Day 5:

After such a long excursion to Charlotte the day before, I decided to take things a bit easier on my fifth day. I planned to just stick around and explore the area that I was staying in, Hickory Gorge. Earlier that morning to help out, I showed the kids how to spray paint, and we worked on priming some old vinyl records for an art project they had planned. In the music room the family was renovating they planned to cover the floor with vinyl records that people had painted. I was going to be one of the first people to paint one. It was definitely an interesting experience showing three kids how to use spray paint. Needless to say we, went through a lot of it.

After the records were primed, the whole family, Adam, and I all got ready to take a picnic down to Hickory Gorge. The kids made everyone peanut butter and honey sandwiches and packed plenty of fruit on the side. Part of staying with a vegan family is the overabundance of fruit. I won’t complain though. The drive to the gorge wasn’t too far, but it seemed like much further because of how curvy the roads are. It can take forever to go just a couple of miles. Once we made it to town we went to Hickory Gorge Brewery because they had a lovely patio area right on the river that had water access. William and I got beers, and then we all settled in by the river for a nice relaxing time. The kids played in the water, and William, Adam, and I sat on the bank and chatted.

After all of the sandwiches were gone we all made our way down river to stop in a local coffee shop called Coffee on the Rocks so that the kids could get chai lattes (almond milk, of course). Evan beat me at a game of checkers while we waited for the drinks to be made, and while my pride was a little hurt because he’s eight (he’s very smart for his age) it still made for a really good time. We carried on from the coffee shop and wondered back to the river to explore some more. This was one of those gorgeous mountain streams filled with giant rocks that you can climb out to, so we did just that. Everyone split up, the two girls, William and Adam, and Evan and me. Evan became my pal, so we wondered around together and skipped rocks. It’s amazing how enjoyable the little things in life can be. With the addition of it being a new place with new people, it definitely turned out to be a fantastic day.

Jasmine, Jessica, and Adam painting

Once we got back to the house, the kids, Adam, and I all set up to do some painting outside. The weather was perfect, so it made for a much better setting than sitting at a table indoors. We painted for about an hour before the girls had to go to soccer practice, and Evan was going with his mom to a banjo concert, so Adam and I stayed back to enjoy some time in. Adam was a very quiet man that took some coaxing to talk to, but once you got him started he was a very interesting and intelligent guy. So we spent that evening listening to the Great Lake Swimmers, eating mango, and I painted while he read. It made for a good ending to a laid back and enjoyable day.

My contribution in progress

I see now that days like these are few and far between on the road. Since you don’t have much of a home-base to return to, there’s a lot more time spent doing than resting. For someone like myself that tends to be more introverted that can be quite taxing. I enjoy going, but I also enjoy my time of laying around doing nothing, and that’s really hard to do when you’re living out of an SUV.

Day 4:

Charlotte, NC

I slept like a rock for the first time after leaving home. Maybe it was the securing of being somewhere that felt safe, or maybe I was just getting used to the confined sleeping quarters. Either way I was thankful to feel a bit more refreshed. I did wake up a good bit before the rest of the family, so I just kind of wondered around for a few minutes before settling back into my car to kill time. I didn’t know them well enough to go in their house while they were still asleep, even though they said that was perfectly fine. That just felt intrusive to me. Once they got up and moving I joined them for breakfast. Since the kids had stayed the night with their grandmother the night before, the house was pretty quiet. After finally getting an answer from William on what he needed my help with, I got to work on the project. There was a blank wall in their music room that he wanted covered in posters and album covers, so that’s just what I did. For about three hours I measured, adjusted, and hung posters on the wall. After finishing up, William told me I was free to go, so I took off towards Charlotte, NC.

