After two weeks in the Virginia mountains, we hit the road yesterday with the goal of picking up a few more “new” states and national parks before we head back to New England for a while. We spent Saturday night in Kingsport, a small manufacturing city in northeast Tennessee we first discovered on our March road trip. Upon arrival, we made full use of the hotel’s fantastic gym, indoor pool, hot tub, and restaurant. This morning, we drove to the Kingsport Greenbelt, a recently-completed mixed-surface fitness trail that traverses nearly ten miles of the town. We were a bit surprised by the hilly terrain, which was a change of pace (literally) from the flat rail trail we’d run a few times in Virginia, but the pleasant scenery helped the time and miles pass. We completed an enjoyable 4-mile run before heading back to clean up and repack the car. We took a driving tour of downtown and then hit the highway to conquer the remaining stretch of I-81. We picked up I-40 into Knoxville, home to the University of Tennessee, where we made a spontaneous decision to take a break and check out the downtown area. We parked in a city garage (free on Sundays!) and wandered around a bit before deciding on a place to eat. We enjoyed the weather and the people-watching as we ate a late outdoor brunch in Market Square. We picked up coffee for the road before driving the last leg of the day down to Chattanooga, on Tennessee’s southern border with Georgia. Chattanooga was featured in a magazine article we read last year as the best place to live for outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s been on our list of places to check out ever since. The weather is looking stormy tomorrow, so we’re off to study the hourly radar with the hopes of picking the right hour for a running tour of downtown… -J
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” –Janis Joplin (courtesy Kris Kristofferson, et. al.)
And we now—officially, after months of planning and hoping and maneuvering—have very little left to lose. As of noon today, we sold the house and hit the road without an address. To clarify, we have a P.O. Box where mail will be forwarded, but we do not have a physical address. We are voluntarily homeless (which brings with it a number of sociological issues which J. plans to discuss in a future post, naturally.) (Insert shout out to anyone who has agreed to host us during the next three months…)
Over the past few days, we’ve both been singing Janis Joplin’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee” while working to move our stuff into storage, sell the house, and take the final step toward freedom. During this time, music has been a critical factor in our sanity and our motivation. We’ve bee-bopped around the house: packing, cleaning, moving, and singing. We’ve raged and hip-hopped and rocked and sung the blues. Throughout the process, the lyrics of “Me and Bobby McGee” proved to be especially relevant: “Freedom’s just another word for / nothing left to lose.” They were sung quietly while carrying trash bags to the garage, belted out in the shower while we scrubbed off the basement grime, and hummed while packing boxes of stuff we wondered if we really needed.
Yet Janis isn’t the only one who’s been keeping us company. Adam Ezra understood why we were “Takin’ Off Today.” Air Traffic Controller knew that all of the hoops we’ve been jumping through were “just a test / test 1, 2, 3…” And The Hold Steady explained that “we were young and we were so in love / and I guess we just needed space.”
But perhaps Modest Mouse captured it best: “I know that starting over is not what life’s about / but my thoughts were so loud I couldn’t hear my mouth.” It’s not often that you change most (or all!) of the key components of your life, but sometimes your thoughts are too loud to ignore. We’ve changed so much with our physical and professional and personal selves that this financial transition out of the house seemed natural. It was necessary to complete our journey into a place of total flexibility.
