Archive for the ‘North Carolina’ Category

October 4 (Monday)

The last day. It started as another overcast day. We ate from the hotel’s continental breakfast, then hopped back on I-95. In only an hour we were in South Carolina and the last place I’d really wanted to see, South of the Border in Dillon.

Some might call it a tacky tourist trap, and it is that. But I’m a tacky tourist at heart, so I love those kind of places. Started in the 1950s, it got the name for being south of the North Carolina border. It’s about halfway between New York and Florida, making it the perfect stop for snowbirds and other tourists heading south from New England, back in the day.

South of the Border – Sombrero Tower

More recently, the place has fallen on rough times. Tastes have changed, maybe people are more in a hurry, and don’t take the time to stop at these sorts of places. There was no one else visiting that day besides us. Admittedly it was a weekday, and several hurricanes had gone through the area recently. I was hoping to go to the top of the Sombrero Tower, but it was closed. I did go into one of the numerous shops and got some souvenirs. Cups, t-shirts and the like. There was some toilet paper I was sorely tempted to get for Uncle Francis, but I resisted. I did tell Mom about it, and she laughed and agreed.

South of the Border

South of the Border

I wanted to try the food there, so we went into one of the restaurants. I think there were a couple other people there, but not more than that. I don’t remember what I got, but ate too much, since we’d had a decent breakfast.

Back on the interstate, I had a laughing jag. You know how something strikes you as funny and you can’t stop laughing? Well, it was kind of foggy, and through the mist I saw a sign for a pizzeria.

What’s funny about that? My Mom’s sister (Aunt Kathryn, no longer with us) was always very proper. Things had to be just so, and she was rarely wrong. At least in her mind. Mom told me a while before how she and her sister were driving and they saw a pizzeria. Aunt Kathryn said something about it, but mispronounced it. Instead of peet-za-ria, she called it a pi-zarea, like it’s spelled. Any chance I could thereafter, I would tease Aunt Kathryn about it. Seeing the sign on the interstate brought it back, and the laughter just poured out. I think I laughed through most of South Carolina.

The skies cleared after a while, and we entered Georgia. On the first day of the trip, I remember us seeing electric trucks and landscapers heading into Florida to help with the hurricane aftermath. Once we got into Georgia, we started seeing the same kind of trucks heading north. We waved at them, thanking them in spirit. Glad though we were that so many had come down to help, it was encouraging to see them leave, since it meant the worst was over.

I-95 in Georgia

I-95 in Georgia

I-95 in Georgia is an interesting contrast to I-75. There are a crazy amount of billboards between Valdosta and Atlanta. But there are relatively few between Savannah and Jacksonville. Maybe the counties have different laws in that regard? It does make I-95 a more enjoyable drive to me. Most of I-95 is nice, as I discovered. The only unpleasant stretches are in South Florida (Palm Beach County to Miami) and Jacksonville. Once you get past Jax, it’s a breeze at least to southern Virginia. By the looks of the maps, the next gnarly bit would be D.C. From Florida to D.C.; that’s about 10 hours of pleasant interstate driving. One of these days I’ve got to visit Mom and Dad in Arlington, so it’s good to know the drive there will be easy.

I know we stopped again at a visitor center. I think it might’ve been the same one I stopped at on the way to Savannah a few weeks ago. That one was near the Florida border. We crossed over before sunset, then got off at the SR 200/A1A exit. I could have gone further south, but I avoid Jacksonville like the plaque. Plus we’d been on the interstate for two days, and I was looking forward to regular road driving again.

Once we hit Baldwin, we were back on US 301. I knew this section of it really well, and could practically drive it on autopilot. All you have to do is stay on it and you can’t miss Ocala.

We got back to Mom’s around 8 PM. She’d turned off the AC, since why leave it on when no one would be home for two weeks? We discovered the display on the microwave didn’t work, probably due to power surges related to Jeanne. In any case, we cranked up the AC and left to get dinner, giving the house time to cool down. We hit some of our favorite places, but they were closing. At 8! Fat Boys, El Toreo, what’s up? We finally downscaled, since our options were more limited than we thought, and got burgers at Wendy’s. The house was comfortable when we got back and we conked out. I unpacked the car the next day, then returned to work the day after that.

So that’s it. Two weeks of ups and downs (figurative and literal) that will always be with me. We had fun, Mom. I miss you, but we’ll always have our 12-states-in-12-days trip.

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October 3 (Sunday)

The hotel had a continental breakfast, and I took advantage of it after the previous night. We bid farewell as soon as we could to Salisbury.

