…and heading for home! I visited the wonderful Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, today, September 17, 2018, and then, after some self-debate, just decided to book it home to 88-87-90-290-495-2-and finally 231 Elsinore. An easy trek eastward; unlike most of my trip, these are all roads I’ve traveled before. This is my last post of new, wonderful, different places that I have had the incredible good fortune and blessing to acknowledge and bow down to since I departed on May 17 (still hard to believe). I am truly humbled to be a part of this amazing universe. Thanks to everyone who accompanied me on this journey. I have appreciated your thoughts, spirit, and comments — more than you know– along the way; when I felt alone and didn’t know where I would rest my head that night, your collective spirit and good wishes kept me going. I will be sending a few summary, fun blogs over the next week or so. After that, not so much. To all: new friends and old, please keep in touch. Look forward to seeing everyone soon. And, again, most of all, THANK YOU!! You have inspired me to keep this journey going!
Days: 124. States: 27. Miles: 23,312. ER visits: 1. Tick bites: 1 (that I know of). Flat tires: 1. Trips of 60+ miles to enjoy a piece of Juneberry pie: 1. Oil changes: 7. Rounds of golf: 3. Fish caught: 7. Hikes (1-mile plus): 26. Hikes (8-miles plus): 2. Boat rides: 4; ferries: 2. Nights camping: 46; nights camping under the stars: 1. Bugs (mosquitoes and otherwise): can’t provide an accurate number, but it was amazingly low. Favorite towns/cities (in no particular order): Dawson City, Harpers Ferry, Strasbourg, Luckenbach, Whitehorse, Fairbanks, Sequim, Santa Fe, Natchez, Oxford, Fredericksburg, Memphis, Moose Jaw, Waynesville, Ozona, Corning, Shingletown. There are many more. These are just the first few that come to mind.
National Parks visited: not sure, but definitely on the north side of 10. Favorite NP: All great, but Olympic National Park in Washington State stands out, and the person I met on the edge of the ONP, is why it gets the nod.
Cheers and warm wishes to all.
Jim Croce, a Pennsylvania singer-songwriter and favorite of my younger sister Jeannie, penned that song back in the ’70s. He’s also a favorite of mine and when I heard that song the other day in a little shop in North Carolina, it brought a smile to my face and tear to my eye. I would have loved to have shared these photographs and memories with her. I met son Brian yesterday in Harpers Ferry. I had passed by this historic site on numerous occasions, but never stopped. Go there if you get the chance. It is known mainly as the site where John Brown lit the fuse that ignited the War Between the States. But it is also home to much more: Merriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and Frederick Douglas are among the historic figures who have touched down there. And it also happens to be nestled in the beautiful confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. The Appalachian Trail runs straight through Harpers Ferry and crosses over the rivers and, on a hillside overlooking the town, you can attend a Sunday service at beautiful St. Peter’s Church. You can also visit a nearby cemetery where a marker and flag pay tribute to the first U.S. Marine killed in battle on U.S. soil. Washington, D.C., is only a short train ride away, but trains don’t run that frequently. Plan on staying overnight if you can and maybe visiting the welcoming Smoketown Brewery in nearby Brunswick, Maryland. If you do, please tell Lauren that Jim said hello!
At times in the past few weeks, it’s felt like that. The first 90-95 days of this trip have been wonderful… hot and dry at times, but overall, wonderful. The rainy and windy last few weeks not so much, with first, Hurricane Gordon, and now, Ms. Florence nipping at my heels. But no complaints; I just haven’t been able to camp out as I had hoped to do on my return trip. As I drove north today on 81 in Virginia, I saw a convoy of electrical repair pick-up trucks, perhaps 15-20, heading south to assist their brothers and sisters in North Carolina. Good stuff. This is what we have done — and continue to do for friends in need. I’ve spent the past few days with friends in western Carolina, hiking, learning about Raphael Guastavino and his amazing architectural work, and trying to outperform the amazing feats of some amazing quadrupeds. In regards to the latter, I failed miserably! Thoughts and prayers to my friends in Lawrence, Andover and North Andover.