Charlotte, NC

Charlotte was about an hour and a half east of where I was, but the drive went by pretty quickly. Once I got there I headed straight to the popular arts district North Davidson, or as it’s more commonly referred to, NoDa. It was filled with eclectic shops, breweries, coffee shops, trendy bistros, and loads of stunning street art. One of my favorite shops I visited was Pura Vida Worldly Art. It was full of hand crafted goods sourced from around the world. Their inventory ranged from scarves and clothes, to planters and incense. Definitely worth checking out even if to just inspire your inner creator. Just around the corner was a fantastic coffee shop called Smelly Cat Coffee House. They had a huge variety of drinks and snacks, and the atmosphere was very laid back and cozy. A great place to stop in for a nice cup of coffee while exploring and checking out the unavoidable street art. Intermingled with all of the neat shops and restaurants are gorgeous murals. Seriously, they’re everywhere. Talented local artists have turned store fronts, walls, and even dumpsters into stunning pieces of art. That was definitely one of my favorite parts about the city, honestly.

Charlotte, NC

After exploring NoDa a bit, I decided to make the short 15-ish minute walk to Amelie’s which is a 24/7 French bakery. Definitely worth every step. I had the layered salted caramel torte, and holy cow that thing was delicious. I would have gotten a photo, but I was too enamored and forgot to do so until it was too late. They had tarts, brownies, macaroons, cupcakes, and so many other delicious looking treats. Definitely a must. I’m really glad I walked there though, because it did make me feel (slightly) better about all the sugar I had just eaten. It’s a trip though, so you’re supposed to treat yourself, right? Right.

Amelie’s French Bakery – Charlotte, NC

Once I made it back to my car, which was luckily still there (I always get super nervous about parking in new places because of laws and regulations I may be unaware of), I decided to drive into downtown. Poor decision. There was a ton of construction, and parking was practically nonexistent unless I wanted to pay an arm and a leg, so it just ended up being incredibly stressful. After roaming around for a bit I just decided to go ahead and head back towards the house. It was my trip after all, so I didn’t really have to worry about how anyone else felt about the decision, so that was really nice.

Shelby, NC

Once I made it about halfway back, I stopped in a small town called Shelby. I much prefer the pace of small towns. They tend to be much calmer, safer, and the traffic is usually a breeze. The downtown area of Shelby was really nice. They had nice restaurants, music stores, cafes, and theaters, and I didn’t feel like I had to be on my guard as much. It turned out to be the home of old country music star Don Gibson, so there were tons of tribute sculptures around the town to commemorate him. It was definitely a nice way to decompress after the big city of Charlotte. Conveniently there was also a Planet Fitness in Shelby, so I was able to get in a good workout and shower before heading in for the night.

Day 3:

On day three I had plans to explore Asheville more before heading to my first Workaway. However, the weather had slightly different plans. One of the best things to me about exploring a new city is walking the streets, but that isn’t the most pleasant thing to do when it’s pouring down rain and 50⁰F outside. It turned out the be alright though, because I was able to scout out some places that I wanted to check out later on my way back through.

After a little while of driving around the city I decided to head out of the populated area a bit and go to the Folk Art Center on the Blueridge Parkway. I’m pretty sure I was the only person there under the age of 50, but it turned out to be a really interesting stop. I enjoy different types of art, so it was neat getting to see a lot of pieces made by local artists and artisans. They had pieces ranging from hand-sewn quilts and clothes to handmade brooms, tables, and chairs. It was a craftsman’s dream. Of course by the time I left the Folk Art Center the skies were clear and blue. Perfect timing, right? Yeah, except I had already planned a specific time to arrive at the Workaway, so it didn’t do me a whole lot of good in regards to Asheville, but at least the rest of the day was stunning.

Lake Lure Flowering Bridge – Lake Lure, NC

During my drive to the Workaway I passed through the small town near Chimney Rock. It was slightly touristy, but nothing that would turn you off of the area. It still had a quaint mountain town feel to it. Not too far down the road was a garden bridge that was an old bridge next to the main road that had been filled with beautiful gardens and eclectic sculptures. It was a very unexpected yet pleasant stop. The roads were definitely very curvy, so it made the drive feel like it went on forever, but it was absolutely stunning none the less.

