When we visited the USA in 2015 we wrote two blog posts that never made it to the site. We did not blog the entire trip, missing our details of Charleston, Savannah and Florida. Since we wrote these posts though I feel I should add them to the site before we start our next adventure. Hopefully our coming trip will see us keep a little more up to date and provide some fresh insight into the trip as we go.
Travel dates: 24th April – 26th April
Location: Virginia and North Carolina
Road Trip (Rich)
On the road we didn’t have a destination set for Friday night so were winging it. We had to be in Durham, NC on Friday but that left a lot of choice in how to get there and where to stop in between. In the end we were tempted by an indirect route taking in Shenandoah National Park. With 104 miles through the park at a 35 miles per hour speed limit this was never going to be the quickest route but it promised to be much more interesting than heading down the interstate. Our rough route is shown below, at some point I will find a better way to map where we went:
Having spent until after midday getting the car and visiting space shuttles we only reached the national park at nearly 3pm. We had picked up a picnic on the way from a Mom & Pop road side deli. We ate this at the visitor centre marking the start of the Skyline Drive. This is the 104 mile drive mentioned above running along a ridge through the blue mountains. The road was a pleasure to drive along taking in the stunning scenery as we went. Spring hadn’t quite reached the top of the mountain so the trees were still bare but looking down to the valleys you could see spring fast approaching. The road must be spectacular in autumn as the colours change and I would happily come back and drive it again then.
At one point in the drive we came across a number of cars stopped in the road. We took this as a sign that there was something interesting and were not disappointed when we found a young bear feeding just off the road. We were able to approach fairly closely to get a good picture whilst remaining safely on the other side of a wall from the bear. We were still very aware that the wall would be no match for him or mummy bear should she be around. Safe to say we didn’t hang about too long to find out if she was near. For the next several miles we happily entertained ourselves with “Bear Left” jokes while Vicki gave directions. Quite sad really.
At the visitor centre we had enquired about accommodation and been told we might find a Mom & Pop style motel in a town called Elkton about 60 miles through the drive. Arriving there at 7pm we were ready to stop. Our first pass through Elkton didn’t yield much. There were some closed motels and only one that looked like it was still open. We managed to get phone signal and Trip Advisor told us the one motel we had passed was reasonable so we gave it a go. For $50 for the night we got a small cabin. Although smelling a bit smokey and with a tatty carpet the bed was fine and bathroom clean and functional. The location was stunning though and it lived up to the name Country View Inn.
A short run was made shorter by a yappy dog and a chat with locals who were confused why we would want to run and couldn’t suggest anywhere to go. We didn’t want to explore too much as we were worried Mama might have a gun if we strayed onto her property. Despite Elkton being very small and on first impression not offering a lot it had a great Mexican place recommended to us by the cashier at the 7/11. Fed and watered we got an early night ready to hit the road again in the morning.
Another treat Elkton offered was a country store that served “Bear-ekfast” sandwiches. These were delicious if quite unhealthy and were consumed by us at ‘overlook’ on the Skyline Drive. Finishing the scenic drive we were in Charlottesville before lunch.
Charlottesville is made famous by past resident Thomas Jefferson. We were on the Jefferson trail visiting the university of Virginia that he founded and his home at Monticello. It made a very pleasant day of exploration. At Monticello we were happy to have done the gardens and Jefferson’s grave first as an epic storm arrived during our house tour. Even with a bus ride back to the visitor centre I got soaked when going to retrieve the car.
With a 3 hour drive to Durham ahead of us the bad weather wasn’t encouraging. Fortunately we soon outran the storm and were rewarded by a fabulous drive through the Virginia countryside. The open road through farms and towns was an easy drive. Only when we entered North Carolina and neared Durham on a stretch of interstate to finish the drive did the storms return. By the time we made Durham though the vastly changeable weather had done its thing again and we had clear skies and a beautiful sunset. Fortunately we avoided the tornados that had hit elsewhere in the state.
A quick stop at our Red Roof Inn preceded BBQ food for dinner. QShack provided huge portions of pulled pork, beef brisket and plentiful sides. It was easy to see why our fellow diners were on the large side. We justified the excess as trying the local cuisine and with a run planned the next morning to offset it.
As is usual, Saturday dawned, and we found ourselves on the start line of yet another parkrun, this time in a lovely park in Durham, NC. We had checked out the competition on line and were expecting to have to put a lot of effort in just to avoid coming last. A quick chat with the run director Julie and her husband Martin and we were off on a hilly 3 lap trot around the park. It should be mentioned that the field was a little on the small side – there were only 10 of us, and perhaps more surprisingly, all but 3 were tourists!
As mentioned, the course was hilly – more to the point, there was a one hill, which you had to do 3 times. It seemed manageable the first time round, but by the third time, definitely not much fun. We decided to set a decent pace for the first mile, and then, finding ourselves in second and third place, decided to carry on, finishing First Lady and Second Man in the end!
Having burnt lots of calories it was time to refuel, and breakfast with Julie, Martin and some of the other parkrunners was at a great little coffee shop not far from the park. The grits were good, but the idea of a breakfast burrito still seems a bit strange. Julie and Martin had kindly offered to show us the botanical gardens in the afternoon, and so after a quick shower we headed back into town to see Durham itself before heading off. Unfortunately we were too late for the Farmers Market, and didn’t have enough time for the Tobacco Heritage tour, but we did have a good time wandering around the centre, looking at the old Tobacco warehouses and newly restored downtown area.
The botanical gardens at Duke University really are a sight to behold, especially with the tulips in bloom. The sun was shining, and it was a lovely way to spend an hour before we had to get back in the car and hit the road again. Next stop, Wilmington.