The day that wouldn’t end

Today started out innocently enough. I made myself a huge waffle at our hotel’s continental breakfast bar, Kurt ate cereal without milk. Just another normal day. We followed breakfast with a walk on the beach, where we collected a great assortment of colorful seashell pieces. We walked in the water, which was the perfect temperature. We took pictures by the Atlantic, knowing that in a couple of weeks they’ll be joined by pictures of us by the Pacific. Our shorts got wet when waves caught us off guard while posing. A nice lady took our picture together. A perfect morning.

After cleaning the sand off our feet, we checked out of the hotel and went straight to the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk. It’s a national park — the first one of the trip — so we bought the $80 interagency pass that will admit us to any national park (and permit us to use campgrounds at some of the parks) for the next year. With the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Badlands in our near future, we’ll get our money’s worth out of the pass by the end of the trip. The Wright Brothers Memorial was far more impressive than either of us expected it to be. There’s a welcome center with a small museum and a gift shop (where I picked up the first of many magnets that will serve as souvenirs of the trip). There are replicas of the buildings in which Wilbur and Orville lived and worked while in Kitty Hawk. There are stone markers showing where the 4 flights they succeeded in making on December 17, 1903 began and ended. There’s a separate set of buildings with exhibits that we didn’t get a chance to see. There’s a huge monument at the top of the hill that was the sand dune marking the spot they chose for their experiments. And there’s a fun sculpture of the first flight and its onlookers. It’s an interesting and lovely place to spend a few hours marveling at the ingenuity of those two guys. When we arrived, there were school-aged kids filling the field leading up to the monument, all flying black kites. Luckily, we snapped a picture right away — they were gone by the time we left the museum and gift shop. Some of our pictures, including that one, will be posted in the Gallery.

We wrapped things up at the park around 12:30, and I offered to drive the first leg of today’s traveling. The fact that we had to cross a long scary bridge to get to the Outer Banks should have clued me in to the possibility that we’d have to cross another long scary bridge to get out of the Outer Banks, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. So when we ended up crossing not one but TWO long scary bridges, and when there was construction on the second one causing traffic to come to a standstill for a while IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BRIDGE, I had no one to blame but myself. In between the bridges was Roanoke Island, home of the famous Lost Colony. I mean “famous” in the sense that Kurt thought it sounded familiar, and then he Googled it and educated me about the details, which are these: in the early 1580s, a group of settlers came there from England, stayed about a year, and then went back to England. A few years later, in 1587, another group of over 100 settlers came to stay. They lost communication with people in England for a few years due to wars, etc., and when the next wave of settlers came over 3 years later the original group was nowhere to be found. The island is also the spot where the first English child was born in this country in 1587 (before the colony was lost, apparently).

After getting on more solid ground, we spent quite a bit of time driving through swamplands in eastern North Carolina. The scenery was interesting, and so were the roadside signs — one warned us not to feed bears, another asked us to be on the lookout for red wolves, and a third informed us that we were in the Alligator River area. All of the signs made me hope that we’d at least see a bear off in the distance somewhere, but no such luck. We eventually got back into farmlands and another “No OLF” zone, and then slowly into more hilly land. We thought we’d never get out of North Carolina — it seems to go on forever.

We had no luck finding a lunch spot, despite scenic detours on business route 64 through several small towns whose occupants apparently never eat out. Eventually we came across a large produce stand next to a gas station, and it was there that I befriended Don Lewis. He gave us a tour of his wares (we were his only customers at the time). We discussed his pleasant-smelling candles, and, most importantly, he gave us free samples of boiled peanuts. Unbeknownst to either of us, boiled peanuts are a southern staple, and for good reason. They’re surprisingly delicious, considering the fact that they’re warm, soft, wet peanuts. We bought some, along with a couple bananas and some local blueberries. Great car snacks. You know, except for the wet, messy peanuts, which were a real problem in light of our failure to bring along any sort of napkin or napkin-substitute. Hindsight’s 20/20, right? But seriously, if anyone knows where I can get good boiled peanuts near Philly, please let me know.

I kept driving after that stop, and we decided to try to make it to Chapel Hill for an early dinner to make up for our snack-style lunch. We arrived at the UNC campus a little after 5 pm. We ended up eating at a great restaurant called Elaine’s on Franklin, where Kurt sampled Bison and I had the best creamed corn of my life. Just before our meals came, I got a call from my best friend Ashleigh’s husband telling me that Ashleigh had gone into labor the night before and their second son, Liam Brady, was born early this morning. So in the event that Ashleigh and/or Billy are reading this, congratulations again, guys!

