Holiday Road Trip

Josh and I logged 2600 miles, notched 10 states in 9 days, with an average gas price at $1.85 per gallon. Post Christmas through the New Year of 2015, we headed out on a good ole fashioned road trip. The route was Spring Lake, Michigan to Chicago, through Nashville, crossing into Alabama and finally to Florida’s panhandle. The return route went slightly northeast through Atlanta, then briefly into the South of the two Carolina’s before a stop in the Asheville area, then slogging home through Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio.

The activities were diverse, showing off both cultural and jock tendencies. Still clinging to the holiday spirit, we watched the Nutcracker Ballet performed by the Joffrey troop at Auditorium Theater. Bedazzled and impressed with the bodies and the dance movies, we felt a little like Julia Roberts in the Pretty Women scene, where she sees opera for the first time. “It was so good, I am almost peed my pants!” Indeed! Just one night in the Windy City, as music called us toward Nashville.

Then, the next chunk of driving (8 hours) deposited us in Florida, just west of Pensacola at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. We bookended a fat-tire bike ride on the gulf coast with two rounds of golf. The sun was fickle leaving us in sweatshirts, not tank tops. But, 62 sure was better than 22. We ate well, slept in and drove our tricked-out golf cart around the resort grounds. The return trip featured beer and biking near Asheville, first in Beer City USA voting.

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We were prepared to navigate a river of traffic for our Windy City stop. Lucky for us, much of the world was in bed with a Christmas hangover, not on Lakeshore Drive. Other than a mix-up on Wacker (Lower vs. Upper) we arrived unscathed at the Chicago Hotel, near river north. Thanks to Hotwire, the room was only $92 but the $50 overnight parking fee reminded us, just how good the big city can be at gouging tourists. Properly gouged, we found time for a walk that included the theater district, a boarded-up Christmas village and a stroll along the river with the Trump Tower looming over.

The marquis activity was an evening with the Joffrey Ballet. All dressed up with a place to go… in box seats to watch exquisite bodies jump, spin and plie. The male dancers wore their signature white tights, that veiled little of sculpted legs, and chiseled nut-crackers. Equally impressive was the orchestral score by Tchaikovsky. The Nutcracker and all the other characters were brought to life in a Victorian parlor, a magical battleground, kingdom of sweets and in the land of snow. The historic theater added to the scene, all its accents, lighting, vaulted ceilings, seemingly dipped in a fairytale-gold paint. A captivating scene unfolded with a pair of dancers clad in white, performing under falling snowflakes, each one glinting in the lights. With appreciative smiles, we walked back across the river.

The next day, Josh and I began an intimate relationship with interstate I-65. From Illinois, into Indiana we followed it through four states. We became close but had a bit of a disagreement in Kentucky. At a dead-stop for 45 minutes, we broke-up (albeit briefly) for a detour through Cave City and a much needed petro fill-up. Reunited again, we kept rolling through rain, by Bowling Green and finally into Nashville. I-65 and its home states need to work on their communication skills. I would have been pleased to be memo-ed about the slow lane reversal; we were forced to pass on the right for 100’s of miles. A wreck (its not an accident in the south) was the cause of the massive delay and late arrival. Blackstone Brewery in Nashville hosted two very hungry travelers for average brews and grub. The Michigan beer snobs agreed their six offerings would not stand up to Grand Rapids brews. It was music city after all, not beer city.

Sunday was game day in Nash-Vegas. The visiting Colts played the Tennesse Titans in the stadium across the Cumberland River. As the city grew flush with fans, Josh and I headed out for a morning jog through Vanderbilt University. We weaved around stately, red-bricked, white-columned buildings that made us feel smarter, just being near them. We ran past the massive medical complex and by the fieldhouse, where the LSU band was warming up for the Music City bowl game. We finished up at Centennial Park, home of the Parthenon replica, same size and grandeur as the original in Athens, Greece. The day’s plan was to be downtown by noon to peruse four-square blocks of live music bars and boot boutiques. To warm up, we walked the pedestrian bridge over the Cumberland River to get a birds eye view of Andrew Luck schooling the Titans.

At a boot store, that had two levels of western/country wear to try on, we chatted with Malary, an aspiring musician working a day job. She suggested Jack’s BBQ or Puckett’s for lunch. I tried on a pair of square-toed Ariat’s, that were immensely comfortable. Prices ranged from $169 (machine made) to $500 for handmade. Boot shopping turned to lunch, landing us a booth at Jack’s BBQ next to The Stage, pumping out live honky tonk at 1 pm. All the bars smartly piped the sound out on the street. No cover charge was the norm at all the establishments. We gorged on pork shoulder, ribs, mac & cheese, coleslaw and cornbread before bar hopping. We endured some traditional country at Robert’s Western World before settling at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn. During a band change-over, we popped over to a sports bar to watch the Lions play the Pack. No surprise, the offense sputtered and squealed like a bad sound system, losing the NFC North title. Aaron Rogers outplayed Stafford, on a strained calf. We shuttled back around 7 and ordered up some Two Boots Pizza for a late dinner. Dinner conversation turned to discussing the continuation of our relationship with I-65 the next morning.
Tennessee turned into Alabama and every church we passed, always Baptist. No other denominations were allowed. We finally quit 65 to head east through Brewton and the Black Water Forest into the panhandle and over the Blue Water Bridge. After seven more hours, Sandestin Resort revealed our home, a cottage on The Raven Golf Course, complete with a golf cart. The Raven winds through the condo complexes and intercoastal waters, connected to views of the Choctawatchee Bay. The evening was still warm, a gulf breeze glanced over my cheeks and naked toes in flip flops.

