Point Dume State Beach

pointdume

Point Dume is a state preserve, different from your typical beach in that the sand ends about 100 feet above the ocean. I would show you, but I was too chicken to get close enough to the edge. But one can still enjoy the beauty and relaxation of ocean waves from a safe perch on the sand.

pacific1

The view from my perch.

If I were feeling more adventurous, I would have scrambled down the haphazard path to the beach. But this was primarily a reading and journaling mission. And scrambling back up the sandy cliff was not really on my list of priorities.

Maybe next time.

I spent a considerable amount of time gazing at this house.

house

House-hunting in Malibu. If it has a clock tower and a finished basement, I’ll take it.

A number of large birds roamed the sky. They looked like herons or cranes (though I’ve never seen a heron fly). At one point a whole bunch of them swooped out of nowhere and dispersed over the ocean, looking for lunch I expect.

I thought that sounded like a good idea. It was a good thing I had food with me, because this place is substantially off the beaten path. It’s quiet and peaceful, even on a Saturday. A few miles off the PCH, it comes at the edge of a neighborhood of illustrious, well propertied (and typically gated) houses.

Parking consists of about ten spots on the side of the road, and the posted signs limit you to 2 hours. Which works out okay, because with no food and no bathroom, you’re probably not going to want to hang out all day.

pacific2

For a quiet perch to write and read, however… Point Dume is perfect.

Backyard Explorations: Point Dume

For we wanderlust sufferers, it is easy to overlook the fact that getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily require a big splurge on plane tickets and hotels. Next time you need a change of scenery, consider looking in your own backyard.

canyon1

Topanga Canyon

LA has been my neighborhood for almost three months now, and it’s high time I did some exploring. Work pressures and writing commitments have been piling up. I could use some perspective.

And my motto is, when the going gets tough, the tough go driving.

The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, for cool) is the famous road that follows the coast of California. It runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond, but I was not planning to go that far today.

canyonview

My eyes were too busy watching the road to notice where the camera was pointing.

In order to get to the coast, I took the 101 freeway west and followed Topanga Canyon Boulevard up, up, up and down, down down – winding around the mildly frightening mountainous terrain with my game face on. I even managed to hack a few photos with my free hand.

canyon3Coming down the other side, the first thing I noticed (aside from the gorgeous canyon views) was a distinct drop in temperature. After 90 degrees and climbing in the valley, those first whiffs of 69 coming over the hills was dreamy.

Topanga Canyon is a really charming part of the world, with barren hills suddenly boasting civilization. Signs for businesses and houses and even a Post Office. I felt a little nervous for the safety of several cyclists hugging the teeny margin of street next to vehicular traffic, but nothing horrible happened.

pch1

I wish I could do it justice (you’ll have to go see it yourself sometime), but suddenly out of all this up and down comes a stunning ocean view. This being a Saturday, the view was made slightly less stunning by the volume of cars lined up all along the side of the road.

These beaches do offer paid parking, but most visitors would rather take their chances on the side of the road than waste their nine bucks.

I drove the PCH for eight or ten miles, just looking around and soaking in the atmosphere. It reminded me of weekends in Virginia Beach – the smoosh of locals clamoring for some beach time on their day off.

Once I hit Malibu, public beaches gave way to houses built right on the coast (completely blocking the view). I thought these might be fun and eccentric like the ones in Florida, but they were mostly forgettable. Still the main drag feel was fun and funky, with a mix of fast food and kitschy Mexican establishments lined up together.

The first glimpse of something promising...

The first glimpse of something promising…

I set my sights on a quieter, less commercial part of the world. On the map, Point Dume State Beach (I pronounce it ‘Dyoom’ so it doesn’t sound so ominous) forms sort of a horn protruding into the ocean. I imagined a wide swath of sand from which you could enjoy a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

Who knew if that’s what it’s really like, but it’s fun to imagine.

I had a dream when I was planning my Key West road trip that the highway through the keys was just two lanes right on the water. I know that’s probably impossible, but come on, engineering has absolutely nothing to do with the way my mind works.

oceanview

So there I was, beginning to look for my next turn, and the world opened up before me. The traffic, the busy Saturday, the deadlines, the questions about the future, they all fell away.

