Monday, June 30, 2008

Day 2: Smoky Mountains!

Miles driven today: 115
Total miles driven: about 350
Miles per gallon on the first tank: 28.08
Number of times Courtney has gone to sleep in the car: 0

We got up early (6:30) for a run about Asheville. It's a beautiful city. I think what's most remarkable is the gorgeous architecture. It just seems like cities aren't as adventurous today with their buildings. Or, if they are, they end up looking like that ugly 1970s cement stuff. Anyway, the weather was wonderful - a little north of 70 degrees.

After our run we hit the hotel gym for a few minutes, then got ready to go. At around 9 we got to the Dripolator, a cozy coffee shop just south of downtown. We did a couple hours of work for our new jobs before they kicked us out (not literally, but we got kicked off of their free wifi after two hours). We got some solid work done.

For lunch we went back to the Grove Park Inn. Courtney begged me to go to the Sunset Terrace restaurant, and I'm glad we did. We shared a salmon BLT and a mixed greens salad. Both were delicious, and the view couldn't be beat.

The driving today wasn't all that far, but it was on windy mountain roads, so we took our time. Passing through the small towns on the way to Smoky Mountains National Park was exciting. They were littered with kitschy campgrounds and small-time theme parks. It was America at it's best, and a primer for our eventual destination, Gatlinburg. Some people are turned off by the tourist traps, but it kind of refreshes me. I think it's testament to the freedom and diversity we have in America. Sure, it's kind of ugly, but beautiful on a non-aesthetic level. You sure don't come across this kind of stuff in France. It's remarkable that there's a market for it all.

We gave some serious thought to visiting the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, NC, but we decided to get on into the National Park instead. At the entrance of the park was a well-done replication of a mountain farm village. All of the buildings were original and were relocated to that spot. It was neat seeing how many different crops can be grown in this temperate climate.

Driving through the park was relaxing. The nature of the mountain highway only allows you to go about 40 mph, so we cruised along leisurely. The temperature varied from 64 degrees to about 75, depending on our elevation. The views were really unique. There's a haze that hangs over the mountains (hence the "Smokies" moniker) that Wikipedia tells me is from the hydrocarbons released by the vegetation. The deep green of the trees next to the blue skies also give the mountains a blue aura - which is why the neighboring range is called the Blue Ridge.

Popping out of the park to the north ran us right through Gatlinburg. Wow, what a site! It was like a one-mile stretch straight out of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island (minus the drunk kids). There's a fun park on every corner, with everything imaginable in between - wax museums, Ripley's Believe-it-or-not, an aquarium, you name it. It was once again a celebration of America - a paradoxical example both of all that is wonderful and all that is wrong with this country. A veritable feast for the senses!

We hurried through town (well, as fast as traffic would allow), to get to the Buckhorn Inn, our first bed and breakfast of the trip. What a contrast it was to the glitz of town. The inn is situated in the foothills of the Smokies, surrounded by pine and hemlock. It has an incredible view from the back porch and is as tranquil as can be. I give it a five stars.

Dinner, on the other hand, wasn't as inspiring, but you can't win em' all. It being Monday night, we retired to our room to watch the second-to-last episode of The Bachelorette.

From Josiah (former student)

From: Josiah Kelii
To: Jacob Landry
Sent: Monday, June 30, 2008 7:42:26 PM
Subject: where are you

So hows it going with the trip.I'm wondering if you could tell me about the sites.Keep me up to date. =)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Day 1: 230 miles

We left Courtney's parents' house in Florence at around 8:15 a.m. We're driving her sister Kristen's red Suzuki to Nashville where she's moving later this month. It's loaded down with clothes, two lamps, a set of pots and a a set of golf clubs for C's brother Chris. You can cram a lot of stuff in a hatchback.

Today's driving was pretty reasonable - we're just getting warmed up. Florence to Asheville, NC, is only about 230 miles. At mile 120 we stopped to use the restroom and C took the wheel. She lasted about 60 miles, then I took over again. We station-hopped for most of it, catching the entirety of A Prairie Home Companion on NPR.

There's not much to see across the mid-section of South Carolina, but as we got closer to the border of NC, we were in the midst of rolling hills and verdant forests - the foothills of the Appalachians. We caught a brief glimpse of the Blue Ridge Parkway as we crossed a couple of trickling rivers and valleys.

When we arrived in Asheville, our first stop was the Grove Park Inn. C wanted to stay here in celebration of our anniversary, but we couldn't quite swing the price of a night's lodging. Instead, we settled on a day at their spa - the first spa visit ever for each of us. We ended up spending 5.5 hours there. I felt a little self-absorbed, pampering myself for that long, but it sure was enjoyable. I spent my time bouncing between the eucalyptus-infused steam room, the 140-degree sauna, the mineral pool and the various hot tubs. When I needed a break, I relaxed in the fireside lounge with my book. All of this lazing about was broken up by a 50-minute deep tissue massage.

Bye the end of the afternoon, we were exhausted! Who'd have thought that being lazy would be so draining. We left the Grove Park Inn and checked into the Renaissance downtown Asheville. C got this for $80 on - a fraction of what a night at Grove Park would've cost us.

We rounded out the evening with dinner at Bistro 1896, a sidewalk cafe downtown. The mountain air was a welcome respite from the humidity of lowcountry South Carolina. Dessert at Marble Slab topped it off, then we headed back to hit the sack.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

MOART - Mother of all Road Trips

Our career as teachers is over! Courtney and I left the classroom and Hawaii with bittersweet emotions. Saying goodbye to our students was a tear-jerking experience, and leaving our friends in Hawaii was also pretty tough. But embarking on a new adventure is always exciting, as is our extended vacation between jobs.

Soon we'll begin our new jobs recruiting for Teach For America in the Pacific Northwest, but in the meantime, we've got to get there. So, in celebration of this transition, as well as our first anniversary, we are embarking on the Mother of all Road Trips! A 3,000 mile journey across North America that will ultimately include three different cars and 10 days of driving.

Seattle, here we come!