We have no idea what the future will bring, but for now, being on the road—traveling, reading, experiencing life and writing—is good enough… “good enough for me and my Bobby McGee.” -M&J
After a whirlwind two weeks (and two especially long days of driving), we are back home tonight, looking forward to sleeping in our own bed and having breakfast tomorrow at our favorite cafe. Two days ago, we left 80-degree sunshine behind in the Florida Keys. This afternoon, we met friends of ours (in town from California) for drinks in chilly New Hampshire, rolling in to the bar directly from the highway. In order to make it on time, we logged our longest day of driving to date yesterday–817 miles from Savannah, GA to Yonkers, NY–adding to the trip total of 4,073 miles. Sal the Subaru was a champ on his first long-haul road trip, averaging more than 25 miles per gallon (fewer in the mountains than in the South). Our words per gallon fared only slightly better, due largely to the lack of downtime we built into the schedule. It’s something we plan to include more of in our longer trips later this year, but our priority for this one was simply to get far away from here and physically break away from our prior day-to-day lives. Now that we’re back, somewhat rested and fully reinvigorated, we have a long list of posts, photos, and videos to write, edit, and upload. We’ll spend most of April at home, writing, running, and finding a new rhythm. But before March ends, we have one more adventure planned: to participate in a charity trivia bee tomorrow night. After several days on island time, it will take a lot of focus and some strong coffee to ensure our brains are up for the challenge.
After driving 620 miles today (mostly in Florida…), we have finally arrived at our home for the night, a chain hotel right off the highway in Savannah, Georgia. We’re a stone’s throw from South Carolina, which will be the 14th state we’ll hit on this trip and where we head early tomorrow morning. But first things first! Tonight we sleep…in a bed! We’ve been camping for the last four nights, so this plush, king-sized mattress is a welcome change. We need a good night’s sleep to prepare for tomorrow’s monster drive: 15 or so hours up the scenic I-95 corridor. If things go as planned, we’ll be sleeping somewhere north of New York City tomorrow night. By the end of the day, we’ll be closing in on the 4,000 mile mark for the trip…and we’ll be ready for another night of rest before hauling back to New Hampshire to meet up with friends visiting from California and participate in a charity trivia event. Fun times are definitely ahead, but right now…it’s time for lights out! -J
Since leaving New Hampshire two weeks ago, we’ve kept a small notebook in the car with pieces of information about our trip: gas purchases, mileage, expenses, lists of things to bring on the next trip, strange signs seen along the roadside, vanity plates…the list goes on.
The last page in our mini road journal includes a list of states and provinces labeled “The License Plate Game.” The License Plate Game consists of writing down all unique states and provinces from license plates we see on the trip. The goal is to get all 50 states and Washington, D.C. before we get home; provinces are just a bonus. It’s not a competitive game as much as it is a team effort to complete the list, in part because it helps stave off boredom on the road and in part because it forces us to be aware of the little details around us. We found two of the tough stragglers (Alaska and Montana) parked on side streets as we wandered around Key West yesterday.
In the 13 states we traveled through to get to Key West (NH, MA, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD, WV, VA, TN, NC, GA, and FL), we recorded 44 different states plus Washington, D.C. and three provinces.
As we prepare to start the 30-hour, ~1,700 mile trip from Sugarloaf Key to New Hampshire, we have just six states left: HI, WY, ID, NM, UT, and ND.
We’ll be on the lookout for these last few states as we head back to the Northeast over the next three days. If we don’t see them on this trip, we’ll just have to continue the quest when we drive out west later this summer!
P.S. In case you’ve wondered what it’s like to drive hundreds of miles through southern Georgia or northern Florida, take a peek at this…and then rewind and watch it 600 more times.
We spent last night at a hotel/conference center/golf resort in northeastern Tennessee. We selected it based on location and price (which was free…one of the benefits of years of business travel!), but the amenities were an added bonus. We were the only people in the pool and hot tub last night, and we were the only people on the golf course this morning. No, we were not up for an early round. Instead, we headed out at sunrise for a speedy two-mile run, weaving our way through the cart paths and footbridges along the rolling fairways. The only other people we saw on the course were members of the maintenance crew tending to the greens. We capped our run with weights and stretching in the spacious gym before heading back to our room. We treated ourselves to long showers and room service breakfast, knowing we have two days of a shower-less campground and outdoor oatmeal ahead of us.
