Okay. It’s fair to say that my time spent in Pisgah National Forest from Sunday, July 14 – Saturday, July 20, with a brief hiatus into Atlanta for a Phish show is a little past due. The good news is that I think I’m in a place (Boston, MA), where I should be able to catch up and share with you my travels, heady thoughts and some just-for-fun realizations in the next couple of posts. So, before my experiences lose the relevance of time, it’s time to get on with the journey…
With my adventure having just started a week previous and having spent the first five days of it with my Wanee family in Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, Mount Pisgah was to serve as my home-base for exploring Asheville, North Carolina – a place that even though I had never been resonated with me for some special reason – and represented the first opportunity to continue the “work” of my spiritual journey. I was looking forward to solitude, which would allow myself to look within, get in touch with nature (and therefore myself) and allow the time and space needed to assume the role of the “observer” on my path towards enlightenment. And, it did…to a certain degree, but more on that in a future post. Before I share with you the beautiful natural wonders the National Park has to offer, I thought I’d give you a little background before we head into the back country.
Background before the back country
Borrowing its namesake from the Biblical mountain from which Moses saw the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Pisgah National Forest is named after a prominent peak, Mount Pisgah, a 5,721-foot summit along the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Comprised of 500,000 acres of mile-high vistas, whitewater rivers, cascading waterfalls and hundreds of miles of trails through heavily forested slopes, Pisgah National Forest is just 15 miles outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Originally owned by George Vanderbilt, a transportation mogul-made millionaire (multi-billionaire by today’s standards), the forest in the 1890’s was intended to serve as a backyard hunting preserve for his estate, The Biltmore mansion – the largest private home in the United States (which I will detail later in the post). Following Vanderbilt’s passing in 1914, his widowed wife sold the land to the United States government, making it one of the first tracks of land purchased under the Week’s Act of 1911, which led to it becoming the first National Forest of the East in 1916. It not only remains one of the first designated wilderness areas in the country and home to the first School of Forestry in the United States but the oldest national forest in North Carolina. Today, sharing a boarder with Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, Pisgah National Forest provides some of the most dramatic scenery and outstanding recreational opportunities in the Appalachian Mountains.
Even its epic history, dramatic views and recreational outlets don’t do justice to just how special this place became to me. So, as not to try to convince you of this, I thought a day-by-day digest of my time spent might suffice until I can digest the emotional impact it has had?
Day 1: Bound for Glory
After a 30-minute drive up the parkway, I navigated myself to Mount Pisgah Campground, set up camp at an elevation of 4,980 feet and settled in for the night, but not before making friends with my camp neighbors who made a peace offering in the form of a beer (PBR). Much appreciated, as I was without.
Day 2: Navigating the terrain
Having arrived in a cloud and unable to see the dramatic views on my way up, in the morning I decided to venture out to find a cell phone signal, get my bearings and re-up on some camping supplies, like ice, firewood and beer. This brought me further South the Blue Ridge Parkway to SR 276 which took me down the mountain and on a path to explore:
Sliding Rock: Sliding Rock is 60-foot natural rock slide with a 6-7-foot pool at the base. A little touristy for me, it was still a must see while in the forest. The slide is an official Forest Service Recreation Area with a $1 fee, which covers parking and on-duty lifeguards. If you plan to experience it, bring shoes, ensure you’re 16 years of age or older and be prepared for a chilling splash at the end!
Looking Glass Falls: Looking Glass Falls is probably one of the best known falls in Pisgah National Forest due its easy access just off of 276. It’s about 60-feet tall and always has a heavy flow of water. Next to its beauty, the coolest part is that you’re welcome to climb the rocks at its base, swim and wade in the pool that it creates.
Oskar Blues Brewery, Brevard, North Carolina:
Located in Brevard, North Carolina on the other side of the mountain from Asheville, Oskar Blues is one of 48 breweries (and counting) in the Asheville area. Originally hailing from Boulder, Colorado Oskar Blues was one of the first breweries to put good, craft beer in a can: Dale’s Pale Ale. A backpacker’s and hop head’s dream-come-true. They consistently brew seven craft beers ranging in gravity and ABV from Mama’s Little Yella Pils on the lighter side to Ten Fidy, a 10% roasty, ultra stout. My favorite of the flight I tried was Dales Pale Ale – one voluminously hopped mutha of a pale ale – and Deviant Dale’s, which I brought back to camp with me in 16-oz. cans.
