Backyard Explorations: Smithfield, Virginia

Funny thing about spontaneity – you have to leave space for it. It’s difficult to pick up and go when you’re busy all the time.

I doubt I’m alone in my tendency to occupy every moment of the day. With good stuff, important stuff, but the stuff adds up and before I know it a month’s gone by and I haven’t done anything cool.

So my friend Tessa and I occasionally plan to leave space for doing cool things together. Spontaneously.


Home of the Smithfield ham, and a repository for peanuts and dairy farming, Smithfield, Virginia, is a quiet little place with bits of charm tucked throughout. Specifically the Porcine Parade – a series of eight painted pigs celebrating Smithfield history.

One of the eight pigs on parade - Swine and Roses

One of the eight pigs on parade – Swine and Roses

We bunked at Smithfield Station, a beautiful and comfortable hotel with a view of the lake and a delicious buffet brunch.


It’s a good day to wake up in Smithfield.

Walking around downtown Smithfield is an exercise in cute. From the quirky juxtaposition of architectural styles to the sweet people running the shops, it’s a treat for a quiet weekend. The Smithfield Store fed us ham biscuits and provided a variety of Virginia-themed treats to stock up for later. I got a slab of uncut bacon and some unique varieties of toffee.


Photo op with Ben Franklin (what’s he doing here?)


Just typical cuteness.


These Victorian style houses shared the street with the plainer Colonial variety. A startling combination.


Pretty bird!

It wasn’t exactly the tourist season when we went, so things were a bit silent. But we had a blast gadding about the tiny downtown area – a couple of streets with shops and an art gallery.

We visited the Smithfield museum and learned all about the World’s Oldest Ham (it’s 111 years old… and it has the wrinkles to prove it), as well as the making of the largest ham biscuit ever. It was enormous.

All you’d ever want to know about curing techniques (and being two foodies, we want to know a lot), and a good amount about peanuts. And a replica of an old timey general store, featuring a penny game and lots of badly acted voice recordings depicting pioneer days in southern Virginia.

Or maybe they weren’t badly acted. Maybe people really sound like that 200 years ago.

I guess we’ll never know.

I love cool houses.

I love cool houses.

Being so close to Surry, we skipped down to Bacon’s Castle – which I confess to secretly hoping would be an elaborate pork tower, but in reality is a big house. A big house built by a colonial planter, which was at one time commandeered by the uprisen Nathaniel Bacon in 1675.

I also quite like old houses.

I also quite like old houses.


Saint Luke’s historic cemetery


One last stop at Fort Henry in Virginia Beach – to take a gander at the lighthouse. The historic one is out of operation, but there’s another newer one right next to it. We had some trouble finding it, but the guard at the wrong entrance we went to first was very kind and redirected us.


This is the new one, viewed from the old one.


All around, a fine weekend. Let’s plan to spontaneously go somewhere else cool.

Backyard Explorations: Point Dume

For we wanderlust sufferers, it is easy to overlook the fact that getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily require a big splurge on plane tickets and hotels. Next time you need a change of scenery, consider looking in your own backyard.


Topanga Canyon

LA has been my neighborhood for almost three months now, and it’s high time I did some exploring. Work pressures and writing commitments have been piling up. I could use some perspective.

And my motto is, when the going gets tough, the tough go driving.

The Pacific Coast Highway (or PCH, for cool) is the famous road that follows the coast of California. It runs all the way up to San Francisco and beyond, but I was not planning to go that far today.


My eyes were too busy watching the road to notice where the camera was pointing.

In order to get to the coast, I took the 101 freeway west and followed Topanga Canyon Boulevard up, up, up and down, down down – winding around the mildly frightening mountainous terrain with my game face on. I even managed to hack a few photos with my free hand.

canyon3Coming down the other side, the first thing I noticed (aside from the gorgeous canyon views) was a distinct drop in temperature. After 90 degrees and climbing in the valley, those first whiffs of 69 coming over the hills was dreamy.

Topanga Canyon is a really charming part of the world, with barren hills suddenly boasting civilization. Signs for businesses and houses and even a Post Office. I felt a little nervous for the safety of several cyclists hugging the teeny margin of street next to vehicular traffic, but nothing horrible happened.


