Location: Blackstone River (Woonsocket, RI)
Book: ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus
Only one state rested before us and our home state: Maryland. After exploring the snow in West Virginia we entered Maryland and stopped at the first rest stop we saw. To our surprise not only were we able to get a free map, but were able to experience an incredible view. Right in front of our lot was an awesome view of the Youghiogheny Lake River. So instead of searching all over we took a picture there with our last book, ‘A Long Walk to Freedom’ by Nelson Mandela.
After we took a picture I looked over and one of the ladies working at the rest stop popped her head out and yelled, ‘That’s awesome!!’ I grabbed one of my cards about the chair and went into the visitor’s center to say hello. She too wanted to know the story of the chair. I proceeded to tell her, gave her a card, and told her that Maryland had the best rest stop views – later on the trip I saw a rest stop that had a bridge that crossed the highway and stairs that went up to an another awesome overlook, but sadly after passing it.
On our way through Maryland we were desperately trying to get a postcard, and had a hard time finding one. As we continued along route 68 we started seeing National Park Service signs, much to our surprise. So on a whim we got off of the highway in Cumberland, Maryland, and ended up finding the start of the C & O Canal & the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. It was quite a find. We didn’t end up taking any chair pictures here, but took Hobbes and explored the Museums, purchased a postcard, and got a crushed penny before a stinky diaper beckoned us back to the car. It was a really cool, quaint town that we would totally love to visit again one day (as we would for a lot of the places on our trip).
Initially, we expected our trip through Maryland to be a short one, but we ended up missing our exit, so we had to continue through the panhandle with route 81 as our new destination.
Before we knew it, however, we were back in our home state. It was around dinner time and we had a gift card for Olive Garden, so we stopped for a nice dinner. We ended up getting 4 meals for $3 which included our tip, so it was well worth it. After this we got back on the highway for the last 3 hours of our trip. Not much happened during this time. It was one straight shot from where we got on 81 in Maryland to when we hit route 80 less than an hour from home. Altogether though, it was a nice time to reflect on our trip and regain the growing security of being home. We arrived at our house at 10pm, and after turning our water and breakers back on, went straight to bed.
Altogether we took The Orange Chair through 16 states over the course of 9 days for a total of drove 56+ hours and 3,841 miles. We were also able to get pictures in each state and get postcards from every state but the ones we border hopped (Florida and Oklahoma).
On our way back north we crossed through two states we had already driven through on our trip: Mississippi and Tennessee. These I refer to as the double letter states because they both have so many repeating letters and as a result are challenging to type / spell.
After exploring the banks of the Mississippi River we made a quick trip (without taking pictures) through Mississippi. If I had a regret from that time it was not being able to stop at a Blues museum we saw on the way toward Tennessee, but I did have some good blues music playing as we made our way shortly through the small section of Mississippi toward Memphis.
While driving back into Tennessee we had one real objective, and that was to stop in Nashville as we pressed on toward Kentucky. By the time we got into Tennessee we had already been driving for quite a while (we started this day off in Arkansas, which I talked about in the last post), so by the time we got to Nashville it was already 6:30pm, and the sun was beginning to set. We got off the highway and headed over to Cumberland Park, parked out car, and explored a bit. Ironically, and luckily, there was a train track by the park which was perfect for ‘The Underground Railroad’. We took a few pictures and then let Hobbes play in the park as the sun set.
After enjoying our time in Cumberland Park and racing down the slides a few times we decided to walk across the ‘John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge’ and to see what there was to eat on the other side. Having missed the concert rush we ended up in Sun Diner all by ourselves. This was nice for having a 1 1/2 year old with us. We wondered if the man who served us was the owner. He was super kind and gave us yogurt with berries for Hobbes at no extra charge. We ordered some amazing burgers and looked at all the pictures hanging on the walls. The diner had a memorable layout that seemed unique compared to what I’m used to. After a while we boxed up some of our food, got a coffee to-go and headed out again. Sadly, the Johnny Cash museum was closed by the time we got there, but either way it was a fun pit-stop on our road trip.
Later that night we stopped just outside of Bowling Green, Kentucky, just in time for the hockey game that was on that night.
After a while of driving we found ourselves crossing through the corner of Texas. Part of our goal for this day was to drive into Texas and Oklahoma (which were both out of the way) just to say that I were there. So we made our way toward Texarkana and by early afternoon found ourselves in the Northeast corner of Texas. We stopped at a gas station to get a postcard, and then continued on our way. When we got to Route 8 we headed north on the backroad highway searching for a place to take a picture. There were a lot of fields, cattle and back roads on route 8 so eventually we pulled off onto a dirt road and quick got a picture with the book ‘Holes’ by a herd of cattle. Antonia stepped on some ants and got bit – she wasn’t happy about this.
