This Is the ALABAMA OR BUST TOUR – boiled peanuts, Mellow Yellow and the Trail of Tears.

Alabama or Bust maps trail

Snoopy, my writing muse and trip navigator!

My vacation for this summer had already been decided last year. A trip to a military base to watch my daughter celebrate her passage through boot camp in Montgomery, Alabama, became a necessity. As an avid outdoor enthusiast and a writer this vacation would serve multiple purposes, I determined.

A pilgrimage of sorts to spend some time with the Lord, just Him and I. Plus, a quest to show myself that I still had my adventurous spirit buried somewhere under stress, my ability to find my way through a hole in a needle and quite honestly – I needed a long drive to clear my head.  Driving had always been therapeutic for me and I needed therapy in the worst way!

Farms, mountains, and country folk doing a whole lot of front-porch also crowded my mind, so a suburbanite like me needed to capture that laid back feel, which would require unplugging from constant Wifi.  With a little initial pain the laptop was left behind in favor of yellow lined paper and some small notes on the back of maps. With extra paper, a small carryon bag for four days of clothes and dried fruit snacks with nuts, I headed for the dirt roads west and south of Baltimore.

alabama or bust harpersferry potomac rafters

Potomac River rafters, and I sure was jealous! 🙂

Never mind the southern heat. Already trekking a steady path through my own Hades on earth, what would it kill me to endure some heat in the good ole south for a few days? I took the long way on purpose.  I willed to simply wing it on small roads along the way.  My inner-compass always points to the scenic routes, surprises and real people.

I picked an overall best ‘soul-evolving’ path, said goodbye to the laptop and cozy room, jumped in the car and beat a path into the country side of Maryland as fast and early as I could, seeking West 70. Whatever happened – happened.

alabama or bust harpersferry

The whole map of Harper’s Ferry. Great place for Civil War buffs!

alabama or bust harpersferry2

Harper’s Ferry History and the foothills of the park.

By the time I reached Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the once weary spirit within felt as rejuvenated as the forested state.  At a rest stop I started taking notes about the difficulty of grappling my steering wheel off route 70 and turn south on 81.  I looked at my ‘travel writing notes’, shook my head, and went inside the visitor center for a free state map, feeding the ‘expert travel writing notes’ into a trash can.

From here on in, this journal would be from the heart. (no GPS until Montgomery city limits.)

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains approaching gatlinburg2

Approaching the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with anticipation!

alabama or bust national park selfie

Made it!

In four days I covered 2200 miles, a round trip through 8 states. (NOT ONE CAN of Redbull, Monster, or 5 hr. energy shots – I swear!) As I reached each state line I added a new map to my collection, some coupon books, water and a deep breath of new air.  The closer I came to Alabama a more noticeable change in my attitude and peace I achieved.

Alabama or bust great smokie mountain drives entry parkway

Entry parkway around Gatinburg and the park, and the temperature dropped about 15 degrees instantly.

alabama or bust selfie 2

That’s why – water and shade! A godsend on a long trek south during the summer. Do I look refreshed? LOL

At least three sets of Gethsemane and hundreds of churches were on my path, and answers to questions came to mind.  The Lord reminded me daily that He was there in the driver’s seat, not I.

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains flower meadow

Meadows, valleys, and the air was filled with ancient wet smokey wood smells! I will never forget that smell!

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains water fall and brook

Brooks, waterfalls and more smokey wood forests between the sunny rays.

After reading about some small places to visit, some of them I imagined would be awesome were (at best) unimpressive. And vice versa – for places that didn’t call out to me at the starting line were surprisingly wonderful.

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains lazy afternoon 1

Newfound Gap Lookout, Rt. 441

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains lookout2

Another shot of a fine day in the Smokies. There are many places to pull over and take pictures or picnic.

Except the Great Smoky Mountains – that was the exemplary star along the way. I became wonderfully lost and added five hours of driving time that day, – with no regrets.

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains selfie 1

Selfie time again, standing at the lookout over Gatlinburg City, TN a cool funky-folk town at the edge of the Smokies.

alabama or bust gatlinburg

This is the kind of stores and country feel through Gatlinburg. Trust me when I say add this place to your Bucket List, and surrounding 800 miles of hiking trails!

My phone memory quickly filled up with pictures and Facebook blurbs about Gatliburg,

Newfound Gap, Cherokee,

Alabama or bust great smokie mountains lazy afternoon 1

Bring your hiking boots!! (I’m glad I didn’t or I would still be there and lost!)

alabama or bust cherokie city

Cherokee City, NC. I really wanted to stop here and check out my ancestry, but I was already behind schedule. A cadet awaited me. I found out later that day that the ORIGINAL Trail of Tears was in Georgia as well, and I road on it a bit.

