On the Road Again: My First Road Trip

 I had never been in a car for more than five hours before hitting the road with some friends for my first road trip this year.

My friend’s aunt owns a cabin in the mountains of northern Georgia, and generously offered to take us up there for the first part of our spring break. After grabbing another friend who was also starting spring break, we decided to make it happen.

On the morning of Thursday, March 12th, we met in Tampa and were picked up by Aunt Pam, who would be taking us on a 577 mile, 9 hour long drive through one and a half states to what we expected would be a weekend of peace and quiet. The cabin had no television or internet connections, so we would be able to escape the electronic confines of the real world for a few days and just relax in the tranquil, natural surroundings.

We left at 9:30 a.m. beating the afternoon traffic by a landslide. In less than two hours we reached a rest stop in Paynes Prairie, FL, where big signs warning visitors to watch out for poisonous snakes were abundant.

We drove past a man, hitchhiking along I-75 and holding up a large brown cardboard sign that said nothing but “Ohio.” I still have to wonder how far he got in that endeavor.

By 11 a.m. we were passing Gainesville, and within 90 minutes we reached the Georgia state line, where a sign saying, “We’re glad Georgia’s on Your Mind” greeted us.

Personally, I knew we had entered the good old south when we stopped at a gas station shortly after crossing the Georgia border. I asked the cashier which town we were in, and she answered me in the biggest southern drawl I’ve ever heard, “You’re in Adel, Ma’aaaaam.”

Throughout the trip, we stopped for food, bathroom and smoking breaks as needed. About every two hours or so we’d take a breather and stretch our legs, helping the ride go by faster.

It’s funny how similar the drive is along I-75 from one state to the next. Both northern Florida and southern Georgia have huge areas of dry land surrounding the highway, featuring big cities in between long stretches of dry, open prairies. Every so often, the land along I-75 in Georgia would showcase trees taller than telephone poles, but for the most part, there wasn’t much to see until we got to Atlanta.

Atlanta, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to Tampa in many ways, showing off tall buildings alongside the highway with billboards as far as the eye can see. The excitement in the car was palpable as we got closer to the cabin, and I even yelled “Hi Anderson Cooper!” out the window as we drove past a building marked “CNN Headquarters.”

About an hour or so later, Aunt Pam turned off I-75 and onto another highway, leading us up into the mountainous northern parts of Georgia. Our ears popped as we drove up and down hills, inching our way closer and closer to the Smoky Mountains.

It was an emotional experience when we first viewed the mountains. These were the first mountains I had seen since I was 13 and our family moved from Hawaii to Florida, so I was instantly filled with the pangs of homesickness accompanied by a feeling of peace. We were almost there.

We arrived in Union County at 6 p.m. and shortly after driving up several smaller, one-lane dirt roads, reached the cabin on what we later found out was called Blood Mountain (right next to Slaughter Mountain, in case you were wondering). We finally made it.

The landscape itself was breathtaking, as the cabin provided us with a view of the mountainside and endless rows of trees sporting their multicolored leaves.

Unfortunately, the weather didn’t feel like cooperating with us and it constantly drizzled from Thursday thru Sunday when we drove back toward Tampa, staying close to 45 degrees the entire time.

Determined to have a good time anyway, the three of us put on our warmest clothes and went out on nature hikes while Aunt Pam stayed in the cabin. We made friends with “Cornbread,” the community German Shepard who insisted on leading us up long, winding trails around the neighborhood, and even came across a llama farm deep in the mountains.

We also discovered the people of this sleepy little town have a unique sense of humor.

As we walked around the dirt trails of Blood Mountain, we found ourselves following yellow signs for a house for sale at the top of the hill. After hiking along a winding road for about a half hour, we finally reached the top of the hill and noticed there was a rather large cliff next to the last little yellow sign. To this day, I wonder if the whole town was in on it, as Aunt Pam pointed out another trail of signs she knew of that led to a dead end.

We spent the majority of the time curling up by the fire in the cabin with a pile of books, listening to the sound of the rain hitting the roof, or roasting marshmallows in the fireplace if we felt like it. It was a great relief to be away from the hustle and bustle of school and work for a few days; to be surrounded by nothing but trees, mountains and fresh air is a luxury we just don’t get enough of.

After spending three relaxing days in the wilderness hoping the temperature would drop just enough for it to snow, we were annoyed when it was warmer – and still raining – as we drove away on Sunday morning.

This time we stopped only twice, in a rest stop outside Pinehurst in central Georgia and a gas station near Ashburn in southern Georgia. The three of us took a picture with a huge statue of a cow that was bigger than most of the eighteen-wheeler trucks we passed – it just had to be done – and drove straight to Tampa after that, making it home by 6 p.m.

Road trips can be a great way to re-connect with old friends or give you time to get to know your newer ones. The real adventure isn’t just where you go; it’s how you got there.

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