I wish I could do it justice (you’ll have to go see it yourself sometime), but suddenly out of all this up and down comes a stunning ocean view. This being a Saturday, the view was made slightly less stunning by the volume of cars lined up all along the side of the road.

These beaches do offer paid parking, but most visitors would rather take their chances on the side of the road than waste their nine bucks.

I drove the PCH for eight or ten miles, just looking around and soaking in the atmosphere. It reminded me of weekends in Virginia Beach – the smoosh of locals clamoring for some beach time on their day off.

Once I hit Malibu, public beaches gave way to houses built right on the coast (completely blocking the view). I thought these might be fun and eccentric like the ones in Florida, but they were mostly forgettable. Still the main drag feel was fun and funky, with a mix of fast food and kitschy Mexican establishments lined up together.

The first glimpse of something promising...

The first glimpse of something promising…

I set my sights on a quieter, less commercial part of the world. On the map, Point Dume State Beach (I pronounce it ‘Dyoom’ so it doesn’t sound so ominous) forms sort of a horn protruding into the ocean. I imagined a wide swath of sand from which you could enjoy a 180 degree view of the Pacific.

Who knew if that’s what it’s really like, but it’s fun to imagine.

I had a dream when I was planning my Key West road trip that the highway through the keys was just two lanes right on the water. I know that’s probably impossible, but come on, engineering has absolutely nothing to do with the way my mind works.


So there I was, beginning to look for my next turn, and the world opened up before me. The traffic, the busy Saturday, the deadlines, the questions about the future, they all fell away.

This is what exploring can do for you, folks. You take a break from your schedule. You simply behold.

This is discovery, in my book.

More on Point Dume tomorrow, but for now: when was the last time you followed a road you’ve never seen the end of? Maybe that should happen soon.

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A Rainy Day in Whistler

Whistler, Canada natural beauty

In keeping with British Columbia’s rambunctious weather patterns, Day 4 was chilly and overcast. The sore throat I’d been wrestling since the night before the trip was beginning to get a leg up on me, so Mom proposed a trip to the health food store to get some supplements for my suffering immune system.

I countered that we walk – it was only 5 kilometers from where we were staying. A good stretch of the legs. Plus I was eager to explore some of the trails I’d seen branching off the main highway. Dad agreed to walk with me, and together we explored the backstage area of Whistler’s network of ski resorts and parks.


Gorgeous. Even when they’re hidden by fog, the mountains are stunning.

We passed wildflowers and rock gardens, a variety of trees. We watched paddle boarders on the lake, enjoyed the quiet, and talked about all kinds of things.

That’s what I love about long walks with my dad – neither one of us are big talkers, but when we’re gallavanting in the great outdoors, we let loose. Everything under the sun, we discuss it. I discovered this a couple of years ago when Dad talked me into training for a half marathon with him. When we did our training ‘runs’ together (more like jog for ten minutes, then walk until I was ready to try again), we swapped wisdom on topics ranging from travel plans to job searches. It does me good.

I don't know what these flowers are named, but I thought they were so surprisingly beautiful in the middle of this pond.

I don’t know what these flowers are named, but I thought they were so surprisingly beautiful in the middle of this pond.

Whistler Village Park is an enormous town center, the center of the shopping and dining in Whistler. Even in summer there were numerous patrons – maybe since there wasn’t any skiing to do. We located the health food store and got me some Olive Leaf extract to take with the Emergen-C I was drinking.

Since we were there, we wandered around a bit and watched people. Dirt bikers riding down the mountain, lifts taking people up the mountain. Lots of shoppers and diners wandering through the bricked streets. We found a coffee shop for a snack and fortified our walk back.

Just as it began to rain. It was a gentle rain, so we didn’t mind.


Canada Geese – in Canada! Whoa.

Even so, it was nice to get home and put on dry socks.

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Whistler, BC: Home of the 2010 Olympics


If the following photos look familiar to you, it might be because Whistler was the home of the 2010 Olympic Games. What you probably don’t know is that it was June when the games were recorded.

Okay, not really, but seriously it could have been. Whistler is gorgeous and full of winter sport, but the temps stay pretty low even in summer.

