November/December 2002

Wheeled Migration

Wandering South from North Carolina to Florida

Or, to paraphrase Horace Greeley, Go South Young Man, Go South

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We’re really into Fall now. We find ourselves following the migrating birds as they move south.  However, as we left West Virginia a few weeks ago, looking for adventure and more fall color, it was still warm and lovely.  We had many balmy days and pleasant, heater-less, nights. 

We can sure tell we’re back in the South. We’re back in the land of:  traffic jams; Chick-fil-A; y’all and soft voices; huge car dealerships, bank buildings, and roadside signage; year-round roadside wildflowers; and towns filled with stately trees.   This is also the land of the named road:  Solon David Smart Memorial Highway and Sgt. W. Dean Arledge Memorial Highway, to name but two of the multitudes.  They even name their bridges:  Peter Guice Memorial Bridge, would you believe!  And we are surrounded by kudzu.  There is still some cotton in the fields, although probably not for long.

We’ve enjoyed the Appalachian Mountains and wonderful fall color, crossing back and forth across the Blue Ridge Parkway, and up and down hill and dale through cute little towns like Cashiers and Brevard, each filled with “leaf peepers” having a ball.  And a special treat:  we journeyed through Gaffney, South Carolina, where the water tower is shaped and colored like a giant peach.

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We left our friends in Raleigh at last, all wishing we’d had more time together but knowing we’d be back.  We beat feet back to the western North Carolina mountains, to enjoy highland games in the small town of Flat Rock.  It was fun and we enjoyed ourselves.  They had a really cool bagpipe band, sheep dog demonstrations, great Scottish food, and huge guys with great legs throwing enormous things around in a field.  Very crazy.  The weather was clear and sunny, but colder than the devil.  It was only the second year this group had put on a festival and they weren’t too well organized, but everyone had fun and there was a good turnout.  Probably the most interesting part was the calling of the clans; each clan represented (and there were 10-15) paraded past the reviewing stage while the history of the clan was read out. That was really neat.

The fall color in Flat Rock was impressive, but when we left, we headed south into northern Georgia, and there the color was absolutely fantastic.  We really felt we’d arrived.  We spent two weeks at a small, rural campground in the mountains north of Atlanta, about 2000 feet up, at the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, just up the road from Turnip Town Creek.  It was glorious: winding little roads, beautiful trees, quaint towns to browse in, tons of apple orchards and roadside stands, and friendly people more than happy to help.  And the motorcycle riding was just about perfect.

Oh yeah, and they had ladybugs.  And more ladybugs.  The charming little rascals were swarming, and we had them everywhere.  Our coach was in a fairly good spot, but some people said they were killing hundreds every day.  It was very cold at night, sometimes below freezing; but as the sun would come out and it would get nicer, they would wake up and start swarming again.  Everyone spent hours vaccuming them up.  A lively spot!

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This was the first time we’d spent two weeks without moving, and we wondered how we’d like it.  It was just fine.  We know we need to slow down; we cannot go romping back and forth and up and down lickety-split forever; we need to set a much slower pace.  So this was a good start. 

We took a day’s ride over to one of the most famous of the Civil War battlefields, at least in the South:  Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Battlefield.  This is the site of a pretty hairy battle over several days in heavily wooded terrain.  The area is lovely and has been maintained much as it was at the time of the fight.  We enjoyed ourselves very much.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot: we’ve had another mouse.  Now, you might think that since we also have two cats, a mouse would be no big thing.  Hah!  For a couple of days we’d thought there might be one in the coach; the cats were attentive and I’d heard some rattling noises.  All of a sudden he appeared.  He scurried, Jeremy pounced, and the mouse was caught.  Yay, for about two seconds.  Jeremy dropped him and tried to bat him around.  The mouse scurried; Jeremy pounced (round two), and the mouse was caught.  Repeat step one.  Then scurry, pounce and catch.  And drop again.  By this time Agnes has (finally) figured out she probably should be seeing what’s going on.  She gets in Jeremy’s way, and he loses the mouse again.  The mouse is behind the toilet doing the peek around one side at a time routine, there is a cat around each side when he looks, and Rick is now on floor with container to try and trap mouse.  Mouse is no fool; mouse departs for new territory; and that was the end of that.

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We finally left this piece of heaven and headed further down into the state of Georgia.  A fun state.  The people are more seriously Southern in their speech than we’ve previously encountered.  I find myself nodding politely a lot of the time, totally clueless.  Tried to have a discussion about the weather with one fellow; we finally both gave up and just wished each other a happy day and good traveling. 