We will arrive in the Smokies this afternoon, and we might go off the grid for a day or two. In the meantime, by special request, here is a list of the first 10 songs from Sunday’s roadtrip playlist (which we continue to listen to today). All of these songs have lyrical significance, and many are just plain fantastic. First up on today’s drive: replaying “Wagon Wheel” as we roll through Johnson City. -J
First 10 Songs from Sunday’s Drive
- Takin’ Off Today (Adam Ezra Group)
- Runnin’ Down a Dream ( Tom Petty)
- Cruisin’ With Jack Kerouac (Hot Sauce Johnson)
- Stuck Between Stations (The Hold Steady)
- The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Bob Dylan)
- Country Road (John Denver)
- Wagon Wheel (Old Crow Medicine Show)
- The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)
- Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)
- The World at Large (Modest Mouse)
Skyline Drive traverses the Blue Ridge Mountains through Shenandoah National Park. The north end of the drive begins in Front Royal, VA, a surprising town that appears to be maintaining itself quite well despite the economy. The architecture in Front Royal is familiar, each building crafted of the same stones, bricks and shingles of eastern towns ranging from Plattsburgh, NY to New Castle, PA to Greenville, SC. It is the architecture of hardware stores and insurance agencies, small public libraries and aging churches. We agreed Front Royal would go on the list of potential places to live “someday.”
At the entrance to Skyline Drive, Howard, the friendly, nervous, red-headed (and bearded) ranger, sold us our $80 Interagency Annual Pass, allowing access to the many places we hope to visit across the country in the next twelve months. Armed with our pass and some park literature, we hit the road. Skyline Drive is 105 miles of winding, rising and falling road filled with wildlife, old growth forest and very few other people. (Most park facilities don’t officially open for the season until later this spring.) After getting distracted by a handful of deer, two overlooks and countless circling hawks, it had taken us nearly 20 minutes to go the first five miles. It was looking like the drive would take longer than the three hours we had estimated. (The maximum speed limit on the drive is 35 MPH.) We were all smiles and in no hurry. Today, the deer posed for pictures, but despite our vigilance, the bears were elusive. Maybe we’ll be luckier in the Smokies…preferably from the car.
At the halfway point of the drive, we parked and hit the trail for a short hike to the outlook on Stony Man Trail, recommended by the ranger as a brief but rewarding trip into the woods. At 4,010 feet, it is the second highest point in the park, and part of the summit route overlaps the Appalachian Trail. The trail was well-maintained, and we cruised to the top in 20 minutes. Once there, we surveyed the valley and took in a recommendation from a local couple to visit the “Camp David of President Herbert Hoover,” also in the park. We determined that this newly found part of America was worth a second visit and a much more thorough exploration of Shenandoah National Park. Perhaps later this spring…
The second half of the drive went more quickly than the first. At the end of the road, we opted to take the highway to Tennessee instead of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Although the Parkway is on our “must do someday” list, it wasn’t on our “must do this trip” list. We capped off our 415-mile day with a dip in the hotel pool and a tall draft beer. My first time in Tennessee has been more relaxing than expected. I’ll be enjoying the hotel bed tonight, since tomorrow night will bring the Great Smoky Mountains and our first campsite of the trip! –M
Here’s a look at what we saw from the summit of Stony Man:
Greetings from the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains! We arrived at our hotel in Virginia tonight and made short order of the dinner we had packed from home: quinoa mac & cheese and veggie burgers…with celebratory champagne, of course. We covered 585 miles today, cruising through 9 states and spending the better part of 10 hours in the car. We split the driving into two-hour shifts and passed the time listening to music, chatting, and playing a made-up game of Vanity Plate Mad Libs. (Side note: People are strange.) We enjoyed warm breezes, sunny skies, and low traffic throughout the drive.