After dinner, Kurt had the crazy-slash-brilliant idea that we should keep driving until we got too tired to go on. We knew we were headed to Memphis, and we thought that if we got there early enough on Friday, we could visit the MINI dealership there to have the car looked at — there’s a sporadic idling problem that has been bothering Kurt. So on we went. Kurt filled up on caffeine and took the wheel. After catching up on some blog posts, I tried to sleep. Kurt woke me near the Tennessee border so that I could snap a picture of the Welcome sign. It was just us and the trucks on the road, and the Smoky Mountains at midnight were pitch black. We crossed the border a few minutes after midnight, and then I resumed sleeping and Kurt cracked open an Energy flavored Vitamin Water.

To Be Continued…

North Carolina on our minds

Today I really feel like the trip began.

This morning my dad, a “car guy,” cleaned the windows on Kurt’s car before Kurt and I even woke up. After breakfast, we repacked the car, said goodbye to my parents, posed for a car-side picture, and headed out.

Before hopping on the turnpike, we stopped for gas at what used to be the Little Tiger and is now a Shell that, according to a sign in the window, sells milk at “the lowest prices allowed by law.” That’s how we do things in Lehighton.

Our trip south from PA to Delaware went swimmingly — we left late enough to avoid Philly traffic, and going through Delaware in the middle of the week meant minimal shore traffic. We stopped in Rehoboth to do some very successful outlet shopping, and then we had lunch in Fenwick Island at Harpoon Hanna’s, just north of the Maryland border. That restaurant is a favorite in my family after many summer vacations at nearby Bethany Beach — you can’t beat the steamed spiced shrimp at their Tiki Bar. We got seats outside along the bay, watched boats going by, listened to a busboy lament the lack of respect he gets from the hostesses, and had some great food.

After lunch we continued south, through Ocean City, MD, and then the abject poverty that seems to permeate the rest of Eastern MD and VA on the Delmarva Peninsula. That portion of the drive was both fascinating and depressing. Rural poverty somehow looks harsher than urban poverty, maybe just because we’ve grown used to seeing the latter in Philadelphia. The miles of isolated, run-down trailers and dilapidated houses, most of which were clearly being live in, were fairly shocking.

On a lighter note, we saw countless house-like buildings claiming to be all sorts of churches, and a lot of trailers claiming to be realtors specializing in waterfront properties. Other fun sights included Assawoman Bay (my dad’s favorite body of water), cement steps leading nowhere in the middle of a field, a chimney attached to nothing in another field, a stack of hay bales shaped like a tractor, and tons of roadside shops selling hams, boiled peanuts, and discount cigarettes.

All of this led up to the feat of modern engineering known as the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I’d driven over it once before several years ago on a legendary trip to Virginia Beach with my bestie, Ashleigh (legendary not because of any scandalous behavior, but because of the extraordinary number of fascinating locals we befriended there). On that trip, the bridge made me so nervous I vowed not to be the driver on any future trips across it, much to Kurt’s amusement. So he drove this time. If you haven’t experienced it, you really should. It’s an 18-mile long ride that starts out as a bridge, then becomes a tunnel, then becomes a bridge again, then a tunnel again, then finishes out as a bridge. Who thinks of this stuff? The scary part is that the bridges aren’t all that far above the water, and there’s really no shoulder. And in the middle section, you’re just out there with no visible land in any direction. It’s crazy.

On the south side of the bridge is Virginia Beach, where we stopped so that I could take over driving, based largely on my mistaken belief that there would not be any other long, scary bridges ahead of us. Oh how wrong I was…

After VA beach was more rural Virginia, followed by rural NC. The only thing worth mentioning about that stretch of the drive is the multitude of “No OLF” signs that lined routes 13 and 158 through North Carolina. Using my fancy new iPhone, I was able to learn that the signs are aimed at protesting a plan by the Navy to build an Outlying Landing Field for jets in that part of NC. And that, I believe, constitutes Interesting Fact No. I-lost-count.

Much to my chagrin, it turned out that our destination for today — Kitty Hawk — is on an island. And that meant crossing another bridge, which turned out to be on the long side. Luckily, we made it without the bridge collapsing (a frequent nightmare of mine), and I managed to not freak out despite Kurt’s constant ribbing as we traversed the Wright Memorial Bridge.

That brought us to Kitty Hawk, where we snagged the last room at a beachfront Days Inn after unsuccessful stops at 2 other hotels. I immediately befriended Zach and Karen, who were working the front desk. They pointed us to Awful Arthur’s in Kill Devil Hills for dinner, calling it a place that embodies the Outer Banks in every way and assuring us that even the locals frequent it. Our late dinner there was marked by a bartender who shucked oysters impressively efficiently, a number of people who BYO’d coozies for their beers at the bar, and both Kurt and me tasting soft shell crabs for the first time.

All in all, a pretty great start to the trip. Tomorrow we’ll start heading west after some quick sight-seeing here.

