The Course of True Love
by Luke Osteen
When the story of the 12th Annual Highlands Motoring Festival is recounted, there’ll be a lot of standout tales. But they pale in comparison to the story that unfolded Saturday with Stephen Robinson and his beloved Autumn, two of the festival participants.
The couple live in Charlotte – Stephen’s an Aerodynamic Engineer for a NASCAR team (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Autumn’s a Speech-Language Pathologist.
You can tell from Stephen’s chosen profession that he’s had a lifelong passion for cars. Since his family owns a home in Sapphire, it was only a matter of time until he was drawn to the Highlands Motoring Festival.
But things didn’t start smoothly at first. Stephen asked to join the 2019 festival, in particular the One Lap of the Mountains Driving Tour, only to be told that the registration had filled and there was no room left.
He persevered and asked to be placed on the Waiting List on the off chance that someone backed out (which rarely happens).
That persistence paid off, and at the last minute there was a cancellation. Stephen and Amber raced up the mountain in his Mazda RX8 and arrived in Highlands with a measure of excitement and determination. Unbeknownst to Amber, Stephen had decided that the time was right to ask Amber to be his bride. He hadn’t quite figured out the proper place, though.
The day arrived for the One Lap and the couple were happily in its ranks.
And this is where we get to that part about the course of love never running smooth – One Lap of the Mountains is a 160-mile run through the backroads of Western North Carolina. These roads are chosen for their curviness and vertical challenges and they quickly separate the performance models from everything else on the road. They’re also a test of the drivers and their passengers.
After mastering the local backroads, the couple made their way up the Cullasaja Gorge, and it was raining, a good Plateau Slosher.
Autumn and Stephen drove past Bridal Veil Falls, and though Stephen momentarily considered stopping and popping the question, it was just too sloppy to give it more than a moment’s fancy.
And it’s here that our story diverts from Mr. Shakespeare and and goes right into “Twilight Zone” territory.
As every Highlands School student can tell you, the Cherokee who made the Plateau their home had a legend about Bridal Veil Falls: If a young woman passes behind the waterfall in the spring, by the year’s first snow she’ll be married.
So they drove past Bridal Veil and headed to Mountain Fresh Grocery to recuperate and have a bite to eat. A friend encouraged them to return to the falls, even though it was pouring buckets outside the windows of Mountain Fresh. The kind of Highlands rain that, within a few wide strides to your car, can wash your hair and soak your clothes and pool in your shoes.
Remember that part about true love never running smooth?
And it’s here that the tale borrows a page from Mr. Shakespeare’s impeccable dramatic timing, a denouement that must have had those Cherokee from long ago nodding in approval.
They arrived back at the falls, the downpour stopped, rays of sun streamed out of the clouds like an illustration in an antique King James Bible, and Stephen had the perfect place, the perfect time, to ask his deepest question to his beloved Autumn: “Will you marry me?”
She said, “Yes.”
“We had no knowledge of the Cherokee legend!,” says Autumn. “We are set to say, ‘I do’ on April 4, 2020. We’d love to be part of the festival again next year as a married couple!”
So there you have it. As always, the Bard got it right. And the Cherokee clearly understand something profound about the Plateau and matters of the heart.