The scenery for most of the day was standard-issue Northeastern U.S. and nothing either of us hadn’t seen before, from the Mass Turnpike and George Washington Bridge to the farmlands of Pennsylvania. That was until we were about 15 miles from the hotel, when these mountains surprised us, lurking in the fog around a highway bend. A shadowy ridgeline stretching as far as we could see rose quietly above the flat, rolling plains around it. We couldn’t make out many details since we arrived after sunset, but we have a full day of exploring the mountains planned for tomorrow. -J&M
“Take a last look out on / Turn the key and we’re gone /
Who cares if Monday / There’ll be hell to pay…”
-Taking Off Today, Adam Ezra Group
We are taking off today. We are hitting the road for the first in a series of trips that will, over the next nine months, criss-cross two continents and five or six countries.
We’ve been planning this day for weeks and talking about it for months, but we’ve each been dreaming about this day our whole lives, long before we even knew the other existed. The day when we quit our corporate jobs to pursue an authentic, creative life. The day we awoke with no expectations or agendas or constraints other than the ones we assigned to ourselves.
We’ve been readying our physical selves by losing weight, eating whole foods, and getting fit enough to tackle 6,500-foot mountains and long stretches of road.
We’ve been readying our financial selves by living below our means, sticking to a budget, paying off debt, and saving money.
We’ve been readying our possessions by decluttering, donating, and downsizing, seeking out “the right stuff” instead of simply “more” or “less” stuff.
And we’ve been readying our ride. We traded in two family sedans for a road warrior, swapping a hybrid engine for all-wheel drive that eats mountains and standard trunks for a wagon that craves gear.
This morning, that wagon is packed and ready to roll. For us, there is no Monday. There will be no hell to pay at the office, because there will be no office. There will be no commute to the city, no gridlocked traffic, and no work e-mail to check. There will not be anything except the few things we’ve chosen carefully for the trip and a collection of dreams that have been piling up for the past 30-something years.
We know roughly how many miles per gallon we will get on the road, but we have no idea how many words per gallon we will write while we’re out there. Come along for the ride, and we’ll find out together!
T-21 hours and counting! We’re busy as bees cooking meals and snacks to take with us, getting the house ready so it’s sparkly clean when we come home, and packing our gear and the car. We both have a long training run planned for this afternoon, so we’re working our other chores around them. In many ways, it feels like a regular Saturday around the house, but there’s a building sense of anticipation with every tick of the clock on the kitchen wall. Still no decision on the first song, but the tunes are cranking right now!
It’s barely noon, and I’m crying for the second time today. It was a song that did me in both times: the lyrics of one and the opening chords of a guitar in the other. Twangy little rock-and-rollers singing about change and loss and freedom. In other words, songs that were written specifically to make me cry today. Well, not me specifically, but anyone on the precipice of a big transition that’s been in the making for a long time. Today’s two songs have made their way to our growing road trip playlist. We expect to do more than 80 hours of driving in the next two weeks, and that calls for a longer-than-usual set of car tunes. We’ll mix in old favorites with new tracks, shuffle up the genres, and throw in some spoken word for good measure. There’s been much debate but no decision yet on the track that will earn the coveted designation of “first song,” the song that will play during those first three or four minutes of the trip. Even though we’ll spend those minutes driving on the roads closest to our home, we’ll be driving away from what our lives have been and toward what they will become. There’s a good chance I’ll cry most part of the way to Virginia, too, but they will be happy tears: tears of boundless relief, tears of authentic joy, and tears born of emotions for which I won’t have words. With a little luck, the words will come later. In the meantime, I’ll be content to lean back, look out the window, and listen to the soundtrack of our lives. -J
Today brought us three huge steps closer to the road and the freedom that follows it. We cleared the last few critical hurdles this afternoon, two on the financial front and one on the professional front. Without going into the gory details, there were three tasks that had to occur before we hit the road but could not occur any sooner than today, four days before we are scheduled to leave. I can happily report tonight that they all are done and done…and done. After weeks of waiting–waiting for things to go right, waiting for things to go wrong–we are finally able to take a deep breath and let ourselves sink slowly into the realization that what we’ve been talking about for months is actually going to happen. -J