Welcome sign at the Virginia visitor center

The sun had come out and this was more of what I was hoping for. We were on US 13 at this point. The bucolic countryside with occasional small towns, that’s the Maryland I wanted to see. It wasn’t long, though, until we reached the state line and were in Virginia. We stopped at the Virginia visitor center for brochures and the like. Very nice and helpful.

The drive continued to be nice. I was sorely tempted to detour to Assateague Island, since the guidebooks had made it sound very appealing. But it would have taken way too much time to fully appreciated, so we skipped it.

The Virginia side of US 13 was just as pleasant as the Maryland side. Seventy odd miles of mellow, you can’t beat it.

We finally reached one of the things I’d been really, really looking forward to seeing on this trip. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Or as I referred to it, the Brunnel. Since that underwater thing connecting England and France is called the Chunnel, why not?

Fisherman Island

The Brunnel. I really recommend seeing it. After it opened in 1964, the American Society of Civil Engineers named it “One of the Seven Engineering Wonders of the Modern World“. It lost that honor to newer wonders years later, but it’s still pretty amazing. I could go on at length, but check the article (linked above) for a better explanation. We stopped at Fisherman’s Island, the beginning of the north end. Then we drove most of the rest of the way, stopping again at one of the manmade islands that’s part of the Brunnel. They had a tourist shop and restaurant, so I got a snack for Mom and me, and some t-shirts. We drove the last bit, and then we were back on the mainland, in Norfolk.

One of the bridge sections of the Bridge-Tunnel

I know it’s a major shipping center, and I saw huge ships in the distance. No stopping there, but I’m quite interested in a revisit. It took some doing to get out of the city (it’s a biggie). But once we passed the edges, it was mostly rural again. US 58 is another road it was a pleasure to drive. I am confused by one memory. I could swear I saw a sign along the road indicating a turnoff for the FBI headquarters in Quantico. But that’s in the extreme north of the state, over 160 miles away. I could see a sign like that on an interstate, but not a semi-major road like US 58. Maybe it was for some place else.

We were driving along and after a while we started seeing fields with denuded bushes. They had what looked to me like balls of spiderweb on them. I expressed my puzzlement and Mom said they were cotton plants. I lived in Florida all my life; how was I to know what cotton looks like? We laughed at my ignorance, though. Since then, I’ve seen small fields in the Panhandle, and I always remember this moment.

We continued on our leisurely way until we reached Emporia. I believe we stopped for gas or something, since it had been at least a couple of hours since Norfolk. Also, this was where we would get on I-95. In my mind that made it the beginning of the end of the trip, since we wouldn’t see much scenic the rest of the way. But I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong on that account.

First off, there had been an effort to landscape the interstate, at least while we were in Virginia. Which wasn’t for long, since Emporia is only 10 miles from the North Carolina border. But I-95 in that state is a nice drive too.

I wasn’t sure where we’d wind up for the night, or even if we’d find a room. Since we were back in the badly hit area of the east coast, I was afraid it’d be like the first day in Franklin. We stopped in Fayetteville and got a room with no problem. It wasn’t too late, and if I’d known of any sights to see, I might’ve tried to squeeze a few in. Instead, we settled on finding someplace for dinner. The place we found was, for me at least, a sight for sore eyes. Western Sizzlin’.

Back in the day, when I was still in the SCA in Gainesville, we’d go out to dinner after the Tuesday meetings. We had our favorites, and one was Western Sizzlin. I thought they completely went out of business, but apparently they only closed their Florida locations. It was just like I remembered, the steaks, the potato bar, everything. Mom liked it, but she didn’t have the association like I did. But she was happy that I was happy, and I was happy I had someone to share that happiness with.

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September 23 (Thursday)

Getting up, we turned on the TV, engaging in what became a daily ritual for the trip. “Local on the 8’s”. Things looked OK. I can’t remember if we had breakfast, but we probably had a little something.

River along US 64

One of my goals during this trip was to drive in the mountains. Be careful what you wish for. It started innocently enough. Headed west out of Franklin on US 64, since I read it was scenic. That it was, and very twisty. What do you expect, in the foothills of the Smokies? Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic, being a weekday morning. We made one stop, at Bridal Veil Falls. It’s a waterfall that’s right by the side of the road, which projects out enough that you can walk behind it. Eased through Highlands and went to Cashiers. Then it was time to head north, catch US 441 again and drove over the Smokies.

Or so I thought. This was where my carefully planned itinerary started to unravel. We caught Highway 107 and headed north to Sylva. We stopped at a gas station for a pit stop, and found that we couldn’t proceed much further. The road ahead had been washed out by Hurricane Ivan, and was still impassable. We had to take a detour. I’ve been looking at maps, and think it started at Pine Creek Road.