We were feeling a little wiped out from all the getting around and frigidity of the Victoria Island portion of our journey, so for our first day in Whistler we decided to keep it chill. It was actually a sunny, pleasant day – pushing 60 degrees Farenheit, so we drove a little bit down 99 with the intention of finding something scenic and looking at it.

Scenic is not tough to find in Whistler – around every bend, over every hill there is something to see. The view above is fairly common… snow-capped mountains, evergreens flourishing beside trickling streams, rushing waterfalls. Wildflowers galore. And also bears.



This sign greeted us as we began the winding ascent to the official home of the winter games, on a quest for waterfall viewing. It was an exceptionally foggy morning (pretty early, as we were still somewhat jet-lagged 3 hours ahead of the rest of the west coast) and we didn’t THINK there were any unpleasant creatures about.

But still.

We locked the car doors and drove past one or two black bears foraging on the side of the road. They may have been intimidating in real life (ie: outside the car), but they appeared to be much more interested in posing for pictures than in taking a bite out of any hapless tourists or misdirected winter Olympics spectators. They were just doing their thing with no apparent concern for the cars driving past.

Normally there is an entry fee for the park, but it just so happened that a private event was going on that day, so the fee was waived. We drove past the ski jump and the official mascot for the 2010 games. We passed the Olympic rings. We kept driving until we found what we were looking for.

Official 2010 ski jump of death

Official 2010 ski jump of death

The official 2010 rings and stone man

The official 2010 rings and stone man

A waterfall!

It was ethereal and mysterious in the lingering fog and rising mist. The sound of rushing water was at once calming and invigorating.

Ethereal beauty and invigorating calm

Ethereal beauty and invigorating calm

There didn’t seem to be much of a road beyond this point, so we drove back up 99 and got lunch (Southside Lodge, excellent diner cuisine slash hostel). Feeling fortified and refreshed in our quest for pretty things, we headed north this time.

It took about 30 miles, but eventually a sign for Nairn Falls caught our eye. Parking was a cinch, and we found several signs that informed us that a quick trek through a mile or so of trail would bring us to the falls.


The trail was pretty easy walking and we came across several families with young ones as well as older folks along the same path. I love wildflowers and paused to admire some of them as we went by. The idea that something so beautiful would take root and bloom whether any human being would ever be involved or not is one that I find haunting and inspiring.

I could philosophize further, but that’s not really what we’re doing here. I’ll just let you think about the daily miracles that go unseen by human eyes and take away your own deductions from it.

Nairn Falls: the main event. The falls are gorgeous, and now that the fog had cleared we enjoyed sunning ourselves on the wooden deck built across the rocks at the base of the falls.
_NairnFalls copy

More wildflowers grew in the cracks between the rocks, and the foaming water looked frigidly inviting. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and videos, struggling to master a perfect panning shot without the aid of a tripod or steadicam rig. As you can imagine, this was an absorbing endeavor. When I looked up to locate my parents, I found my mom doing the last thing I would have expected.

She was lying down. On the wooden deck. Feet propped on the railing, arms out to the side, eyes closed.

This woman was on vacation.

So I joined her, and in a matter of minutes Dad plopped down next to us. Just three Matzes lying in the sun, enjoying the waterfall mist and the waterfall noise and all the wonderfulness of being in Whistler, British Columbia. Should you visit Nairn Falls, you may very well be tempted to do the same. It was highly gratifying.

As you can imagine, after all this excitement we needed some ice cream.

Prompted by signs for a Pemberton just a bit farther north, we located and drove through the small town featuring a skate park, a library, and a coffee shop. There was ice cream too, so we lounged on the deck furniture and reminisced about our favorite parts of our road trip so far.

It’s been a beautiful, delightful, enjoyable day in Whistler. Let’s do it again tomorrow.

The view from Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton, BC

The view from Mount Currie Coffee in Pemberton, BC

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Butchart Gardens, then North to Whistler

In which Victoria’s brisk breeze drives us inland to one of the most beautiful gardens in Canada.

British Columbia! Oh, how lovely thou art. From the legendary Butchart Gardens to the ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia, to a quick zip through Vancouver (wow!) and a 90-minute drive up the Sea-to-Sky highway to our destination of Whistler, BC. Goodness, what a treat for the eyes.

