Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, no matter what and where you celebrated it. I was at home in Washington D.C. with my family, trying to catch my breath for a minute, fix some of my equipment and enjoy some holiday cheer. It is, of course, always a good opportunity to look back at the year gone by, and look ahead at the year to come.
A year ago, I was getting ready to set out for the second time on this trip. I had had a fascinating month in West Virginia at the end of 2017, learning about the wonderful history of the Mountain State and seeing some truly spectacular scenery. I had never taken such a deep, in-depth look at a state before, and I really connected with West Virginia on so many different levels. From deep in the heart of coal country to their wonderful state park system to the little big cities of Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling, West Virginia had so much to offer. On the other hand, it was December, so it was cold and the sun was going down at around 4:30 in the afternoon. These were probably not the best of conditions to try and learn the ins and outs of my new van and my new lifestyle, but then again I am a big supporter of a trial by fire. The challenges I faced in my first month of this journey were real, but I persevered as there was no way I was giving up.
Although I was planning on being home for Christmas last year anyway, I had to go home early as my grandmother began to fade. I rushed home to spend her last few days by her side and help her move on to whatever adventure comes next. It was a hard time, but a deeply human time and I was glad I could be there with her and the rest of my family. Christmas last year was a bit somber, but we made the best of it we could.
In January, a cold front hit the southeast like it hadn’t seen in a long time, and I was grateful to be home and safe in Washington, where I waited it out until conditions improved. From there I headed south into the Carolinas where I spent the rest of the winter. From coastal towns to big cities to the mountains of the west, I explored, hiked and even skied to my hearts content and delight. I got some traction and Shadow Catcher (my van) and I bonded and braved cold nights and slippery roads. I enjoyed spending Mardi Gras in Marshall, North Carolina and St. Patrick’s Day in Charleston, South Carolina. They were challenging but very rewarding months.
Spring led me to Tennessee, a state absolutely full of things to do. The Great Smoky Mountains in the east were, as always, inspirational. It was wonderful to visit some of my old favorite haunts in Nashville and Memphis and be able to hang around a bit longer than usual and find new ones. I ate a lot of ribs in Tennessee and heard some phenomenal live music. My time in Tennessee ended with a bang at Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester. I spent a week there camped out with some wonderful people, working the festival and hearing some great music. I had never been to a big multi-day festival like that, and it was a lot of fun and a great way to cap off my visit in the Volunteer State.
From Tennessee, I headed home to recharge, repack and reload. I also took my dad on a trip to New Hampshire to see my brother and his kids. It was great to spend some time with my family and prepare for the next leg of my trip: Ohio.
My visit to Ohio began with a week-long stay at Athens Beer Fest and a wonderful collaboration with the Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau. I then headed west along the Ohio River through old iron and steel towns all the way to Cincinnati, one of my favorite cities of the journey so far. Heading north through Miamisburg and Dayton and then east to Columbus, I learned a lot about the fascinating history of Ohio. Moving into the east of the state, I found myself back in Appalachia and happy to be there. I visited my maternal grandfather’s hometown of Dillonvale and learned a lot about that side of my family. I even found the grave of my great grandparents and sat with them a bit to introduce myself. I ventured north to Lake Erie and some wonderful lakeside towns and then down into Cleveland, another town full of surprises.
From Cleveland I flew to New Jersey, where I ran a quick two week tour for my old tour company from New York to Miami. It was great to be back in the Tour Guide seat and to have some company, and it reminded me of all I love about that job and that part of my life. I hope to return this coming summer for a little bit of a longer season.
Back to Cleveland and down through Cuyahoga National Park to Akron, on to Mansfield and then up to Toledo I went before deciding it was too late in the year to try and make it through Michigan per my original plan. It wasn’t bad when I was there, but 5-6 more weeks could have had me frozen and wishing I had made a wiser choice. I turned my headlights south and headed off to Kentucky.
Kentucky was a real treat. From fun cities like Lexington and Louisville to smaller ones like Owensboro and Paducah, there were always things to do and lots to learn. It was the parks and natural areas of Kentucky though which really captured my heart and imagination. I loved the caves I visited there, and the wonderful lakes and rivers as well. That’s not even to mention the spectacular mountains of the southeast. It was Red River Gorge, though, which really blew me away, especially in its fall foliage. Couple all of that with a new appreciation and understanding of bourbon, some mutton barbecue and a steaming bowl of burgoo, and Kentucky was a wonderful experience.