Lake Lure Flowering Bridge – Lake Lure, NC

I finally arrived at my Workaway around 1:30pm. I was greeted by William who was the father of the family I would be staying with. He was incredibly welcoming and gave me a tour of their scenic 16 acre property. There was another Workawayer that was already there named Adam. I had been a bit nervous going into this whole situation because I really didn’t know what to expect, but I was almost immediately set at ease. They were nothing but kind, laid back people. After asking what I could help out with I ended up weeding the garden and planting some kale seeds (which I later found out ended up being clover seeds). They really didn’t expect me to do very much since I was there for such a short stent. However, I was there to earn my keep, so I intended to do so.  When the rest of the family got back later that evening I spent some time getting to know his three kids. Honestly, I don’t usually love kids, but these guys were fantastic. They were fun, intelligent, and excited to talk and share things with me. Everyone in the family immediately made me feel at home, so I knew it was going to be a good stay.

That night they invited me to join them for trivia at a local brewery. The kids stayed with their grandmother for the night, so William, Laura, Adam, and myself were joined by one of their family friends, and we formed the Knowmads (get it?). We were in the lead when the final round came, but the tie breaker lost us the win, and it was my fault…kinda. The question was “in what state is it illegal to dress up as a nun, rabbi, or preacher for Halloween?” They all immediately asked if it was my state, because obviously that’s an Alabama thing to do. Of course I said it wasn’t, because I honestly didn’t think it was. Well, think again. Turns out roll tide was correct. Now we at least know what NOT to dress up as for Halloween.

Day 2:

Nemo Bridge – Obed Wild and Scenic River, TN

The first night sleeping in Anuar the Adventure car was a bit restless. I think it was mostly due to nerves, because trust me, there is no shortage of padding and blankets in there. It felt pretty unnatural, so I think my body was on the defensive. However, when I woke up the next morning I felt great and ready to go, but I think that was mostly just excitement fueling me. I had my breakfast of chia pudding that I had mixed up the night before, brushed my teeth, and did my dishes. It took twice as long to do all of that in a car than at home, but I think that’s mostly due to the fact that I don’t have a system down yet, so it was a bit strained.

Base of the Lilly Bluff Overlook Trail – Obed Wild and Scenic River, TN

After awkwardly preparing for the day, I headed out to explore the Obed area a bit. I stumbled upon an incredible little hike to the Lilly Bluff overlook. It was about a half mile one way up hill, but it led to a fantastic boardwalk and overlook of the Obed Scenic River. However, if you don’t want to make the uphill hike, you can drive to the Lilly Bluff State Park parking area, and it’s just a short flat walk to the same overlook. The exercise was nice, though, so I didn’t mind. I was still pretty excited about everything, so the day was off to a pretty great start.

View from Lilly Bluff Overlook – Obed Wild and Scenic River, TN

There is a ton of great climbing in the Obed, but since I’m lacking in the gear department and also the belayer department, I had to bypass that section of the park, but not far from where I had camped was a small town called Wartburg, TN. That’s also where the Obed Scenic Wildlife office is located, so I decided to stop in there and grab a couple of maps. One of the maps included was a self-guided walking tour of the town, so naturally I did that because I was still in the “do all the things” phase. It ended up being pretty short as I only went to the places that really piqued my interest, and let’s face it, the town was like two blocks.

Wartburg Presbyterian Church – Wartburg, TN

After checking out the town a bit I headed on to a much larger area: Asheville, NC. It was later in the evening when I arrived, so I mostly just spent my time driving around getting a lay of the land. I visited their local botanical gardens (which were free FYI), found time to enjoy some local coffee, start on some writing, and find my camp site for the night. As it was still quite early in my trip, I wanted to stay on the safe side and went for an official camp ground with a check-in and check-out process. I stayed at Lake Powhatan Campground in the Pisgah National Forest right outside of Asheville. The folks at the front were incredibly nice, and since I was alone they put me in a site right next to a campground host named George who was an 84yo skiing instructor from New Hampshire. I wanna be like George when I grow up. Once I was at the site I whipped out the propane camp stove for the first time and cooked up a gourmet dinner of sweet potatoes and green peas (because I’m a child) by the light of a headlamp and then cracked a cold one with myself. Maybe I should try and get to a campsite before dark one day…