The word the Cherokee used to describe the mountains that dominated their landscape was shaconage, meaning “blue, like smoke.” And following a rainstorm, a blue, mist-like haze envelops the mountains that we now call, appropriately enough, the Smokies. The Smokies are the dominant feature of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but as spectacular as the Smokies are, they are only part of a vast ecosystem that features an abundance of wildlife and an incredibly diverse hardwood forest, along with a variety of shrubs and wildflowers. You can approach and drive through the Smokies from several directions; I drove from Gatlinburg on Route 441 So., gaining an elevation of more than 5,000 feet and eventually crossing over from Tennessee into North Carolina. Later that day I pulled into Waynesville, found a great place to stay (the Oak Park Inn), had a good dinner at a local restaurant (Bogarts) and enjoyed chatting with a retired high school principal who has lived in the town for more than 40 years. The next day was about connections. Just by chance, I met a shop keeper in Waynesville who knows the parents of a friend of mine in Concord. Later on I reconnected with friends that I had met in Oregon back in July. They live in Black Mountain, just outside of Asheville, and had invited me to stop by if I happened to be passing by that way. I was…and I did. It was great to see them and share stories of the road. Black Mountain was also home to the Black Mountain School, known for its innovative approach to teaching. It was where Robert Creeley attended and later taught. He founded the Black Mountain Poetry Review and became one of this country’s leading 20th century poets. Creeley grew up in West Acton, Mass. This trip has been about people, places and connections, and I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them.
That might seem like a strange headline for someone who’s just left the bright lights of Nashville in their rear view mirror but, let’s face it, Nashville, as wonderful and vibrant as it is, is a city that pulses with a younger beat. And as much as I enjoyed it, a good, slightly-more-than-a-day there was plenty for me. While in Nashville, I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is currently featuring an outstanding exhibit titled Armadillos and Outlaws about the Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings musical break from Nashville to Austin in the early ’70s. The previous day I visited The National Military Park in Shiloh, Tennessee. During the Civil War, Tennessee, probably more so than any other state, was deeply divided as to its loyalties: it contributed more soldiers to the Confederacy than any other state except Virginia, but also contributed a large number of Union forces to the North. The army Grant led at Shiloh was named the Tennessee volunteers. But back to China… As I drove through Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (yes, that Pigeon Forge, home to Dolly Wood), in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains, I saw a sign proclaiming Acrobats of China. Earlier in the day, I clicked over 22,000 miles on my odometer since leaving Concord on May 17. The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles (yes, of course, I had to look that up), but thought, wow, that’s pretty cool. I could be in China now or, perhaps, even a little beyond. Maybe, I thought, I should just keep on going!
As the story goes, the world may never have heard of a young man named Elvis Aaron Presley were it not for Marion Keisner. A secretary at Sun Recording Studio in Memphis, she greeted Presley on a day in the mid-’50s when owner Sam Phillips was not there. She liked his recording but Phillips, who listened to it later, did not. Presley returned, however, for another session, this time with Phillips. He started singing soft ballads again and Phillips, looking for something more energetic, asked him to step it up a bit. The resulting “stepped-up” version of That’s All Right produced shock waves that are still felt to this day. A tour of Sun Studio and the impact it had on our music tells the story of Rock ‘n Roll in a fun, engaging way. Go to Graceland if you must (I did), but definitely stop by Sun Studio. A different kind of shock wave shattered our country on April 4, 1968, when gun shots ripped through the Memphis air and felled Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he was standing with friends on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. In the shadows of that motel on Mulberry St. has risen the National Civil Rights Museum. It devotes a good piece about King but goes well beyond; it’s a wonderful testament to the strength and struggles that embody what African Americans have endured over the years, and well worth a visit. The Rock ‘N Soul museum is also worth a visit, as is the beautiful Peabody Hotel. I didn’t catch the performance of the legendary ducks at the Peabody, but did enjoy a wonderful bourbon Manhattan, while reminiscing about sleeping under the stars in Utah. Memphis is an electric city, but it’s still working hard to create a better future.
