There are a few key ingredients needed for a successful road trip – Patience. Determination. A sense of adventure. Good music. I’ve always enjoyed road trips much more than flights. You have the opportunity to see parts of the country that only a few may experience if you know where to look. Back roads provide a window into the history and development of rural America that has been lost in the age of cheap flights and fast travel. If you take those ingredients and plan your road trip around them, the veritable amount of treasures you will discover is incredible. Every abandoned farm, vine covered and long shuttered tells a story. Each business with its dust stained windows and antiquated signs is a tale of change. Something not visible from 30,000 feet.
With a “short” drive of only six and a half hours ahead of me, I planned my route with those aspects in mind. I departed the sunny skies of Florida with bated breath, the horrors of my first camping excursion still fresh in my mind, and began to mentally prepare myself for any mishaps that came with my next challenge. The destination was Sumter National Forest in western South Carolina, an environment wholly different from my last few days of bright skies and sandy beaches. Hugging the coast along 95 until Savannah, I started pulling west away from the truck stops and towns that dot the interstate bound for lost ideas and forgotten towns.
Farmlands mixed with sleepy towns of no more than a thousand people for hours on end greeted me as a pushed further into my trip. The drive was absolute serenity. No worries of semi’s with their sleepy eyed drivers swerving into me or traffic when they swerved into someone else, I felt a thrill of just being able to enjoy the drive itself. Outside of the scenery, however, lay remnants of the old ideals that have so long permeated southern culture. Growing up in rural southeast Texas, I am well accustomed to the evils of racial ideologies and the damages they have wrought. I was fortunate to escape that at a young age, but the density of it all came rushing back, interrupting the allure this detour carried.
Once the initial wave of confederate flags had subsided, I continued towards the sweet sound of nature and isolation. I had arrived at my destination – Whitmire South Carolina at the Enoree Ranger Station to pick up my dispersed camping permit and get tips about the forest and camp locations. (Pro tip: Dispersed camping is free in all federally protected lands, but please get a permit and don’t ruin it for the rest of us. The rangers can also give you advice on where to go and what to avoid.) After settling the paperwork and receiving my permit, I set off to the location the ranger had recommended; a topographically diverse area in the northern part of the forest where I could be alone and uninterrupted. Unfortunately I had no cell signal (and therefore no GPS) and had to resort to dusting off my map reading skills and navigating the landscape the old fashioned way.
Once I found a suitable place to park my car, I packed out, grabbed the pooch, and started my trek toward the Broad River. After 30 minutes of hiking and searching, I realized there were no viable points of access to the river, something very necessary since I carry a light amount of water and focus more on collecting as necessary during my trips. I regrouped, studied my map, and located a secondary location at Neal’s Shoal. With canoe access and a hydroelectric dam, I knew I would be in a good spot. I pulled up, collected my water for the night/morning, and found a nice spot on top of a hill just off the river. The second attempt at setting up camp went much smoother, with my tent going up on the first try, getting my food secured off the ground, and even starting a fire to light the area as the sun started to set.
After my camp was set, I hung my clothes to dry (I’m convinced I will be sweaty every time I set up camp) and retired to my tent for the evening, only interjected with a moment of beating my chest accompanied by a primal yell for my accomplishments. I woke up to the sunrise, panic attack free, and made a nice little breakfast of oats with dried fruit and nuts and packed my day bag ready to explore a bit until I found a beautiful spot by the river to hang my hammock and read some Kerouac because I’m a walking cliche sometimes. Delilah wasn’t having any of the hiking however, so my explorations were kept to a minimum. We drove around the forest a bit, exploring dirt roads that looked like they hadn’t been touched in months. I was entranced by the beauty of the forest and it’s creatures. Whitetails bounding with grace and turkeys, well, being turkeys. Every morning I was greeted with songbirds, and every night I was lulled off by the choir of cicadas singing their opus. It was a paradise lost to the fog of memory, but one I was glad to be reintroduced into. The only real trouble I experienced was on my last night’s dinner. I made a commitment to myself to make dried beans from scratch and, after 4 long hours of soaking and simmering, lost it all in a very Lumpy Space Princess moment as the pot tipped and spilled all my hard work in the dirt. What little remained were the saddest tasting beans ever consumed.
I awoke the next morning to a feeling of sadness about leaving this tranquil slice of the world, and an eagerness to see what awaited me next. With all my belongings packed, I took one last look across the river at the scene I had been blessed to experience, and set out to North Carolina. As I crossed the state lines, the landscape began to shift from soft rolling hills into the true nature of the Appalachians. The highway winding in and out, and up and down through the mountains was a new experience to me. I have been in cars traversing mountain passes, but never driven them, and especially never in a car with a manual transmission. The drive was as beautiful as it was treacherous. Semis littering the highway, constant stop and go traffic, and the challenge of constantly adjusting gears took almost all of my focus, but the scenery was not lost on me. I had to fight my eyes from wandering upon the sheer beauty of what I was witnessing.
I had finally arrived in Asheville after what seemed like an eternity of white knuckle driving. Cresting the last climb and seeing this city, I now realize why everyone who has visited has fallen in love with it. Comparing it to Austin, however, doesn’t even begin to describe this place. Although the vibe and mentality are very akin to my homes capitol, the landscape and appeal go unchallenged in my travels so far. I’ve been here for one day so far, with one more to go and I can’t wait to continue exploring the beauty this place has to offer.
With that, I must depart for now. There is too much to see and do, and so very little time to do it. This won’t be my last visit to this beautiful little city however, and I encourage any who have the opportunity to come experience Asheville for yourself.
As a final note: I am trying to kickstart a new Twitter campaign with #takeapiece. The goal is to work in conjunction with Leave No Trace and start taking preventative measures against trash in our national parks and forests. If you find yourself in a beautiful landscape that has been made ugly by others negligence, post a picture of yourself cleaning up some trash and tag me on Twitter under @driftinginthesun with that hashtag. My hope is that we can make this go viral and start being proactive in keeping our planet beautiful. I look forward to your posts!