For the first two weeks of our trip, we’re driving. We flew to Atlanta and rented a car, and now we get to drive. Believe me, coming from an island with a small road system, that’s a joy (and another example of how something you do every day and complain about becomes a treat when it’s no longer your norm…I posted about driving here).
Growing up I did a lot of road trips. My mom and dad were the king and queen of long cross-country drives, and like many kids of my generation, I put in a lot of hours in a station wagon filled to the brim with parents, children, all the stuff needed for summer car trips, food, and our assorted souvenirs. Then, it was just the way we traveled. I was along for the ride, often with my face buried in a book, I’m sorry to say. It was great for the reader in me, not so good for the views and scenery I missed.
However, I grew up and grew wiser, and now, I hardly ever read when we drive. I don’t want to miss anything, or if I do, it’s because Rob is driving and I’ve been lulled to sleep by the motion of the car, my second favorite way to nap (first favorite being curled up in front of a fire).
We drove up through Georgia, cut across North Carolina, and into Tennessee. We’re spending a few days between family visits nestled into a lodge in the Smoky Mountains. This is part vacation, part retreat for us.
This is not the most scenic time of year to visit this region of the country, and yet it is beautiful too.
It is quieter than summer, when tourists are everywhere. The mountains are softer, rounder, and more thickly covered than the Rockies where we lived for so many years. The winding roads are well maintained, with frequent pull outs for photo taking opportunities and vista viewing. There are picnic spots and trailheads inviting us to get out of the car and explore. The weather warms up enough by afternoon to make this enjoyable. Old homesteads and relics of the past tell the story of the native Americans and early pioneers who made a home in these mountains. The place names are lyrical: Cades Cove and Cataloochee Valley; Clingmans Dome and Newfound Gap. My favorite thing is spotting something intriguing as we drive, feeling the compulsion to pull over, check it out. Sometimes you hit the jackpot, sometimes not. It’s the surprise factor that adds the most fun.
We divide our days between drives, and time spent almost exclusively snug inside our retreat. We have a condo at a lodge, and with a fireplace, internet access, a king-size bed, and simple food, we don’t have to go out, unless we choose to. The person checking us in was eager to share information about tourist attractions in the area. I had a hard time containing myself, listening politely as I thought, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with here!” We are not tourists looking for the latest attractions. No, we like natural or historic settings best, and those are the ones we’ll stop for, or go looking for. Otherwise, we’re perfectly content to just be.
These are our gifts to ourselves…driving, toward a destination, or wandering aimlessly, allowing for the serendipitious…and time…no schedule to meet, no projects to mind, no commitments to fulfill.
Can’t think of a better way to vacation!