Preparing oneself mentally for leaving America’s East Coast and its way of viewing the world is something I’ve done six times now, the first transition was to America’s south, followed by Arizona and southern California and then, a few overseas stints where I lived in a variety of luxury, shacks and working class suburbs. In between, I hung my hat in villages, on a kibbutz, along the coast and amidst urban decay and sprawl…..I did it all.
Above, rural Virginia in all its glory, on a cold and brisk winter day.
Then, after many years doing what I was told in the Boston corporate world, I stored a three bedroom house in some warehouse in New Jersey and drove west in a silver Honda Accord named Hamilton with a kayak rack on its top. That was a decade ago. He’s still with me btw and purring along.
Above, Boston’s Charles River at dusk in the days when I lived there, not long before I moved west.
When you’re born and bred in New England, East Coast roots are what you understand, what you know and connect to and the soil you want to touch when the tides are down, at least that’s how it is for most people. I cried as I drove north on Route 128, for what I thought would be the last time, in a very long time. The car was packed, oozing with stuff I later would never need but couldn’t part with at the time, and I looked like a young and modern version of a Beverly Hillbilly daughter, except with more miles under her belt.
I was bound for Canada since I was always one for choosing the path less taken and certainly zigzagging north and south over borders was one such way to do just that. I could have taken Route 66 of course but I figured I had decades to tackle that one. Perhaps when I was old and gray and could whiz across in a slick purple aerodynamic RV just because I could?
En route, I was open to landing somewhere else other than San Francisco if another place spoke to me with more clarity, Portland and Seattle being on the top of my list, mainly for its access to some of the most beautiful mountains and scenery on America’s west coast. My alternative route brought me into Canada, where I lost my radar detector during a police stop (who knew they were no no’s in the Maple Leaf country?), before I then ventured south again through Wisconsin and Minnesota, both of which I loved. It was summer, so fishing and camping were the order of the day, all of which I resonated with growing up in the Adirondack Mountains. (below a shot taken from this past fall of a trip through the Adirondacks – sunset at Caroga Lake).
I headed north again before making a central b-line through parts of Kansas, both Dakotas, Idaho and Montana. There I spent time in the land of the free where I discovered the solitude of America’s western lands — the nothingness of the plains where you could hear a pin drop and the air was quiet one minute and menacing the next.
Ahhh yes, a decade ago.
I was younger then. I had visions of wearing a cowboy hat and boots with faded torn jean shorts and a stylish checked shirt that fit tightly but appropriately across my chest. Silver cuffs hung from my right wrist and a funky leather watch with an antiquated plate hung from my left. My visions included sitting at the counter of some $1 a coffee midwest diner with a girlfriend who was similarly dressed so we didn’t look too out of place in a town we knew nothing about. Later, we’d tackle some dive bar where Harley Davidson addicts would play pool around us while we drank $3 tequila shots and listened to Rock from our time on some worn out juke box. All of this, in a place where no one knew our names. Pure bliss.
I was alone for part of this trip and with random friends on other parts – they’d fly into a designated city and I’d pick them up until I dropped them off at an airport in a different state and continue on my journey. I learned oddball things about the country all the way across this big vast land.
I drank wine in Idaho by night and hiked by day, chowed down on hamburgers in small towns, tried local brew beer, picked blueberries, and wrote poetry with Craters of the Moon as my backdrop. I sat on haystacks in Wisconsin and laid my head among tall grass while one hung between my teeth as I looked up to a clear blue sky. I had a solo picnic behind a church steeple in a deserted ghost town that has barely changed a wink since it was first built in 1880.
I dreamed of a movie script I’d write one day as I laid my eyes on the magical never-ending Badlands for the first time.
I pissed on South Dakota soil, listened to youthful rock bands play in pubs till 2, tried karaoke against my better judgment, sampled whiskey during a bowling match in a place I can’t remember the name of, and went bareback horseback riding in Washington State. I discovered Blodgett Oregon and sat in its library doing family research before landing in Portland where my first stop was the city’s finest chocolate shop. Clearly, I had my priorities in tow on that trip.
This trip would surely be different. Not only was it winter this time around, but my perspective on life had changed after spending so many years on the untamed risk-taking west coast.
That trip so many moons ago, felt more youthful somehow, but the fact that I was ten years younger was only part of the equation. The goal was to move states and to one about as far as I could go to from Massachusetts. As a crow flies, it was roughly 2,700 miles although I took so many detours, I probably added another 1,000 to the trip in the end. Portland or Seattle didn’t call loud enough and San Francisco was where I ultimately landed.
Ahhh yes, a decade ago.
Over the past year and a half, I spent more time on the East Coast than not and my heritage and all of the memories that go with it, wrapped its way around me like a little girl’s arms do to an adult leg during the shyest of moments. It wasn’t a bad thing. It’s not as if it called me back for good, but in all the most beautiful ways, my time there reminded me of the things I love about the Atlantic side of this Yankee land and just how different its people are from those I’ve been working and playing with for so many years of late.
Truth be told, I love the East Coast. I love the way people talk, their philosophical canter, their humor and wit, their directness, the way they look into your eyes rather than past them when they talk to you and their authentic honesty when you need it most. Some of you will disagree with the last one since New Englanders are known for being more discreet and conservative than West Coasters. But, somehow I always managed to draw the truth out of my East Coast friends and when I needed raw honesty and perspective, I asked for it – hard and direct, the way we do in New York.
And so, on a very cold but clear day in mid-January of this year, I set off on another drive across country to help another “life” move. We had a small apartment to clear out and despite its size, it still involved packing dozens of boxes and stacking a car full of more, not to mention loading up a large Yakima cargo box that sat on the top of a five year old gray Chevy Pontiac we named Vinny that was set to make the long journey.
