I had two different routes that I could take to North Carolina from Maryland. I could either take I-95 to the east or head west and join up with I-81 that hugs the mountains. I chose the mountain route for two reasons. It would be less congested as it didn’t go through any major cities and I really love the mountains.
Once I exited the busy Maryland/DC area the traffic opened up and I could resume driving posted speed limits and eventually made my way to Virginia. If you are taking this route you will eventually see signs for Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County. Right off the highway it is a great opportunity to stretch your legs and see an amazing arch that was created by Cedar Creek (A tributary of the James River) eroding the limestone and leaving a 215’ tall arch. It is a landmark that has a long history and I encourage you to not only follow the link above to learn more.
As I continued on my way I spotted Bojangle’s! Bojangle’s is a fast food restaurant in the south east and they are known for their Cajun Chicken Fillet Biscuit sandwiches and Sweet Tea. Because it is not available in the Midwest eating here is always a highlight for me and a perfect lunch stop.
I continued on my way and eventually exited the mountains into NC. As I was exiting the mountains I was following a road that was hugging the mountains and I actually drove through a cloud! If you are traveling on freeways that going in and out of the mountains, please be aware of semi trucks as they can’t slow down that easily or quickly as you can.
I was on my way to Hickory, NC where I would stay with a friend who lived in the area. Hickory has for years been known for making great furniture. It lies about a 30 minutes east of Ashville. The location is perfect as you could head into the mountains or head east to the larger cities of the state and Atlantic Ocean.
I made it to Hickory about 6pm and stopped at what would be my new home for 3-4 days. The home belonged to Chris Maynard. People sometimes ask, “How did you guys meet?” and then I have to awkwardly explain that we met on Xbox live about 12 years ago. We quickly found that, in “real life”, we had a lot in common. For years we kept in touch, met up at concerts and even took vacations together. In my life I have had a few “best friend” types of relationships and there is no doubt in my mind that Chris falls into this category.
Chris had to work on the weekdays so I really enjoyed slowly waking up and drinking coffee on his front porch while having a few cigarettes. It was unseasonably warm and he has two of the most comfortable rocking chairs around to sink into and enjoy the weather and birds that were around his house. The house is set back into the country with a nice view of the mountains.
His brother Jason was home from Colorado for Christmas break so he kept me company during the days that Chris was working. Since they live so far apart it is hard to find a time to catch both of them together. This was one of the reasons that visiting during this time of the year was appealing to me.
Highlights of my visit include re-connecting with some of his friends, having dinner in downtown Hickory, meeting his family for dinner, exploring the mountains, backyard fireworks, a tour of Appalachian State University and his dog Buba. I really could not have picked a better place to enjoy my time off and relax.
Over the years, I really have really fell in love with western North Carolina feel that someday I could live there. The mild winters, mountains, hiking trails, fishing, and non congested towns are exactly what I am looking for once I move.
I had to be back to work on January 4th so I took off on January 2nd to start my way back to my mom’s house in Ohio. She was kind enough to watch my dog and as he was having a few health concerns I was itching to get back home and check on him.
The route I chose to head home took me through the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. As it was warm and during the holidays a lot of people were flocking to the park. I stopped at the Visitors Center and a few scenic viewpoints to take photos. There were a lot of fishermen in the park and the one parking lot that met up with the Appalachian Trail was full so I continued on my way through and eventually out of the park.
For watching my dog, I always try to find a great gift for my mom on my travels and this time I had picked up a nice clay fired coffee mug from the Smokey Mountain National Park visitor’s center.
Once out I ended up in Gatlinburg, TN. Traffic was at a stand still and it took some time to make my way through this touristy town. I also had to go through Pigeon Forge and past Dollyworld before linking back up with I-75, the freeway that would not only take me to my moms but my home in Metro Detroit.