With the strange ebb and flow of the country and world this year, I found myself sitting on excess vacation days. Another person who found me sitting on this excess was my boss, who elegantly for us to be fiscally responsible and use the excess versus the norm of the company paying you the excess. I was ready for an adventure and happily took the week off in conjunction with the 4th of July holiday for a total of 10 days off. Now there are plenty of things to do and see in ten days, but for me, it wasn't about seeing all the things or doing all the things, I just wanted to drive and see where I ended up.
As per my norm, I did not plan much more than a general direction of travel and a possible goal, for this trip, I would head northeast with my sights set on Oak Island, Nova Scotia. You will later read where my lack of planning threw me a curveball on that location. I had a few more things I wanted to try on this trip, such as drive some of the TransAmerica Trail, visit friends in West Virginia, stop in Helen, Georgia to find schnitzel, and see a moose in Maine. All simple places or things to do I thought; outside of these few items, I would simply plot a route and if something on or near that route caught my attention, I'd go see it. Much like Forrest Gump when he said he just "felt like running", I just felt like exploring…
I loaded up the 4Runner with more than I would likely need and headed off on a trip that would challenge me, thrill me, and ultimately leaving wanting more. I mean, what could be better than that…
Day 1 (Mississippi)
At noon on July 2nd, I had finished all the grocery shopping, topped off the fuel tank, and hit the interstate. As I crossed into Mississippi from Louisiana, a little more than two hours into the journey, I could already feel tensions easing and my eyes broadening. Mississippi would give me my first dirt roads and a small taste of the TransAmerica Trail. Before I get too far, let me share a little about the TransAmerica Trail for those who are not familiar with it. In 1984, Sam Correro, an avid motorcyclist with a whole lot of time began scrubbing map after map and journeying out across America in the hopes of connecting a network of county roads, public trails, and even some private lands with permissions, to chart a route from coast to coast. His routes have been adopted as the official TransAmerica Trail or TAT for short. ( https://www.transamtrail.com/)
Heading north on I55, I exited at the Coffeeville exit and proceeded to jump onto a section of the TAT for what I was hoping brought some exciting views and a little tranquility to the drive. I was alone in the deepest wooded areas with extraordinarily little sign of others for nearly an hour, and it felt great. Skip ahead another thirty minutes and in comes the rain, I went from windows down enjoying the fresh air to slip-sliding my way around sharp unmarked dirt roads. While any other day this would have been a blast, I had slowed to nearly a crawl and had not even begun the daily task of finding somewhere to camp. I had had enough, my first taste of the TAT was a sour one, not because it is a bad route, but I had not expected just how slow the pace would be. Some may be quick to point out, "Hey knucklehead, the website for the TAT says you'll only make 200 miles a day", I was totally fine figuring this out as I did, I still believe true adventure requires you to take the good with the bad. Back on the highways, I made my way north of Oxford, Mississippi, and found Holly Springs National Forest, the site of my first campground. This was a pay campsite, but the fee was a very affordable $7.00. I was lucky this campsite was out of the way and I only saw one other car the entire evening. I set up camp already late in the evening, so dinner was super quick pasta from a bag and into the tent I went. It was super quiet all evening, nothing heard other than the aerator pump on the small lake I was camped next to. As the sun rose, so did I, this quickly became a theme of me waking with the sun and pulling into camp at dark.
Day 2 (Tennessee)
I made some coffee, omelet with spinach and mushrooms, took care of the hygiene then packed camp with time to take in a few sights around the campground. It was still early as I found I could do everything and be ready to hit the road shortly after 7 am. While driving out of the campground I noticed a fellow camper had snuck in during the night not far down the road from where I was at, kudos for a respectful neighbor. Strangely, this act from a total stranger stuck with me and I made it a point to do my best to find camp before dark as my trip continued. (I really did "try") I thanked the forest, pulled up my Waze app, and started heading for Georgia. As I worked my way across the state of Alabama, a familiar city name flashed upon a few signs, the signs read, "TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY". I couldn't resist the chance to stop in and at least look from a distance. I exited and not more than two miles from the exited there I was, parked at the gates of Talladega. Now, I am not a die-hard race fan, but who hasn't heard of this place. I snapped a few pictures as everything was closed and I hit the road.
