Thanks for reading! For photos, please check out the Instagram feed. I will be posting a gallery of all month one pictures next week. I also keep a Facebook page with pictures and announcements. Below is a summary of week two; week one can be found here.
Day 8: Doll Mountain, Georgia to Fair Play, South Carolina
Chesky ate a bee yesterday. By his reaction of shaking his head and spitting it out, it obviously stung him, but then he picked it up and finished it off. His tolerance for pain and stings is amazing. He ate another one this morning, with the same effect. His inability to learn that bees will sting him is perplexing.
I skirted the furthest northern outskirts of suburban Atlanta on the Appalachian Foothills parkway. The area is filled with charming old-fashioned towns and hills. There were apple orchards and vineyards advertising fall festivals and apple picking and boiled peanuts.
Before my trip, I thought I would see Walmarts everywhere, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I see a lot of Dollar General stores, which have a much smaller footprint.
Chesky scraped his ankle this morning at Doll Mountain, and it has been bleeding a little. I put some antibacterial cream on it. He was not at all appreciative of the care and crawled sulkily into his bed to lick the offended paw. He can tolerate repeated bee stings in his mouth but not basic first aid.
The RV park I stayed in was very grim, with lots of permanent trailers and lawn garbage. The parking sites were uneven, so I spent the evening feeling like I was on a listing ship and sliding into the wall. When I was checking in, an old man lurking around the reception desk made fun of my accent. That hasn’t happened since I was an American foreign exchange student in the UK in 1995.
Day 9: Fair Play, South Carolina to Lenoir, North Carolina
A band is playing on the other side of the RV next to me. The music is slow and the woman’s voice is reedy. Someone is awkwardly drawing out notes on the violin. Since most people here are of retirement age, I believe I have stumbled upon an old folks’ bluegrass band. They are not accomplished or well practiced, but the music they are making is magical. Terrible, but magical. I can’t see them, but I have an image in my head of gray-haired Germanic people dressed in polka gear with little red pom-poms on their heads. After the bugs drove me inside, Chesky wanted to stay out in his harness and listen. I swear he liked the music as much as I did.
The honeymoon ended this morning. I woke up tired of driving, tired of the heat, tired of RV parks and managing my own sewage (there has to be a better way). I was tired of the inconvenience of always tripping over stuff, and the cramped conditions of the trailer, of finding my things in disarray after a day of driving.
I woke up and got out of the campsite before dawn, and things began to look up quickly. We drove through the northwestern corner of South Carolina and entered the town of Pendleton in the early morning sun. Sprinklers in the grassy main square and a little white house with red shutters in the center of the lawn gave the town a fresh, hopeful air.
I stopped at a dog park a few miles on towards Clemson University, and met a PhD candidate in experimental physics. He was working on stripping electrons in some sort of special super-strong magnetic equipment that had to be cooled with liquid helium to replicate particles only found in space. It sounded like a cool job.
I left and drove on Route 123, a peaceful four-lane highway that quickly degenerated into strip malls and shops for title loans, donuts, and auto parts as I approached Greenville. I met two men at Starbucks who had looked up the website as I pulled in and shared their own travel stories. It has been really fun meeting people on the road.
I got on the Interstate and the trailer pulled and lurched alarmingly in the wind. I later realized I didn’t have the sway bar on. I remove it to back into a parking space, and in my haste to leave the campsite that morning, I had forgotten to put it back on. Now I know it works.
I drove up the Interstate towards Asheville, climbing through thick pine forests. I knew I was getting close when I started to see uber-fit cyclists that could be training for the Olympics. The stores changed character dramatically: instead of chain fast food joints, there were vegan restaurants and yoga studios, cafes with names like “Green Sage”, and independent restaurants advertising beef right from the farm.
People are friendly and enthusiastic about the trip. I stopped at a Starbucks and someone took a picture of the trailer and posted it on Instagram. Two guys messaged me as I was driving up Interstate 29 towards Asheville and invited me to join them for beer and pizza in town. I didn’t see the message until much later, but it was a nice gesture.
I have discovered my trailer acts as a cell phone signal booster. If I leave my phone on the window sill against the aluminum frame, I can go from one bar to three.