We spent the morning enjoying breakfast at the Huntingdon Hotel, a cozy place just spitting distance from the harbor, with lovely views of gardens from the room window and a delightfully sunny breakfast area.

Feeling refreshed and adventurous again, we drove around downtown and West Victoria for a bit, enjoying the offerings of home and business architecture and the local Tim Horton’s (nonexistent in the Washington, DC area). This place is cute. And I mean cute. If it had been about 10 degrees warmer (Fahrenheit, that is) and slightly less windy, a jaunt around the downtown walkway would have been in order.

Instead, we found a haven at Butchart Gardens, a 55-acre outlay of landscaping that is both relaxing and awe-inspiring.

Revel in blooms and tall trees

The gardens were once a limestone quarry, owned by enterprising cement manufacturer Robert Butchart. Once the quarry had fulfilled its usefulness, his wife Jennie came up with the idea to turn it into a humungous garden. It took awhile, but between the time she started (1904) and now, the gardens took over and turned into an awesome display.

We finished up our tour with an overpriced gelato (but really, the ambience is worth it) and set out for another ferry ride. This one was considerably less chilly than before, and we passed a pleasant 90 minutes staring at the horizon.

The GPS got a little confused, sending us on a brief detour through an Indian reservation (I would tell you which one, but I couldn’t hope to reproduce the blend of symbols, and letters, and numbers spelling the name).

Once back on track, we stopped in Vancouver for some groceries. What a cool city! I felt like we were on set for a Doctor Who episode. Between the hazy cloud cover, rolling streets surrounded by tall buildings, and the mountains in the distance, the whole vibe was futuristic. I need to see that again.

Awesome and awful both together

Getting out of the city meant driving on a big scary bridge. The Lions Gate is a suspension bridge that connects Vancouver with the North Shore and all points north (like Whistler). It’s named for the Lions, two mountain peaks looming ahead of us as we drive over the bridge.

I don’t know much else about it except that it is high. Super, crazy high. With lots of water underneath.

And we made it.

Then on to 99: the Sea-to-Sky Highway. What a view!

Drive into the sky

The beautiful route got us through the mountains and into Whistler in about 90 minutes, for an arrival time of about 9:30 pm. The sun was just setting as we dropped our bags and took a look around. The view from our condo window:

It’s like a full-size Christmas Village.

Yeah, it’s gonna be a good week.

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Go [North]West, Young [Wo]Man!

In which I fly cross-country, rent a car, and road trip through northern Washington, Victoria, and Vancouver. Dragging my parents along this time.

If you happened to read my travelogue from last year, you may have caught the flavor of my passion for road travel. April 2011 saw me finally realizing a long-cherished dream to drive the Atlantic coast all the way to Key West, Florida. It went so well, I thought I’d do it again.

But why British Columbia? Well, no particular reason. It is a quite lovely place, though.

Just your typical gorgeous view, wandering around gorgeous Whistler, BC.

As I write this, I’m actually still here. Imagine that – writing a travelogue whilst one is still traveling. It’s crazy, but I like it.

It Begins

Today is Wednesday, and we left Saturday morning. Dulles to Seatac and 5 hours later, we were picking up our rental car (a Chevy Impala – decent, but I wasn’t impressed) and cruising into the great outdoors. Only then did we realize all we had for music was Dad’s iPod, which was… well, it was better than nothing.

But seriously, Dad had some fun music loaded up for our trip. And so much more compact than the 20 CDs I brought with me last time! We entertained ourselves to the tune of They Might Be Giants while driving through some truly marvelous scenery.

I was driving by this time, so I don’t have pictures, but lavender fields abound.  We were gunning for a 4pm ferry ride from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC, so we had to admire the fields from afar. They did look (and smell) enticing.

Water with mountains. A novel concept for this East Coast girl.

We made the ferry with time to spare (the GPS gave us an incredibly pokey arrival estimate, which made us a sweat a bit… but in the end, unnecessarily). I wandered over to the Port Angeles tour center just across the way, and met a charming couple. They moved to Washington from Chicago 38 years ago, and delighted themselves with directing bushy-tailed travelers such as ourselves.

Along with information for other hotspots in Victoria and Vancouver, they gave me a wall calendar featuring photos from Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Having needed a calendar since January 1, and recently despairing of ever finding one, I was thrilled.