Low and behold, not far down the line, yet another familiar city presented itself to me. This city holds a much more personal meaning to me than Talladega likely ever will, the city is Anniston. Anniston was the home of the now-closed US Army installation of Ft. McClellan, a place I spent six months figuring out who I was as a young man. Ft. McClellan was home to the US Army Military Police school, at the time, 1995, it was where the Marine Corps also were sent for training. My time in the Corps at this base was amazing, I met people from all walks of life and some I keep in contact with today. As I drove through the town, which hasn't changed much in 25 years, all the memories came flooding back to me, the parties at the hotel, the base bowling alley, sitting outside the base exchange, rollerblading up and down the many surrounding hills, even the many nights at the local skating rink(remember those). A lot of the base was unchanged as the city has now taken over the area and private companies now occupy what is McClellan Development Authority. After my loop down memory lane, I was yet again back on the road.
So glad I love driving as this would turn into the longest day of my trip. In the early afternoon, I arrived in Helen, Georgia, this beautiful tourist trap of a town was packed full of people. The town is gorgeously designed in Bavarian-inspired architecture, sounds, and foods. Beyond that, it looks like an amusement park with a roller coaster and lazy river right in downtown. I had landed right smack in the middle of the busy season and a holiday weekend, duh, it was now the 3rd of July. I walked a few laps weaving in and out of people, consulted a few restaurants as I had my stomach set on finding Flammkuchen. Now I know Flammkuchen is normally served in the fall, but how can this delicious dish not make for a quick to-go meal in a place gear toward tourists? Flammkuchen is a pizza-like flatbread topped with cream, onions, and bacon and is super light and such a favorite of my time spent in Germany. While no Flammkuchen was found, I did find some amazing Schnitzel at, The Heidelberg German Restaurant. The restaurant was styled very much like a traditional German restaurant, nothing frilly or extravagant, just a humble, deep dark comfortable eatery. Stuffed to my ears, I ventured back to my 4Runner parked an extremely long way from town due to the people. I sat down and began thinking of where I would sleep…
This pondering left me with little options as the town was full and I had seen enough people to send me running for the hills. I decided to since I needed to meet my friends in West Virginia to celebrate the 4th of July, I would start driving until I was tired then find a place to crash for the night. I made the two and a half-hour drive to Asheville, North Carolina, and started to look for a campsite. Browsing all the nearby listings on www.freecampsites.net I soon found myself with dead end after dead end. North Carolina had closed all camping until the following day. Realizing I would need to get a hotel I began checking prices and found everything was in the $200 range, this was not happening. Understanding I needed to get away from the big cities to find more affordable accommodations I got back on the road and drove. I drove late into the night finally hitting my wall of fatigue near Erwin, Tennessee, luckily the glow of a Super 8 was at the tiny exit. Pulling into my savior for the night, I walked into the lobby and found it empty and quiet, I picked up the courtesy phone as the letter on the desk indicated and called the numbers. No answer… This cannot be happening, I reached for my cell phone, called the hotel number from the parking lot, and still, no answer. At this point, I retreated into my truck and decided to sleep in the parking lot. After what seemed like the longest most uncomfortable 15 minutes of sleep, I woke and tried the number again, this time, a groggy voice answered, I was saved… By the time I was in my room, it was after 2 AM, I decided I was going to sleep in and be fresh before making my way to northern West Virginia. Sleep was amazing…
DAY 3 (West Virginia)
