Road Trip V, Days 24-28, Celo, NC to Dallas: The Coolness of Discovering State Parks You’ve Never Heard Of

The real joy of road trips is discovery. The Mate and I travel with camping gear and all our various outdoor layers–a sort of mini, mobile REI–so that even if the weather discourages us from camping, it can’t keep us off the hiking trails or bike paths.

In the past few days we were lucky enough to discover two cool “green spots” in places where our expectations of scenery were low. (Face it, we’re hopeless west coast scenery snobs.) But here we were pleasantly surprised.
#1: Chickasaw State Park in southwest Tennessee. We were going to be pulling in late, plus it was our anniversary, so we sprung for a cabin. Not only was it cheap, the site was lovely.

Our cabin, seen from across the lake

Our cabin, seen from across the lake

There were only four miles of hiking trails, but for a quick stop, that was just the ticket, and we left feeling like we’d be happy to come back and camp.

Cypress knees are so cool!

Cypress knees are so cool!

Cute little old lodge we didn't stay at.

Cute little old lodge we didn’t stay at.

My western soul misses these eastern flowers--blunts, or Quaker Ladies.

My western soul misses these eastern flowers–blunts, or Quaker Ladies.

#2: Mount Magazine State Park in western Arkansas. This one had a little more hype, in that our giant atlas noted it as Arkansas’ highest point. We looked at photos on the web and figured, well, those are probably the three views they have up there, but let’s go take a look. Boy, were we impressed.

Beautiful bluffs in the clouds

Beautiful bluffs in the clouds

The view from our room--imagine it on a clear day!!

The view from our room–imagine it on a clear day!!

This time our weather luck deteriorated; it was 39 and raining when we got up there. Their cabins were pricey, so we opted for the lodge–much more than we usually spend, but very comparable to national park prices. And they’d captured that national park lodge New Deal-era architecture perfectly, with giant posts and beams. We felt both spoiled and right at home.

Highest poi? The Mate makes me laugh.

Highest poi? The Mate makes me laugh.

Moral of this story? Keep your eye on those green spots. Sometimes you don’t have to go far from the freeway to feel very far away.

Got your own special green spot? Some overlooked place that shouldn’t be? Please share.

Road Trip V, Days 12-14, Cookeville, TN-Asheville, NC: Counting Blessings

I realize that the topic of traffic accidents may be painful to some, so—fair warning. We just walked away from one, and I want to write about it.

For the record, I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in separate auto crashes (the former, before I was born; the latter, when I was fifteen). But I’m willing to bet most families can list one or more members lost that way. There’s a reason so many of us sign off our conversations and emails, “Drive safely!”

The Mate and I were heading east on I-40 in the middle of Tennessee in a blinding rainstorm. We had just stopped for a satisfying bike ride (Mate) and run (me) on a rail-trail along the Cumberland River outside Nashville. (For most folks, Nashville = Grand Ol’ Opry. For the Wings, Nashville–or any other city–= “Where do y’all keep your bike paths?”) We had changed into dry clothes, and were looking forward to an arrival in Knoxville early enough that we might even take in a movie. I was on the iPad, checking dinner options.

Both of us noticed that Red Rover felt a little…squiggly. I tapped on the iPad. The Mate drove.

Suddenly, crossing a bridge over a flooded creek, Red Rover was skidding sideways. Her left rear slammed into the concrete divider, bouncing us back across the freeway with such force that the right-side slam spun us 180 degrees. When the entire slo-mo sequence ended, we sat staring the oncoming traffic in the face from the safety of the shoulder.

Of course it wasn’t safe. I was convinced that the next second would bring another car, or one of those semis, hydroplaning right through our windshield. But Red Rover re-started, and after only a few moments–though it felt endless–the traffic parted enough for The Mate to do a U-turn and rejoin the eastern flow.

~A rest area appeared in the next two miles.
~A nice man inside showed us on a map where we could find a good mechanic in the next town, Cookeville.
~Red Rover showed barely a scratch.
~The Mate and I suffered only shaky knees.
~Cookeville was 20 miles away. We spent that drive marveling at our blessings.

I won’t bore you with the details of what we learned from the mechanic about the probable cause of our skid. Suffice to say we’ll be visiting a Subaru dealer when we get to my hometown, Durham. And our poor ol’ bike rack needs some first aid. But this post is about blessings.

We were able to drive away from an accident that could have killed us in several different ways. We were able to afford new tires, and a night in a motel a little nicer than our usual Super-8 level. (They gave us milk and warm cookies when we checked in.) I posted about our accident on Facebook and received dozens of caring responses. The next day we drove safely out from under Winter Storm Thor and made it to the home of our friends in Asheville, who spoil us rotten.

"Goin' back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul..."

“Goin’ back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul…”

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

At this point, all I can do is borrow from Anne Lamott one of her three favorite prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”*

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(*Lamott’s other two prayers are, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Oh, wow.” I’ve borrowed those plenty too.)

What else is there to say?