I spent about two years or so mapping out my cross-country trip and, then, not more than 2-3 weeks into it, cast most of that planning aside. And it has worked well — with small blips on the radar screen — for the most part. But the past week has found me checking in with Hurricane Gordon. His path, as is mine, has been tracking through parts of southern and western Mississippi and, notwithstanding a few bolts and downpours here and there, our paths have not been all that confrontational. From Natchez I headed north to Vicksburg, which is mostly a drive-thru national military park and scene of one of the most important battles of the Civil War (Grant’s tenacity in Vicksburg was what probably gained him Lincoln’s confidence), then northeast to Oxford, where James Meredith fought another amazing battle on the campus of Ole Miss in 1962, walking through a hailstorm of vitriol as he proceeded on his way to attend class. The Ole Miss of today is a far cry from the school that Meredith challenged more than 50 years ago. My main reason for visiting Oxford was to go to William Faulkner’s home, where he lived and worked for more than 30 years. In a very understated way, it was more than I had hoped for. I made my way back to the Ole Miss campus and dropped by the Sigma Chi house, where I met Mary, who manages the fraternity there. She gave me a wonderful driving-in-the-rain tour of the campus with wonderful insights about the school and students, eventually dropping me off at the Graduate Hotel, where I was staying, amid a soft rain. Shortly thereafter, at the hotel bar, I met a beautiful woman, who I had the great pleasure of talking to and dining with. Lessons learned: Plan, but not too much, and a kind hello never hurts.
When your town or city edges down to the banks of the Mighty Mississippi, you have no choice, really: it’s always about the river. And a stroll through the downtown area, or drive, or trolley car tour (be sure to get in touch with Sally for one of these), or dinner of crawfish and catfish confirms just that: It was always about the river. The wonderful film at the Natchez Visitor’s Center opens with those words and introduces viewers, through a seasonal montage, to a wonderful city that has endured numerous ups and downs, but to this day retains a vibrant pulse and buoyancy. Natchez today is a splendid mix of Spanish, French and English cultures, but was also — in the early 1800s — one of the largest slave-trading cities in the U.S., exceeded by, possibly , only New Orleans. Ironically, William Johnson, an enslaved person of color, became a successful businessman in the early 1800s in Natchez before being murdered in circumstances that sound tragically like today. His house on State St. is run by the National Parks Service and well worth a visit. As is the Longwood House, Fort Rosalie, a great photography exhibit located within the town’s Presbyterian church, and numerous other historic landmarks. And then there is the Emerald Mound, located about 10 miles northeast of town. It was built by native Americans, between 1000-600 years ago, and is the second-largest Mississippian Period ceremonial mound in the U.S. If you are fortunate, as I was on the day I visited, when you ascend to the top, you will hear nothing, not even the chirping of birds, just the soft whistling of a gentle wind.
…to Luckenbach, Texas, with Waylon, Willie and the boys. Country music fans will recognize the town’s name and lyrics that proved to be a huge hit for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson back in the ’70s. Luckenbach, population 3, is a tiny, dirt road enclave in the beautiful hill country of central Texas, almost equidistant from Austin and San Antonio, and just off Route 290. While those two cities are wonderful, with plenty to recommend — historic and otherwise — I especially enjoyed Fredericksburg, settled by German immigrants in 1846. Luckenbach is just a three-mile turnoff from Fredericksburg but don’t blink because you will miss it if you do. What’s to do in Fredericksburg? Hmmm…there’s the War in the Pacific Museum (they give you a three-day pass because there’s more at the museum than you can absorb in one); the LBJ state park and White House “ranch” (Johnson was born in ’08 in nearby Johnson City); Enchanted Rock state park, a great granite outcropping that allows for a sharp ascent or side loop trails for the less vertically inclined; a Texas Ranger fort (a work in progress); reenactments; and a large number of vineyards that offer wine tastings. And music — lots and lots of music; if you’re a picker, bring your geetar, fiddle or banjo (Rich — !!). There are also wonderful unique shops on Fredericksburg’s Main Street. But all that said, if you are in the area, Luckenbach — where “everybody’s somebody” — is a must.