So here we are again, on the eve of another road trip adventure. Having procrastinated all day, my bags are finally packed, my itinerary set, and my dog sufficiently confused. In the morning the two of us will head out once again towards the Blue Ridge Mountains. This time, the goal was initially to go back and see the places on the Blue Ridge Parkway that were closed when I was there last February. But then when I found out that the governor of North Carolina will personally send you some pretty good swag for driving the entire 469 miles and becoming an “end-to-ender” I decided to try that. Throw in a little bit of Great Smoky Mountains National Park that I missed last time (namely Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park), some waterfalls in nearby Transylvania County, and a couple of strategic stops along Skyline Drive at Shenandoah, and my week was pretty much filled out. As usual, here’s the plan, courtesy of Google Maps:
- Tomorrow (well this morning already, I guess) we drive down to stay at a hotel near the southern end of Shenandoah National Park. Time permitting, I’ll jump over to the park to try to find a good sunset picture, too.
- On Monday I’ll drive the first 240 miles or so of the Blue Ridge Parkway before pulling out the old car shades and doing some “car camping” with the dog (the internet tells me that’s legal on the BRP and they can’t put something on the internet if it isn’t true).
- Tuesday brings the next 120 or so miles of the Parkway, a couple of waterfalls, and the highest point east of the Mississippi River. It’s a little unclear at the moment what is happening on the BRP around mile 364, so depending on whether it’s open I’ll spend another night in the Horse With No Name or I might be forced to head into Asheville for the evening. While I’m there, I might as well try and find a barbeque place, too, I guess.
- Wednesday sees a detour from the Parkway (I’ll hit the missed section on the way back) past five more waterfalls of varying spectacularosity and a very brief venture into South Carolina before real-camping near a bald summit known as Max Patch.
- Thursday will be my exploration of the other national park, including a sunset at Clingman’s Dome, before staying in a hotel in nearby Gatlinburg, TN.
- On Friday, since the main thoroughfare through the park has been closed for months due to a landslide, I’ll have to detour around the mountains back into North Carolina along a stretch of road known as The Dragon. Known in some circles as the windiest road in the world, it’s said to hold 318 curves in its 11 mile span. After surviving that, I’ll head north on the Blue Ridge Parkway, completing the end-to-end mission, before heading back towards Shenandoah and repeating Sunday in reverse.
So why have I chosen to return to an area that I already spent a week exploring just a year ago? True, many things about this trip will be the same: The same two national parks, the same Blue Ridge Parkway between them, the same amount of time spent between them…
But in many ways this trip should be a very different experience from that one. First, it’s April instead of February. I’m hoping that means I’ll see some leaves and greenness instead of the brown and white of last trip (and of the last 5 months in New England). This also means I can make the Parkway the focus of the trip. The weather looks good (although I said that last time, too), so with the exception of that one weird stretch near Asheville, the entire Parkway is and will remain open for the foreseeable future.
This time, I’m also almost exclusively seeing places I did not see last time, and have never seen before. It says something about western North Carolina that I can plan 2 week-long itineraries to there with no overlap.
I was, however, limited in other ways planning for this trip. This time, I’ll be bringing my dog, so I had to plan a dog-friendly itinerary. After losing Gordo back in November, it’ll be the new girl – Latke – accompanying me. She’s about twice the size of Gordo so if the terrain gets rough I can’t just pick her up and carry her. Still a puppy, she’s also not nearly as good on a leash yet. I actually have no idea what she’ll do when we head out on a trail (except that she’ll try to jump on everyone who passes us).
While the natural world should provide some variety this time around, my own world is different, as well. A year ago I was taking the vacation week to escape the craziness of teaching for a while. Shortly after returning (and probably unrelated) I decided to escape that craziness permanently by applying to law school. So after over a year of doing all that applying-to-college stuff all over again, I’ve reserved my seat at Northeastern for this fall and am starting to preparations for that. I’ve opened a new credit card to pay the tuition (with one of my own pictures on it, of course) and found myself an apartment in Boston. I’m sure there will be other important things to do this summer, but with those 2 out of the way, I feel like I’ve taken care of all the big stuff.
So anyway that’s my life, in a nutshell, at least for today. So I guess I better get Latke into bed – we have a long day tomorrow.