I last checked in 11 days ago from Salem Massachusetts. I’m now back in Wimberley TX after 35 days of “van life” travel and exploration in my 2012 Chevy Roadtrek Popular 190 travel van.
From Salem I ventured back up to Gloucester MA and took in a Whale Watching trip. Only two humpback whales were spotted, and we trailed them for quite a while. But it was a fun adventure despite not seeing more whales.
I then headed up the coasts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine again, and up into Acadia National Forest to take in the incredible beauty there. I had bypassed Acadia my first trip up, so I’m glad I came back up to see it.
I also returned to Camden Hills State Park, where I encountered fellow Roadtrek van owners traveling with two cats, which had recently escaped but came back. The cats were now lounging on the front dash of the van. This was an older couple and they boasted of rarely staying in campsites, mostly stealth camping, which is what I try to do as well. They turned me on to their favorite app “RV Parky”. I enjoyed their spirit.
I saw them again the next morning at the top of Battie Mountain where I had hiked up to and they had driven, and they told me the cats had attempted another escape that morning. I inquired as to how one retrieves escaped cats and was told “a combination of coaxing and cursing”. This seemed to be their biggest problem in life at present, which I think is a good thing. I love the indifference of cats and how they’ve managed to make humans their servants on this planet, this couple being an example of that.
I eventually worked my way in reverse back down the coast, revisiting Branch Lake and Kennebunkport, and then stayed in a private campground somewhere in New Hampshire near Hampton Beach.
There was a sweet couple there with a precocious toddler boy named Cooper. His parents had brought him out into nature for the weekend and left all toys at home except for a mini soccer ball. This to me seemed like a solid parenting decision. As luck would have it though, another couple with a small toddler boy in the campspot right next to them had brought all of that boy’s toys, so Cooper’s temporary abstinence from toys was short lived.
This 7 day stretch ended with me back in Salem. It also included 4 lobster meals. I now feel proficient in the extraction of meat from these creatures and am left with a craving for more. I’m not sure they’d be as good, or affordable, in Austin as compared to right off the boat though.
On Tuesday I decided to break my sabbatical and return to Austin, as I have some sales listings to handle next week. For the return trip I decide to go freeways and try to make it in three days, which is 30+ hours of drivetime, over 2,000 miles.
In the late afternoon of the first day, southbound in Virginia, I left the freeway to go to the northern end of the Blue Ridge parkway and drive a portion of if since I was so close. This turned out to be too beautiful. It took me over 2 hours to travel just 40 miles as the scenery is incredibly stunning, and there is a turnout and viewpoint every mile or two it seemed. I decided to take a dirt forest road into the woods and camp there overnight as it was getting close to dark.
At the campsite, I made dinner and ate it sitting on a log as light dimmed, then realized I had not checked the weather and that, if it were to rain, I would not be able to get back up the dirt road that had led to my remote campsite. It was then I learned I had no cell service at all. I pondered the situation a while and decided I needed to play it safe and leave that spot.
Soon after doing so, just south of the James River, I came up on a small pickup pulled to the side with steam coming from under the hood. I pulled past it and saw that the front grill and hood were damaged so I stopped to see what was going on. The driver was out examining the damage and told me he had hit a deer, which had immediately got up and ran off. He stunk badly of beer, but spoke clearly and did not seem intoxicated. I wondered if he had been driving with an open beer and it spilled all over him at impact. I didn’t ask about or mention this though.
There are no shoulders on this part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and it was now totally dark. The truck started once the steam subsided, but it wasn’t safe to drive it far with one headlight out and the grill falling off. I told him I would follow him with my flashers on up to the next safe parking area to get it off the road, and that I’d give him a ride from there. We did that, and he got his huge backpack and his pitbull dog into my van and said he needed to get about 10 miles further up the road to meet up with some friends who were camped near there.
He told me his “trail name” was “Biscuit”. I told him I was plain old “Steve” and inquired as to what a “trail name” was. He explained it to me.
We were alongside the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. He lives near there and had been headed to meet friends hiking the trail. It was one of their birthdays and he was bring cold beers, an apparent delicacy to weary hikers, to celebrate and camp with them. His plan had been to park at a trailhead near them, hike to meet them, then hike along with them for some days, then eventually hitchhike back to his truck when he left them.
He was bummed about his truck .”I just spent my last $800 getting it running again”. It was an old 1980s Toyota, probably not worth $800. I asked him “why do you hike?”, and he lit up. He said “it’s just so freeing. Everyone is equal out here. It doesn’t matter who you are. We’re all “one” on the Trail. Everyone is so nice and we encourage and support each other”. He said he had made lifelong friends through hiking and camping the Appalachian Trail. Sounded pretty cool.
What he described reminded me of the camaraderie I found when I was part of the running club, training for marathons. Everyone had their own reasons for running, and it was a supportive group of diverse people from all walks doing something hard but rewarding.
Using his trail app for guidance, he told me to slow down as we were almost where the trail crossed the road. He and his dog exited the van and disappeared into the dark woods where a tree was marked with a vertical white dash. I stopped at the next scenic overlook and camped there for the night.
When I awoke next morning I saw that I was at “Cascade Falls” trailhead, so I hiked down to the falls and back, then started the second long day of driving.
I decided that day to dip down into Alabama and go through Tuscaloosa to see if I could locate the bridge at which my great-great grandfather, Meredith Taylor Crossland, was mortally shot by KKK members in 1868. I had heard the story my entire life and that a plaque at the bridge marked the spot with info.
I contacted Tuscaloosa County and was told that the original bridge and plaque had been destroyed in a flood, but was given directions to the spot, which has a new bridge. I did find it at the end of the day and stood by the river at sunset thinking about what had happened there.
My great-great grandfather had been elected to the Alabama state house following the Civil War and, though he had been a slave owner, freed his slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation and was supportive of the aims of Reconstruction.
This angered the local KKK leader. As MT was riding horseback with another man to the legislative session in Tuscaloosa, which was the state capital at that time, he was ambushed and shot at the bridge. He died from his wounds at home three days later.
Coincidentally, after I visited this spot, I realized I was 10 miles from Lake Lurleen State Park, which I remember camping at as a boy over 50 years ago on a vacation trip to Atlanta, so I headed there and camped the night.
The next day, westbound on I-20, I saw a sign for Natchez Trace Parkway, another scenic trail I’d heard about, and decided to take it. I drove it about 89 miles ending up in Natchez MS, which placed me along some back roads in Louisiana, and then across Louisiana to Natchitoches, then eventually crossed the Sabine River back into Texas.
My favorite things about extended travel is the natural beauty of our country, and the unplanned encounters with people along the way. Next I’ll work on some real estate transactions for the next month or two, get my Roadtrek van in for some preventative maintenance and checkup, then head back out again by September, perhaps to San Diego then up the West Coast to the PNW.