9 AM came early I tell you, having switched time zones the day prior, the shift in one hour coupled with the long day was felt for sure. I quickly checked out of the hotel and grabbed fuel, and a large coffee, then I was on my way. I chugged away, clocking mile after mile on the odometer and amazing views along the way. My first target for today was Reddish Knob on the state line between Virginia and West Virginia. I stumbled upon Reddish Knob from an Instagram post I had seen a week earlier, it looked cool and I wanted to check it out. Turns out, Reddish Knob is one of the tallest peaks in Virginia at 4397ft, who knew. I met a few folks at the summit and explored a couple of short trails before I realized time was moving quickly and I was moving slow, I could miss dinner with friends and fireworks… Back on the road, I made my way into Franklin, West Virginia, it was here I was sold as this being an option of a retirement area. Wow, the beauty was all-encompassing, so much so, I set a marker on my Gaia GPS route, simply named, "come again". The afternoon was upon me and I found myself pulling into Fairmont, West Virginia just in time for dinner. My good friends, Wil and Krystal, who had driven more than eight hours to attend my small military retirement ceremony a few years back, had again opened their hearts and arms to welcome me. The food was amazing the company even better, Wil's family put on one of the best fireworks displays I had ever seen done by a nonprofessional organization. We retired to the house and kept talking as if there was not a break of three years since we had seen each other. Finally, we turned in as the next morning we were headed to the lake, yes…
DAY 4 (West Virginia)
If memory serves me, we spent an amazing day on Tygart Lake. We swam, towed the kids on tubes, debated going out for some myself but opted to save the embarrassment and pleasure for Wil to toss me into the air a dozen feet. While my original plan was to leave town that evening and get back on the road, as old friends can often do, they convinced me to spend one more night and join them for breakfast before I set off in the wind again. I must say, I was happy to stay and recharge, after all, I was a bit sunburnt and dehydration was probably close as well. The evening closed with them teaching me a new game of Dominos and laughter.
DAY 5 (New York)
The next morning, it was back to the old routine, up with the sun and packing up. Krystal, Wil, and I all stopped in for breakfast at the family restaurant, Mom's Place for some amazing home-cooked meals. The portion sizes here are for the hungry, surely no man could complain about a full plate of biscuits and gravy.
With breakfast over and work calling for my friends, it was time for us to part ways yet again. Not goodbye but see you next time. I surely plan to see them again a lot sooner than a three-year hiatus.
Today's target was Niagara Falls and whatever else I could get into. Entering Pennsylvania, I quickly realized someone had forgotten to update all the speed limit signs on the interstate, I mean seriously, 50 mph. Good thing the memo had gotten out to the drivers who were all happily cruising along at 65 or above. As I was working my way north and east, it was amazing to see the history of the nation being preserved in the buildings and cities. Too often we are quick to tear down and build the latest and greatest often erasing history and culture. If anyone has driven I-79 through Pennsylvania, can you answer, is it always under construction?
Finally, as I had nearly reached the northernmost point before heading east toward Buffalo and I couldn't help to notice the large signs for "Erie". Knowing this was on Lake Erie, I decided why not check off a visit to a Great Lake. I adjusted the navigation and entered Presque Isle State Park. Situated on the coast with beautiful beaches, amusement parks, eateries, and even a campground. While stopping for the night did enter my mind, I had so much daylight remaining I had to press on. I snapped a few photos, dipped my toes in the water, and tracked some sand back into the 4Runner with me before headed out for Niagara Falls.
Arriving at the falls, I paid for my $10.00 parking spot and walked over to see what I could see. As per the usual COVID-19 rules, most things were closed or roped off for social distancing, although, this made for great viewing due to limited crowds. I stared across the rushing water for a few minutes, took a few photos, but for some reason, the commercialization of this magnificent area turned me off. I don't mean to take anything away from Niagara Falls by any means, but I have seen smaller falls in remote areas that were much more awe-inspiring. Safe to say, I expected more, and this is likely due to the inflated perception we often get from seeing things in photos vs real life. I've heard many people say this same thing about Mt Rushmore or even attending an NFL game in person. In the pictures and television, things look larger than life but in person, you realize you've been duped.