Day 1:

Falls River Falls State Park, TN Entrance

Excited, nervous, and stressed. Three words to describe my first day on the road. When I first left my house, I was very excited to finally be doing what I had only been planning and imagining for the past several years. It was invigorating! As I made my way towards East Tennessee I was blasting music with the windows down. The perfect start to any trip. I had plans to head straight for the Obed Scenic River, but that didn’t quite happen. Instead I ended up stopping at Falls River Falls State Park for lunch and a short hike. However, I almost bypassed it. In Alabama many state parks have an entrance fee, and considering I’m trying to travel on a budget I didn’t want to pay entrance unless it was something I specifically wanted to do. Lo and behold all Tennessee state parks have free admission! They’re also incredibly well maintained, so don’t be deterred from visiting one in fear of cost. Unfortunately, though, it had been too dry for the Falls River Falls to be running, but the scenery was still breathtaking. With the leaves changing color, it was definitely a great stop.

Falls River Falls State Park, TN Swinging Bridge

After leaving there, I stopped at yet another state park – Cumberland Mountain. I took a short two mile stroll around the lake before heading off towards the Obed. Once I finally got to my campsite of the night, Lily Bluff Campground, it was already very dark out even though it was just a little after 7pm. Cell signal was nonexistent in the area, which seemed to be a theme for the trip thus far, so I ended up backtracking a bit so that I could update all of my friends and family back home of where I would be. While it may seem unnecessary or troublesome to constantly update people, It’s definitely important for someone to know where you are when traveling. After the goodnight texts and phonecalls were made, I headed back to my site and spent the rest of the evening settling in and watching the night sky. The Obed is considered a National Dark Sky Park, so the stargazing was absolutely incredible. Even though I was in a campground with plenty of other people around, it was so silent and peaceful. Overall it was a pretty great introduction to my coming time on the road.

Cumberland Mountain State Park, TN Pioneer Trail

The East Coast:

Obed Wild & Scenic River, TN

I have been planning this for quite sometime. By “quite some time” I mean since about the age of 15. People thought it was a phase, but here I am at 21 doing it…finally. What is that exactly, you may ask? Well, I’m taking a solo road-trip up the east coast while camping out of my 2016 Honda CR-V. Why solo? I’m not really sure. I think it’s the appeal of being completely responsible for myself without the need to look out for or appease anyone else. I get to do what I want when I want…as long as it’s not too stupid or dangerous. I do want to make it back home alive, after all. Now why am I camping in an SUV? It’s cheap and convenient. I don’t have to worry about rain getting in my tent, nor do I have to even worry about a tent at all. Home is always with me, and it’s just enough space for one person. Plus, it’s slightly less conspicuous and the fuel economy is way better than in a van (sorry van-lifers).

I began my journey at home in central Alabama, and I plan to make my way to Maine and then take my sweet time coming back. I will be doing a combination of staying in campgrounds, doing some work-exchange stays, and a variety of parking lots as well. As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in a cozy little coffee house somewhere in Asheville, NC surrounded by some very hip individuals. This is only day two for me, so I have many, many more days ahead.Things are awkward and forced right now, like the probably 10 times I opened and closed my car doors today just during the process of cleaning up after breakfast. There are things to learn and processes to streamline, but I’m here to document all of that for you so that you can either learn some things or just laugh at me while I struggle.

So far everything has been amazing. Yes, it is very early, but I want to appreciate every good moment and so far there have been many. It’s pretty nice being able to take pit-stops whenever I want, or take as long as I want taking photos of the same scenery. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to travel with other people, and I do plan to do that in the near future, but it is nice having the chance to be completely free in all of my decisions. I’ve definitely been having that whole “high on life” sensation since I left, but I’m sure that will wear off soon enough. Or maybe not. Let’s hope not. I do know that I’ll get homesick eventually, though. I do have some amazing people back home that I care about, but I know they’ll be there when I get back, and I’m very thankful for each one of them. So please enjoy this journey!

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