Snow on the mountain tops and temperatures dropping into the single digits had me turn tail and head south, all the way to Georgia. A week in the North Georgia mountains was nothing short of magic. The waterfalls, trails and quaint small towns were incredibly pleasant to visit and explore. From there, I dropped down through Athens and on to Atlanta where I had a quiet and contemplative Thanksgiving. The relatively unvisited southwest of the state was a region I really enjoyed. Columbus really surprised me with all it had to offer and I had some good times in some of the smaller towns as well. After a nice stop in Augusta and a wonderful visit to one of my old favorites: Savannah, I headed to the islands of the east coast of the Peach State. From Tybee in the north to Cumberland in the south, it was a fabulous and fascinating journey down the coast.
I flew home for a week or so over Christmas, a short visit but a good one. I flew out of and back to Orlando where I could stash my van with a good friend who I spent the New Years Eve with as well.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year on the road. I did spend some time at home, but I was out here for over 300 days in 2018. I have seen and done and learned and experienced so much. It’s hard to believe how much I’ve seen, really, and I’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s out there. When I set out, I naively believed that a month in each state would be plenty. I haven’t spent less than five weeks in one yet, and that even seems like a short time at this point. Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve only put on about 20,000 miles this year, which was the intent. I travel slowly and deliberately and try not to move too fast or travel too far in a day. It’s been an amazing slow journey through a nice chunk of the eastern half of the country though, and I know a whole lot more about those seven states, and how they fit into the bigger picture, than I did a year ago. I couldn’t have done it without the support of so many of my friends who welcomed me in with open arms to their homes and their lives. Some I hadn’t seen in a few months, but others, it had been decades. It has been amazing to catch up with so many old friends and to make so many new ones along the way. And you, dear reader, have been the driving force and constant motivator on this journey. Your support in reading my posts and sending your comments have been wonderful and I truly appreciate each and every one of you. I couldn’t have done it without you.
I feel very fortunate to be doing what I’m doing. I know that most Americans only get 10 days off a year, which means that I’ve had over 30 years’ worth of vacation time this year - almost a whole career for many. Not that it’s been a vacation per se. I’ve been working really hard to take and edit and publish hundreds of photos and write as much as I can when I can find the time. I’ve put out 14 high-quality podcasts which I’m really proud of as well. My days usually run from 7:30 in the morning until late in the night, and I’ve rarely taken a complete “day off” on this journey. But I also recognize that I am very fortunate to be able to take this time and make this trip. I saved for a lot of years to make it happen, but it has all been worth it.
Looking ahead at the coming year, I’m hoping for another good one. This coming month and a half I will spend right here in Florida. I’m making my way down the east coast now all the way to Key West, and then I’ll turn north and head up the gulf coast and across the panhandle. From there, I plan to cut across to Louisiana for Mardi Gras in my old hometown of New Orleans, and then head out into Cajun Country and up into the north of the state. I’ve traveled through more of Louisiana than I have in most states, but I’m still looking forward to exploring the far corners, and revisiting old favorites. I can’t wait to hear some of that good zydeco music and tuck into a heaping mound of crawfish. Then it will be off for a month in Alabama, a state I have spent very little time in and am really looking forward to exploring.
After Alabama, I’m headed home to Washington DC for a bit, and then hopefully doing a summer season with my old tour company. It’d be great to get back out west for a few months in the National Parks, sharing the beauty of this country with visitors and making a few bucks along the way. Don’t worry, I hope to be back to it in the fall, swinging south through Mississippi to Texas and then towards the west coast. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because we all know how that usually works out, but wherever I end up going, I hope you’ll keep right on with me. I hope to keep taking photos and producing quality content for you to inspire you and motivate you to get out and do some traveling of your own. I am going to try and take it a little easier on myself this year and try and take a few more breaks though, to watch both my physical and emotional health. Being a solo traveler constantly on the move can definitely take its toll on both.
So that’s my look back and look forward friends. It’s been a heck of a run, and I’m only just getting warmed up. If you want to help out, you can be sure you share this blog with any friends you think might be interested. Also be sure you like or comment on my posts so I know you’re reading - it really helps keep me motivated. If you like history, give my podcast a listen and see what you think. You can click the “podcast” tab in the upper right corner to stream or download it, or search “American Anthology” on iTunes, Stitcher or most podcasting apps.
Thank you again for making 2018 such a huge success for me and Miles2Go, and I hope you’ll stick around and see what we can get into in 2019.