105 degrees in connecticut

Our last morning in Marblehead started off with breakfast at the Driftwood with Kurt’s dad. Kurt had his usual, the Masterpiece, and I had chocolate chip pancakes. The Driftwood is a “breakfast shop” — something I’m not sure exists outside Massachusetts — and eating there is a very Marblehead-y experience. Lots of character, lots of fun stuff on the walls, and lots of people waiting for a table if you don’t get there early enough.

After breakfast I chauffeured Kurt around to the dentist and the barber, and in between trips I masterfully packed the car. He’s right — it holds much more than its name suggests.

After Kurt’s various errands, his hard drive was FINALLY done restoring, we said goodbye to his mom, Cody, and Smokey (the cat), and we hit the road.

Today’s destination: Lehighton, PA, to spend a night at my parents’ house before starting our trip “for real.” Our route to PA took us through all of the hottest parts of Connecticut (105 degrees in New Britain is the hottest spot so far in our travels), and all of the rural-est parts of northeastern Pennsylvania (fireworks “outlets” galore and a “Mediteranean” restaurant with the cuisine misspelled in the name on the sign).

We got to my parents’ house early enough to see my sister Sara, bro-in-law Bill, and nephew Trevor (aka T-Dubs). I was excited; as usual, T-Dubs was adorably apathetic.

We cooled off in the pool, had some burgers and dogs grilled on my dad’s new Weber, sampled my mom’s homemade chipwiches, and enjoyed some beers (Kurt) and mojitos (me).

After dinner, my dad wasted no time putting Kurt to work fixing his virus-ridden computer, while I subjected my mom to a slideshow of the 300 or so pictures that we took in Marblehead. Needless to say, good times were had by all.

Tomorrow, the real traveling begins.

How Kurt became a superhero

Today we returned once more to Peabody to get Kurt’s computer fixed at the Apple store. After dropping it off at the Genius Bar, we decided to price tents and camping supplies to finally decide whether we should incorporate camping into our trip or not. After visiting several stores — and some of them several times — we finally settled on purchasing basic camping supplies at Dick’s Sporting Goods (following the advice of a cool EMS employee). Top that off with a backpack style cooler we picked up at Target, and things are looking all set for the trip.

When we got home, Kurt set up his computer to restore the information from his old hard drive onto his new hard drive — no small task, it turns out. In fact, the 20 hours it’ll take to get everything restored will push back our departure time tomorrow. But hey, at least we’ll have a nice new rattle-free laptop to use while we’re sweeping the nation.

Once we got the restoration process started, Kurt decided to wash the car while his mom and I played another round of badminton. Everything was going swimmingly until Kurt started cleaning his wheels using a fluffy mitt thing that had been housed in a shed behind his mom’s house. As luck would have it, the mitt was home to a spider and its egg sac. Kurt’s hand was apparently a nuisance to the spiders, which promptly began biting him repeatedly on his wrist. When he realized what had happened, his wrist was hurting and swelling up pretty good. Not fun. Luckily, soap & water, some ice, some Benadryl, and some baking soda paste calmed things down, and his wrist was back to its normal size by the time we went to sleep.

So it all turned out ok. But isn’t that kind of how Spiderman became Spiderman? I’ll be keeping a close eye on Kurt to detect the onset of any fun Superhero abilities during the course of our journey…

A very Marblehead fourth of July

To celebrate our nation’s birth, we kicked today off by attending the Horribles Parade, which is a unique Marblehead 4th of July tradition. It involves local kids dressing up in all sorts of costumes (some patriotic, some not so much) and parading around town. The parade has no apparent connection to this particular holiday, but it’s a lot of fun anyway. It looks like a blast for the kids (who get to dress up and eat candy), but it definitely seems to be more geared toward the parents trying to show that they can come up with better costume ideas than their neighbors. Kurt snapped some good shots of parade participants, some of which are in the Gallery.

Despite the heat (upper 90s), we spent most of today walking around Marblehead, which is the birthplace of the American Navy (Interesting Fact No. 3!). We went to Abbott Hall, where we saw an art show, visited “The Spirit of 76” (a very famous patriotic painting about which I had virtually no knowledge prior to today), and strolled through a craft fair. After that we stopped in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, which has a cool fireplace and a pianoforte, and where Kurt scolded me for touching a chair. We managed to avoid heat stroke, thanks in large part to little girls who were selling lemonade every few blocks for 50 cents a cup. We sampled lemonade from 2 of them — the first was donating her proceeds to cancer research, the second was donating her proceeds to herself. We ended the afternoon with ice cream cones, before heading back to Kurt’s house to get ready for fireworks.

