Saturday, March 4, 2017


I left Annapolis to visit some old friends who I worked with at the Grand Canyon Canyon and who now live in Tallahassee at ten on a Wednesday morning in late February, with the hopes of  dodging the rush hour traffic around Washington and northern Virginia.  The plan worked like a charm and I zoomed around the nation’s capital  on the Capital Beltway without any delays.  It was a partly cloudy  winter’s day with temperatures hovering in the low 50s pretty typical for the warmer-than-normal winter of 2017 in Maryland.

Interstate 95 was virtually empty relatively speaking.  I mean, it’s always pretty much out of control, but at least it wasn’t a parking lot, which it what I usually encounter.  There wasn’t enough traffic to even warrant opening the  Express Pass lanes and I made great time.  I was in Richmond in less than two hours almost a record..  But there were lots of trucks and everyone was going about 70 in every lane, so it was still pretty cranked until I got to Petersburg, Virginia,  where I exited onto I-85.

As soon as I started driving down I-95’s western cousin, it was an entirely different vibe.  There were dense woods on both sides of the highway and noticeably less traffic. The landscape went from urban to rural in the space of about ten miles.  And  I literally breathed a sigh of relief.  But the woods looked slightly forlorn, mostly raggedy-ass scrub pines draped in brown dormant kudzu that looked like dead seaweed.

The speed limit soon soon went from 65  to 70 and I was going about 80 most of the time.  I hit the cruise control and settled in for a smooth ride.  I  engaged my trusty WAZE app and for the next two days it alerted me to anything up ahead that might be a problem, like a cop, debris in the road, a construction backup, or an accident.  It was a wonderful tool to have there by my side and during my 950-mile drive from Annapolis to Tallahassee, Florida, it came in really handy and saved me several speeding tickets in South Carolina and Georgia.  And every time I saw a speed trap, I dutifully alerted the WAZE network.  I got multiple thank yous from grateful motorists.  Power to the People!

My destination at the end of the first day was Gastonia, North Carolina, where my mom and dad always stopped back in the sixties, when I was but a wee lad and we were heading south to Boca Grande, Florida each spring.  That meant about a seven hour drive from my home, not including the stops.  A long day at the wheel indeed.  But I like driving through new lands, or those long forgotten, so it was all good.

After about four hours everything started to merge into snapshot impressions …

I expected gas to be much cheaper in the South.  I’m not sure why.  I guess I associate the deep South with cheap gas and bible thumping. Jesus had bought premium space on countless billboards along I-85 but gas was only five cents cheaper than up in Maryland.  It was running at about $2.19 a gallon.  No wonder rural America was pissed off and voted for Trump.

For me, spring is measured by what the trees are doing.  By Greensboro, the temperature was hovering in the mid 70s and  there were bright red buds on the maple trees.  But nothing was green or in bloom yet.  Spring wasn’t quite there, but it was coming fast.

By Charlotte those man-made harbingers of spring, the white cotton ball Bradford pears were in their full bloom glory.  And even if they were created by a mad botanist at the Beltsville lab in Maryland, it warmed my heart to think that I had finally escaped winter’s chilly grasp.

I hit Gastonia at rush hour and the place resembled strip shop hell.  I exited, waited for every traffic light along the insanely backed-up Highway 321. It was like everyone in the goddamn town was on this one stretch of road.   I came to the Motel 6 where I had planned to stay, but the whole scene was so industrial strength depressing that I turned around and headed back for the Interstate.  I decided to get a few more miles under my belt and then stop further south at an interchange that didn’t teem with ugliness and traffic.

About 30 miles farther down I-85, I came to a place from my past: Kings Mountain, North Carolina, very near the South Carolina border.

Many years before, when I was living the life of a nomad, I had been exploring the south and stumbled onto the Kings Mountain National Military Park on a very cold Autumn night and ended up camping in a completely empty campground.   After freezing my ass off, I awoke to sunlight and warmth and strolled around what turned out to be one of the most significant  and unheralded battlefields in American history.  This was the spot where the American Revolutionary War turned in favor of the Patriots.  After a long string of defeats at the hands and bootheels of Lord Cornwallis, a rebel force of 900 surprised a larger army of Loyalist troops on October 7, 1780, about nine miles south of the Econolodge where I stayed on my return visit in 2017.  The Rebels routed the Loyalists and then proceeded to butcher many of those who surrendered.  The defeat so unnerved Cornwallis that he abandoned his plan of conquering North Carolina and retreated back into South Carolina.  And from that point on, it was all pretty much downhill for the Brits until their final surrender to General Washington at Yorktown.  Who knew, right?

Having already visited the park, and with night descending, I went foraging for food and ended up at a local dive called Mi Pueblito.  What a find!  I love Mexican food and this family-owned and operated restaurant served down home authentic Mexican delights.  The place was packed with locals, which is always a good sign.  The chips were home-baked, the salso rich and tasty, the Modelo chilled to perfection, and the chimichangas and guacamole salad out of this world.  And I saw  or, rather, heard something hilarious while eating my dinner.  A hispanic family sat down and started an animated conversation in Spanish.  But occasionally they would break into English, and when they did, they did so with a backwoods hillbilly drawl.  It was comical as hell.

And therein lay the lesson for the day:  Appearances can be deceiving, but more importantly, a journey is measured by what you find, not what you see.

Road Log
Left Annapolis at 10AM
Arrived at Kings Mountain, North Carolina at 8PM
470 miles

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