Leaving from Niagara and heading east, paying toll after toll on the New York State Thruway I found the sun beginning to dip. I began scrolling through www.freecampsites.net and www.hipcamp.com looking for options as New York had restricted state park camping to reservation only and this could only be made a day in advance, not an option for my style of wandering. I found a promising site on HipCamp and quickly messaged the operator of the site asking if they could accommodate me for the night and started driving in that direction. This detour took me south of Syracuse into the area of Cortland, after talking with a ranger at a local state park I was educated as this is known as the Finger Lakes area due to approximately 10 lakes which resemble outstretched fingers, I say they look more like claw marks on a map, but that wouldn't sound as inviting. HipCamp doesn't give you physical locations of the camp areas as they are private property, usually a landowner with excess acreage willing to let you park for the night and a small fee. Here I found myself running out of daylight and waiting for a response from a landowner when I could have been making miles. I waited nearly an hour and no response from the landowner, I had to get back on the road and seek out a new camp. I drove north, back up and around Syracuse, then east to Utica, here I noticed a large green area on my Gaia GPS indicating a forested area.
Swapping over to my freecampsites app I saw there was an entry from 2015 titled, Stewart Landing and it was within reach before total darkness. Now a five-year-old review didn't leave me feeling very confident, but as it was nearly 8 PM and my options were limited. I took a chance on it, a long shot at best, then again true adventuring to me is taking the good with the bad, getting those highs and lows are all part of the journey, albeit the lows are certainly less publicized. Winding through back roads and forests thick as mosquitos in Alaska during summer, I followed the coordinates to a single dirt road into the woods. This road was well maintained and not more than a few hundred yards in I came upon the first marked campsite. I drove down a little further and found another site, this one was stocked with firewood and appeared to have been used recently, likely for the 4th of July weekend. I backed in, leveled the 4Runner and I was in bed in less than five minutes. It was dark, I had pulled yet another 12 plus hour day.
DAY 6 (Maine)
My imagination and all the lights on my 4Runner did not prepare me for what I woke up encompassed by, the most peaceful, clean, and quiet campsite. I certainly hit a homerun taking a chance on a 5-year-old entry with zero updates. I closed my tent and made a delicious breakfast of omelet with spinach, mushroom, and cheese, a few slices of turkey bacon, orange juice, and a large cup of Louisiana's own, Community Coffee. I sat on a log bench which was placed around a small fire ring while I enjoyed my breakfast in complete silence. While I sat and let my mind wander, I found the "awe" I was hoping for at Niagara Falls. I found it after an all-day struggle to find camp while covering hundreds of miles, but above all that, I found it in the middle of the woods, alone… I am not a loner or introvert by nature, I love people and enjoy company, but there is just something about the vulnerability and the insignificance I feel when surrounded by the often-unstoppable power of nature. This to me is a feeling that can drive many people to seek new experiences on many different ways, everyone has a story, everyone has a reason, but often I think many people are seeking a similar experience in their own ways.
After a quick exploration of the nearby campsites, it was again time to drive, I am sure glad I absolutely enjoy driving. Only the road for a couple of hours, I was leaving New York and entering a state I had never been to before, Vermont. Vermont is a beautiful state for sure, rolling hills and green forest in all directions. Just south of Woodford, Vermont, I found a nice forest road and decided it was time for a break and maybe even an early lunch. I drove to the what was now the end of National Forest Rd 273 and found it terminated at a parking lot but during the winter it would continue for snowmobiles only. There was one other vehicle in the lot, unoccupied when I pulled in but shortly after an older gentleman stumbled out the woods from his hike and departed. The menu for lunch was pizza! I recently picked up a Coleman Camp Oven to use on my camp stove, I had never used it and was very anxious and hopeful my first attempt would be successful. The quick setup and easy to use oven and stove were great, my pizza was amazing and cooked perfectly. Today was turning into a great day for sure. My afternoon plans were to find a nice fish dinner in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but I had a bit more ground to cover.