Speedwell General Store

Oh. My. God. I was so unprepared for it. There were hairpin turns and steep inclines most of the way, unlike anywhere I’d ever driven. After what seemed forever, we finally got to relatively straight and flat road. I was as close to a nervous wreck as I’ve ever been. We stopped at a little town called Speedwell, and I may have actually kissed the ground. There was a nice little convenience store, which Mom and I availed ourselves of. Then we continued northward.

Cherohala Skyway

But not over the Smokies. After that, I didn’t think I’d enjoy going over the mountains. We went up to US 23, then west until we caught US 441 again. Where it turned north, I continued west on US 74. I still wanted to see more of the Smokies, and one of my travel books talked about the Cherohala Skyway, which sounded manageable. We continued on to US 129, through Robbinsville, and got on the Skyway.

Santeetlah rest stop, highest part of Cherohala Skyway

Which I began to regret, as it was a very steep ascent. I kept thinking the engine was going to give out and we were going to roll backward over a cliff. Finally, we got to the high point, Santeetlah Gap. I stopped and had a walk, to de-stress and just enjoy the view. Then we continued.

If anything, downhill was worse. I was riding the brakes, and was afraid they’d give out. And we’d roll down hill over a cliff. You’re sensing a theme, aren’t you? Well, we made it to level ground eventually, much to our relief. Oddly, there was no sign marking us entering Tennessee. Maybe Ivan knocked it down.

There were some hills and turns on the roads, but nothing as severe as before. I could actually enjoy the trip again. We headed north until we got to Knoxville. We stopped and I remember calling someone, but not who. I’d gotten a cell phone with bought minutes, because at the time I wasn’t interested in one with a plan.

We were by I-40, which was my intention. It was getting late, so I got on the interstate and headed west. I’d only made hotel reservations for one part of the trip, and that was Nashville. We got there and checked in. If memory serves, we had dinner, and we got so much that we had leftovers. They served as munchies for the next couple of days.

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September 22 (Wednesday)

The day of departure arrived. We got on the road about 5:30, if memory serves. The point of the trip for me was to see “not Florida”, so getting to Georgia by sunrise (7:17 AM) was a deliberate choice. It was closer to 8:00, but I was still happy. I think we stopped at a Burger King or McDonalds for a quick breakfast.

The rest of the trip was so-so, at least for a while. I don’t recommend I-75 for scenic driving. It’s not bad, but it’s bestrewn with billboards like you wouldn’t believe. The ones for Magnolia Plantation alone were every mile, which made me not visit. I hate being clubbed over the head with advertising.

Then we got to the outskirts of Atlanta. Another reason I wanted to leave early was to avoid rush hour. We got there about 3:00. There was construction, so we considered the trip a success. Because if you go on a long trip, you’re going to encounter road construction, so you might as well make the best of it.

We took I-675 and I-285, which form the eastern part of the Atlanta roundabout. Finally, we reached I-85 and headed away from Atlanta. I remember telling Mom that I never wanted to move to Atlanta, and if I ever said I did want to move there, or within 20 miles of there, to remind me of this part of the trip.

We drove by Gainesville, Georgia, which I was tempted to get off the interstate to see, but it wasn’t a strong impulse.

Not that much farther, I-85 ends. Not abruptly, it just becomes US 23. Sort of like what happens to I-95 in Miami. You’re driving south and suddenly you’re on US 1.

Back to Georgia. We stopped for gas and use of the facilities at a country store type place. I was hoping to stay in North Carolina that night, and we looked good for that.

After a little while, I felt like I was on familiar territory, because US 441 merged into US 23. It’s an old friend, wherever it is.

Tallulah Gorge

We made a tourist stop to see Tallulah Gorge, and I really felt like I wasn’t in Florida anymore. You just don’t see this kind of terrain in the Sunshine State. It was almost like my trip had really begun.

The road continued to get hillier as I went through Clayton and Dillard. We crossed into North Carolina, and arrived in Franklin by around 5:00. Mission accomplished.

Except, at first, not so much. I hadn’t made hotel reservations, since I wasn’t sure how far we’d get. Went to Days Inn at first, since Mom and I like them. There were hardly any cars in the parking lot, so I thought we were set.

Not so! Every room was booked, because there were electricians and other workers in town repairing all the damage from Hurricane Ivan. But the desk clerk very nicely called around and found another hotel in town with rooms. And it was cheaper! We drove there and checked in, then ate at this nice little diner, which you could tell used to be a small convenience store. Back to the hotel and settled in. There was a gas station next door, and I had a hankering for something. I can’t remember now if it was ice cream or soda or what. Anyway, walked over and got, then back.

So, about 12 hours of driving, and I felt fine. I did almost all the driving for the trip, ‘cause I really like to drive. Mom did give me a couple of breaks during the trip, though.

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