There are about 4 million miles of public roads in the United States. 120 of those public roads are considered National Scenic Byways. And 31 of those byways are considered All-American Roads because they have features not seen elsewhere in the U.S. With 20 million annual visitors, the most popular All-American Road is the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway through Virginia and North Carolina.
It has no stop signs or traffic signals, no interchange ramps, no commercial vehicles. With no straight section–well, anywhere–and two lanes the entire length, the speed limit is 45mph. But no one is in a hurry. Around every corner is a turnout with panoramic vistas galore. Elevation is as low as 650 feet MSL and goes up to 6000 feet MSL. The roller coaster of a ride probably averages about 2000 feet MSL. The Touareg definitely got a workout pulling the Airstream all week.
Other than in a couple of places, there aren’t really any businesses on the Parkway itself. There are park service buildings, and various art and music centers, museums, and rest areas. The many overpasses, guard rails, and 26 tunnels (yes, 26 of them!) are all made of stone, concrete, and wood. Scattered throughout the drive are Appalachian homesteads, farm houses, log cabins, and mills. It really is a step back in time.
I would hop on the Parkway in the morning, drive a bit, stop at a scenic turnout to eat lunch and code for a few hours, drive some more, exit the Parkway, find a nearby campground for the night, and do it all again the next day. I loved every minute of it!Read More
The Outer Banks (OBX), a strip of barrier islands off the coast of North Carolina, was my home for almost a week. It is most famous for Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, the area where the Wright brothers first took flight in their Wright Flyer back in 1903. As a pilot, it was pretty cool to stop at the Wright Brothers National Monument to see firsthand where this magical moment took place. The original rail used to launch the first flights is still in its exact spot. Plaques on stones mark the first distances flown by the brothers. Several exhibits and artifacts are available for your viewing pleasure. Overlooking it all is a massive memorial dedicated to the brothers. The only weird part is the original airplane is not there; it is at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. But still, it is a must-see place for any aviation enthusiast!
Just a short drive down the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is the tiny beach town of Avon. This is where I set up my base camp for most of my time in OBX. There are miles and miles and miles of pristine, white, sandy beaches. And many of those beaches allow vehicles! I took the Touareg out for some time on the beach, got stuck, got pulled out by “three nice guys from Samaria”, and decided I had enough driving time on the beach for the day.
The whole area clearly revolves around beach life–and life is good! It just had such a relaxed feel to it. A few parts of OBX (especially up north) had obnoxious tourist shops, but many of the towns have a genuine community feel to them. This is especially the case on Ocracoke Island and the town of–you guessed it–Ocracoke. It is a peaceful (and free) 45-minute ferry ride from the “mainland” to Ocracoke Island. Once in town, the official speed limit is 25 mph; I don’t think I got over 15. The narrow streets are full of bicyclists, walkers, and golf carts. Absolutely no one was in a hurry. No matter, as I wasn’t either. Time seemed to stand still in Ocracoke, and I loved it! It didn’t hurt that it was also home to quite possibly the most scenic sunset I have seen in my entire life! Ocracoke (and the rest of the Outer Banks)–go there!
From Ocracoke, it is another ferry ride to get back to civilization. This ferry ride is over two hours and is not free, but it is still reasonable at around $35. I boarded the ferry, opened up the Airstream, sat back, made lunch, and rode the ocean as someone else did the driving this time. It took a little to get used to being inside the Airstream as it rolled with the waves, but honestly, it was incredibly soothing and relaxing after a while. I would do it again in a heartbeat!
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