Work, a shared work/creative space. Here I am with my bucket full of wishes, I wish I had more time to dig into them. img_3683I think I’ll reach out to find out if they could share more about themselves. Going down the sidewalk I passed a magnet school, the previously mentioned butcher shop, a hair salon, the brewery, a coffee shop, and the outdoor theater on my way to the riverwalk.

If it didn’t get so cold up there, I could entertain the idea of staying.

Feeling the pull of the schedule gone awry, (I swear, I am working on just letting go) I made a quick visit of the Saxapahaw Museum. Even with the history, it emphasizes that the village is a community telling more of the story of the locals who make up the town than just the town.IMG_3696 (1).JPG

By no means am I the first to stumble into this experience for all the senses. The New York Times did a write up in 2012. Before that the Washington Post in 2011. Do let me be the last person to tell you and get yourself up the road. Soon this spot won’t be undiscovered.

 

 

 

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