The next day, the breeze changed. I shouldn’t complain about 60 degrees but the sun made us wait until about 2 pm to peek out. If I had to choose just one word for our time on The Links, water… lots of water, lots of lost balls, lots of bogeys on the scorecard. Plus, Josh’s driver and 3-wood had been mysteriously removed from his bag prior to leaving; he was stuck using my driver or hitting his irons of the tee. We were paired up each round, adding an audience to our rusty swings. Rusty is another word that comes to mind. On the first three holes, Josh and I struggled, sending little white balls into the beachgrass, the inter coastal rivers or screamin’ low over the Bermuda grass. Our swings improved and some semblance of decency returned to the scorecard by the turn.

The Links featured water hazards on all but three holes. The Raven on Thursday was equally watered. The $90 green fees indicated we paid for more manicured conditions. The greens were like mini ice rinks, painted Bermuda green. Josh’s predominant memory was plunking three shots in a row into a marsh, meanwhile I hit three shots in a row into bunkers on the same hole. Golf was equally challenging, as it was picturesque. That day, we were paired with Mike from Nashville who knew the course well. His hospitality saved plenty of consternation, with tips on where to approach or when a dogleg led to a watery end.

New Years Eve was not about champagne toasts, black ties or black dresses. Black bike shorts was the attire for a fat tire bike ride through the swamp and the gulf coast. All the regular mountain bikes had been rented at Big Daddy’s Bike Shop so we became pleasantly surprised how well the fatties handled the terrain in Point Washington State Forest and at Santa Rosa beach. We became fat bike believers and started by pedaling for six miles through palm and pine forest, through mud holes and watery two-tracks. We rolled over logs like they were twigs and Josh splashed through flooded trails, grinning and dripping wet. We continued east on the trail system while the sun broke free, then followed a paved trail south to a beach access.

Want to know what it feels like to be famous? Ride a fat tire bike down the gulf coast. Beachgoers turned, gawked, pointed and many asked where we had procured such interesting two-wheeled creatures. Basking in the sun and white sands, we dipped our feet quickly in the chilly gulf, then continued west on the hard-packed sand until a wide channel turned us back. We had to return to Highway 30-A, via a beach access to return the bikes. Later, there was a seafood dinner at Poppy’s back at Baytowne Wharf and some tribute bands on the pavilion, but the sand and tires trumped a late night out. With our special golf cart parking, it was in and out without waiting. Our cart had blinkers, lights and a horn. It was a chilly pre-midnight return. Back safely and snuggling at the cottage, we heard fireworks going off over the bay.

Friday morning arrived and it marked a turn north for a 3-day journey home. We replaced I-65 with 85 and traded Bama’ backwoods for Atlanta metropolitan traffic. More rain greeted our drive all the way into the Carolinas. Our destination was the Sunset Motel in Brevard, North Carolina. I took my turn behind the wheel in time for winding 45-minutes up a foggy Appalachia mountain road, where tall trees flanked by rocky ledges glinted in my headlights. The Sunset Motel was an oasis after eight hours; we had stumbled onto the beer and biking epi-center of the southeast. The Pisgah National Forest surrounded Brevard and put us in the midst of Transylvania County. Brevard Brewing Co. downtown was a welcome respite, small town vibe with big beer taste.

The driving rain made us feel better about our truncated stay; a day and a half was just not long enough. Up early and at The Hub/Pisgah Tavern for rentals by 9:30, the helpful mechanics prepped our bikes and marked a trail map for us in Dupont Forest. The shop was set up with a bar and beer taps adjacent to the service area. Ride bikes ~drink beer was the shop slogan. We crammed the bikes in the back hatch and drove nine miles to the Lake Imaging trailhead. We followed their suggestion on a 10-mile loop and were thankful for the warning to hike the rocky hill to start. We layered up as the mist fell along with temps in the mid 40’s. We rode on impressive, wet trails in/around waterfalls that we could only hear on ridgelines. The result of all the moisture was mud in our teeth from smiling, while rolling up/down banked turns. Josh took a few spills (he took more chances than I) but the only suffering was wet and cold hands/feet. Thoroughly happy, muddied, and drenched, a final downhill deposited us back to the car. The cold misty rain did not dampen the memory of that ride… the full-suspension rental bikes were like riding bouncy clouds with pedals.

We did a quick bonus hike to High Falls just down the road, before returning to The Hub. Jerseys procured, we took advantage of a late check out to clean up before returning to interstate from 3 – 11 pm. It was a bit much to tackle in one day. We stopped only in Lexington, Kentucky at West 6th Street Brewery for food and refreshment. Our bartender has spent several months in Asheville recently. He asked us, “How could you ever leave Asheville?”

Santa Rosa Gulf Coast beachDupont State Forest, North Carolina

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