Before crossing the Red River we stopped at some historic picnic spot near Woodstock, TX. Hobbes loved watching the tractor-trailers speed by as he stood in the grass. It was quite entertaining to watch. We soon got back in the car, and before we knew it we were in Arkansas. One of my regrets is that we didn’t stop at the pull off by Red River it looked so amazing driving across it! But we probably wouldn’t have had the time anyway.
We weren’t really in Arkansas all that long actually before we got to Oklahoma. We drove into Foreman and then headed west on route 32 for about 15 mins until we saw the sign for Oklahoma. We pulled over and took a photo by the sign and then thought it’d be a good idea to get a photo by the Arkansas sign too. We ran across the street and I realized I still had ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ as a book so it wouldn’t have worked. Being there were big trucks flying by us on this small back road we decided to skip it and head back into Arkansas.
We got gas in Foreman, looked for a postcard (to no avail) and got back on the road again. After a little while of driving through some beautiful woods and discovering some unexpected views we looked for a place to eat. (Side note: On our way I saw a place that had a firetruck standing end-for-end in a field with a flag on it, as well as a mail box that was shaped like a right-side-up firetruck – it was kinda weird and kinda cool). Eventually we found a place called ‘Ari’s Little Italy Italian Restaurant’. We ordered a large pizza (so we’d have lunch for the next day as well). It was amazing! And yet again, the whole time Hobbes watched and pointed at cars that passed by on the road.
That night we drove through Hot Springs, but it was too late at night to stop at the National Park, this was a bummer, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. As we made our way east on route 70 a cop decided to mess with my mind. After driving slowly in front of me, and alongside of me, he decided to pull me over when I merged into his lane in front of him. He said I merged too closely, but I think he was just finding a reason to pull an out-of-stater over. He never gave us a ticket, but just asked about our trip and let us go – I’m sure having Hobbes crying in the back helped. (The next day another cop tried to do the same thing, but I decided not to speed up or move until I reached my exit so he wouldn’t have a reason to pull me over).
That night we slept in Searcy, AR. The next morning, we looked at a map and determined that instead of passing straight from Arkansas into Tennessee that we would head south down to the Mississippi River State Park / St. Francis National Forest, get a picture on the banks of the Mississippi River, and then drive through Mississippi as we made our way toward Nashville. It took us an extra hour, but we soon found ourselves watching a barge move up river on the banks of the second longest river in the United States. We took a picture with ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’, talked with some locals, walked around on the shores, and then drove back through the park to find a less buggy spot to eat lunch.
Earlier, before we had driven down the 3 mile dirt road to the Mississippi we had noticed that there was a dam and little beach by a lake. So on our way back through the little bayou we determined we would stop there for lunch. The lake was called ‘Storm Creek Lake’. We got out our pizza, from the night before, and ate while sitting on the breezy banks of the lake. It was a nice spot to take a break before crossing the Mississippi River on our way back north.
Not long after waking up in Alabama we found ourselves beneath unusually blue skies – at least for having just seen severe storms pass – in Mississippi. We were debating for a while where we wanted to stop while we were there. North of us was the De Soto National Forest, and south of us was the Gulf of Mexico. I had wanted to go into the National Forest, but Antonia really wanted to ride along the coast. So we decided to take a southern route and head for Biloxi, Mississippi. After getting off the highway we almost immediately found ourselves on the coast and right before us was ‘The Lighthouse Pier’. So on a whim we turned into the half-filled parking lot and explore for a little bit. We even found root beer in glass bottles at the visitors center and it make for a nice little break.
One of the coolest things about driving through Mississippi (and Louisiana for that matter) is that the highways become mile long bridges through swamps and bayous. These bridges, as they rise up, become their own vistas in a world that is mostly near or below sea-level. One truly feels like they are on top of the world when really they are at one of its lowest points.
We arrived in Louisiana at 5:07pm. I remember this distinctly because the welcome center (for some odd reason) was open until 5pm. When we got there the doors were locked, and there was no way for me to pick up a map, postcard, or coffee (the people at the beautiful welcome center in Mississippi told me that Louisiana gave out free coffee). This was a huge disappointment, but the weather was beautiful and so we walked around outside a bit before moving on.
