I took the train into Chicago rather than drive just so I could say I’d done it. I got lost on curvy mountain roads in North Carolina just because I wanted to find a spectacular waterfall. I watched a sunset in the middle of a cornfield in Ohio even though I still had three hours still to drive to a very exciting place. It would be so much easier on me if I just simply drove from Point A to Point B, but instead I always find myself taking the long way around. And I never regret it.
Every time I get ready for my next “travel day”, I pull up Google Maps and begin planning. It is so easy in today’s world of satellite navigation and Internet maps at your fingertips to know exactly where you are and where you are going. But sometimes I just want to get a little lost. Sometimes I just want to find something off the beaten path.
Maps are great tools, and Google makes it easier than ever, but often times these maps don’t show you what is just around the corner. I can’t remember how many times I had driven Interstate 74 from Rockingham to Asheboro in North Carolina before I finally decided to visit the Pisgah Covered Bridge. Sure, I saw the brown sign a dozen times, but if I had just stuck with the straight path instead of taking a detour I never would have found one of the few covered bridges left in the state.
About a month ago I was ready for another “travel day” as I left Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina for Gatlinburg, Tennessee. According to Google Maps the drive should have been 407 miles and taken about 7 hours. That’s if I had stuck to the Interstates most of the way and driven straight into Gatlinburg without making any side trips or detours.
But I just wasn’t built for driving in a straight line from Point A to Point B. I prefer taking the scenic route, finding hidden spots along the way, and taking big side trips to find amazing places. Sure, it takes longer, wears me out more than anything, and often means I arrive well after dark. But it’s fun, exciting, and always gives me some good stories to tell.
On this particular trip I stuck to the route provided to me for the first half of the trip as I traveled along I-20 and I-26 in South Carolina. But just before I hit the North Carolina border I took my first side trip. I hopped on the Cherokee Foothills Parkway. This two lane road skirted the southeastern edge of the Appalachian Mountains, providing some really stunning views of wide open fields and cute small towns along the way.
I don’t just take the long way around so I can find places to stop all day. If I did that, I would never arrive at my destination. Instead, I take the scenic routes so I can take notes on places I want to visit in the future. I passed several state parks along the Cherokee Foothills Parkway; there are five state parks in Upstate South Carolina all within about an hour’s drive of each other, and each with a unique attraction. I passed a sign for the Wildcat Wayside Waterfall, looked it up later, need to return soon.
But then there were the actual stops. The first was at Campbell’s Covered Bridge, a nice little red bridge across a quiet creek. I had lunch here before moving on to Poinsett Bridge just a few minutes away. Built in 1820, this stone bridge over a small creek is probably the oldest remaining bridge in the state and it was utterly peaceful deep in the forest. I got back on the Parkway and soon came across Table Rock State Park and a gorgeous girl at the visitor center who told me about Sassafras Mountain, the tallest mountain in South Carolina, with a scenic overlook at the top. She said it only took her twenty minutes to make it to the top, but it took me forty and even then I was feeling a bit car sick. But the view was breathtaking just as she’d promised, and I stood there looking at the familiar curve of Clingman’s Dome, my destination later that day.
But my side trips were not done just yet. I stopped at a small diner in Cleveland where the lady at the register gave me tips about places to camp and trails to explore. I quickly jotted down all her ideas and then showed her a photo I had captured of lightning in Chincoteague Island, Virginia. She thought the photo was beautiful, and later that day she began following my Facebook page so we could always keep in touch.
I made my final stop just before sunset. As I had scoured Google Maps for side trips and stops I came across the Upper Whitewater Falls access. It’s a small parking area off a two lane highway connecting South Carolina with Cashiers, North Carolina. After a short hike along a paved path and a seriously climb down 154 steps I found myself on an observation deck looking straight at the thunderous 411’ tall Upper Whitewater Falls. It’s one of the tallest waterfalls in the Eastern United States and made a fantastic impression.
By the time I returned to my car the sun was setting, I was nearly out of gas, and my right knee was beginning to ache (it always starts to throb after seven hours of driving). I was still three hours from Gatlinburg and a comfortable bed in a nice hotel. But the side trips had been worth it throughout the day.
I had met some interesting people, made a few new friends, found some amazing places to visit someday, and captured some stunning photos. I walked away with some great stories to tell, and the foundation of great stories in the future. It was a long day, but it was worth every minute.
By the time I rolled into the parking lot of my hotel I had driven 535 miles and spent over 11 hours on the road. This had definitely been the long way around this day, and I hope every day since. I am simply unable to drive the quickest route, even when my destination is seeing someone absolutely exciting and having the time of our lives together.
Today I am leaving for another “travel day”, leaving Kingsport, Tennessee for Charleston, South Carolina. Just this morning I realized I would be traveling from one end of Interstate 26 to the other, crossing Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Of course I could take the route Google Maps provided, driving the 348 miles in just under 6 hours. But by now we both know I won’t be doing that.
Instead, I’ll be taking the long way around. Today I think I’ll spend my time discovering interesting places just off the interstate, within arm’s reach but hidden from view, as I travel south. I doubt I’ll make it to Columbia before sunset, and heck I may not even make it to Charleston at all today. But that’s the fun part about taking the long way around: I never know what to expect, other than to expect the unexpected. A lots of fun, excitement, amazing views, and stunning destinations.
I’ll always take the long way around because really…I enjoy the journey just as much as the destination.