I have been trying to convince people to travel with me for some time and have been pretty unsuccessful. Everyone is understandably busy with life. I was hanging out with some buddies one night and my friend Mikey said he was interested in some travel. We figured out when we were both free. I had the wedding in Charleston and I would be back from that on March 9th. Mike had classes that he had to finish up. He had to be back home by March 24th. This gave us a two week window from March 10-23 that we could travel.
With a two week window we devised an elaborate plan of road tripping the United States. Hopping in a car and driving where ever we wanted to go. Growing up on the East Coast our whole lives we both have seen most of the East Coast, as far north as Maine, Nova Scotia, Canada and as far south as Florida, the Keys, and the islands. Going more east from New Jersey requires a long plain ride to Europe so the logical decision was for us to go west. Our elaborate plan included a bunch of incredible cities mixed in with some epic nature. We decided we were going to road trip the US in the most glorious way possible.
Everyone makes crazy awesome plans, especially over a beer. The next morning usually makes you reconsider your most brilliant ideas. You know. We slept on it. Maybe we even slept on it a couple nights. Eventually we got in touch and decided, sure let’s continue to plan it out. Flesh out the details of the route and the trip. So we came up with a solid itinerary of places we both wanted to go to. We included some audibles in case we were feeling adventurous and wanted to pick up the pace or feeling like slowing down.
Initial Itinerary (this changed quite a bit)
Perth Amboy, NJ
Little Rock, AR
San Antonio, TX
Oklahoma City, OK
Kansas City, MO
St. Louis, MO
Perth Amboy, NJ
Some more time passed. Our excitement grew. It was almost like planning this trip was a long running joke. Everyone makes crazy life plans while grabbing a beer. We were about to follow up on ours. I went to Charleston for a wedding. While I was down there I saw a GoPro for sale at the market. I bought it. I texted Mikey about my sweet score. It was on. No backing out now. We’re doing this.
I got back from the wedding. I went to Mikey’s and we grabbed a bunch of goods from the supermarket. We grabbed a bunch of healthy food so we wouldn’t have to always be stopping for food. Our diet would be fast but healthy. Hummus, nuts, fruits and veggies, Greek yogurts, Kashi bars, deli meats (ok, it wasn’t all healthy), cereals, cheese and crackers, a bunch of beef jerky. We almost were able to convince a third to join the party in the last minute but that fell through.
The morning of March 10, 2014 came and we were off. Off to realize a dream concocted while grabbing a brew on a very typical night.
Off we went. Out of New Jersey. Through Pennsylvania. Then Maryland. Onwards to Virginia. Into Tennessee. Then North Carolina. We stopped for gas somewhere and realized that if we kept up a good pace that we might be able to catch the sunset in the Smoky Mountains. We kept up a great pace. Back into Tennessee. We got to the Smokies in time.
The Smoky Mountains are beautiful. We got a little glimpse of them on the first night and we would be back the next day to explore some more. First we had the night ahead of us. We hopped into the town of Gatlinburg. It’s an odd little town. There’s a lot of spookiness and magical themes throughout the town. It’s got a neon space needle.
We tried to find a nice place to grab a beer at but Gatlinburg is a family town and it was out of season for the park. We passed on the moonshine and settled for PBR’s at an Irish pub. While we were there we decided to call our first audible of the trip. Scratch Little Rock, Arkansas. Swap in New Orleans. This was really a no brainer. I’ve been to New Orleans three times previously but Mikey had not. We had to go if only for him to see it. It’s too great of a place not to go to.
After we made our first audible we retreated back to our chariot. We were looking to save some bucks on the trip so we figured we would try sleeping in the car every once in a while. Our car was parked kind of out of the way of everything so we put the seats back and nodded off.
About an hour later we’re awoken by a knock on the window and a flashlight in our face. It’s the police. “You two just sleeping it off?” “No officer, we’re not drunk. We’re on a road trip from New Jersey and we want to check out the Smoky Mountains in the morning.” “You can’t sleep here. There’s a lot of thefts recently.” “No problem, we’ll head up the road to one of the hotels.”
Well that was unsuccessful. No worries. Rates were really cheap because it was out of season. We found a place that was $38 bucks. And when we got there the guy gave us a couple of coupons for a free pancake and drink breakfast. This was an incredible deal.
The pancakes were awesome the next morning. The coffee and orange juice was free, even the refills. I paid $3 for some hash browns. What a steal. Tossed a couple bucks down for a tip and hopped back in the car to head into the Smokies. We went into Cades Cove and it was a stunning drive. We hopped out and tossed the frisbee at bit. It was 70 degrees and sunny. Back home the forecast was a bunch of snow and temperatures in the teens.
After exploring the Smoky Mountains for a couple hours, we decided to move on to Knoxville. Knoxville looked like a nice place. We strolled around and grabbed some lunch in a park. We walked around Market Square. This place definitely looks like it can host a good party, but we wouldn’t be able to find out. Westward we went.
On to Nashville for the night. The home of country music. Country and honky tonk and all it’s variations are everywhere here. There’s a ton of live music at all of the bars and restaurants.
If you love country music, you have to go here. If you don’t then this isn’t a must stop. It’s alright. It’s a bit gimmicky and commercialized. Trust me on this one. I know Nashville. But you don’t have to take my word for it.
We had a Titans fan in the car, so it was pretty much mandatory that we had to stop at the stadium, which is very close to the town. It was really late at night and you can just go right up to the stadium and take pictures and no one bothers you. Back at home at Giants Stadium you would be arrested for such behavior.
For the night we figured we would try our luck at a Wal-Mart parking lot. We heard Wal-Mart allows you to sleep in their parking lot. In exchange for offering a free place to crash they know you will buy some random odds and ends. It worked out for both of us. We grabbed some sleep, and stocked up on beef jerky when we woke up in the morning. After grabbing some cereal we were off to Memphis.
We arrived at Memphis and immediately checked in to our hotel. The plan for the trip was to sleep in the car and then check in to the hotel immediately the next day. Once you check in you can grab a fresh shower. Then when you leave that hotel the next day you can grab another shower before you hit the road. This way you are getting a shower every day even though you are only staying at a hotel half of the time.
Memphis was a gem. The dreadful country music was replaced with heavenly blues. Walking down Beale Street you can hear music everywhere, but it is in the form of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix covers. There are a ton of awesome places to grab a bite or a beverage.
We eventually ended up at Huey’s Restaurant and grabbed a killer burger with the best onion rings. I’ve never quite had an onion ring that good. We were fueled up for the rest of the night. Our favorite musical act was Fuzzy Jeffries & the Kings of Memphis. They put on a great show, and we stuck around all night until the place closed watching them jam out.
At this point the road trip was going mostly according to plan. The first three days took us a long way from home. Memphis was a great city. We retreated back to the hotel and grabbed some sleep. With our audible of New Orleans on deck, we needed the rest.