We continued on the highway / bridge system with the destination of Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Due to time we were unable to stop in New Orleans – like every visitor to Louisiana does. Breaux Bridge is the town that Antonia’s former college roommate lives with her husband, and our plan was to stay there for a few days. (It is also a town that was hit by a Tornado just the day before). We arrived just before dark and unpacked knowing we’d stay in one place for a full day for the first time since we left.
It was quite exciting to have a full day to be tourists while we were in Louisiana. We woke up a gracious breakfast and after eating went to check out an opportunity to do a swamp tour at Lake Martin. After booking a tour at 11:30am we decided to go back into town to get some coffee. As we drove through we found a quaint cafe called, ‘Joie De Vivre Coffee and Culture Cafe’. It was such a fun place to enjoy a coffee, look at artwork and let homes exclaim, ‘Vroom’ every time a car passed by.
After coffee we headed back to Lake Martin and somehow made it through a 2 hour boat tour with Hobbes – we had to pass him back and forth the whole time. A nice lady from Alabama kept pulling things out of her purse to entertain Hobbes (like a flashlight from the Grand Canyon and a fan from New Orleans). We learned a lot about the alligators, birds, and the swamp in general. It was a really fun and informative tour.
Following the swamp tour we explored Breaux Bridge a little more and went out for some authentic Cajun food with our friends. I wanted to have everything while we were there, but that would have been a bit pricy. So I just got some Alligator filets and the Shrimp Gumbo, while trying some of my friend’s crawfish. Afterward, when we got back to our friend’s house it was a beautiful evening to just sit outside beneath the giant Blackjack Oak and watch Hobbes run around. Later, my friend Cody played me in NHL 94′ and I got creamed, sadly.
It really was nice to have a break and to just spend time with friends, but before we knew it, it was time to be on the road again. Before leaving I had to buy a new tire for the blazer (because the front passenger tire was super worn). So I woke up early and headed to Walmart to get one while Antonia slept. Once we had the new tire, we ate some donuts from the ‘Cajun Market Donut Company’ (I’m not sure if they were better than Krispy Kreme or not), and made our way north toward Texas.
Louisiana really is a beautiful place. I wish we had more time to explore there and maybe tour a Plantation, but maybe another day.
Books for these few days included:
‘ Three Famous Novels’ by William Faulkner (Biloxi, Mississippi)
‘The Awakening’ by Kate Chopin (Lake Martin, Louisiana)
‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana)
‘This Side of Paradise’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana)
We intentionally spent as much time as we could in South Carolina before we set out for Georgia, so we left around 1pm. Our next destination was Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta, Georgia. I didn’t know much about this park, only that it looked kind of touristy. Well about 4 hours later we arrived to crazy traffic and signs that said it was, ‘Spring Break Fun’ week! Just great. Parking was $15 so we debated for a while if we should go in (we had a long wait anyway), but decided that we drove all the way here and might as well go in.
So we paid our fee, got our map and drove around looking for a secluded spot to take a few photos with the Orange Chair. The place was packed! We stopped for a bit at a nearby playground and let Hobbes play, and then we proceeded to drive around the park. It seemed challenging to find a spot where you could see the mountain, and pull over to take a few pictures. Going the long way around we soon found a bridge and a distant view of the mountain with budding trees. So we took some photos as a few teenagers speculated and laughed at us.
Then we drove around some more. We found a cool covered bridge that we drove across and then trying not to get sucked into all the tourism looked for a place to get a postcard. I dropped Antonia off at a gift shop and looked for parking. Lo and behold right in front of my spot was a great view of the mountain with no people around! So while I waited I took a few photos there as well. I love some of the shots because the mountain looks almost like a close up of the moon which is the subject of my book ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ – obviously.
Directly after these photos we took off, once again, for Alabama. Our car had a slight scare as soon as we got on the major highway by Atlanta (some issues bucking as I accelerated), but after stopping seeing that everything was normal we pressed on and had no further issues.
It took a little while but we eventually reached Alabama just as it was getting dark and turned on some ‘Robert Johnson’ as we found ourselves submerged in Southern Culture. We pulled off at a welcome center, changed Hobbes into tractor jammies, booked a hotel in Atmore, and let Hobbes walk around barefoot in the grass before moving on. It was a nice short break, but we had a lot of driving to do before the severe weather hit Alabama.
We were told that severe thunderstorms and possible tornados were on the way, so our goal was to make it to Atmore, AL (just above the pan handle of Florida) to spend the night. Then from there we would wait for the storm to blow over and proceed to Mississippi as the storm moved way from us. We reached Atmore around 11pm and proceeded to check in to our room, and went to sleep.