Driving on these smaller roads and highways away from the interstates and thruways can reveal some very cool finds. Things like driving past the home of the Yankee Publishing company, say what? All of us have seen or heard of the Farmer's Almanac, right? Well, I have and thought it was kind of neat to see it coming from the small town of Dublin, New Hampshire versus some massive publishing agency. It's the small things at times.
I was making good time and was due into Gloucester soon, it was nearly 3 pm and perfect time for early dinner thus leaving me ample time to find a campsite. I made way into downtown, parked right on the Harbor, and set out on foot to find a fish dinner. Along the way, I searched the docks looking for the cast of the TV show Wicked Tuna. While I found only one boat anchored a way out in the harbor, it was great to see the hard-working men in women of this port/harbor. Did anyone know Gloucester was settled just 3 years after pilgrims landed at Plymouth? This city has a tremendous history which could leave you browsing interesting facts and data for weeks, unfortunately I only had a couple of hours, the parking meter was running… Finding a fish dinner was a bust, with Gloucester being known for swordfishing, remember the Perfect Storm, the Andrea Gail, and tuna, Wicked Tuna; the only thing I was finding on the menu was lobster. Well, I was saving my lobster dinner for Maine…
I did a little video documenting while sitting on the pier enjoying the 70-degree weather and started to look for nearby camping. During this time and after a post I made on social media, I received a message from an old friend from way back in 1998. David and I had served in the Marine Corps together and he reached out wondering if I was going any further north. I told him my original plan to head to Nova Scotia, which by the way was no longer an option due to the border being closed to non-essential personnel. I told David I was available for a visit if he was and made plans to make it happen. Come to find out, David can throw rocks into Canada from his back yard. When I searched for Fort Kent on the GPS, I swore the language had switched to French. I also realized how large the state of Maine is running north to south. I had better get on the road if I planned to meet David the next day. North, I drove, passing briefly through New Hampshire and then into Maine on I 95. I began scanning all my camping apps searching for somewhere to camp but not too far off the beaten path so as not to lose time. This absolutely wasn't the case, I found an amazing campsite again using freecampsites.net, but it was a little out of the way. Tucked away in the White Mountain National Forest just south of Gilead, Maine was a forest road with about six dispersed campsites after a quick survey of the available sites, I choose mine for the night and got set up. This was the first night I began to worry about the wildlife, I had been in "bear country" for a while now, but this was the first day I had seen a bear while driving into camp. This talk about bears is also the same night I decided to bring chips into the tent with me to snack while watching movies on the iPad. I survived, no bear attacks, and only a couple of vehicles drove past early in the morning.
The morning was a muggy and buggy, I was not ready to deal with the mosquitoes and try to cook at camp.
DAY 7 (Maine)
I packed up and headed to the nearest gas station, I cleaned up, gassed up, and grabbed a coffee and a muffin for a rolling breakfast. I had tried to stop for meals and avoid eating while driving, one for the distraction part, two its hard to find healthy to-go breakfast from a gas station, and three, I had a fridge full of food. Driving Highway 2 across Maine gave me my first glimpse into the remoteness of what I have now dubbed the Alaska of the lower 48. The Flora and Fauna, the low population, the remoteness, the smells, and the views, all of which made me miss my time in Alaska. Driving further and further north, I found it necessary when I stopped at a rest area for a lunch break, to put on pants. The temps had dropped into the 60's and light rain, again reminiscent of Alaska weather, and I was already wearing a fleece jacket with my shorts. I got more than a few stares as I sat on my rear bumper eating a fresh sandwich in the rain. Why has it become so foreign for a person to simply eat a meal outside of the driver's seat, have we all gotten to a point we can slow down for just five minutes. Listen to me ramble on about slowing down as I'm covering hundreds of miles a day ha. Hello kettle, I am the pot...
