Tag Archives: Road Trip

Easter Sunrise

Saturday, 5 April, I finished my work at the factory early and, always being one to maximize an opportunity, decided to drive to the fabulous barrier islands of coastal Carolina known as the Outer Banks. The reason was simple, no need for fancy qualifications here, I wanted to take in a sunrise on the beach. So, hotel livin’ for the week, I borrowed the pullout bed covers and a pillow and took off for the coast!

I’ve heard that Wilson and the surrounding environs were at one point called the “Tobacco Capitol of the World,” and driving through the countryside, it was immediately apparent as to why. The land is vivid with color and the soil rich and dark. Things just grow here. I’ve included a picture below.

Coastal Carolina Farmland near Wilson, NC

Coastal Carolina farmland near Wilson, NC

Growing up in Indiana, surrounded by fields of corn and soybean for as far as the eye could see, I felt strangely at home while driving through this area. At once being reminded, based on local utilization of tree lines for wind breaks, of many a road trip north or south on I-65. Except for the hills (which reminded me of Wisconsin) and soil differences, I almost thought I was back home. It was interesting to say the least.

My intermediary destination was US-64 east which from Wilson gave me two options: Take the boring I-95 north and then east OR the more interesting, predominantly North Carolina backroad way to US-64. Choosing the latter, I profited immensely, as I’ve described above. No need to quote Frost but, when given a choice, take the more interesting if you have the time. Slow down. Be here now. Take it all in. Be part of something instead of just causally viewing the blur.

Headed to US64

Headed to US-64

After the back road experience, US-64 was almost a little bit too much civilization for me. It wasn’t the speed limit of 70, it wasn’t the nice roads, it was just the immediacy with which one could recognize the commercialism of the area. After driving for an hour and a half or so, I came upon an area of large, well-organized 60ft x 30ft buildings. I later found out that the buildings are for raising and then processing pigs. I also found out that the eastern region of North Carolina produces more pig products than anywhere else in the region. I used to be vegan. Well, I tried it for about six months. So, seeing the grand scale of this commercial processing operation was kind of disgusting. They just live their lives in these buildings and then eventually, they’re slaughtered. I doubt they ever really get to experience walking around in the pasture. It really makes you stop and think.

Not long after this US-64 went down to two lanes, letting me know that the ocean was less than an hour away. It was quite a scene really! As the sun was going down, everything gained a lovely shade of orange and red; the fiery orange glow of the western sky, coupled with great music, and the smell of Spring all around me, forever imprinted a memory into my brain. Not only that, the full moon coming up over the horizon, as large as I’ve ever seen it, let me know that I made a wise decision to drive out to the coast.

Sunset on 4 April

Sunset on 4 April

As the sun finally set, and twilight faded into darkness, I began to smell salinity in the air. A giddy air came over me. Ten years prior, several friends and I piled into my mother’s minivan and drove from Cookeville, TN, all the way to Nags Head, NC, for 1 week of fun on the beach. Ten years!. An entire decade had passed since I’d last seen the coast of North Carolina. That’s crazy! How much had I changed since then? A whole lot actually.

At 20 years old, life is pretty damn simple. Go to school, get good grades, and learn as much as possible so you can eventually get a coveted thing called a job to support yourself. Daily thoughts being occupied only really with school and what I wanted to do on the weekend. This, as most things in life I took for granted. Me being too absorbed in the day-to-day to really step back and give myself some perspective. That’s the beauty of aging, I had perspective now. Several things being obvious. At 20, besides being more physically fit and capable (read: less bio mechanical issues), able to eat anything I wanted without worry, I was still as headstrong as I am now, just more ignorant. Knowledge is power, and it’s most powerful when you know least. Certainly was easier too. I laughed a little bit at realizing that I still, at 29 years old don’t really have a clue what I want out of life…although I have several good ideas.

Perhaps this is why people go visit childhood places. Being able to touch the past helps us realize potential directions for the future. These tangible experiences ground us and allow ourselves to center. As if by going to these places we can correct any wrongs that may exist, or may have happened there. Although we know that’s not the case.