It’s the small things, people.

So, it’s June 9 and at home in northern Virginia, the temps are edging up to and over 80 degrees with regularity. Here in Washington, however… not so much. Add to that the brisk “breeze” coming off the water in Port Angeles, and you’re looking at a group of shivering land-lubbers. I took a quick walk around the ferry to get some photos and when I came around to the port side, it was like an impression of a mime walking into the wind. Only I wasn’t pretending.

Needless to say, the entirety of the voyage was spent indoors.

We reached the harbor in Victoria without a hitch, located our hotel for the night, and briefly entertained the idea of going out again to explore when the fatigue and delirium took over. And just like that, it was Sunday.

I’ll stop here so I can get some shut-eye, but there are a few more stories (and loads of pictures!) to share.

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Key West

In which I find out who really runs the island.

Cock-a-doodle-doo! That’s the first thing I hear Saturday morning. It was really early, reeeally loud, and it sounded nothing like that, but it’s the common spelling for the outlandish sound roosters make at outlandish times of the day.

A little tip for next time I visit Key West – make sure the fan is running in my room before going to bed. There be wild chickens in these here parts, and they crow allll morning. Early morning, mid-morning and noontime – I could still hear them when I hit the road Eastbound at 12.

The edge of America

Day 6 – the Last Day – started way too early. I had not slept well and debated whether to ignore the region’s natural alarm clocks or go out and see what’s going on. Lucky for me, I chose the latter.

It was still pretty dark around 7am, so I chanced a scurry across the street and perched on the edge of the island to watch the sun come up. Seems like it took forever, but eventually the few clouds on the horizon took on the pink, orange and finally yellow light of the bright ball hiding behind them. When the top of the sun peeking above its fluffy mask, I decided it was breakfast time.


The hotel parking lot was occupied by 2 roosters, 2 hens and 2 chicks. Coal black and loitering around the premises like they just didn’t know where else to go, one of the roosters favored me with an ear-splitting ‘Ehr-ah-ruh-rah-RERRRR’ before I fled to the continental breakfast bar and comforted myself with yogurt and toast.

The Florida Keys really offer some unique vegetation. Not only were there coconuts on the palm trees, but there were intriguing plants and trees of other varieties.

Just begging for a tree house

Super cool man-eating star shaped flowers!

Meandered around town for a bit, observing the variety of tiny houses crammed into an island 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. As usual, there were a few places for sale or rent and I fantasized about what it would be like to live here.

If my mom were to move to Key West, this is what her house would look like

It was only 9 or so, but plenty of folks were out and about. Islanders had been nothing but friendly, and this proved true even in the morning. After awhile, it got so I could distinguish the difference between locals and tourists by (among other things) whether they would look me in the eye and say hello. Tourists quickly avert eyes and pretend you don’t exist.

With an hour to kill before the Hemingway House would be open for visitors, I hit the cemetery. I don’t think it’s morbid. I like to read the headstones and think about the people they memorialize, trying to decipher meaning from the words etched there, the years lived, the other people implicated in said etching. The presence or absence of flowers.

Anyway. Here’s another picture.


The Hemingway House was interesting – a mansion on 1 square acre of uber-valuable island space, built by a seafaring gent who purposed to engineer a hurricane-proof house. Seems to have worked. When said seafarer died, there was such an influx of false claims to the property, the house stood vacant until Ernest Hemingway picked it up for $8,000 in back taxes.

I’m sure it was a lot of money back then, but probably still not nearly enough. In any case, he lived there with his second wife and 2 boys for quite some time. Plus he had a really nifty writing studio set apart from the main house, which he could walk to via catwalk. He could go right out of his bedroom and across to his studio.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to me to take any pictures.

But I was inspired to actually read one of Hemingway’s books. I liked it.


At 11:30 am, Key West was sweltering and I had a flight out of Miami at 4. So with sadness that my adventure was coming to an end, I resignedly headed back across Route 1 for the Florida mainland.

With 2-3 hours of driving ahead of me, I stopped at Publix for fruit and a sandwich from the beautiful, well-stocked and very busy grocery store. On my way in, a fellow my grandpa’s age greeted me with a smile and a nod, and then, “Hey, did I see you out watching the sunrise this morning?”