This is what exploring can do for you, folks. You take a break from your schedule. You simply behold.

This is discovery, in my book.

More on Point Dume tomorrow, but for now: when was the last time you followed a road you’ve never seen the end of? Maybe that should happen soon.

Godspeed. Facebook Twitter More...

Butchart Gardens, then North to Whistler

In which Victoria’s brisk breeze drives us inland to one of the most beautiful gardens in Canada.

British Columbia! Oh, how lovely thou art. From the legendary Butchart Gardens to the ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia, to a quick zip through Vancouver (wow!) and a 90-minute drive up the Sea-to-Sky highway to our destination of Whistler, BC. Goodness, what a treat for the eyes.

We spent the morning enjoying breakfast at the Huntingdon Hotel, a cozy place just spitting distance from the harbor, with lovely views of gardens from the room window and a delightfully sunny breakfast area.

Feeling refreshed and adventurous again, we drove around downtown and West Victoria for a bit, enjoying the offerings of home and business architecture and the local Tim Horton’s (nonexistent in the Washington, DC area). This place is cute. And I mean cute. If it had been about 10 degrees warmer (Fahrenheit, that is) and slightly less windy, a jaunt around the downtown walkway would have been in order.

Instead, we found a haven at Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre outlay of landscaping that is both relaxing and awe-inspiring.

Revel in blooms and tall trees

The gardens were once a limestone quarry, owned by enterprising cement manufacturer Robert Butchart. Once the quarry had fulfilled its usefulness, his wife Jennie came up with the idea to turn it into a humungous garden. It took awhile, but between the time she started (1904) and now, the gardens took over and turned into an awesome display.

We finished up our tour with an overpriced gelato (but really, the ambience is worth it) and set out for another ferry ride. This one was considerably less chilly than before, and we passed a pleasant 90 minutes staring at the horizon.

The GPS got a little confused, sending us on a brief detour through an Indian reservation (I would tell you which one, but I couldn’t hope to reproduce the blend of symbols, and letters, and numbers spelling the name).

Once back on track, we stopped in Vancouver for some groceries. What a cool city! I felt like we were on set for a Doctor Who episode. Between the hazy cloud cover, rolling streets surrounded by tall buildings, and the mountains in the distance, the whole vibe was futuristic. I need to see that again.

Awesome and awful both together

Getting out of the city meant driving on a big scary bridge. The Lions Gate is a suspension bridge that connects Vancouver with the North Shore and all points north (like Whistler). It’s named for the Lions, two mountain peaks looming ahead of us as we drive over the bridge.

I don’t know much else about it except that it is high. Super, crazy high. With lots of water underneath.

And we made it.

Then on to 99: the Sea-to-Sky Highway. What a view!

Drive into the sky

The beautiful route got us through the mountains and into Whistler in about 90 minutes, for an arrival time of about 9:30 pm. The sun was just setting as we dropped our bags and took a look around. The view from our condo window:

It’s like a full-size Christmas Village.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a good week.

Whistler stories to go: Facebook Twitter More...

South from Orlando

In which my car becomes a bug cemetery.

The freeway is a cruel, cruel place for insects and flying creatures of all kinds. Just a glance at my bumper and windshield will give you an idea of the sheer volume of grisly deaths that occur on Florida highways every day.

I was moved to compose a soliloquy on behalf of baby bugs everywhere. If you ask me I will probably sing it for you.

Day 5 started grouchily, as I realized I had overslept and would have to skip some things if I would make it to Key West by nightfall. My neck was so stiff I might have to turn my whole body to check my blind spot shifting lanes. In short, my plans were really putting a cramp on my plan-free adventure.

Physical limitations are a reality of road-tripping, and this trip was testing mine. But the good news is… I’m a Christian! And so I prayed.

Surrendering to life as it is and not as I wish it to be is never easy, but it’s good. Rather than rushing out the door with my grouchy self, I took a few minutes to stretch, got some grub at the La Quinta continental breakfast bar (with waffles!) and spent some time reading the bible and talking to the Lord.

As it happened, my devotional for the day led me to Psalm 127, one of the poems written by ancient Israelites sometime around the tenth or eleventh century BC. It was good then, it’s good now:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:1-3 (www.biblegateway.com)

Isn’t that great? It’s like God said, “Hey Cortney – it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest. Chill out and enjoy what I’m doing here.” So I said okay.