I thought of this and many other things as I searched within for some direction as the trees faded away and, while crossing a very long bridge to Roanoke Island, was left staring at a lovely moonlit setting. The light of the moonlight reflecting off the intertidal waters, glistened with every passing wave. I thought at once to DeBussey’s Claire de lune and how nice, although cliché, it would be to have that playing while driving over the causeway, looking out over this setting. Vast emptiness reminding me of several painted scenes from the Hudson River school.

Roanoke Island passed by relatively quickly since my thoughts at this point, given the relatively late hour of 9 PM, during a low season, we’re focused on where I could find dinner. Being near the coast, I naturally wanted seafood. The fresher the better. Crossing another smaller causeway I found myself in Nags Head where, driving north on NC-12, I located an open restaurant that, according to Urban Spoon, had decent fare.

Dinner was light, a dozen raw oysters, Carolina style clam chowder, a small seafood salad, washed down with some water. Not bad, but not really that good either. Moyenne. I built it up in my head too much so naturally, I was somewhat disappointed. Rookie move. After dinner, while sipping water, I gently prodded locals as to the best area for me to sleep in my car, with the least possible chance of getting robbed, or worse. They recommended some hotel parking lot, can’t remember which, and noting that, I left in search of beach access. Hunger satiated, I had to see the ocean before sleeping.

So I headed south on NC-12. Destination, unknown! Figured I’d find it when I found it, you know? Eventually off to my right I noticed the light of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. At which point I knew I had entered the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. This was where I’d take in the ocean. And, what I scene it was!

Moonlight over Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Moonlight over Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Not too shabby, huh? Definitely a good end to the day.

Leaving the beach, I thought about sleeping in this access point. But it was a bit too dark, and frequented by too many potential problems for me to stay here. So, given the proximity, I went over to check out Bodie.

Man, the place was dead! Huge parking lot, and not a soul around! This is where I would sleep! Getting out to adjust the car for sleeping, I was met again by the brisk night air. I’d reason that it was 2°C. I was glad I decided to wear pants instead of shorts and had a hoodie, in addition to the bedspread. I knew immediately that I was in for a long night. This was reinforced by the height difference between the fold-down seats and the trunk floor of my Hyundai Sonata. Comfort was not going to be found tonight as I tried to get a bit of REM.

I was awake, but asleep, and much of the in-between, for almost the entire night. Readjusting as necessary to find some semblance of sleep-ability. Knowing then that the next time I rented a car from National, I’d fold down the seats first and check sleep-ability, to allow for the potential of more brilliant ideas like this one.

Just before dawn, and shivering, I glanced over at my phone. It confirmed my suspicions. It was 5 AM and dawn was not going to be here for an hour and a half. Being a practical person, I no longer tried my hand at this game called sleep and perused the Internet to pass the time. All the while being comforted by the gentle flash of light from Bodie.

Predawn came, and with it a very nice scene. The multi hued sky silhouetting the lighthouse and a few trees against it. I took in the scene for a few minutes before taking a photo. I used to love taking pictures, and I still do, but I hesitate nowadays because I don’t want the pursuit of a good photo distracting me from imprinting the setting. And I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised an iPhone could get this.

Bodie Island Lighthouse in pre-dawn light

Bodie Island Lighthouse in pre-dawn light

I crossed over NC-12 to the beach access point and did my best to stay warm for the 30 minutes or so before dawn. This, is why I was here! I definitely was not going to miss it. I snapped several pictures and played around with some of the iPhone filters, the results are below

Sunrise is almost here!

Sunrise is almost here!

Had to show a black & white. I'm quite impressed by my the abilities of my iPhone 5.

Had to show a black & white. I’m quite impressed by my the abilities of my iPhone 5.

And when dawn finally came I was ready! Although my iPhone did not do this scene justice.

Easter Sunrise!

Easter Sunrise!