Crazy winds, heavy rain, and an alarm in the hotel woke us up, but after an hour or so things calmed down and we went down for breakfast. We hung out in the hotel until check-out then drove around to find a place to eat lunch.
On our way to lunch we accidentally drove into Florida and so got a picture on the state line with the book ‘To Have and Have Not’ by Ernest Hemingway, and then turned around to head back into Alabama.
We found a small little catfish shack back in Alabama. It seemed like a nice place to eat so we got a table in front of the jukebox and ordered catfish sandwiches. After a little while of playing with Hobbes (we set up cups and pushed his toy tractor back and forth between them) I was tempted to put some quarters into the jukebox. I looked through the selections and saw a song called ‘Blue Monday’ by Fats Domino, and some songs by Chuck Berry. They seemed fitting for the occasion. I proceeded to put my money in, typed in the number and, suddenly, the music started to blare. (I think I scared the other people in the ‘shack’ – it was dead silent before that). From that point on Hobbes would only eat with the jukebox playing, and he danced around when he ate. It was one of my favorite memories from the trip.
The catfish was quite good and filled us up enough to proceed through Alabama. Right before the border of Mississippi we found a random spot off of a scenic byway and took a photo with Harper Lee’s two books ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘Go Set a Watchman’. It took a while, but somehow we actually got Hobbes to hold the book in front of his face.
After waking up, eating breakfast and getting charged $20 in taxes on our room (those punks), we headed into the Great Smoky Mountains. The skies were overcast so we were really unsure of what we would be able to see as we drove up to 6,000 feet. (We seem to have this habit of visiting mountainous regions when its cloudy and overcast). As we wound our way up the windy roads we took every opportunity we could to search for the mountains beneath.
Eventually we found Clingman’s Dome Road which was open for this first day of the season and we slowly began our ascent to the top. As we climbed the clouds played tricks on us. Certain spots would be completely shrouded in mist, and then all of the sudden the sun would blaze through and we’d see wisps of blue everywhere. It all reminded me of the scene at the end of the book we brought with us – ‘The Last Battle’ – where the Penvensie children explore the far reaches of Narnia as they press on ‘further up and further in’ and everything is made new.
After about an hour of driving we fnally we reached the parking area, and found ourselves above the clouds! As far as we could see white and blue intermingled to create a breathtaking scene. We stared off into the distance, took a few photos and then leaving the chair behind hiked to the top of Clingman’s Dome.
The hike to the top was steep and tiring (especially with a baby on one’s back), but we made it all the way up to the observation tower and it was worth every step. On the way up we met a couple who keep teasing Hobbes when they passed us. It was a bit chilly on top of North Carolina/Tennesee, but the view was beyond words.
When we left we a hid a few Orange Chair ‘calling cards’ in the gift shop and made our way over to the Blue Ridge Parkway. We drove along this for a little over 12 miles on our way to Columbia, SC. At a fitting overlook we stopped for a photo with another C.S. Lewis book ‘Till We Have Faces’ and, soon after, took a nap at the last pull off (which to our dismay was the only ‘vista’ without a vista). With new energy and full stomachs we continued on our journey south.
It didn’t take us too long, and before we knew it we were now in South Carolina. At the welcome center they gave us multiple postcards and maps (one map was of BBQ joints in South Carolina), and immediately began looking for a place to take a picture so we could enjoy the next day without scrambling for a shot. We saw on the map that there was a ‘Sumter National Forest’ on the way, so we set our sights on that location.
When we reached the exit we got off and there were no signs for a National Forest. We followed our GPS which took us to a random drive-way that was apparently in the forest. All we saw though looked just like a back woods community. As we tried to figure out what to do I spotted a random dirt road and we decided to quick pull off and get a picture there. It wasn’t anything special, but it seemed to stand out from other pictures we had taken so far on the trip.
After finding, or not finding, our National Forest we made our way via backroad – to avoid traffic – to Columbia, SC. There we enjoyed a great time with friend involving Applebee’s, NCAA Basketball Games, Harry Potter Clue, Crash Team Racing till 1am, Krispy Kreme donuts, and watching two toddlers play together (or something like that) for the first time. It was really nice having a place to stay that wasn’t an over-price hotel.
The next morning we decided to save ‘Congaree National Park’ for another trip – because we had a lot of ground to cover before severe weather hit – and set off for Georgia to see Stone Mountain.