Things start to get exciting

Much of the morning drive passed uneventfully. I listened to Great Expectations a lot because I had to take the interstate for the sake of time, and 95 is boooring. Somewhere past Miami I stopped to get gas and a salad. When I got back on the road it Stormed with a capital S.

Now, I’m from Northern Virginia, and we are notorious for our extreme nervousness when it comes to precipitation of pretty much any kind. I think Miami is worse.

Suddenly my placid highway of nothing-much-to-pay-attention-to was an obstacle course of hazzard lights, speeding trucks, 15 mph Lincolns, and water from all directions. More praying ensued.

The weather cleared just as I exited at Homestead. I was a little ahead of schedule, so thought I’d swing by the Coral Castle – which according to my GPS was only ten minutes out of my way. But.

Traffic jam!

See that little blue thing near the center of the photo? That’s where I’m trying to go. See all those orange blockade thingies? They appear to be cutting off all possible entrances to the place I’m now spending 20 minutes (with traffic) to see.

I did manage to snap a picture as I inched by. But a few minutes later I was on the Overseas Highway through the keys so I didn’t take it too hard.

Can you see it?

What a beautiful sight! Miles of 2-lane highway surrounded by calm blue waters as you skip from one tiny, quirky island to the next. It was a treat to pass the 2 1/2 hours marveling at this feat of God’s creation and human engineering, right next to each other, even though an obnoxious 18-wheeler rode my tail most of the way.

I got into Key West at 7 on the nose. My hotel was easy to find and I was able to quickly check in and deposit my stuff to go exploring. The front window looked right out at the Gulf of Mexico and I asked the woman at the front desk if she ever got tired of the view. “Never,” she said. “I’ve lived here 9 years, and I’m grateful for it.”

It was hot, but not debilitating. I strolled lazily through Mallory Square, which was full of tourists being entertained by jugglers, snack vendors, musicians, and something to do with fire. There was even a man giving a Bible lecture to an audience of one (no, not that One).

I wanted to see Key West, but the light was fading fast and everywhere I turned I found tourists and touristy things. Stumbling across a tiny shop painted key lime green, I took refuge from the crowds and chatted with the lady selling the keys’ best Key Lime pie.

She’s lived here for 9 months, working for the owner of the pie shop. Most folks come in the shop because they saw it on TV (Bobby Flay’s Throwdown – Bobby won, but apparently he cheated).

It was pitch black and difficult to see beyond the bright lights and noisy crowds of Duval Street, the main drag. I called it a day, purposing to get out early and see the place I’d spent all week getting to. In my room, I flipped on the TV to find that all the channels were agog with the royal wedding. Oh yeah. I guess that was today.

Sunset in Key West

Day 5 stats:
Miles: 409.5
Water ogling: plenty
Near-death experiences: 0 (but I was skeered)
Chapters:finished 42

Next stop… home!

Charleston!

In which… well, you’ll see.

This is the first morning I woke up and didn’t know where I was. Thankfully a few moments’ reflection brought it all back. I was really starting to get tired by now. Not road weary – just physically tense and a bit ragged from all the late nights I’d been keeping.

Just a typical gorgeous tree-lined avenue in gorgeous downtown Charleston

It is interesting to note how just four days into my trip, I was mentally constructing a calendar based on where I was going rather than days of the week. “I’m going to Orlando, so it must be Day 4. Which is… (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) Thursday. Okay.”

Wait a sec – Orlando??? What was I thinking? There’s no way I can drive all the way through Georgia, part of Florida and arrive in Orlando by nightfall and still remain in my right mind.

I was torn. But in the end Charleston won out and after misleading myself yet again (easily adding an hour to my drive time for the day… grrr), I finally found it!

Palm trees!

Having suffered through a devastating earthquake, two wars, and innumerable hurricanes, Charleston has rebuilt and restored itself many times, yet it remains one of the South’s most beautiful cities. Impressive neoclassical buildings line the streets, especially in the older, upmarket sections of town south of Broad Street and along the waterfront Battery. Charleston’s many small, lush gardens and parks make it ideal for aimless exploring on foot rather than by car.
(from Road Trip USA, http://www.roadtripusa.com)

Gotta say, I do like the look of palm trees in the city. What a charming place this is! I stumbled across a lovely tree-lined walk bedecked with a garden that featured a fountain in the middle. A plaque on the sidewalk informed me that this is ‘Wragg Mall’, dedicated by Mr. Wragg to the people of Charleston in 1801.