We moved south through Atlanta on a quiet Sunday morning.  Atlanta is notorious for its “spaghetti” freeway system, but we had no problems.  We settled for a few days in mid-Georgia in a campground in the middle of a pecan grove.  The countryside here is quite flat, filled with peach and pecan orchards interspersed with peanut farms.  We weren’t far from Plains and Jimmy Carter.  As with much of the South, the area is a mixture of prosperous and poor, a combination of nice if not special houses next to shabby mobile homes with junk cars in the yards.   We bought pecans, and I’ve made the most wonderful pie.  We’ll come back for peaches some summer. 

We did do some riding around to see stuff.  Country roads were in good condition, although sometimes you’d come around a corner and your road had turned to dirt.  Never fear, near at hand would be another, paved road.  We had fun.  In the South, every small town square will have something in the middle; often it’s a courthouse, but it also could be a water tower; we’ve circled around a few of those as well.  We also went through a wide spot in the road called Kathleen, Unincorporated; it made me feel special.

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It took us two separate trips to see everything at the aviation museum at Fort Robins Air Force Base, about 45 miles away.   For two people who don’t even particularly like to fly, we both enjoy aviation museums a lot.  Just the same as we like maritime museums.  This was the biggest one yet, with some really cool displays inside along with lots of planes scattered around the grounds.  All the way from biplanes to an SR-71 Blackbird, with a B-29 and B-52 highlighting the rest.  Rick got to see two of the planes he had traveled in while he was in Viet Nam.

Our goal for Thanksgiving was the Gulf Coast area in southern Alabama, and that’s where we headed next.  So get out your maps, folks.  To get from mid-Georgia to the Mobile area, the best way is to go due south into Alabama and then cut across a corner of the Florida panhandle; so we did.  You bip in and out of Florida rather quickly, using the Ga-Fla Parkway (charming name).  We passed through Warwick, GA, home of the National Grits Festival, along the Willie Pitts Jr. Parkway through Albany, then onto the Peter Zack Geer Highway and the Harvey Jordan Memorial Highway (for the 17th time: where do they find these people??) past the bait shop in Blakely that sells crickets – and ice cream too. And Blakely is the town with the peanut monument in the courthouse square. They’re still harvesting pecans and cotton in this area, and the peanut cooperatives are busy. 

0211-Boll Weevil Monument 01

Crossing into Alabama over the Chattahoochee River, the land starts to open up into rolling hills, and we are beginning to see some swamps. The roads are still good, and we continue to see dirt roads right off the main highway (true throughout the South).  We passed through Opp and a little burg, Level Plains, which had a sign pointing to the business district -- a flea market.  We took pictures of a monument to the boll weevil in Enterprise.  You may know that cotton was wiped out in the south shortly after the turn of the (20th) century because of the boll weevil.  Enterprise is credited with being one of the most forward looking spots in the entire south, trying various kinds of crops until they found things that could thrive in their soil, peanuts being the best.  So they erected a monument to the critter that taught them they needed to diversify.  We spent the night in Enterprise.  It was just  before the Alabama/Auburn game.  There were competing red shirts and jackets everywhere.  It was a hoot.

We had directed ourselves toward Enterprise because we knew there was an Army Aviation Museum on the grounds of Fort Rucker, nearby.  So we stopped there.  This was the first time we’d stopped to see something where we actually went on base to do so.  West Point, Fort Robins, etc. were just next to the military grounds.  And we were really frisked:  they looked inside the coach (including the refrigerator and our clothes drawers), had us open up the trailer, etc.  But they finally let us through the checkpoint, and we went on to the museum.  It was full of helicopters, including a Chinook, which Rick also had been flown in while overseas.  This was much smaller than the Air Force museum at Fort Robins, but was also very well presented and included beautiful examples of several WWI fighters, along with examples of military helicopters starting with the earliest ones all the way up to the most current Apaches.

As you head due south from Alabama, across the Florida panhandle, and then west along the Gulf Coast into Alabama again, you see places to go for turkey shoots, you can buy Cajun boiled peanuts (why?), you pass palm trees and swamps, and finally emerge onto the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay.  This is a nice area to settle in for a while, which we did.  We were near Mobile, and have been to see the USS Alabama, an enormous battleship. It’s a great place to visit and we had a good time.  We were also about 35 miles from Pensacola, home of the Naval Air Station and excellent Naval Aviation Museum, on the schedule for during our time here. 