This evening we joined Randy and Natalie on Randy’s dad’s boat, the Muscobe, which was rafted with 2 other boats in Marblehead Harbor creating a cool multi-boat party. The sunset over the Harbor was absolutely amazing, and we got some great pictures. There was even a rainbow at one point — a 4th of July miracle! When it got dark, they did something called the Harbor Illumination, which involves the entire perimeter of the harbor being illuminated with evenly-spaced red flares. I’ve never seen anything like it before — it was magical, especially viewed from a boat on the harbor surrounded by it all. A bit later, the fireworks were set off over the mouth of the harbor. They lasted much longer than we expected, and the grand finale was great. We watched it from the roof of the boat listening to air horns blaring in appreciation from boats all over the harbor. Kurt got a couple really amazing pictures, which are in the Gallery.

Overall, it was a pretty perfect 4th of July. Tomorrow we head to the mall a third and final time to get Kurt’s hard drive replaced (the part finally arrived!), and then we get ready to get on the road!

John Adams slept here

Today we visited Kurt’s dad, I did some cross-country route planning while Kurt took his dad’s computer apart then put it back together, and we watched Germany dominate Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals (making me proud to be 3/4 German). Interesting Fact No. 1: Kurt’s dad lives in a house that belonged to his mom (Kurt’s grandmother) and was built in the late 1700s for a ship captain who took John Adams to Paris before he was president, and the night before they left for Paris John Adams slept there. How often do you meet someone who can say a former president slept in their house a couple hundred years ago?

Back to our weekend… After the game we had lunch at the Barnacle on the deck overlooking Marblehead Harbor. The butterfly shrimp rocked my world, we worked on our killer tans, and we got photography pointers from Kurt’s dad. Interesting Fact No. 2: barnacles are alive and look gross — if you don’t believe me, check out Wikipedia. After lunch, more strolling around town and more taking pictures of boats (see the Gallery for some highlights). Then trip number 2 to the mall, yielding new pair of sandals number 2 for me and new pair of sandals number 1 for Kurt. Unfortunately, the Apple store still doesn’t have the right hard drive, so Kurt’s computer is still iffy.

When we got back from the mall, Kurt and his mom introduced me to a cherished Marblehead tradition: Very Aggressive Badminton. I’ve played badminton before, mind you — I even took a semester of it for a gym credit in college (I’m super athletic) — but I’ve never played badminton quite like this. Both Kurt and his mom (and apparently everyone else from New England) swing their rackets as hard as they can, delivering crushing blows to a birdie (made with REAL FEATHERS), sending it flying at an insane pace in the general direction of their opponent’s face. It’s aggressive. And I found it simultaneously hilarious and awesome. I held my own, but Kurt has informed me that if I want to get really good at it, I’ll have to stop laughing the whole time.

Tonight we had an awesome time at a cookout hosted by Kurt’s Uncle Gerard and Aunt Mimi. Their son, Jack, was the photographer at Kurt’s other cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago. Jack put together a really great slideshow of his pictures for Randy and Natalie (the newlyweds), and he presented it after dinner. His pictures were amazing — you can check out his work here. It was a fun night, and we got tons of good trip tips from Gerard, his daughter Kristy, and her husband Ben. Their cool travel stories definitely made the mosquito bites worth it.

Hello Marblehead

We’re spending this weekend in Marblehead, where Kurt grew up, as a sort of pre-trip trip. Our first stop today in Massachusetts, after crossing the awesome Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge in Boston, was the North Shore Mall in Peabody (which I’ve now learned is pronounced “PEE-bud-E”). We were in search of an Apple store to take Kurt’s MacBook Pro in for a new hard drive — a critical pre-trip errand, since all of our pictures, as well as this blog, will be managed on there. Because Kurt’s computer is so fancy, the Apple store didn’t have the necessary part in stock so we were unable to get the computer fixed today. But the part is being ordered and will hopefully arrive prior to our departure on Tuesday. Cross your fingers! On our way out of the mall I did manage to acquire a new pair of Clarks sandals, so the trip to Peabody wasn’t a total bust.

After the mall, we headed to Marblehead and got settled in at Kurt’s mom’s house. Later this afternoon we took Kurt’s mom’s dog, Cody, for a walk and practiced using our fancy new DSLR camera — a Canon Rebel T1i, or something like that. Check out some of our pics in the Gallery section. Tonight Kurt’s mom grilled some steaks, we watched the Red Sox beat the Orioles, and our 4 am wakeup time is now catching up with us, so we’ll be hitting the sack early. More from Marblehead tomorrow…

Goodbye, Philadelphia

And so it begins. It’s 5:10 am, and we’re officially leaving Philly. In about 6 hours we’ll be in Marblehead to kick off the trip with a festive 4th of July weekend, Massachusetts style. This drive will take us through our first 5 states — PA, NJ, NY, CT, and MA. Only 25 (or so) more to go.