I hope he didn’t mind my enjoying it too.

Wragg Mall

Wandering the quiet residential streets, I eagerly absorbed the unique (and probably really expensive) homes, basking in the breezy humidity. I believe I was experiencing that ‘glistening’ which southern women do. And it was only 10:30 in the morning!

Charleston has that rugged elegant look, like it’s seen a thing or two. And lived to tell about it! I drove down to the battery and beheld even greater glory and grace. There on the one side was a prospering body of water and majestic, imposing yet inviting mansions on the other. I just looked and looked, grateful to be one of the few cars on the road and no need to hurry past.

Charleston battery

I didn’t see anything in Charleston I didn’t like. Even when I missed 17 and drove into the other side of town, featuring much less grand but still interesting houses. I wish I’d had more time to explore, but this is definitely a place to come back to.

Southward to Georgia. I had to pass a visit to Savannah, although now I wish I had at least driven through it. However, the US-17 route through Georgia offered a smooth pass-through on many intriguing towns, most of which featuring a stoplight or two, a restaurant (the one I tried to visit had already closed at 2), a few homes, a mechanic, and possibly a motel, including one that had clearly been closed for business longer than I’ve been alive, but still seemed to be home to a few folks. The juxtaposition of grand houses and historic plantations with short single-level houses and trailer parks was a consistent theme along the main highway.

Georgia wildflowers

With no traffic to speak of, I crossed the border to Florida late in the afternoon. The sunshine state was experiencing a steady downpour, but when I sought highway A1A and the ocean suddenly rose before me, I liked the gray and misty appearance. It formed a nice contrast with the placid waters of the Carolinas. You could barely tell where the stormy sea ended and the stormy sky began.

Adorably quirky houses lined the beach, but I was allowed a peek at the water here and there before highway 9 took me on the roller coaster bridges that got me around Jacksonville. Whew! My heart started thumping just at the sight.

An irrational fear that I would flip over backwards kept me gunning for the high point of each one. But once I’d crested the upward angle, the magnificent view over the side! It was worth the near heart attack. And then I was glad to be alive, which made everything feel better from sheer relief.

I wonder what manner of men these early explorers must have been, striking out into unmarked territory with no certainty of provision and much certainty of danger! And then those that came behind them engineering and building so that I can come along and do my exploring in safety and ease.

No doubt this trip would’ve been harder if I’d had to row across all the waterways.

These explorations of mine are nothing new from a global or historic perspective. Type in ‘Florida’ on Google Earth and you can find a map and detailed satellite photo. This is far from undiscovered country in that sense of the word. But it is full of new discoveries for me, and I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to make them.

Day 4 stats:
Miles: 494!
Things that make you go “yay”: 6
Freak-out moments: 2
Chapters: A lot – I think I was a little over halfway through all 59 of them by the time I reached Orlando

Next stop… Key West!

South… west?

In which things don’t go according to plan.

I was trying to stay away from making plans on this trip, because that was kind of the point of the trip itself. Just go – don’t think about the going any more than is absolutely necessary, just get out there and see what you see. But I did want some coffee.

Sourthern NORTH Carolina

Heading east of Havelock, I had visions of a quaint little shop on the boardwalk where I could sit on the beach and sip some liquid refreshment while the seagulls terrorize sea life and small children. I got a little misdirected trying to return to my route (West? Shouldn’t that be East?), so the sun was rather high in the sky by the time I saw signs for Atlantic Beach.

It came out blurry, but the sign says ‘Welcome to Atlantic Beach’

Atlantic Beach is one of the first beach opportunities you come to south of the Outer Banks. It’s a quick bridge crossing from highway 24 (heading West, which is kind of a strange concept, but take a look at the map… North Carolina dips in at that point, so the coast is almost doubling back). It is a tiny place with a tiny boardwalk surrounded by a spa and two or three eateries, none of which served coffee, and none of them open for business even if they had.