Oddly enough, I felt somewhat melancholy about the departure, not unlike I did a decade ago even though my place was still on the west coast. There was something nostaglic about it and familiar – I had gone through this before and while last time, it was leaving a home behind, this time, it was leaving months of a different life behind, a life filled with diners who proudly served homemade chicken noodle and matzo ball soup, bagel and pizza shops on every corner and crisp cool evenings where we’d take late afternoon walks past the Long Island Sound.
The sunsets at times were even glorious. The below shot was taken in the Bronx, crossing the bridge to City Island at sunset this past fall.
Yet, it’s a much harder life in New York, something I had forgotten since living in San Francisco for a myriad of reasons those who have left it behind, well know.
People tend to harder. There’s always an edge. Traffic is busier. Prices are higher. The pace is faster. Houses are smaller. Jobs are more hectic. The demand is more intense. Schools are more crowded. Climate is harsher. Getting things done takes longer. And so on. But…it was a way of life I knew so well because it was part of my DNA – after all, I first learned how to walk on New York soil.
Nostalgic as it was, we were eager to drive towards warmer pastures, calmer waters, gentler voices….and skies where serenity is the order of the day. To a place where priorities are not about doing but about being. With that frame of mind, we made our way out of the Bronx after one final stop that had to be made — Dunkin Donuts on Bruckner Boulevard. Sipping our piping hot coffees quietly, we made our way across the George Washington Bridge for the last time in our as unpretentious as they get Pontiac.
It was a bitter cold, but clear day. Snow, sleet or rain didn’t get in our way and we missed a New York City blizzard by less than a week. 104.3 played on the radio in the background and we stirred gently as we made our way across the New Jersey border – moving in the car was a bit of a challenge given how packed it was and it wasn’t until we hit Virginia that we were able to shuffle things around to make for more comfortable living quarters, for that is precisely what Vinny would become for the next month on the road.
We passed smokestacks in Newark, and made our way south to Pennsylvania taking in its like-winter skies along the way.
Covington Virginia too had smokestacks, a not-so-common sight in the industrial East Coast where manufacturing plants still thrive.
When we reached Maryland, we were greeted with yellow and soft peach skies set against bare winter trees.
West Virginia skies at dusk were similar, as were its trees and hills. Misty. Dreamy. Cold. Clear. Soft.
Through the car window en route.
The skies would get even more dramatic before night’s end.
Our first stop was the Omni Homestead in Hot Springs Virginia and yes, it was rural and yes, it was surrounded by thermal hot springs, a perfect healing remedy after a long tiring drive from an urban sprawl. Read my extensive write-up on the oh so traditional Omni Homestead property, the stunning wildlife and acreage surrounding it and the infamous Warm Springs Baths and Pools where Thomas Jefferson himself soaked to heal his aching body.
While still brisk in the evening, arriving in Virginia was a lovely reality check that the Bronx was no longer in our rear view mirror and the bitter cold New York winter was behind us. Alas, we hadn’t seen a Dunkin Donuts since morning.
Our drive from Virginia would mostly be rural. It was the first of many rural drives to come on our long journey through middle America.
The eastern part of the country with its wide open spaces and hills, would soon open up to glorious trees and peaks when we hit the edge of the renowned Shenandoah mountain range.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of greeting Virginia’s stunning Shenandoah mountains, it spans 73 miles long across Virginia and West Virginia. The steep, narrow, sandstone-capped ridge extends from northern Bath County in Virginia to southern Hardy County in West Virginia.
The stretch serves as a haven for both family vacations and romantic getaways alike. There’s plenty of hiking as you’d expect, but what you may not expect to find are vineyards, breweries and of course the nearby hot springs. The Blue Ridge Whiskey-Wine Loop is a self-guided tour of some of the loveliest vineyards in several counties in Virginia’s central Valley. And, of course, the drive is breathtaking with plenty of views along Route 40 as well as numerous side roads you can take for a variation to the main road.
Reflections aside, we were well on our way to a month long journey that would forever transform our lives, as all trips of this nature tend to do. And, most importantly, we were ready. It was time and we couldn’t wait to embrace the wide open road ahead of us.
This is the first post of many that covers our cross country trip — while we crossed 15 states, our coverage can be found on the following state pages where we spent time: Virginia, Tennessee (Nashville, Memphis), Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico (Santa Fe) Arizona and California. The coverage will span from late March through June 2015. Also be sure to read our extensive write-up on Massachusetts from last summer which includes the North Coast, Boston and Cape Cod. Don’t ask us for our favorite state because they were all truly magical and each place has its own known — and unknown — gems.
Note: We also used hashtag #WBTWxAmerica on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook throughout our journey if you want to see our photo streams. And, while I hate promotional pushes, truth be told, our trip was made possible and FUN by many sponsors and hosts, including the Tourism Boards of Virginia, Nashville, Memphis, Mississippi and Clarksdale, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Arkansas, Santa Fe and Taos.
We also had product sponsors: Yakima (Vinny wore their sturdy and hassle-free cargo and bike racks proudly), Rockport and Arcopedico Shoes (their shoes were the most comfortable and reliable shoes I’ve ever worn on a trip and I truly mean that), UVSkinz clothing which we wore for sun protection, Kipling, Samsonite and Heys luggage (yup, we used all of it), Tiffen for their filters (well-used and necessary on those bright sunny days), Patchworks screen protectors for our phones, Jam bluetooth speakers so we could get music wirelessly and BuildaSign who created WBTWxCountry signs we plastered on our car doors starting in Tennessee.
We thank them for their graciousness and support along the way. Check out our partners and hosts page for a list who supported us for this trip and others. We were not paid by any sponsor or host to write anything and we chose our sponsors, so believed in their products before we set off. All opinions expressed are our own.
Photos: Renee Blodgett