It’s an island. Just a matter of time before you start bumping into folks.

Day 6 stats:
Miles: 163.8
Chicken sightings: 5
Hours of sleep lost: Let’s not think about it
Great Expectations: Finished it! Hooray for Pip and Estella.

South from Orlando

In which my car becomes a bug cemetery.

The freeway is a cruel, cruel place for insects and flying creatures of all kinds. Just a glance at my bumper and windshield will give you an idea of the sheer volume of grisly deaths that occur on Florida highways every day.

I was moved to compose a soliloquy on behalf of baby bugs everywhere. If you ask me I will probably sing it for you.

Day 5 started grouchily, as I realized I had overslept and would have to skip some things if I would make it to Key West by nightfall. My neck was so stiff I might have to turn my whole body to check my blind spot shifting lanes. In short, my plans were really putting a cramp on my plan-free adventure.

Physical limitations are a reality of road-tripping, and this trip was testing mine. But the good news is… I’m a Christian! And so I prayed.

Surrendering to life as it is and not as I wish it to be is never easy, but it’s good. Rather than rushing out the door with my grouchy self, I took a few minutes to stretch, got some grub at the La Quinta continental breakfast bar (with waffles!) and spent some time reading the bible and talking to the Lord.

As it happened, my devotional for the day led me to Psalm 127, one of the poems written by ancient Israelites sometime around the tenth or eleventh century BC. It was good then, it’s good now:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:1-3 (

Isn’t that great? It’s like God said, “Hey Cortney – it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest. Chill out and enjoy what I’m doing here.” So I said okay.

Things start to get exciting

Much of the morning drive passed uneventfully. I listened to Great Expectations a lot because I had to take the interstate for the sake of time, and 95 is boooring. Somewhere past Miami I stopped to get gas and a salad. When I got back on the road it Stormed with a capital S.

Now, I’m from Northern Virginia, and we are notorious for our extreme nervousness when it comes to precipitation of pretty much any kind. I think Miami is worse.

Suddenly my placid highway of nothing-much-to-pay-attention-to was an obstacle course of hazzard lights, speeding trucks, 15 mph Lincolns, and water from all directions. More praying ensued.

The weather cleared just as I exited at Homestead. I was a little ahead of schedule, so thought I’d swing by the Coral Castle – which according to my GPS was only ten minutes out of my way. But.

Traffic jam!

See that little blue thing near the center of the photo? That’s where I’m trying to go. See all those orange blockade thingies? They appear to be cutting off all possible entrances to the place I’m now spending 20 minutes (with traffic) to see.

I did manage to snap a picture as I inched by. But a few minutes later I was on the Overseas Highway through the keys so I didn’t take it too hard.

Can you see it?

What a beautiful sight! Miles of 2-lane highway surrounded by calm blue waters as you skip from one tiny, quirky island to the next. It was a treat to pass the 2 1/2 hours marveling at this feat of God’s creation and human engineering, right next to each other, even though an obnoxious 18-wheeler rode my tail most of the way.

I got into Key West at 7 on the nose. My hotel was easy to find and I was able to quickly check in and deposit my stuff to go exploring. The front window looked right out at the Gulf of Mexico and I asked the woman at the front desk if she ever got tired of the view. “Never,” she said. “I’ve lived here 9 years, and I’m grateful for it.”

It was hot, but not debilitating. I strolled lazily through Mallory Square, which was full of tourists being entertained by jugglers, snack vendors, musicians, and something to do with fire. There was even a man giving a Bible lecture to an audience of one (no, not that One).

I wanted to see Key West, but the light was fading fast and everywhere I turned I found tourists and touristy things. Stumbling across a tiny shop painted key lime green, I took refuge from the crowds and chatted with the lady selling the keys’ best Key Lime pie.

She’s lived here for 9 months, working for the owner of the pie shop. Most folks come in the shop because they saw it on TV (Bobby Flay’s Throwdown – Bobby won, but apparently he cheated).

It was pitch black and difficult to see beyond the bright lights and noisy crowds of Duval Street, the main drag. I called it a day, purposing to get out early and see the place I’d spent all week getting to. In my room, I flipped on the TV to find that all the channels were agog with the royal wedding. Oh yeah. I guess that was today.