After this a race began. I had one hour to drive nearly the length of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore to catch the 8 AM ferry to Ocracoke. If I missed it, I’d have to kill an hour before catching the next one. This wouldn’t have been too big of an issue but I had another ferry to catch from Ocracoke to Swan Quarter later that day. This, was the all important ferry that would save me 2 hours of driving and ferry commuting back up the seashore and over to the mainland. I couldn’t be late!

Given the remoteness of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore it’s incredibly easy to speed. Going along and all of a sudden your at 80! Yeah, that easy. The time crunch didn’t help. Here’s a picture to show the remoteness.

Desolation and isolation.

Desolation and isolation.

And here’s another showing a crazy flock of birds going over a bridge. There must’ve been over 5,000!

Headed south on 12! Thousands of birds!

Headed south on NC-12! Thousands of birds!

I made the ferry with 10 minutes to spare and the 1 hour voyage went by pretty quickly. I took a much needed nap and woke up refreshed and delighted to explore Ocracoke. The island is 12 miles long and quite narrow in spots, with a small village at the south end. The village is usually swarming with tourists during the Summer high season but this being Easter Sunday, the town was quite dead. That, coupled with my 9:40 AM arrival served to my detriment. I had shivered all night and hadn’t any food since my small dinner the previous night and was starving. I didn’t find any place open but I did find a coffee shop. And hey, a decent espresso can take the edge off of a lot of things. Eventually I found a restaurant and had breakfast, and afterword took a walkabout the town.

I’m a fan of lighthouses so naturally I had to see the Ocracoke lighthouse (it’s the smallest of all those on the Outer Banks). See the picture below.

Ocracoke Lighthouse

Ocracoke Lighthouse

I really picked a bad time to visit the island since 80% of the stores/artisan places were closed. But on the bright side, it was really nice to take an hour walk in the Spring sunshine. After the walk I made my way to the ferry terminal only to find out that the ticket I purchased that morning over the Internet was actually for the next day’s ferry. So I had to put on the charm to get the officer to get me onto the last ferry to Swan Quarter. Actually, I got the last spot. Lucky day indeed!

I passed the 2 hour 40 minute ferry voyage by reading and figuring out where I wanted to eat dinner in Greenville, NC. I found a Bonefish Grill with decent reviews. I knew then that I had found the dinner spot. The drive from the ferry terminal to Greenville was uneventful. As before, speeding is incredibly easy on these remote backroads. And luckily I was with a fast group of cars!

Ferry nearing Swan Quarter, NC. Stay behind the nets!

Ferry nearing Swan Quarter, NC. Stay behind the nets!

Tree-lined road shortly after departing the ferry terminal. Almost reminds me of the sycamore-lined roads near Lyon, France.

Tree-lined road shortly after departing the ferry terminal. Almost reminds me of the sycamore-lined roads near Lyon, France.

Coastal Carolina is fertile!

Coastal Carolina is fertile!

Dinner was spot on and I endeared myself to the bartenders. I encouraged one to seriously consider home infusions of alcohol and the other, pretty cute actually, seemed to very much enjoy talking with me. I’ll definitely go back to Greenville for dinner!


Life is really what we make of it. You can choose to get out and live life, putting yourself into less-than-ideal situations for absolutely worth it moments OR you can do the opposite, staying in your comfortable bubble, forever maintaining the status quo.

Throw away your television, fears, and worries, and get out and live! Your life depends on it!

– Brett

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Taking Stock (& Happy Birthday)

I’m starting to realize that my ability to affect change in the world is entirely dependent on capitalizing my skill sets, most of those being my energy, passion, genuine zest for life, with the ability to solve complex problems quickly. The flipside of this being my perseverance (the piss and vinegar if you will) to push through obstacles and take down my desired fruits from the tree of opportunity, when the aforementioned skills aren’t profiting me. This became apparent on my recent trip to Atlanta to take the DELF A2 at the Alliance Française…

It’s not often that I go to Atlanta, the “New York” of The South, the city upon which all others are judged in this region. I used to go frequently between 2004-2008 for raves at Opera and Wet Bar, so I’m familiar with enough with Midtown by night. But, this time, arriving in the afternoon of 23 March 2015, it was like seeing the city for the first time and the grandiosity of the area was inspiring. Which is just what I needed to smooth my nerves out before the exam. That evening, after studying several hours, I needed to take a walk to find some food and clear my head so I walked to the testing location at the corner of 14th and Peachtree, about 7 blocks or so from my hotel.

