Roads: I-20 to US-80 to US-69 to State Highway 78
Time: 6 hours
Well it’s over. I’m still processing the trip in many ways. First off, let’s talk some totals. I was gone from the house for 14 days, the longest vacation I’ve ever been on, at least since joining the true working world. I stayed in 9 cities over those 14 days in 8 states, 3 of which I’d never visited before. I drove 3082 miles of roads between cities though the actual total was higher than that by probably a hundred or so miles. The biggest driving day was actually the first at 652. The shortest trip was 150, Knoxville to Asheville. I filled up with gas 11 times. The most I paid for gas was $3.369 outside of Rocky Mount, NC where apparently I was desperate on 12/12. The least I paid was $2.999 twice, once in Knoxville on 12/5 and once in Jackson, MS on 12/16. I spent $517.54 on gas. I ate about three movie size boxes of Reese’s Pieces. I never finished the first bag of sunflower seeds. I exercised once, a run along the seawall in Charleston. I was horrifyingly hung over once. I booked 5 hotels through Expedia, 1 through Priceline and walked up to 2 Best Westerns. The most I paid for a meal was $67 at High Cotton in Charleston. The least I paid other than free breakfasts was probably the 3 or 4 Combo #1s I got from Taco Bell. I wrote 10,154 words about the trip.
The final drive back from Vicksburg was smooth. It’s a beautiful drive in the fall and early winter, a fact I’d missed on the drive out because of the rain I was fighting all the way there. Even as late as December 18th, there is a ton of color on the trees in Mississippi and Louisiana. I tried to take a couple of pictures as I drove but couldn’t get the camera to focus and decided against stopping on the side of the highway. I had thought I might explore Vicksburg a little on Saturday morning. However, the main attraction there is a Civil War loop that is 16 miles long and pretty involved. So I just headed out for home with only a few stops along the way.
Before this trip, my preferred vacation style was to settle down in one location over a few days and really explore it, to get a feel for the character of a place, actually get acquainted with people in hotels and restaurants. Probably my all time favorite vacation was to Belize where it felt like you were part of the family there. Busy vacations almost always stressed me out.
This trip was obviously busy. With the exception of the two times spent with friends in Knoxville and DC, it felt like a 14 day stretch of one night stands. Each day was physically new, each morning filled with unknown potential for what lay in store, each new city superficially met and explored before moving on to the next. No relationships were ever created or even intended. This trip was driven completely by desire for newness and exploration. The results were widely varied, exhilarating one day, disappointing the next. The goal was always how to maximize the minimal time spent in each location, focusing on physical breadth instead of emotional depth. There was no knowledge of special places to touch, to experience deeper, to explore.
But much like the occasional one night stand, the potential for something deeper was created in many places. I fell in love with Charleston, as in love as one can be while only visiting the rich, touristy enclave around the French Quarter and south of Broad Street. The sense of place the city has and the connection to its past is enchanting. I’d like another date with Asheville. Because of the timing, I only saw the Biltmore. But there is a wealth of interesting attractions and history in downtown Asheville that I’d like to see again. I could spend a week at Pensacola Beach easy. The influence on the Civil Rights movement that Birmingham has had is rich for further exploration.
This trip was more about the road than it was about any of the destinations. When I first began the sabbatical that this trip likely closes, I read Larry McMurtry’s Roads – Driving America’s Great Highways. I took much of my inspiration from his stories of traveling the roads of this country. He was more focused on the actual roads and the experience of traveling them than I was but his explanations inspired me to write daily about my travels. This trip was never intended to be deep in the way a single trip can be. It was an exploration, both of the American South that I have grown more and more fond of over the years and of myself, my relationship to who and what I am. I experienced fairly acute loneliness during the trip. I had immense fun as well. I did more spontaneous things than I’m usually inclined to do, mostly out of necessity given the nature of the trip. There were no real plans, nothing set in stone that I definitely had to do. It was a trip born of stream of consciousness that turned in new and unknown ways.
While this wasn’t a trip to France or Australia, in many ways it was a trip of a lifetime. Unless my budding writing career suddenly careens into Stephen King or those lottery tickets come through, the chance for taking 14 days off for a road trip of say, the American West, is increasingly unlikely. Overall, I’m thrilled with how it turned out. There is little I would have changed other than adding another week so that I could have explored Florida which was actually the genesis of the entire idea. But overall, I’m extremely happy with the results. I learned an amazing amount of things about lots of places in the South, places I probably never would have visited on my own. Places like The Battle of Chancellorsville outside Fredericksburg, VA. I learned about the history of Birmingham, how the iron ore industry built and shaped the fortunes of that city. I saw the Biltmore, an extravagant wonder I didn’t even know about before this trip. As with all travel, it really ended too soon and I’m already looking forward to my next adventures.