Sunset in Key West

Day 5 stats:
Miles: 409.5
Water ogling: plenty
Near-death experiences: 0 (but I was skeered)
Chapters:finished 42

Next stop… home!


In which… well, you’ll see.

This is the first morning I woke up and didn’t know where I was. Thankfully a few moments’ reflection brought it all back. I was really starting to get tired by now. Not road weary – just physically tense and a bit ragged from all the late nights I’d been keeping.

Just a typical gorgeous tree-lined avenue in gorgeous downtown Charleston

It is interesting to note how just four days into my trip, I was mentally constructing a calendar based on where I was going rather than days of the week. “I’m going to Orlando, so it must be Day 4. Which is… (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday) Thursday. Okay.”

Wait a sec – Orlando??? What was I thinking? There’s no way I can drive all the way through Georgia, part of Florida and arrive in Orlando by nightfall and still remain in my right mind.

I was torn. But in the end Charleston won out and after misleading myself yet again (easily adding an hour to my drive time for the day… grrr), I finally found it!

Palm trees!

Having suffered through a devastating earthquake, two wars, and innumerable hurricanes, Charleston has rebuilt and restored itself many times, yet it remains one of the South’s most beautiful cities. Impressive neoclassical buildings line the streets, especially in the older, upmarket sections of town south of Broad Street and along the waterfront Battery. Charleston’s many small, lush gardens and parks make it ideal for aimless exploring on foot rather than by car.
(from Road Trip USA,

Gotta say, I do like the look of palm trees in the city. What a charming place this is! I stumbled across a lovely tree-lined walk bedecked with a garden that featured a fountain in the middle. A plaque on the sidewalk informed me that this is ‘Wragg Mall’, dedicated by Mr. Wragg to the people of Charleston in 1801.

I hope he didn’t mind my enjoying it too.

Wragg Mall

Wandering the quiet residential streets, I eagerly absorbed the unique (and probably really expensive) homes, basking in the breezy humidity. I believe I was experiencing that ‘glistening’ which southern women do. And it was only 10:30 in the morning!

Charleston has that rugged elegant look, like it’s seen a thing or two. And lived to tell about it! I drove down to the battery and beheld even greater glory and grace. There on the one side was a prospering body of water and majestic, imposing yet inviting mansions on the other. I just looked and looked, grateful to be one of the few cars on the road and no need to hurry past.

Charleston battery

I didn’t see anything in Charleston I didn’t like. Even when I missed 17 and drove into the other side of town, featuring much less grand but still interesting houses. I wish I’d had more time to explore, but this is definitely a place to come back to.

Southward to Georgia. I had to pass a visit to Savannah, although now I wish I had at least driven through it. However, the US-17 route through Georgia offered a smooth pass-through on many intriguing towns, most of which featuring a stoplight or two, a restaurant (the one I tried to visit had already closed at 2), a few homes, a mechanic, and possibly a motel, including one that had clearly been closed for business longer than I’ve been alive, but still seemed to be home to a few folks. The juxtaposition of grand houses and historic plantations with short single-level houses and trailer parks was a consistent theme along the main highway.

Georgia wildflowers

With no traffic to speak of, I crossed the border to Florida late in the afternoon. The sunshine state was experiencing a steady downpour, but when I sought highway A1A and the ocean suddenly rose before me, I liked the gray and misty appearance. It formed a nice contrast with the placid waters of the Carolinas. You could barely tell where the stormy sea ended and the stormy sky began.

Adorably quirky houses lined the beach, but I was allowed a peek at the water here and there before highway 9 took me on the roller coaster bridges that got me around Jacksonville. Whew! My heart started thumping just at the sight.

An irrational fear that I would flip over backwards kept me gunning for the high point of each one. But once I’d crested the upward angle, the magnificent view over the side! It was worth the near heart attack. And then I was glad to be alive, which made everything feel better from sheer relief.

I wonder what manner of men these early explorers must have been, striking out into unmarked territory with no certainty of provision and much certainty of danger! And then those that came behind them engineering and building so that I can come along and do my exploring in safety and ease.

No doubt this trip would’ve been harder if I’d had to row across all the waterways.