It was cold at night, even though we were right off the Gulf, but nice enough during the day to sit outside when sunny.  We worked on projects and visited the area.  We had a quiet Thanksgiving, and shortly afterwards moved on into Florida, where we finished out the year.

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We spent some time thinking about the year that we were completing:  where we’d been, and what had given us pleasure.  A whole year out there rolling around.  It has been wonderful and adventurous, full of new sights.  If we had known then what we know now, there are a few things we might have done differently, but we wouldn’t trade our experiences for anything.

We have covered about 21,000 miles in the coach, and another 19,000 on the motorcycles.  We’ve crossed the country three times, visited thirty-one states and three Canadian provinces.  We’ve followed the wildflowers north in the spring and summer, and chased fall color this autumn.  We’ve made many new friends, and hope to see them again and again over the years.

We’ve found our United States to be filled with very different kinds of people -- and we think that’s great.  Everything we have heard about Americans being one homogenized group of people is simply untrue.  Accents and attitudes are only the most obvious differences.  And we love those differences!  Grits and sweetened ice tea; maple syrup and jam; apples off the tree; pineapples cut in the field across the way; small New England villages where all the streets circle around the town square; this is just a start.  America is a pretty cool country.

We particularly love small town America!  We’ve been in and out of a zillion little burgs this last year.  Some of them are truly charming and lovely.  They are full of well preserved, old homes, many times with an American flag waving out in front; many, many have been converted to B&Bs, often with whimsical names describing the main attraction in the area.  The trees in the front yards are huge; the churches are white, with tall-tall-tall steeples; the town square has a splendid courthouse that’s at least 150 years old.  And there are no parking meters.

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But we also have a fondness for those small towns that haven’t that sparkle; the homes may not be sporting recent paint jobs, the center of town isn’t quite so lovely and lively, and Wal-Mart has forced the closing of many a small shop.  But these are still working towns, getting the job done, without all us tourists spending our dollars buying the latest piece of kitsch. 

I have fond memories of these work-a-day towns; they have nice big laundromats that get used – a lot – and we’re there joining in.  So here I am, meeting and greeting and mixing with mid-America on Saturday morning as we swish the suds.  Actually, it’s kind of fun.  Rick wanders off to do something else, although he’d be happy to help me if I wanted him to, and I’m left exchanging stories with the locals.   

What’s the most fun is when they find out we hail from California.  You always get a story of when they were “out there”, or about someone they know who moved there.  You might be very surprised at the high opinion most people have of our funky home state.  They don’t see all the problems we know California has, or the silly kids wearing more metal than a 5-star general (and fewer clothes than a hooker).  To them, California sparkles.  We are often asked why we would leave there to come see their area.  We do our best to explain, but often think they don’t really believe us.

Thinking back we cannot even begin to single out 2002’s most special sight, the most treasured moment.  Everywhere we go we find sights that are pleasing to the eye and experiences that delight and enrich us.  But here are a few favorites:

  • Food –   Corn: A small stand run by a couple of college kids outside Halifax, Nova Scotia; Pizza:  New York Pizza and Pasta in Naples, FL;  Produce stand:  Temple Citrus in Naples; Pie:  Key Lime pie near the entrance to Everglades NP;  Restaurant:  Sparks Eatery, Mesick, MI; Preserves:  Cooper Family Preserves we got at Sparks Eatery

  • Wildflowers:  Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia

  • Gardens:  Many places in Canada; best of the best was the city park in Halifax

  • Music Festival: Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival, Gettysburg, PA

  • Campgrounds: Prettiest Location & Overall:  Graves Island Provincial Park south of Halifax, Nova Scotia; Honorable Mention ‘cause we can’t leave it out: Babcock State Park, WV

  • View: Sunset at L’Anse Township Park, on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

  • Roads: New York State and West Virginia

  • Scenic Drives:  A tie from too many choices -- County roads in North Georgia east and west of Cherry Log; West Virginia roads around the New River Gorge; Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia; Lake George, NY

  • Museums:  Another tie -- The Maritime Museum in Newport News, VA; the Great Lake Shipwreck Museum, Whitefish Point, MI; the Wyeth Center at the Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, ME

  • Most Charming Small Town:  Lewisburg, WV

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018