Tag Archives: road trip

First Road Trip

For some time now, I have been thinking about what should be my first road trip after I retire. Just to be clear, I am not talking about a road trip where the destination is the main purpose of the journey. No what I am talking about is a trip where the drive itself is the purpose. I’ve done a few of these over the 20+ years that I have had fun little cars to drive but I have always been limited by the number of vacation days I could take from work.

One of the first of these road trips was my inaugural excursion on the Tail of the Dragon in Eastern Tennessee. My wife was not interested in a trip where the main purpose was to experience a road but when I mentioned the idea to my sister, she readily agreed to come along. We did combine it with a final destination to one of our favorite places in the world, Montreat, but experiencing that fun road with 318 curves in 11 miles was as close to a roller coaster ride in a car as you can get, one that I would repeat multiple times over the years.

Probably the granddaddy of all these road trips was in 2010 when I drove the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) together, another trip my wife was not interested in going on.

Over a five day period, I drove by myself about 2,000 miles, almost 600 of the total being just the two roads for which I took the trip. For the most part, the weather was perfect and allowed for all day top-down driving in my little red convertible. The only negative of the trip was on the last day when I encountered construction that had the last 75 miles or so of the BRP closed to traffic. 2010 was the 75th anniversary for the BRP and I was most surprised during its Diamond Jubilee year that part of it would be closed to traffic.

While I had driven the part that was closed many times before, it still irked me that I couldn’t say I had driven the whole road all in one trip.

So what will my first trip be?

Ever since I found out that I would be retiring this year, I have had this question in the back of my mind knowing that I would no longer be limited by the number of vacation days I had. Frequently as I would be driving to work or running errands, the question would come to the forefront of my thoughts. I know to interest my wife in coming with me that it has to be more about the destination and the things we may see along the way than the road itself. With two of our kids living on the west coast, I’ve thought a cross country trip would be fun as there are many things along the way that we would both want to see.

In fact, an opportunity presented itself for just such a trip this year when my nephew (the one that made me an uncle for the first time), announced that he was getting married in Pasadena in November. But a cross country trip at this time just wasn’t in the cards so that won’t be the first.

I also have been toying with the idea of trying to drive as much of the historic Route 66 that still exists. This trip would afford the opportunity to see many sites I have never seen and would end up also in Los Angeles where a fun drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) would allow a visit to San Francisco where our oldest son and his family lives.

I’ve also thought of doing the BRP again to complete the whole 469 miles in one trip. And I’ve considered that maybe I need to research another fun road to drive in the US and experience that.

My most recent idea is to just stay closer to home and head over to Nashville and pick up the Natchez Trace Parkway, not as long or likely as scenic as the BRP but a road that I have never done.

But with road conditions and open-air driving not conducive to the cold weather starting to creep into the forecast, it will probably be spring before I actually decide on a specific trip to take. However, this gives me the winter to research other roads that may be my first post-retirement road trip. And when I do, I’ll be sure and report all about it here so you can enjoy part of the trip too.

Because for someone who loves car and loves to drive, what’s better than a fun road trip!

1st Road Trip!

Back in September, I took my new Subaru WRX out on her first road trip.

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Ever since I took delivery of the WRX in May 2016, I have wanted to get it out on the road to see how she did. I had been thinking of running up to Nashville and driving down part of the Natchez Trace Parkway but I had put that off not knowing how her ride would be on the highway on a 400+ mile trip.

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Now that my wife had a Subaru Outback and I had experienced what a comfortable ride it had on our summer vacation, I was concerned that my Gluteus Maximus (i.e., bottom) might be overly “jolted” by the sport suspension in the WRX. In 2010, I had learned from my 2,000+ mile drive in my Mazda Miata, that my aging posterior had become less tolerant of extended rides in a car with stiffer suspension designed to minimize body roll around sharp corners. If you’ve never ridden in a car with sport suspension, imagine driving a go-cart (which has no suspension) on a rough road.