I walked the boardwalk – twice – greeted the friendly hangers about, admired the clump of houses hugging the shoreline and drove on.

It was after noon by the time I despaired of my seaside breakfast plans and settled for finding somewhere quick with good coffee. I passed several fast food places before pulling into a McDonald’s and then pulling back out as it was still under construction.

Perhaps I was making too big a deal of this, but prolonged hunger, fatigue, and stiffness were taking all the fun out of this day. I looked to the heavens and pled for mercy. Mercy answered in the form of the Java Bean.

Occupying the end of a strip mall across the street, the flow in and out of happy customers indicated two things: they had good stuff, and they were open. I got an iced coffee to go and took a seat outside. After an hour with my coffee, my journal and a seaworthy breeze, I was feeling adventurous again.

Ocean Isle Beach was my next intended destination, right at the bottom of North Carolina. I was surprised to again find indifferent shops, a few places to eat, and lots of beach houses. These I drove by for awhile, not finding any to be particularly spectacular, but different enough from each other that they were interesting for awhile.

Overcast in the afternoon – I’m noticing a pattern here

I bought a few postcards, managed to track down the lone public bathroom (sans stall doors or TP) and settled on the sand and wrote home to friends.

The beach itself was delightful, brimming with shells  and seaweed with a high dune of sand rimming the tide. Here I sat after taking the necessary walk on the beach. By the time I’d finished writing, it was nearly 5pm and I realized the mail would not go out until tomorrow (Thursday). Oh well.

South Carolina! Here I finally started seeing palm trees. I immediately hit the Myrtle Beach area, and with it miles and miles of off-shore entertainment. This was amusing, in contrast with all the sober stretches of lonely road I was about to traverse.

Thank goodness I filled up on gas! Having passed through Georgetown and then heading toward Charleston, US-17 took me through about 50 miles of quiet, nearly undisturbed country. As dark fell, I found myself to be driving the only car on the road, a realization that both concerned and comforted me.

One thing I figured out as Day 3 was nearing a close – road tripping is more fun in daylight. When you can see what’s happening around you, it’s exciting. When it’s dark, you’re just driving. It gets dull. Thankfully, I had my Great Expectations going by now, and Pip and Estella kept my brain engaged until I could reach my watering hole for the night.

Civilization snuck up on me and I quickly found my exit to 526, which lifted me into the air over large bodies of water which I couldn’t properly make out in the dark. But there were lots of lights below which I assigned to ships and boats and all kinds of watery engineering. Finally I reached my hotel in North Charleston and lugged my suitcase and myself into the Red Roof Inn.

So, so tired.

Day 3 stats:
Miles covered: 300
Coffees consumed: 1
Beaches: 2
Friendly strangers: 4
Chapters: 15
Next stop… REALLY Charleston!

Ocracoke and Beyond

Okay, where was I?

Standing guard at the Back Porch restaurant

We docked at Ocracoke Island and everyone took off down the road. Only one road, only one way to go. If you couldn’t figure it out yourself, just follow the Element in front of you.

On a side note, I really enjoyed the Elantra I rented. It handles so well and got great mileage! This could be my next car.

The north end of Ocracoke was undisturbed and desolate for several miles. Then all at once, like a reassuring hint, the posted speed limit began to dip until it reached 25 and suddenly I and my ferry companions were amongst civilization.

There it is!

I drove the whole community in about two minutes, reaching the south end of the island at roughly 6:34 pm. I found a sign posted at the ferry office announcing that boats leave every 2 hours, and the next one would go at 8:30. So you see I was forced to poke around a bit.

Feeling the need for something fresh in my on-the-road diet, I toodled around looking for a promising place to eat. I popped into the tiny community grocery, but the pre-washed salad offerings were brownish and dry. If they hadn’t been five bucks I would have settled for it, but they were so I didn’t.

Good eats

Instead I splurged on The Back Porch, which according to their brochure is the best restaurant in Ocracoke. I got a table for one and tried the Chana Masala, which is basically spinach, chickpeas and rice in a buttery sauce. YUM. I ate it all.

It stormed all through dinner and through the open windows I saw that people on bikes and driving golf carts carried on without much noticing. Starting to feel the laid-back, island style of living.

