Asheville — Lots of Hiking
What was meant to be a week of relaxed, quiet contemplation in Asheville turned out to be pretty filled with activity. (Surprise!) Was I really expecting myself to spend an entire week sitting in comfortable chairs, sipping chamomile tea and writing in my journal? I'd probably be slightly better off for having done so, but alas, the chaotic string of working-travel that I've embarked on continued for another week.
I'd work for a few hours in various cafés and "public spaces" each day, and then, once I could no longer stand the fact that the sun was outside and I wasn't, I'd hop in my car and take off in any random direction in search of hiking trails. And they were never hard to find. The nicest thing about Asheville is certainly its ease of access to some amazing hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In addition to hiking around and smelling the roses (well, tulips), I also met up with my good friend Tom's good friend Erika, who has been living in Asheville for years. One of the things my recent nomadic lifestyle lacks is a real sense of community—I'm often traveling on my own. But meeting up with connections of connections and friends of friends on the road is one of the things I treasure most about travel, and the ersatz sense of community that I feel when I get to be the needle that threads all of these people together is a great palliative.
After almost a full week in Asheville, however, I felt the itch to get going again, and cut my stay a day short. Instead of taking the interstate route directly to my ultimate destination of Dallas, Texas via Tennessee and Arkansas, I decided to head south and spend some time in three U.S. states that I had never visited before: Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.
I had a long way to drive and knew I wouldn't actually be able to stop for longer than a meal, a walk, and a night's sleep in any place, so I used my favorite feature of Google Maps and checked the "avoid highways" option in my routing, to ensure that I would stay off the interstates and get a little more local flavor in my route. If you've never used this before, I highly recommend it for your next road trip. Some of the best landscapes I've driven through in the U.S. have been because of this little feature.
I spent one night in Tuscaloosa, exploring the campus and night-life of The University of Alabama, the alma mater of a great number of my friends. It was the first time that I saw a college campus in the U.S. that really, in my eye, rivaled the beauty of the one at the University of Chicago. I'm a sucker for monumentalism, squares, and columns, and The University of Alabama had all three in spades.
The next morning, I got a wild hair and felt the need to see the Gulf of Mexico again, so I sped down south to Mobile, Alabama. In my experience as a Yankee, I had never heard anyone ever talk about coastal Alabama. I think if you asked most northerners about Alabama's beaches, they would scratch their heads and think that you must be mistaken. So seeing the port cities of Alabama, and then Mississippi, was an eye-opening experience for me. I especially enjoyed the port city of Biloxi, Mississippi, where a group of fishmongers all but personally escorted me via their delivery truck to their favorite restaurant when I entered their store and asked where a fella could taste some crawfish. (I hope they aren't reading this, however, because my frugality prevented me from actually ordering the crawfish when I got there. Gas prices and all, ya know!)
I traced the Gulf coast all the way to New Orleans, a major cultural center of the U.S. that I had never visited before, and spent a quick, but entertaining night doing exactly what one would expect of a tourist in N.O. I spent an entire evening just walking up and down the various streets of the old French Quarter, taking in the combined booze-fueled, post-vaccine spectacle of Friday Night + Spring Break + St. Patrick's Day on Bourbon Street.
Having now spent (admittedly only a little tiny bit) time in all three of these southern states, there are now only three states in the U.S. that I haven't been to! New Mexico, Nevada, and Hawaii. I sense another possible road trip in the works. Speaking of...
I'm now in Dallas, Texas, staying with my good friend Chris and his parents in their wonderful home. More on my gracious hosts and our time here next week, I'm sure, as I plan to remain here for a whole week. What am I doing here? Well, after my exciting adventures with a motorbike in Colombia in December, I decided it was time for me to get serious and learn the real thing. More next week!