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The trip that came up for this first road trip was a visit to see my two sisters in Northwest Arkansas, a one-way distance of about 350 miles. Although I see my sisters at least once a year at our annual SIBSAB (Sibling Sabbatical) and I also had just seen them this past summer on vacation, I had not been over to their homes in several years. I set off early one Saturday morning and in no time after crossing the Mississippi River, I was experiencing that familiar rough road surface of I-40 in Arkansas as well as the frustration of sporadic sections of the road under repair.

Over the many years of driving through Arkansas, it has always amazed me how poor a condition the roads are. It seems they are constantly either very rough or under construction which means you are often riding on the shoulder of the old road, an even rougher surface. I guess I don’t travel through the state often enough to experience the smoothness of newly completed construction. I guess by the time I am crossing the state, the new roads have already returned to their previous state of disrepair.

After about 3 hours of my total 5.5 hour trip, I had to stop and take a break. I decided to go ahead and fill up just to add some legitimacy to my stop even though I still had about a half a tank of gas left. Soon after, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I-40 in the western part of Arkansas was in much better condition and I-49 up to Fayetteville was in great shape although north of there, long sections were under repair. I made it to my destination just in time for lunch.

After lunch, my oldest sister and I headed down to the garage where some of our parent’s things were still stored, having been relocated there from their home after our dad’s death in 2002.

While certainly the main focus of my trip over was a chance to get to visit with my sisters, nephew, niece, and their families, an important draw for me for this trip was to discover the contents of this file cabinet (a story for another time).

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That done, we headed over to Crystal Bridges.

Many people are only familiar with Bentonville, Arkansas because it is the headquarters for Walmart, that behemoth retailer founded by Sam Walton. But what you might not know is thanks to the Walton family that Bentonville is also home to a world class museum, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. And a unique, upscale boutique hotel 21c located just off the Bentonville town square.

I had previously visited Crystal Bridges early in 2012, not long after its November 2011 opening. But this visit was specifically to see the Bachman-Wilson House—a fine example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s classic Usonian architecture—that had been relocated from its original location in New Jersey and reconstructed on the Crystal Bridges museum grounds. I have always been an admirer of Wright’s work and this visit afforded me the opportunity to explore inside one of his homes for the very first time.

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Inside photography was not allowed but if you click on the link above, you can get a virtual tour of the interior. It was absolutely amazing! The intricate details that were included and the continuity of the architectural design that made the house seamlessly blend from interior to exterior were incredible. It was the visual highlight of my trip over.

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After Crystal Bridges, it was on to the Bentonville Square where we stopped by the 21c Museum Hotel and toured the modern art on display that is also for sale (we didn’t ask how much any were), then a delicious dinner (and good beer) with all family members.

The next morning, I got up early as I needed to return home to complete some activities I had started the weekend before. Originally, my plan was to drive the Pig Trail, the scenic, curvy road that would allow me to experience the handling of my all-wheel drive WRX on winding roads. But on the drive up on Saturday, I had noticed a huge number of motorcycles everywhere I looked. Little did I know this was the weekend for the Bikes, Blues and BBQ Motorcycle Rally?

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My previous experience on the Tail of the Dragon, when there were large numbers of motorcycles present, that it was difficult to get in a spirited run on the road due to all the traffic congestion. I decided to save the Pig Trail for another trip over and so just headed home.

With the better roads in western Arkansas at the beginning of my trip rather than at the end, my first stop after well over 3-hours driving time was not due to posterior fatigue but rather the need for food and fuel as both my stomach and gas tank were near empty.

From an automotive perspective, it was a great first road trip in my WRX. With decent roads, it convinced me that I could easily handle longer distances. Since I still need to take a run on the Pig Trail, I know I will be heading over to visit my sisters again in the future. And with this first road trip under my belt, I now know that other road trips to the Tail of the Dragon or the Blue Ridge Parkway are well within reach as on smooth roads, the WRX was quite comfortable. Now it is just a matter of figuring out when the next road trip will be.