Navigating Atlanta streets are nowhere near as simple as GPS devices make it out to be. I can’t tell you the number of times that I made a wrong turn and got caught on one-way streets which forced me onto the interstate and then, 5 miles down the road later I was able to correct, and come back for another go. I didn’t want to repeat this bit of history the following morning of my exam.

Well, during the walk I passed by a place called Café Intermezzo, which upon first glance, looks like the combination of a Parisian and Viennese Café. I made a mental note to check this place out on the walk back. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of this place, but let me tell you, it’s awesome! I ended up having a Greek-style salad with a negroni, and had a glass of Chartreuse Vert for dessert. The latter, after having lived in Grenoble, France, is my favorite way to end a dinner, especially with good conversation.

As I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a girl (later found out she is a musician) talking to the server. She saw my glance, and we struck up a conversation. After speaking for several minutes, she joined me at my table to continue the conversation. We talked about many things and she told me several of her life experiences. One of them was how she tried to kill herself during a dark time in her life and how it obviously had failed since we were talking. I then told her that she had only one direction left to go, up. She looked at me cynically so I had to explain to her:

As your world was burning around you, the flames getting more and more intense, you saw only one way out, death, and after your attempt failed and you lay there stunned, crushed, and in disbelief of your unfortunate stroke of luck, the wind changed and you saw an opening in the flames and thus a path to salvation from your dark pit of despair.

Metaphors and allusions aside, she immediately understood what I meant and internalized my story. We talked about society, it’s perceptions, the judgmental nature of people, and how everyone tries to label and place everything into organized little boxes, more for their benefit and comfort and less for those being classified and catalogued. And the simple truth of this is, that for those of us being classified and catalogued, we are only affected if we allow ourselves to be. As the night went on, I had to get back to the hotel for a proper sleep before my exam. I told her this and then offered her 4 bits of advice in parting, writing each into her notebook (she’s a musician after all). I’ve included a picture below (my penmanship could have been much better):

Note to her

It’s funny. I’m no fatalist, but I just get this feeling that I was meant to meet this person. Not so much as in the “Oh my god it’s a girl I want to marry!” kind of way, but as in a person who was privately searching for answers, some known, some unknown, and found them in my willingness to listen and objectively respond. I should’ve figured that this would happen over dinner as I had previously met another person while at the hotel, having a pre-dinner beer.

The bartender, whose name I won’t say, hailed from Norway but, there was no way to tell from her accent. She spoke perfect American English. It was incredible. Anyway, she came to Atlanta for university and now, MBA in hand, works for a technology company close to the hotel. Given her personality, energy, and insights, it was quite evident that she is an entrepreneur. She left her home in Norway for the United States, because her dreams and aspirations and desires are much larger than what Norway could offer. She said the people there are too comfortable meaning: with the beautiful scenery, proximity to nature, beaches, and with the sea so approachable, it’s easy for natives to be content with their location. Don’t misunderstand, she loves Oslo as much as the next native, she just wants more out of life.

I’m exactly the same, just coming from a different country. And up to that moment, I hadn’t figured out a good way of explaining myself to my Nashville and Tennessee friends about why I had to get out of the state. I want more out of life than Nashville can offer, which really seems to upset a lot of people. I’ve always found that so confusing. Why should my wants and aspirations affect your life in any way shape or form? Simply wanting what a place can’t offer isn’t crazy! What’s crazy is getting upset in the first place about the fact that somebody finds a place of habitation much better or worse than someone else. Those are your thoughts, person, not mine. Chill out!