Making my way into Fort Kent a couple of hours before David would be available to meet up gave me some much need time to explore this new territory of old Acadia. Being a nice young Cajun boy, I knew a little about the Acadians, after all, "Cajun" is derived from "Acadian", say it with me, "oh, you Acadian"(oh, you are a Cajun), and we wonder why we need subtitles down south. Seeing the French influences all around and the similar mutual respect people have for each other certainly reminded me of the small communities I grew up in, in South Louisiana.
Another interesting thing I began looking for at, was could I reach the farthest east point of the United States easily from where I was, what about the farthest point north? While technically I wasn't able to do either of those, I was able to visit Madawaska, the northernmost city in Maine, which is also home to one of the recognized four corners of the United States. Think of it as visiting the north northeastern-most point.
This area of Maine is supported by timber and paper mills and has seen a steady decline in population and a rise in the average age of residents. Automation and efficiency while needed, have taken away many jobs and forced young adults to move on to find a living wage. Now how did I learn this on such a short visit? Meeting with my old friend David and his wife provided me with so much information on the local community. David and I spoke of old times and family life over the years, kids, divorce, living in Hawaii as young men and Marines. I was able to find a connection with him that not even 25 years could interrupt. While we have gone different places and directions in life, the bond of serving is strong. We both find ourselves reserved, yet outgoing, protective yet willing to sacrifice for strangers, call it odd or call it respectable, either way, we like many other veterans can understand it.
That evening David offered for me to spend the evening with him and his family which was absolutely appreciated, with both he and his wife needing an early start to the day, I kindly declined but accepted his invite to park in his driveway to camp. This was my first-time driveway camping, but the weather was nice and cool, cell reception was great and I was able to get online to plan my next day's drive and watch a movie. Another great day in the books and my days were getting short to get back to Louisiana.
DAY 8 (New York)
With David departing for work early, I was up and loaded ready to say my see you later and express my gratitude for the hospitality. Today was, after all, Lobstah Day… Portland, Maine was the first destination for the day and a short five-hour jaunt. Oh yeah, lobster for lunch. My route had me following David out of town for about an hour, he told me I had a good chance to see a moose along the way and I was super excited. I checked every turn and offshoot and no luck, I gone from the bottom to the top and back to the bottom and not seen a moose; next time I will stay longer. Making it into Portland I did a quick search to find a well-reviewed restaurant for a Lobster lunch, no need making the trip for bad food right. Portland Lobster Co. was at the top of the list and had no waiting at the bar, did I mention it was right on the water. Now, this isn't my first go at lobster, if had it many times and honestly, I find it very bland in flavor. Hoping for a better result this time I ordered the lobster roll with a side of slaw and fries. My mom always told me to eat all my food, so I did, but not because it was the best thing I had ever eaten. Again, bland lobster, dry slaw, I so could have used just a splash of crab boil seasoning and it would have had me asking for seconds. With my meal falling into the category of merely calories to sustain life, it was time to push on, but where?
I had no idea where to next, I opted to drop down into Connecticut and possibly Rhode Island, eventually settling with skipping Little Rhode, sorry little guy, maybe next time. As I found myself closer and closer to southwest Connecticut, I saw a black cloud appear on my GPS, NEW YORK CITY… I was in no way driving through, around or near the city so I quickly began searching options farther west. This highly skilled obstacle avoidance led me to possibly one of my best mornings yet.
