We packed light. The Honda Accord had just gone through a $1400 investment – most of the parts on it dated back to the original, and after 16 years, belts, tubes, and tires needed to be replaced. The car had exactly 140,000 miles on it (we timed when we took the reading because the number was a good one to start on), which was pretty low for a 2000. It was 8 am on August 1st, and we began our journey west.
There would be at least 7,000 miles of road ahead of it, and we had three week to do it. One backpack each, a tent, one pillow (that somehow made it into the car but shouldn’t have, since three heads don’t fit well on one pillow), a thick blanket that was intended to serve extra cushion on the tent floor, and one stretchy blanket (which was intended to cover the three of us in the tent). The rest we would pick up on the way. We needed a cooler, snacks, and drinks, so we stopped at a corner stone of American – Walmart. In the end we didn’t pick up that much. There were so many options we forgot why we were there to begin with. Walking through the aisles I imagined my friends overwhelmed, not only by the number of options, but by the variety of things to select from. A grocery store, electronics store, clothing store, sporting goods store, shoe store, and outdoors and adventure store, all under one roof.
I thought about our friend Dmitry, who just stepped out of Virginia and into Tennessee on his walk across America. I’ll try to get him to post about that journey soon.
In case such things had made their way to Europe, I decided to walk them past the beer aisle and mention “I’ve never had to show my ID in Europe to buy alcohol, but here you need to be 21 and to have proof of age.” We continued to walk toward a very specific destination in the store, past the electronics and toward outdoor sporting. “And here, you can buy a gun. You just have to be 18 to buy a rifle or shotgun (21 for a handgun).”
That, I figured, they would not have seen in Europe.
We walked out with a cassette that served as an AUX adaptor so that we could play music from our phones through the car speakers; the rest we would easily find within an hour of wherever we decided we would need it. After all, this is America.
We wanted to get a good stretch of driving in that day, so decided we should eat a large breakfast that would keep us energized to sit in one place for a very long time, albeit moving at 75 miles an hour on average. Nashville was 9 hours away. I didn’t take any pictures of the drive to Walmart, or the drive to breakfast – the surrounding area is beautiful, with a lot of character of true Virginia country and hospitality – not to mention the winding roads through and around the National Parks, who are celebrating their 100th year! I do have some pictures from other treks around the neighborhood…
A Sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains
A view from Shenandoah National Park
Mist over a Field – Countryside, somewhere Virginia
We stopped in a little town called New Market. It’s bigger than where we started, with a population hovering in the 1950’s. What a better way to energize for a day than good-ol American country cookin’?
It’s the kind of place you walk into on a Monday morning and would expect empty in a quiet town like this, except it’s nearly packed with locals that have long retired from work, large breakfast plates in front of them, talking between bites and sometimes while putting food in their mouths – a tactic that works if you’re in long conversation but don’t want your food to get cold.
As we sat our host asked “can I get you something to drink?” She handed us large, heavy menus appeared, the kind that let’s you know breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served all the time, just as it always has been. We all got coffee; I ordered an orange juice, and one of my friends added one to her drink order as well.
I watch my friends looking from cover to cover, flipping the menu that flopped as the oversized pages gave under the weight of the protective plastic folders. Where to start, I can imagine them thinking. If I were in France as a tourist, I would often look for something familiar – in France I would seek out a crêpe or croissant, hoping to find something unique or noteworthy to top it off with. I was certainly a tour guide on this adventure, but was in no way going to let that get in the way of also being a tourist. Three weeks from Coast to Coast, I too was going to see a lot of America; something many plan for their entire lives.
“Want me to order for everyone?” I suggested. As I was looking over the menu, I realized that this meal was not about trying new things. Not for them, and not for me. It was about getting stuffed on things that should but somehow don’t give you a minor post-meal heart attack. I hesitated to ask “and does anyone have any food restriction?” No idea why I asked – we were about to consume an unhealthy proportion of cholesterol and fat, coated in gravy and salt. They both shook their heads. It was on.
Our host arrived with our drinks and asked if we were ready to order. I let her know I was ordering a variety of things for us all to share, and if she could bring extra plates.
“Sausage gravy, three biscuits, a country fried steak (which came with hash browns and two eggs, poached), a side of bacon, and a side of country ham.”
Our host was writing everything on a small paper notepad. When she finished she took our menus and went off to place our orders.
…The food arrived. The booth table had no room for another plate. Our host asked us if we needed anything else, to which we looked up with a hint of desperation and said “no, thank you.” She left, and we began to work at our meal.
The country fried steak lathered in gravy, the gravy was chocked full of sausage, and the country friend ham was salted so that a little went a long way. “Is everything okay? Can I get you another cup of coffee?” When she left my friends commented on how strange it was, to be asked how everything is, or to be asked if we would want more after having just been delivered a huge pile of food. I remember many years ago an aunt in Sweden commenting on a conversation I was having with my credit card company over the phone. “That was your credit card company? After all that they asked if there is anything else they can help with? And then thanked you for being a customer? Here they are mad that you are calling, and don’t care that you are a customer.”
At the end of the meal, the food was heavy in our stomachs. But no time to fall into a food coma. We had many miles ahead. We negotiated our way through paying with foreign credit cards – might be common in the city, but out in the country, they don’t see many people from France; out of town usually means Washington DC or elsewhere in Northern Virginia, or at best, a neighboring state.
We loaded up into the car and were off.
We didn’t stop again until we hit Knoxville, Tennessee. That’s not to say that there was no reason to stop – just more reason to keep moving on. Along the western crest of Virginia the Shenandoah and greater Blue Ridge Mountains stretch out, reaching into the Smoky’s, all part of the Appalachian Mountain range. When the first colonies were forming, it was thought that nothing – maybe more water, but certainly no more land, rest on the other side. The area is steeped in Civil War history, as the South made its way through the valleys, making their way toward Washington.
We had a couple hikes and camps planned for the trip as well; we didn’t quite know where or when, though we had a list of possibilities. Day 1 was too early for that. By the end of the day, we will be getting down with some Honky Tonk. Nashville, here we come…