Maggie the coonhound enjoying her family retreat at Barkwells in NC.

  • By: Dave Gross

Dogs, endless driving, hockey, connections and Carolina

I’ve never been a fan of Carolina – but in this instance we’re talking about the hockey team, not the state (or states) in the good, old USA.

This past week and a half though, I tasted a touch of both state and hockey as we packed up our newish car and hit the road for roughly 32 hours of driving (there and back). ‘We,’ meaning myself and Maggie; the treeing walker coonhound whose best vacation spot pick (she’s superb on Google) happened to sit near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about 20 miles south of Asheville, North Carolina.

I’ve travelled extensively throughout the US; from New Orleans to Chicago to NYC to Sonoma to Sedona to Vegas to Boston to Florida to San Francisco to Phoenix to Pittsburgh . . . and more . . . but never to the mid-south region where the Carolinas lie, where you actually run into fans of the sport of ice hockey.


You do.

But this first – our destination was a somewhat hidden getaway billed as The Dog Lovers’ Vacation Retreat. It’s called “Barkwells,” where they contend, correctly: Vacation with your family – dogs are family.

Anybody out there who knows me, knows I Iive for my dog. Attachment is an understatement. And anyone who knows me, knows as well that I tend to take things to excess. Case in point, let’s drive 16 hours in a tight SUV with a dog that’s never been in a car for more that 20 minutes at a time.

At that, let’s make sure the dog’s a hound whose sensory capture will hit new levels of overload.


Well what the hell, you only live once (unless you live by Plato’s rules and regulations, which I’m counting on).

After about 50 stops along the way (after all, a guy can only take so much whining, and that’s the stuff coming out of my mouth just hours on to the road. Maggie? She was an angel. Yup. Sure), which included stops in such luxurious locales as Binghamton NY, Hagerstown MD, Roanoke VA and eventually Asheville for a night of city splendour and traffic chaos, we landed at Barkwells in Mills River, NC. (BTW, if you are travelling with a dog and need an app that serves all needs, get BringFido. Thanks to my great friend Olivia K for the rec.)

Barkwells is, in all seriousness, spectacular. Pricey? Sure, but you get value here. The cabins are outstanding. Mine (sorry: ‘ours’) was the smallest of the bunch but featured a large, well-appointed kitchen, living room, main bedroom with a king bed, enormous loft with another king bed and ensuite bath, Weber barbecue and DIRECTV in three of the rooms.

Way too much for one guy and his pup, but the Snickers Cabin is the littlest of the eight available.

The layout on the grounds is open concept, so you tend to meet your neighbours promptly. If you don’t engage, your dogs will be more than happy to introduce themselves and make friends with other dogs or other humans.

Maggie did. First it was Marley then Julie then a whole whack of other dogs whose names I can’t remember (Think: blur).

A day into the visit – we stayed for four-and-a-half of them – the neighbour right next to us popped herself out on to the front porch and started to chat. Found out she and hubby were from Raleigh and . . . wait for it . . . were huge Hurricanes’ fans. Spotting my grimace, she promptly backed up her trying-to-convince-me-the-Canes-were-good-to-root-for with – “Well, did y’all know there are LOTS of Canadians on our team!”

I smiled.

Next to her and her man was a trio of visitors I got to know well – Katrina, a lovely, witty, out-spoken transplanted Brit who lived in Florida and couldn’t give a rat’s ass about hockey (“Give me rugby any day Mate!”), Chris and his wife Barb.

Chris and I got to talking when I spotted a New York Rangers cap on his head.

Turns out he was a retired homicide detective from New Jersey. Of course I asked right away if he’d met Tony Soprano. I got a puzzled stare.

Anyway, each morning when we met up in Barkwells’ meadow and pond area, dogs in tow, Chris would let me know where the Rangers stood (at the top, of course) after the previous night’s happenings.

Hockey fans in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Go figure.

One more note on the hockey perspective. Given the glut of live games available every night up here in the GW North, you really get a hit of homesickness for Sportsnet and TSN when the only vehicle available on the 594,000 channels covering the NHL is the NHL Network. This is the one where they pop you on for about five-to-10 minutes of live play-by-play before heading back to the studio for less than riveting analysis.

But don’t get the wrong notion here (besides, my dad would reprimand me with great persistence if this were true): We didn’t sit in front of the TV for hours at a time.

Too much more to see.

Too many intriguing folks to meet.

Too many dogs to play with.

What a wonderful time.



It’s the yearly lament from Ottawa Senator fans – ‘why are they winning games this late in the schedule when it’s relatively meaningless?’ In the great scheme of things, yes, it’s hurting their draft chances, but building something of a winning attitude takes precedence . . . There but for the grace of God go I: Granted Ottawa is out for the seventh straight season. Ugly enough but don’t swing that Buffalo’s way expecting sympathy. The Sabres haven’t made the post-season since 2011 . . . Sportsnet’s Monday night hockey package had a dandy this week as Florida played in Toronto. Looking like a first-round preview. Ryan Reaves was and will be a factor, but more importantly it looks like Ilya Samsonov has the net for the Buds. He was terrific in the Leafs win . . . The Panthers are here Thursday, but I’d be surprised to see ‘Grandma’ Tkachuk back in the crowd for this one. She was one unhappy cat watching Brady and Matthew going bonkers in late November . . . Today’s playoff matchup projection sports an absolutely intriguing one: Boston (#2 seed) versus Tampa (#7). Who’s betting on who in that one? . . . Another potential head-to-head to watch – Edmonton versus Vegas. Just a little bit riding on that pickle. For both.



Thursday, April 4: Florida at Ottawa (7 pm)

Saturday, April 6: New Jersey at Ottawa (7 pm)

Sunday, April 7: Ottawa at Washington (6 pm)

Tuesday, April 9: Ottawa at Florida (7 pm)