Day 10: Lenoir, North Carolina
I continue to be traumatized by the sewage tank. Every time I have to set up the hose, I get urine on me. Every time. This is the worst part of my trip. There has to be a better way.
Chesky and I have an ongoing battle over where he is going to sleep at night. He has a large, comfortable cushion covered in fleece, but has decided that he would rather sleep in the corner, where my body from knees to toes needs to go. Every time I leave him alone in the trailer, he climbs into the corner and then stares at me petulantly when I return. In the middle of the night, he sneaks over. I dream about my legs being crushed, and wake to find a fifty-pound dog on my shins. When I get angry, he becomes very submissive and difficult to move in his limpness. I have to drag him to where I want him to sleep.
My neighbors in the RV park are a couple in their seventies, and came over this morning to say hello and ask if I was scared. I’m still not sure what I am supposed to be afraid of. I know there are dangers out there, so I’m not going to snub my nose at them, but I refuse to live in fear.
I have to be careful not to write a book about the thoughts of retired people who live in motorhomes, since I interact with so many in these campgrounds.
Day 11: Lenoir, North Carolina to Durham, North Carolina
A young man with a long beard asked me about the trailer at a gas station pump. He had to shout because of a diesel truck at the adjoining pump, so to simplify things I yelled back that it was a ’61. He was nice and I could tell he wanted to talk more but for the noise, and I felt guilty for misleading him on the actual year of the trailer.
Driving into Durham, the cars became nicer, bigger, and shinier. The interstate goes through the center of a large urban area that appears unpopulated. The only way I could tell I was in town was the proximity of exits and the number of cars on the road; otherwise it looked the same as the rest of the state.
North Carolina as a whole is hard to pin down. It seems like a mix of all the other states in the Southeast put together into one. There doesn’t seem to be any one thing tying it together that is emblematic. The only exception is the “first in flight” license plates. All the plates are the same: there don’t seem to be many vanity plates.
I stopped and bought a valve for my sewer tank to try and control the hazmat situation.
Day 12: Durham, NC
I spent the weekend at a friend’s house in Durham, home to Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill. We went to an arts festival in downtown and I was impressed with the urban regeneration: instead of a tobacco town in decline, the crop and associated industry is part of the historical record. It’s charming and smacks of wealth and privilege.
Durham is also the headquarters of Burt’s Bees, an interesting juxtaposition of tobacco and hippies. I went to a yoga class and then to a local coffee house (Bean Traders on Highway 54) in Durham. I can’t remember the last time I went to a local cafe.
Day 13: Durham, NC to Madison, VA
After a nice weekend in Durham, I turned north and fled the southern heat. The drive was mostly on four-lane highway 29, all rolling hills, beautiful countryside, lush greenery, open spaces, hay fields, and farms.
As I crossed into Virginia, there was an enormous Confederate flag flying on a flagpole set at the edge of a field adjoining the highway. Both the pole, which was at least ten inches in diameter, and the flag, which was 30 x 50 feet, looked new. I have only seen a smattering of Confederate flags in my travels through the South, mostly hung in front of homes in Mississippi.
Virginia is home for me, and it is a beautiful time of year. I had another reunion with my husband in a cabin near Shenandoah National Park. This is the last time I will see him until the end of the trip.
Day 14: Madison, VA
Virginia gives me the feeling that if humans ceased to exist, the forest would cover all traces of us in the space of two years. Bushes press against roads, trees loom overhead, undergrowth hides secrets deep in the darkness.
When I arrived yesterday, I had to park the trailer at the base of a steep hill. The cabin was at the top, so I packed all of my things into my husband’s tiny rental car. There was no room for Chesky, but it was a private road and fairly close, so we figured he could run along after the car (off leash, of course). We drove a little way and he followed at first, then returned to the camper with an air of confusion. I got out and called him and he came running. He leapt into my arms in the front seat and together, the three of us drove up the hill.
It was, as always, the best day of Chesky’s life.
The states this week, in two words:
South Carolina: Practiced courtesy
North Carolina: License plates
Virginia: Encroaching forest