I found a campsite on freecampsites.net in the town of Shandaken, New York, in the Catskill National Park. Catskill was another trigger word for me, like is this the Catskill Mountain range… Silliness I know, but after a week on the road and hours upon hours alone, it was one of the things that jumped out at me, so I decided to give it a go. The campsite was a bust, packed full of people, there was one site left and it was a hike in site. It was after 9 PM and I opted to just park at the small roadside pull off for the campsite and sleep in the 4Runner. This night alone has encouraged me to reconfigure my packing in future trips to allow a sleeping platform inside the truck versus only the rooftop tent. Seriously though, go into your garage and through a bunch of random items on the floor and try to sleep on it all while the entire truck is listing to one side. Not my favorite night sleep by far, but, out of all this, my greatest morning was about to unfold.
DAY 9 (Virginia)
I tossed and turned most of the night and finally decided at around 4:30 AM, I had had enough. I climbed into the driver's seat from the back seat, not stepping outside as I noticed in the evening a bad odor, it wasn't me. Turns out the previous site occupants had a clam bake or something and dumped all the clamshells on the side of the road and lucky me parked right on top of it all. Heading out I found an open gas station again refueled and grabbed some coffee and a couple of bananas for breakfast. I know you're thinking, how is this the greatest morning ever?? The night prior, near the end of another long day, I happened to see a few road signs that read, "Woodstock". Not thinking anything of it at the time and having no cell service for the night I couldn't do any research to even figure out if this were the real deal Woodstock related to the culture-changing music event of 1969. Now, I am not old enough to have been born or even thought of in 1969, but I have seen my share of television shows and grew up hearing the music from that era as my father wouldn't let me ever change the radio dial(kidding, well maybe not).
While sitting in the parking lot sipping warm over-sweetened coffee, I found my next location and it was not an hour away. Bethel, New York, more specifically, Max Yasgur's dairy farm, the official site of Woodstock. Some may know, originally planned for Wallkill, New York, the city refused to grant the organizers a permit thus forcing them to find an alternate venue. When you research the event organizers and how it happened, it is a miracle it happened at all. I arrived at the farm which is now the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, it was amazingly well kept, with a roving security guard who happily talked with me for nearly 20 minutes. He pointed out areas where things were during the event and how far and wide the masses of people sprawled. He also told me I wasn't allowed to fly my drone over the property, so there went plans for epic video editing and merging of footage. I spent nearly an hour in the early morning sunrise, magic hour as a photographer might call it, and amazing photos I did take. On my way from the gas station, I pulled up a Woodstock playlist on Amazon Music as a way to open my thoughts by listening to the lyrics and what the artists were singing about, this coupled with the pure beauty of the venue made for a very special moment. There I was, standing in the very field nearly half a million people stood just over 50 years ago. I could only imagine the intensity and vibration which filled the air during that event. With my final photos taken and my mind done wandering, it was time to head south.
It was still incredibly early in the day, so I didn't even plan a destination right away, but I knew I wanted to get back into the Appalachians. While heading southwest on Interstate 81 through Pennsylvania, I noticed Reddish Knob was again within my reach and my first pass through the area was too quick. GPS adjusted and Reddish Knob, Virginia was the target and I could be there in about eight hours. Would this be my earliest arrival at a campsite, possibly? I have said it in this journal, but my adventures are not made by sitting around a campsite seeing the see trees over for hours, I seek new trees, new sights, so no matter what time I got to Reddish Knob, I wasn't going to camp until nearly dark.
Arriving at Reddish Knob I immediately picked up where I left off exploring forest roads and trails in the area. One of the places I followed an old two-track trail all along the side of the hill and eventually it turned into a ridgeline trail, this location was beautiful. Having camped on a ridgeline before, I know the consequences of falling for this beauty and that is the lack of windbreaks and rapidly changing weather. As the rain began to fall, I turned around and headed back to sturdier roads, no use getting stuck on the side of the hill or worst yet sliding to the bottom a couple of thousand feet below.