Around 7:45 I figured I’d better get a ticket for the ferry, since I didn’t have a reservation and I would hate to miss it. As it turns out, I shared the boat with exactly two other people, so it was really okay.

Both Google Maps and my GPS estimated the ferry ride at a little over an hour. Both of them lied.

We put out at 8:30 and arrived in Cedar Island no sooner than 10:45 pm, and I still had over an hour of driving ahead of me. Thankfully, I was able to doze a bit during the ride, although I have to tell you it is a strange sensation to be sleeping in a car while adrift at sea. The temperature took a nose dive after sunset and thunder rumbled dully as lightning flickered behind dense clouds. If there was ever a time to feel sorry for yourself, this was it.

Driving through deserted highways in the middle of the night is not my favorite, but Dickens kept me company and the two other vehicles I had shared the ferry with were going my way, so I focused on keeping up with them. There was a strange sense of loss when each of them eventually split off to their own destinations. I was bound for Havelock, NC, a small town about 30 minutes away from the popular attractions with lower prices to match.

I powered through nature preserves and neighborhoods without incident, and arrived at the Days Inn shortly before midnight. Got to sleep around 1 am.

Not a gorgeous place by any means, but quiet and safe enough for a place to crash and shower. I don’t understand how most hotels seem to have such a smell about them. A cross between stale smoke and I don’t know what… that odd uninhabited aroma. Anyway, it had the best bed; nice and firm with an assortment of pillows so you can pick the one you like best.

I slept until 9 (a miracle for me), antsy to get out and do it all again.

Day 2 stats:

Miles covered: 250ish (on the road) + 2 ferry rides
Disappointments: 3
Delights: um, about a hundred
Chapters: 10

Next stop… Charleston!

Delights and Disappointments

In which I discover that driving “within sound” of the ocean is pretty much negated by the rush of air you create when you go above, say, 5 miles an hour.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. What a world the Lord has made. I mean, look:

Mirlo Beach, NC

Multiple bridges, two ferry rides, and a few hundred miles later, I am still so enjoying this tour of the Atlantic coast. A little disappointed that the water is so infrequently visible – even where there are no buildings, sand dunes and trees block much of the view. But then the sudden glimpses of blue that come upon you are all the more exciting.

Plus there are some pretty fantastic bridges.

Day 2 got me into North Carolina pretty quickly, and before I had much time to think about it I was in Kitty Hawk. The weather was perfect; the traffic, nonexistent. It was a blast.

Signs for Roanoke Island lured me away from my main route to pursue some history and education. The notion of this ‘lost colony’ is intriguing, and the bridge from the outer banks to the island was magnificent.

This just doesn’t do justice

The lost colony exhibit was a bit of a drag, unfortunately. Maybe I’m just spoiled living near Washington DC, where we know how to present these things. What I found was an ‘earthen fort’ – basically a man-made sand dune circling a flag. It looked like a toy.

The effect was not enhanced by a sign directing visitors not to climb on the earthen walls because they are ‘fragile’.

Somewhat less than desirable for a fort.

I hunted around for an hour and gave up to google it later. Here’s the gist:

Fort Raleigh logoOn these small wooded grounds lie many stories of families and their struggles that have continued through time, resulting in the creation of a nation and its people. Here, the first infant cries of English colonization in the New World (1584-1590) burst upon the world.
These efforts, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, ended with the disappearance of 116 men, women and children, including two that were born in the New World. The fate of this “lost colony” remains one of the world’s great mysteries.
(National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov)

The long drive through Hatteras was peaceful and mindless. There’s only one road on the island, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Civilization is slight and well spaced, but I did get to witness a bunch of people kite surfing off the edge of the island opposite the ocean. I’ve never seen that before.

Welcome to Mirlo Beach?

The clouds rolled over the sun as I continued south and the empty beaches of the Hatteras nature preserve seemed forlorn. I stopped at one of the rare inhabited portions of the island to stretch and look at the water.

Quiet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing how it can be so warm outside and so frigid in the water!

 

I was a little nervous about the ferry, having never done it before. Can you imagine, all these years alive on the earth and never driving onto a ferry boat? Well, that is all behind us.

 

My feet got so swollen from driving!

The ferryman was very friendly and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. That was heartening, and I drove confidently onto the boat behind a Honda Element. There’s something comical about that car.