These explorations of mine are nothing new from a global or historic perspective. Type in ‘Florida’ on Google Earth and you can find a map and detailed satellite photo. This is far from undiscovered country in that sense of the word. But it is full of new discoveries for me, and I’m so grateful I’ve had the chance to make them.

Day 4 stats:
Miles: 494!
Things that make you go “yay”: 6
Freak-out moments: 2
Chapters: A lot – I think I was a little over halfway through all 59 of them by the time I reached Orlando

Next stop… Key West!

South… west?

In which things don’t go according to plan.

I was trying to stay away from making plans on this trip, because that was kind of the point of the trip itself. Just go – don’t think about the going any more than is absolutely necessary, just get out there and see what you see. But I did want some coffee.

Sourthern NORTH Carolina

Heading east of Havelock, I had visions of a quaint little shop on the boardwalk where I could sit on the beach and sip some liquid refreshment while the seagulls terrorize sea life and small children. I got a little misdirected trying to return to my route (West? Shouldn’t that be East?), so the sun was rather high in the sky by the time I saw signs for Atlantic Beach.

It came out blurry, but the sign says ‘Welcome to Atlantic Beach’

Atlantic Beach is one of the first beach opportunities you come to south of the Outer Banks. It’s a quick bridge crossing from highway 24 (heading West, which is kind of a strange concept, but take a look at the map… North Carolina dips in at that point, so the coast is almost doubling back). It is a tiny place with a tiny boardwalk surrounded by a spa and two or three eateries, none of which served coffee, and none of them open for business even if they had.

I walked the boardwalk – twice – greeted the friendly hangers about, admired the clump of houses hugging the shoreline and drove on.

It was after noon by the time I despaired of my seaside breakfast plans and settled for finding somewhere quick with good coffee. I passed several fast food places before pulling into a McDonald’s and then pulling back out as it was still under construction.

Perhaps I was making too big a deal of this, but prolonged hunger, fatigue, and stiffness were taking all the fun out of this day. I looked to the heavens and pled for mercy. Mercy answered in the form of the Java Bean.

Occupying the end of a strip mall across the street, the flow in and out of happy customers indicated two things: they had good stuff, and they were open. I got an iced coffee to go and took a seat outside. After an hour with my coffee, my journal and a seaworthy breeze, I was feeling adventurous again.

Ocean Isle Beach was my next intended destination, right at the bottom of North Carolina. I was surprised to again find indifferent shops, a few places to eat, and lots of beach houses. These I drove by for awhile, not finding any to be particularly spectacular, but different enough from each other that they were interesting for awhile.

Overcast in the afternoon – I’m noticing a pattern here

I bought a few postcards, managed to track down the lone public bathroom (sans stall doors or TP) and settled on the sand and wrote home to friends.

The beach itself was delightful, brimming with shells  and seaweed with a high dune of sand rimming the tide. Here I sat after taking the necessary walk on the beach. By the time I’d finished writing, it was nearly 5pm and I realized the mail would not go out until tomorrow (Thursday). Oh well.

South Carolina! Here I finally started seeing palm trees. I immediately hit the Myrtle Beach area, and with it miles and miles of off-shore entertainment. This was amusing, in contrast with all the sober stretches of lonely road I was about to traverse.

Thank goodness I filled up on gas! Having passed through Georgetown and then heading toward Charleston, US-17 took me through about 50 miles of quiet, nearly undisturbed country. As dark fell, I found myself to be driving the only car on the road, a realization that both concerned and comforted me.

One thing I figured out as Day 3 was nearing a close – road tripping is more fun in daylight. When you can see what’s happening around you, it’s exciting. When it’s dark, you’re just driving. It gets dull. Thankfully, I had my Great Expectations going by now, and Pip and Estella kept my brain engaged until I could reach my watering hole for the night.

Civilization snuck up on me and I quickly found my exit to 526, which lifted me into the air over large bodies of water which I couldn’t properly make out in the dark. But there were lots of lights below which I assigned to ships and boats and all kinds of watery engineering. Finally I reached my hotel in North Charleston and lugged my suitcase and myself into the Red Roof Inn.

So, so tired.

Day 3 stats:
Miles covered: 300
Coffees consumed: 1
Beaches: 2
Friendly strangers: 4
Chapters: 15
Next stop… REALLY Charleston!