I drove for a couple of hours, dabbling on and off of the TAT, then found camp, I was excited for dinner as it was pizza night. An encore to my pizza lunch a few days earlier I was so ready to add a bit more to this pizza depending on what I had in the fridge after 8 days. Dinner was great, and the rain was minimal as I settled in for the evening. My campsite was only about 70 yards from the roadway so there were a few vehicles throughout the night I was awoken by, outside of that it was a great spot.
DAY 10 (North Carolina)
I know what you are thinking, "you only moved one state in a whole day?", not exactly, but yes. Breakfast at camp went great again, I was able to shower out behind the 4Runner for a fresh and clean start to one of the strangest days of the trip. So I have this map on my 4Runner where I can put a sticker on the states I had visited in the 4Runner, having already missed Rhode Island and New Jersey(although I accidentally put the stick on the window), I opted to shoot across West Virginia, into Kentucky and then south into Tennessee/North Carolina area. This around the way navigating took some time and it turns out going a longer route using the interstate would get me to my destination quicker so I opted for the long way. The area I had in mind is one my parents have visited several times, it's a place I often dreamed of visiting when I was an avid motorcyclist. Deals Gap also known as the "Tail of the Dragon" is a super popular destination for motorcycles, sports cars, and just an awesome place to be. US 129 is the official road name and it contains 318 curves within 11 miles and no intersecting roads to worry about traffic. I promise in all 11 miles, you would be hard-pressed to find one mile of straight roadway. If you aren't entering or exiting a curve, you are in the apex of one, staying in your lane is critical and can be a life or death decision for a passing motorcyclist. I posted a video to YouTube of my drive which took just over 20 minutes of hard braking, tire squealing action as I slung my pig of a 4Runner all over that road, trust me when I say I am glad I was alone on that drive.
While this area is a haven for motorcycles, it also hosts many forest roads and options to get away from the pavement and exceedingly loud motorcycle exhausts. I opted for a campsite a mile or so off the highway on a forest road, again the resource for finding this site was www.freecampsites.net. I have to say, the website came in clutch several times, more than enough to say I will use it again. This evening was another where I arrived at camp just before sunset and was able to get set up, cook a nice dinner (turkey burger w/bacon) and relax for a while. Oddly enough I brought a camp chair, yet I never took it out of the 4Runner a single time, the rear bumper worked just fine for me. This was to be the final night of my adventure unless my trip the following day went awry. I settled in for the night to the sound of a small nearby creek running and slept without waking a single time, it was one of the only nights I had slept through the night and it felt great.
DAY 11 (HOME)
The next morning, I woke with the sunrise and treated myself to a healthy breakfast as I still had quite a bit of food in the fridge. I headed back towards Deals Gap to pick up a few stickers and T-shirts for friends, then run the tail of the dragon the other direction to start my journey home. The store opened at 8 AM and I was walking in soon after they flipped the sign and turned on the lights. Roads were clear on the way back through the 318 curves, with only one police officer hiding in one of the many blind curves. Luckily for me, there was no way I would be speeding in the loaded down 4Runner. I wish I could tell you the drive home was exciting or that I couldn't wait to get home, but this simply isn't the case. It was the end of an adventure in which I had seen more things I could ever put in this journal, trust me, this is the condensed version. I pulled into my driveway around 5:30 PM having gained an hour due to changing back to Central Standard Time, it was officially over, except for the unpacking part.
In all, I transited 17 states covering nearly 5800 miles in 11 days, I saw amazing sights, visited great friends even met a few along the way. While many of my memories and experiences will fade in time, I'm ok with that, as long as I can go on another adventure to replace the fading memories with new ones.
Many people I spoke with about my trip severely overestimated the cost of this trip, while I admit I didn't take notes or save receipts, my rough calculations for food, fuel and one night in a hotel was just over $1000. Yes, I know this seems like a lot, fuel was the vast majority of my expense, let's face it, 14.8mpg isn't great.
I'll end this with a quote from John Krakauer and the movie "Into the Wild'. I feel this captures this adventure and my goal for future adventures.
"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty."