On The Road Home

The Highway dreamstime_xs_3020073161250

The Highway
dreamstime_xs_3020073161250

The Road Home: The road trip I’ve repeated most often in my life runs from Iowa to North Carolina and back again. For much of my adult life I’ve lived in Iowa, but my family home was in NC, so two or three times a year, I made the trek back and forth. I looked forward to these trips. I always feel free as soon as I take to the road, and I’ve made the trip so many times I didn’t need to worry about directions. I just took off and started driving.

Along the Highway: For the majority of the trips, I was alone–well, alone with whatever music I was currently listening to, which over the years evolved from pop to country to alternative and jazz. On later trips I discovered audio books. Always addicted to story, I found narrative could eat up the miles faster than music. I don’t mean to say the view outside the windshield slipped by unnoticed, I still drank in the landscape unrolling outside my windows. Travel writers often decry the Interstates and choose the “blue highways” as William Least Heat Moon coined them. I too like the small roads but much of the Interstates I drove on during these trips circled the cities and let me wander over the land.

On the Prairie: Starting out in Iowa on Hwy 34 east, I was surrounded by grain fields and occasional A-frame hob houses. Yes, each hog could have its own A-frame house. (I laughed hysterically when I first moved to Iowa and learned what those triangular structures were, enjoying the irony of high-end sty.) Only an hour from the Mississippi, I hit the river at Burlington, Iowa and crossed over into Illinois. The river is unprepossessing this far north, brown and not even especially wide, still the river has its own presence that reminds the driver she is crossing the bridge between the two halves of the nation.

River by River: I marked the stages of my journey by the rivers I crossed. Occasionally, I even imagined what it would be like to make the trip by water from Iowa to NC (and I believe one could). This fantasy reminded me of the wonderful Cheever story “The Swimmer,” when a man makes his way home via swimming pool after swimming pool. Of course, he was deranged, so maybe I shouldn’t carry this fantasy too far!

Back to the Trees: Once across the Great River, Illinois feel similar to Iowa at first, green fields on a billowing plain, but differences crop up– more trees for one. Some hours later, I would be crossing Indiana with little change to the landscape, though now perhaps less flat. When I first made this trip, the Interstates hadn’t yet circled cities like Indianapolis. I had the misfortune once of hitting the city limits just as the Indianapolis 500 race was finishing, and the crowds had begun to leave the speedway. It took me over two hours to cross the city. Today, a driver can just whip around the sprawl and roll on.

Heading South: The land really begins to change once I drop south to Cincinnati and cross the river into Kentucky. On the earlier trips, I usually drove past Louisville to Lexington where I spent the night with a favorite aunt and uncle, both gone now. The landscape around Lexington is striking–lush green fields with stark black barns and endless black or white fencing enclosing gorgeous horses. The horses never seemed to be still as I drove past. They whirled and streaked across the field, seemingly for the pure joy of movement.

Hitting Kentucky: South of Lexington, the landscape changes even more drastically with jutting walls of rock enclosing the Interstate. Steep hills create deep valleys. In this part of the country, the names of towns are familiar from my childhood. In Kentucky, I drive past Barbourville where my grandparents had a small farm on Stony Fork Creek, and my grandfather farmed and mined coal. Next comes Corbin, Kentucky where another aunt and uncle lived when I was a small child. For me today, Corbin is home to the cemetery where family are buried, first my grandparents, then my sister, and finally the aunt and uncle from Lexington. I stop by sometimes to say hello though their spirits are long gone.

Across the Mountains: Heading south into Tennessee, Jellico is another town connected to family. My aunt Ida, mother of 13 children had lived there. I visited her on her chicken farm when I was very young. I was afraid of this small, strong-minded woman (who wouldn’t need to be strong-minded with 13 children?). Another town with family connections is Clairfield, where my father was born in 1911. The major town with family connection in east Tennessee, though, is Knoxville. I was born in Knoxville and we lived there for three years before we moved to NC. I always said hello to my infant self as I drove through.

Along the River: Turning east at Knoxville, one drives for about an hour before the first sight of the mountains is visible. I breathe a sigh of relief when those blue smoky peaks rise up sharply from the flat plain east of Knoxville. The smokies spell home to me, but at this point, I still had to cross them. The road immediately begins to climb. As the road rises, the French Broad River follows on the right and accompanies my drive most of the rest of the way home. The smoky Mountains are deeply forested and the river, when it wanders slightly away from the road, glints through the trees.

Home: Once across the mountains, I was home. My family lived in the western edge of two valleys that join to form the basin where Asheville sits, ringed by mountains. We lived in a community about ten miles west of Asheville, so as soon as I was over the mountains, I would take one of the first exits and follow familiar roads through the rural community of Candler. When I made the turn onto Justice Ridge Road, across the valley from Mt. Pisgah, I was home. The return road trip, shorts days away, would make my leaving home once again less painful.

On the Road Home

Road Trip

Road Trip

The road trip I’ve repeated most often in my life runs from Iowa to North Carolina and back again. For much of my adult life, I’ve lived in Iowa, but my family home was in North Carolina, so two or three times a year, I made the trek back and forth. I look forward to these trips. I always feel free as soon as I take to the road, and I’ve made the trip so many times I don’t need to worry about directions. I just take off and started driving.

For the majority of the trips, I was alone—well, alone with whatever music I was currently listening to, which over the years evolved from pop to country to alternative and jazz. On later trips, I discovered audio books. Always addicted to story, I found narrative could eat up the miles faster than music. I don’t mean to say the view outside the windshield slipped by unnoticed, I still drank in the landscape unrolling outside my windows. Travel writers often decry the Interstates and choose the “blue highways” as William Least Heat Moon coined them. I too like the small roads but much of the Interstates I drove on during trips circled the cities but still let me wander over the land.

Starting out in Iowa on Hwy 34, I was surrounded by grain fields and the occasional A-frame hog houses. Yes, before factory farms, each hog could haves its own A-frame house. (I laughed hysterically when I first moved to Iowa and learned what those triangular structures were, enjoying the irony of the high-end personal sty.” Only an hour from the Mississippi, I hit the river at Burlington, Iowa and crossed into Illinois. The river is unprepossessing this far north, brown and not especially wide, still the river has its own presence that reminds the driver she is crossing the bridge between the two halves of the nation.

I marked the stages of my journey by the rivers I crossed.  Occasionally, I even imagined what it would be like to make the trip by water from Iowa to North Carolina (and I believe one could). This fantasy reminded me of the wonderful Cheever story “The Swimmer,” when a man makes his way home via swimming pools. Of course, he was deranged, so maybe I shouldn’t carry this fantasy too far!

Once over the Mississippi, Illinois feels similar to Iowa at first, green fields on a billowing plain, but differences crop up—more trees for one. Some hours later, I would be crossing Indiana with little change to the landscape though now perhaps less flat. When I first made this trip, the Interstates hadn’t yet circled cities like Indianapolis. I had the misfortune once of hitting the city limits just the Indianapolis 500 race was finishing, and the crowds had begun to leave the speedway. It took me over two hours to cross the city. Today, a driver can simply whip around the sprawl and roll on.

The land really begins to change once I drop south to Cincinnati and cross the river into Kentucky. On the earlier trips, I usually drove past Louisville to Lexington where I spent the night with a favorite aunt and uncle, both gone now. The landscape around Lexington is striking—lush green fields with stark black barns and endless black or white fencing enclosing gorgeous horses. The horses never seemed to be still as I drove past. They whirled and streaked across the field, seemingly for the pure joy of movement.

South of Lexington, the landscape changes even more drastically with jutting walls of rock enclosing the Interstate. Steep hills create deep valleys. In this part of the country, the names of towns are familiar from my childhood. In Kentucky, I drove past Barbourville where grandparents had a small farm on Stony Fork Creek, and my grandfather farmed and mined coal. Next comes Corbin where another aunt and uncle lived. For me today, Corbin is home to the cemetery where family members are buried, first my grandparents, then my sister, and finally the aunt and uncle from Lexington. I stop by sometimes to say hello though their spirits are long gone.

Heading south into Tennessee, Jellico is another town with family connections. My aunt Ida, mother of 13 children lived there. I visited her chicken farm when I was very young. I was afraid of this small, strong-minded women (who wouldn’t need to be strong-minded with 13 children?). Another town with family connections, Clairfield, Tennessee, is the town where my father was born in 1911. Next is Knoxville, where I was born. I always said hello to my infant self as I drove through.

Turning east at Knoxville, one drives for about an hour before the first sight of the mountains. I breathe a sigh of relief when those blue smoky peaks rise up sharply from the flat plain east of Knoxville. The Smokies spell home to me, but at this point, I still had to cross them. The road immediately begins to climb. As the road rises, the French Broad River follows on the right and accompanies my drive most of the rest of the way home. The Smoky Mountains are deeply forested and the river, when it wanders slightly away from the road, glints through the trees.