Five minutes into our voyage the raindrops fell.   The weather flipped back and forth and mixed all the rest of the way, between sun, showers and both. You can kind of see from the picture what a weirdly mixed up sky it was.

But then this happened.

It went from end to end, all across the sky.

Travelogue – The Road Trip Begins

In which the fun begins with surprise tolls and some crazy bridges.

Chesapeake Bay bridge

18 miles over water… do you hear angels?

My plane landed at BWI right on schedule, but due to some thunderstorms the airport had shuffled planes around to different gates. This left us sitting on the ground for nearly an hour, which I didn’t mind nearly as much as my fellow passengers. Probably because I kept falling asleep.

We stumbled off the plane around 1 am, and by then the Red Roof Inn shuttles were not picking up. At this time, I reflected that it would have been nice of them to point this out on their websiteBut I guess I looked helpless enough, because another shuttle driver took pity on me and offered to dropped me off on his way to delivering another passenger.

As we looped around the airport looking for her, I eagerly described my plans for the week. In kindness to my benefactor, I will refrain from posting his response, but basically he found the question of my sanity highly suspect.

The BWI Red Roof Inn is a recently updated accommodation, each room opening to the outdoors. I felt quite safe, even though I was rolling to my room around 2 am.

We bonded.

Monday came at me quicker than was probably healthy, but I was so eager to get going I didn’t care. The very friendly shuttle driver helped me get to the Avis counter, where I was outfitted with a Hyundai Elantra.

I quickly depopulated my suitcase of the 20 or so CDs I had packed, and aimed for the rising sun. The weather was perfect, the traffic nonexistent. What a great day for a road trip!

About 25 miles in to my journey, I came to a toll. Coming out of the toll plaza, I started going up. And up, and up and up. Without warning, I had come to the Chesapeake Bay, which meant I was now crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is a very high bridge with lots and lots of water underneath it.

I yelled.

It was super fun, scary, and awesome. Like a roller coaster, except I was the one driving it. I guess all the excitement was just too much for somebody, because on the way back down, traffic came to a halt behind a stopped vehicle. Eventually a police car stopped traffic in the other lane so we could all get by. I was supremely grateful that this occurred on the lower part of the bridge rather than its highest point.

Most of Maryland passed by uneventfully. Route 13 took me through lots of green and leafy surroundings, punctuated here and there with little bitty towns. It felt quite rural, though I was only an hour or so from the airport. I was making my way through a full audio recording of ‘Great Expectations’, and the Dickensian narrative suited my quiet drive.

My first stopping place was Chincoteague Island in Virginia, which meant I had to leave 13 and hang a left on 175 (which I missed until about 10 miles later, but what are U-turns for?). The drive to the island was the best part of that detour – a fresh, cool breeze off the marsh that lines the two-lane highway.

Come back in the spring!

I’m disappointed to say that Chincoteague did not make much of an impression on me apart from the lovely drive and the quaint little houses of Church Street. But this could be partly attributed to timing.

I had multiple failed attempts to find a place for lunch, since three of the four restaurants I tried were closed. The café is only open for breakfast. J&B’s only works Wednesday to Sunday (this was a Monday). Another place claimed it was ‘closed til spring’.

I only mention this because it means I lost a lot of time driving around looking for food, when I could rather have been exploring the charming little town where people ride bicycles from one end to the other and a lot of the houses look like this:

      

And I thought this was amusing:

…and quite possibly the only one.

I walked around a bit and browsed the shops, but I really didn’t catch Chincoteague at its finest. I have a feeling the number of folks riding bikes will multiply once school lets out. And if you crop your photos just right, the water looks quite inviting.

That’s 175 you see in the background

Then on to Virginia Beach! I’ve been here before, but not like this. Coming down 13 puts you right on the path to an unsettling toll ($12 if you please) and this gem:

One of the more impressive engineering feats on the East Coast is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, which opened in 1964 at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and was effectively doubled in 1997 by the addition of an extra set of driving lanes. Almost 18 miles long … the structure consists of one high-level bridge, two deep tunnels, four islands, and many miles of raised causeway.

Pretty! Oh, it was so cool.

As the sun was setting I made a quick stop at the beach before heading to Rita’s to meet my friends Tessa and Abigail, who obliged me with a quick catch-up and Rita’s famous Italian ice/frozen custard. The day ended around midnight at Abi’s house.

Virginia Beach

The bank of hotels and resorts against the glow of the setting sun.

Day 1 stats:
Miles covered: 327.5
Thrilling visions encountered: 2
Chapters ‘read’: 9

Next stop… OBX!

I’m Going Nowhere and I’m Only Taking My Time

In which I embark on a 10-day, multi-destination road trip fraught with danger and uncertainty. I mean, how will I know if I packed enough books?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since I read it about it in Jamie Jensen’s Road Trip USA seven or eight years ago – a drive down the Atlantic coast by way of scenic two-lane highways and picturesque little fishing villages.

If your impressions of the East Coast come from driving along the I-95 corridor through nearly nonstop urban and industrial sprawl, following our Atlantic Coast route will open your eyes to a whole other world.

Yes, that has been precisely my impression, I thought when I read that. I-95 is a blessing as a means to an end. If you have somewhere to go it is the quickest way to get there. But wouldn’t it be fun to take a trip in which the trip is the destination, and it’s nowhere in particular I’m in a hurry to get to?

So sometime in February I determined this would be my year. The coastal route goes all the way from the tip top of New Jersey down to the southernmost point of Key West, with lots of intriguing stops along the way. Somewhat confined by time and cash, I chose to start in Maryland and travel down through Chincoteague.

By way of Chincoteague

The only issue was timing. A good road trip can really be enhanced or detracted from by two factors: weather and traffic. If I went too early in the year, it would be chilly most of the way. If I waited too late, I would run into vacationers gunning en masse for the beach.

I settled on late April, the week after spring break for elementary kids. As this happened to be the week after a planned trip to Saint Louis to visit my dear friend Lina Gentry and her husband Owen, I include Saint Louis in my road trip adventure.

The itinerary:

Thurs-Sun: Saint Louis, MO
Sun: Fly back to BWI
Mon: Drive to Virginia Beach, VA (by way of Chincoteague)
Tue: Drive to Morehead City, NC (by way of OBX)
Wed: Drive to Charleston, SC (by way of Ocean Isle Beach, NC)
Thurs: Drive to Orlando, FL (by way of Midway, GA)
Fri: Drive to Key West, FL (by way of Homestead and the Coral Castle)
Sat: Drive to Miami and fly home

One carry-on suitcase for ten days at large, including Good Friday and Easter services, cool rainy weather, six days in a car, beach attire, and super humid hotness. It was a challenge I was willing to meet.

Wanting to get the most out of my six days on the road, and not being a fan of redundancy in general, I chose to rent a car for the drive, then fly back at the end. This was the smartest thing I did out of the whole week.

I planned on about 5 to 7 hours of driving each day, which I hoped would allow for any hiccups in the route and still give some wiggle room to explore. I had a few landmarks in mind, but mostly just wanted to be open to whatever caught my fancy.

So Thursday evening I flew out of Reagan National Airport into Lambert-St. Louis to be joyfully reunited with my friend. I have only seen her twice since she moved to Missouri three years ago, and one of those was at her wedding.

Lina kept me entertained with all the local interests. We went to the top of the Arch, wandered around the art museum at Forest Park, and enjoyed the botanical gardens, thanks to a couple of umbrellas from Dollar General.

Escaping the rain

It was a really sweet time to be with her, and to get to know Owen, who I had only met once and that was at their wedding! He is a really special guy, and I’m so happy that they are together.

The Gentrys

We had a few adventures while I was there. The Friday night church service was serenaded by tornado sirens throughout. I was assured that someone was monitoring the weather, and we would adjourn to the basement if need be.

We made it through unscathed, but the airport did not. All flights canceled until further notice! Well, what was this going to do to my road tripping plans?

Nothing, as it turned out. The Saint Louis airport was cleaned up in a hurry and as of Saturday evening, some flights were making it out.  My flight for Sunday evening was delayed 20 minutes, but otherwise I was unaffected. If you haven’t seen the video from the storm, it’s pretty wild. I had just been there 24 hours prior:

St. Louis Airport Tornado

Praise God for his grace and protection thus far. Next stop… Baltimore!