Positivity, love of yourself (not vanity), and drive are 3 of our greatest weapons against the naysayers of life. They are the enemy of negativity. I’m so happy that my year is ending like this! I will definitely let this view, and the realizations from my experience in Atlanta, propel me into my 29th year of life, on the morrow.

Onward and upward!

Brett

Road Trip to Signal Mountain, TN

22 February 2014:

Today marked the warmest day of the new year, a whopping 66 degrees! And my father and I spent the day driving to Signal Mountain, TN and made a few detours along the way, one of which, afforded a spectacular roadway descent on TN 111 just west of Dunlap, TN. The descent has inspired me to in the future, bring my bicycle, “Icarus,” and make several exhilarating rides down and up the 4 mile descent.

TN 111 just west of Dunlap. Check out that descent! Imagine the speeds you'll reach on a road bike!

TN 111 just west of Dunlap. Check out that descent! Imagine the speeds you’ll reach on a road bike!

Also, on this route is a roadside pullout/picnic area with a spectacular waterfall!

One great spot for a picnic!

One great spot for a picnic!

After Dunlap, we continued onward on TN 111 to a beautiful roadside overlook affording incredible views of the Sequatchie Valley! As we neared Chattanooga we detoured to the small, cliffside community of Walden, TN to check out “Falling Water Falls.” This detour required navigating a series of switchbacks very similar to those found on the hairpin, mountain roads of Europe to reach East Brow Rd on top of Walden Ridge. This road is amazing! It literally rests upon the shear ridgeline and provides spectacular views of the Tennessee Valley. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pull over and take pictures due to the narrowness of the road, but you’ll just have to take my word for it, or better yet, see for yourself!

Sequatchie Valley as seen from roadside overlook. Dunlap, TN and previously mentioned descent in the center.

Sequatchie Valley as seen from roadside overlook. Dunlap, TN and previously mentioned descent in the center.

After Falling Water Falls, we made our way to Signal Mountain and the Cumberland Trail section near Signal Point, part of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. The trailhead begins just below Signal Point, so named due to its strategic importance to the Federals during the Confederate Siege of Chattanooga during the Civil War. The Federals set up a series of signal points on the tops or exposed ridges of the mountains surrounding Chattanooga in preparation for the Confederate destruction of their telegraph lines prior to their siege. Pretty neat actually and from the vantage of the point you can really see why the area was chosen and subsequently named. After gleaning a bit of history from the plaques, we began our hike on the Cumberland Trail. Eventually we arrived at an incredible overlook. The view was of the Tennessee River heading out of Chattanooga and onward to the “Narrows,” a difficult to navigate section of the river, as well as the spectacular Julia Falls plummeting into Middle Creek.

View of the Tennessee River and valley from Signal Point with Lookout Mountain in center-right background.

View of the Tennessee River and valley from Signal Point with Lookout Mountain in center-right background.

Julia Falls as seen from overlook. Off-picture-left is the Tennessee River heading towards the "Narrows."

Julia Falls as seen from overlook. Off-picture-left is the Tennessee River heading towards the “Narrows.”

The picture, due to my 50mm lens, does NOT due the scene justice and I would highly encourage the reader to experience this incredible view in person! After the overlook we made our way to the suspension bridge crossing Middle Creek where, with sunset upon us and light slowly fading, we decided to turnaround.

Our turnaround spot. I sincerely wish we could've stayed longer. Their is a spectacular series of camping locations just behind me to the left.

Our turnaround spot. I sincerely wish we could’ve stayed longer. Their is a spectacular series of camping locations just behind me to the left.

Afterword we made our way to the North Shore area of Chattanooga where I got to experience some of the tasty brews of Chattanooga Brewing Company, I highly recommend their Imperial Pilsner and their Chickbock! We spent the next hour or so wandering around Chattanooga, crossed the Walnut Street pedestrian bridge, and had a great time. Chattanooga is the coolest part of TN!

It was a very good day!