Once across the mountains, I was home. My family lived in the western edge of the two valleys that join to from the basin where Asheville sits. The  small town of Candler, about ten miles west of Asheville, was home. When I took the first exit and followed the highway to Justice Ridge Road, I could see south across the valley to Mt. Pisgah and knew the trip was at an end—for now.

Images:

“Road Trip.” unzipped.image.dreamstime_xs_3020073161250

 

Neil Armstrong and I

Neil Armstrong, July 1, 1969

Neil Armstrong, July 1, 1969

Walking on the Moon: I visited Europe for the first time the summer Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, 1969. My friend Junie and I traveled with a summer-abroad program offered by the University we attended in Greensboro, NC, and by nearly Guilford, a Quaker college. We flew to England by way of Iceland as most cheap flights did at the time, landed in Brussels where we marveled at the architecture, spent a week in Paris looking at art we’d only before studied on page or screen, and settled for the summer in London. In London for only a few days, we dropped one of the two classes we were to take–history, never a favorite subject of mine. Later we dropped the Shakespeare class when we learned we could still attend all the plays. One of my favorite events that summer was seeing a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream in Regent’s Park, outdoors, at night, with mulled claret served at intermission.

City of History: Over the summer, we stayed in a room of what had once been a stately mansion on the Crescent, then a hotel run by an Indian couple who cooked curry twenty-four hours a day. We became friends with a guy named Hank; he knew about architecture, rock music, and kept us entertained all summer. With Hank in tow, we explored London, wandering museums (yes, I love museums). My possibly most favorite painting, Blake’s Newton, lives in the famous Tate Museum. We visited historical monuments and attended a somewhat raucous Elizabethan feast on the night that Armstrong did walk on the moon.

Shakespeare Folio

Shakespeare Folio

Land of Shakespeare: Our summer program included an obligatory and enjoyable trip to Stratford-on-Avon, stopping off in Oxford where I ran into friends from high school, also on a summer abroad program (our conversations conducted through bus windows). Back in London after our daytime excursions, we ate nearly every evening in London at a spot called The Green Cafe where everyone ordered peaches and clotted cream, a dish I still dream about occasionally.

The Rolling Stones: The epic event of the summer was attending a free concert by the Rolling Stone. Along with many others, we stealthily made our way into Hyde Park the night before the concert, found good spots in an already sizable crowd, wrapped ourselves in blankets and went to sleep. The concert was everything a rock concert should be–great music, an enthusiastic crowd, ordered maintained by the Hell’s Angels the Stones had hired, and a glorious moment at the end of the concert when the Stones released tiny pastel butterflies that flew out over the crowd. More than a dozen settled on my jacket. I was in bliss.

Cornwall: The last week of our trip we were free to travel anywhere we wanted. Our friend Crawford arrived in London, and the four of us rented a car and took off to see the British Isles. Initial moments were fraught as I attempted to adjust to driving with the steering wheel on the right during rush hour traffic in London. Finally, making out way out of the city, we headed southwest. We camped that night in Cornwall on Trevose  Head, a promontory jutting out over the Atlantic. The landowners reluctantly let us in after other tourists had left for the day, breaking their rule of not allowing camping. Camping on that high jut of land over the ocean felt like we were early earthlings, enjoying the planet alone.

Stonehenge, Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

Stonehenge, Diego Delso, Wikimedia Commons, License CC-BY-SA 3.0

Stonehenge: Another great adventure was visiting Stonehenge. We camped along a nearby roadside for the night. At the time, one could get in among the stone at night if you were quick. We made a stealthy foray into the stones after it was dark and we ran for all we were worth. This road trip took us from Cornwall north to Wales where we toured Caernarvon Castle, home to my ancient forebears (Lewellyns) and then moved on to walk on the pebble beach at Abergavenny. From Wales, we drove north to Scotland to see the wall the Romans had built, and finally back down to London for a last few days of socializing and wandering the streets before heading home. A high spot was seeing the famous actress Hermione Gingold, strolling along, looking elegant and just like a grand dame of the stage should look.

Years later, that summer road trip and the weeks in London hold so many wonderful memories. I am still close with these people I traveled with–though one of us left the planet too soon. Travel opens up so many avenues. For me, this trip led to new lands and new friends. I give thanks.

 

Images:

Neil Armstrong:  NASA Photo ID: S69-31741, Apollo XI, July 1, 1969