The timing of our first few weeks on the road will coincide with the last few weeks of our training before we run a half-marathon back in our hometown. It will be my first half (his second), and despite a recent bout of bronchitis, I’ve done a decent job sticking to my training plan during what turned out to be a mild New Hampshire winter. What’s proving to be a bigger challenge is ensuring we stick to our training plans while on a road trip. Planning our workouts (especially our long runs) will be critical to ensuring we return home at the end of the trip ready to run the race. I spent part of today mapping out a workout schedule, taking into consideration which days we have extended drives planned (making it tough to fit in any kind of workout) and which days look like they’ll offer us a big block of free time (perfect for a long run). We’ll control for the variables we can (like choosing to stay in locations that seem to offer decent running routes) and be flexible when faced with ones we can’t (like weather or terrain or quirks of a small town road). We’ll also need to be more careful than usual when hiking during the first week of the trip. We’re planning to tackle some moderately challenging hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains, and what might be normal fatigue or a nuisance injury on any other trip could become a race-ruining injury on this one. No amount of internet research or advance planning will prepare us for exactly what we’ll find on the road, but having a plan in hand when we set out will give us the best chance of sticking to it while we’re out there. –J
I should be reading On the Road or Dharma Bums or The Undiscovered Self to remind myself of all of the reasons I’ve been chasing this life for the past ten years. It’s not that I’m afraid of quitting my job. This nervous/anxious/pensive response to readying our gear for the trip is more of a flinch, since I know that the next five days are going to hurt. I will disappoint some, anger others and likely perplex all. They won’t understand my motivations, they’ll question my motivations, and they will definitely criticize my motivations. On Friday, after thirteen years of working in the insurance industry, I will be free to make my own way. I’ll be free of debt, free of the fears of others, free of contractual obligations and ready to move on.
So, when the haters begin to talk and the questions begin to fly, it will be up to me to call upon the spirit of Kerouac’s “Rucksack Revolution” and to summon Jung’s analytical mind and ability to deconstruct the man-made trappings of what he called “the state” (…which has evolved in our time into “Corporate America”). Their voices remind me that the American Dream is not just a singular dream, rather it’s any dream. It’s my dream of hitting the road in the shadow of the travelers before me, experiencing life and writing in my own voice. Whatever happens from here will be up to me.
In the lyrics of Ben Harper, “the unfinished work of our heroes must truly be our own…” I’m not arrogant enough to believe that I’ll finish the work of those like Kerouac and Jung, but perhaps I will further their causes and leave an unfinished legacy for the next dreamer to pursue. -M
The anticipation is high, and the waiting is painful. These last two weeks are moving more slowly than any of the previous twelve months. We’re distracting ourselves by staying focused on trip preparations. We’ve sketched out the itinerary for our first two weeks on the road, and it’s shaping up to be a 50/50 split of camping nights and nights spent in other accommodations (like highway hotels or the homes of family and friends along the way). We have reservations for a few anchor nights, and we’ll play the rest by ear. I’m obsessively checking the 10-day forecasts for Key West (stunningly warm) and Gatlinburg (confusingly bipolar). We are planning to camp near Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains NP, and the overnight temps are still dancing in the 30s. I’ve started to work on a meal plan so that grocery shopping and food preparation and cooking gear all scream efficiency and economy. And given that writing will be a major component of this journey, we’ve created several new blog sites, including this one to track our travels. (In addition to this blog, we’ll each maintain our own individual blogs for topics ranging from food and fitness to poetry and photography. You can find links to them on the right side of this screen.) Each day brings us one step closer to the morning when we shift the car into drive and log our first mile. That moment cannot arrive soon enough. -J
After months of dreaming and scheming, we’re down to less than two weeks until we hit the road! We’re busy readying our gear, ourselves, and this site. Stay tuned for updates as we get closer to our much-anticipated departure. -J&M