Nantahala Mountain valley, Georgian corn and peach farms in the afternoon sun along the original Trail of Tears, and Alabama’s golden sunset at Cedar Bluff.  I reached my destination way past bedtime – exhausted, enlightened, satisfied, smiling.

alabama or bust max afb 2

Mission: Success! Safe Arrival!

The next day was tops in life experiences – the whole day!  My goal was to arrive safe and cheer my daughter as she marched in the graduation parade for AF ROTC field training.  In a sea of blue uniforms, our finest young brave cadets pledged to protect their land and people.  Ding! I reached the one of my proudest moments as a mother, then assigned a new mission of fulfilling my cadet’s request for Mom’s Famous Baked Macaroni & Cheese for her when she came home. Life was on again!  And a long trip back.

alabama or bust max afb 3 parade

My daughter would probably really shoot me if I showed her personal picture but here is a parade of our finest youth, graduating bootcamp.

alabama or bust max afb 3 ceremony

There were 6 of these perfectly synchronized group of about 80 young strong cadets- men & women. That was THE most special National Anthem I had the privilege to be part of!

It seems when we are running from something the journey is usually a lot more enjoyable and satisfying.  The first night driving back was the exception on this trip.  After a long shower and a short rest, I reached Chattanooga, TN before sunset munching on boiled peanuts and drinking Mellow Yellow.

alabama or bust boiled peanuts dinner

On the way to…..ooops, wrong story. Well, I was on the way back to Chattanooga, TN. And yes, that was my dinner. Boiled peanuts, a southern thang………..

Another thing I love about inner compass driving is finding those beaten-path hidden places that you swear were waiting for you!   On a whim, and with the sun still another 60 min. before setting over Chattanooga City and the Dam, I took an exit to try and glimpse Ruby Falls in the hills nearby.

Alabama Chattanooga sunset hill view

Chattanooga, TN, from the Point Park hillside before sunset.

The admissions office just closed when I reached it, but I kept going uphill anyway, discovering a quiet upscale residential paradise, a train depot for touring the mountain, scenic lookouts over TN/GA states, and a bed & breakfast with a convenient ‘vacancy’ sign meant just for me!

Alabama Garden Path Cottage sette

This was my own little veranda outside my victorian cottage. It begged for a coffee drinker and writer to sit upon it, so I obliged.

Synchronicity at its finest!  I expected a cheap hotel chain room that evening so finding this garden amongst whimsical Georgian Victorian proved a sleepy traveler’s paradise.   So reasonably priced too, and I could not resist a restful sleep in a posh cottage of my own!  Booked.  Mine.

Alabama Garden Path Cottage Bedroom Sweet

A Garden Path Victorian Inn B&B, Lookout Mountain, GA. This is where I was blessed to feel like a princess for a night. 😀

Alabama Garden Path Cottage Bedroom outside night

Every single ‘room’ was actually a cottage with its own bathroom. Can you say, ‘Loved. It. Going. Back. New. Writer’s. Retreat.’?

Too wonderful for me to sleep at first, I spent a couple more hours on a second wind taking pictures and walking around and writing.  It would also be an insult not to enjoy the china cup of peach herbal tea in my room.  The hidden treasures and tiny charming details lasted through the morning and my breakfast on a veranda amidst bird baths and fountains.

Alabama Garden Path Veranda Breakfast view

It was a bed and breakfast and I took full advantage of my whimsical garden view over cinnamon pancakes, coffee, fruit and some kind of spanish hash. DEE-LISH!

I hated to leave but did I feel like my life sat quietly waiting in New Jersey to suck me back in?  No.  Responsibilities were back there.

Life was here, finding it and living it on a whim on the road. I chose to bring back with me what I discovered along the way:

Alabama Garden Path lit gazebo

This gazebo lit up at night with some benches in the middle. Everywhere I searched there were pleasant little surprises and seats to ponder on.

  • Prayer time needs to increase.
  • I can say ‘no’. I don’t have to stay in a job, situation or any friendship/relationship that is not making me happy or building on my faith, character, nor jives with my life mission.  And I don’t have to feel guilty about it.
  • Now I am sure about some of the needed changes I had been unsure about for months, and I intended to make the changes as soon as I got home.
  • Circumstances I cannot control will be in God’s will and time and I just have to prepare for the circumstances I HOPE will happen, and learn patience. Accept it.
  • I need to prepare to move within God’s Will when the time is right.

Also satisfying is the revelation that I still had a long drive endurance, befriending quirky and loveable people is still fun, and the knowledge of using real (now antique) road maps, my original and still preferred GPS.

I went. I saw. I shared. Saw the lessons. All good stuff. Sharing the trip in words and pictures to put friends and family in the passenger seat – that’s awesome fun too!

Road trips with the Lord in heart and mind – The BEST!

Alabama Garden Path yard mr tree

Ya’ll come back now, Ya hear?!

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