Without getting into too much detail here, a couple events transpired in just the first 24-hours, which taught me to: trust the path of love and light and not to put too much stake into those who are still part of the system, as their holding on too tight will only stand in the way of connecting in a more meaningful way.
Through these events, which were only mildly disappointing, I was able to see the beauty of a journey: better things lie ahead even if they’re outside of the plan, like this glorious sunset from a special place I affectionately dubbed “sunset rock.” Called to it by means of it being illuminated by the only ray of light on the side of the mountain, I would not have found it or been able to see the setting sun had the plans I made not fallen through.
Day 3: “F” is for finding adventure with new-found friends
In a dramatic turn of events, which brought my camp neighbor, a hippie, pirate purveyor of vegan food on Shakedown streets around the country, back to the mountains, I now had a partner in crime in which to explore more of the forest. Hiking was the name of our game.
Mount Pisgah Trail: We headed out to summit Mount Pisgah, a 6-mile round-trip hike from base camp, which traversed moderate to strenuous terrain and a 800-foot ascend and descend through a variety of micro-climates, including a high elevation swamp, heavily populated hardwood forest and an almost arid, vegetation-free bald spot at the summit.
Private natural pool: After the four-hour hike to-and-from the summit, my new-found-friend and I were up for a swim in the balmy waters of one of the many 56-degree streams that ran through the forest. The coolest thing about this is that unlike community pools and public swimming holes, you can just pull over and find your own little private slice of life. So we did and found this place just off the beaten path. Even without getting in, the breeze created from the flow of cool water over the rocks was like nature’s own air conditioner. So refreshing.
Moore Cove Falls: Just down from Looking Glass falls on 276, there was a little turn-off and trail head which lead to shower-like cascade of Moore Cove Falls, a 50-foot freefall with an average flow of what is seen in the pictures below.
Day 4: Something Phishy
As much as I appreciated the company my camp neighbor kept, I ventured into the mountains for alone time, and it was about time I found it, even if I had to create it myself. Phish playing in Atlanta provided the perfect opportunity. I headed out late on Wednesday morning, arrived in Atlanta around 3:30pm, scored tickets at face value without the “inconvenience fee” from the box office, tailgated it, worked it on Shakedown Street and headed into the show. I found that if I’m going to a show and have lawn seats, it’s guaranteed to rain! Four and half hours later, I was soaked from head to toe, but learned that it’s the only way to really get down at a jam band show. Finger up!
Knowing I had to start the drive back after the show and late into the night, I kept it cool by not indulging too much. I made it as far as I could, but it wasn’t far enough so I pulled into a Pilot Travel Center and spent the first night in my car. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of nights like that before I rethought what I was doing. Fortunately, it was my first and last time sleeping in a car…so far.
Day 5: Crunchy Opulence
Upon making it back into the Asheville area on Thursday morning, I immediately proceeded to the Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in the United States. At 178,926 square feet (almost 4 acres under roof!), The Biltmore house is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. Featuring 250 rooms (33 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, a 10,000 volume library, a Banquet Hall with a 70-foot ceiling and full-size pipe organ, an indoor pool, bowling alley, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center for the time) it stands today as one of the most prominent examples of the Gilded Age. Too bad they wouldn’t allow pictures inside 🙁
Most impressive was its 8,000 acre plot, which featured extensive gardens, arboretum, bass pond (more like a lake) and a winery.
For more on the Biltmore, including its impressive history read on.
All in all, the Biltmore cost $60 to access the house and grounds and took about 4 hours to see (and I was hurrying). Despite its status as a tourist attraction, I’d highly recommend stopping by. Not only was the family history interesting and its architecture awe-inspiring, stepping back in time to understand the effect the Victorian era had on its design was a learning experience.
After leaving the Biltmore, I headed into Asheville to check out the local scene, which I will detail in a future post. In the meantime, I’ll tell you that I posted up at the Asheville Brewing Company, where I worked on a blog post and stopped into Wicked Weed for dinner before heading back to join the camping queen at Pisgah Campground. I showed up pretty toasted, but it sure did make for a fun drive up the Blue Ridge!
Day 6: Closing out
I woke up on Friday with mixed emotions, knowing that this would be my last full day on Mount Pisgah. Not only did I want to make the most of my surroundings and check out some additional hiking trails and waterfalls, but I wanted to experience more of Asheville than I previously allowed. So, here’s how I closed out my last day:
Frying Pan Loop: At the entrance of Mount Pisgah Campground is Frying Pan Loop, a 3/4-mile trail up 375 feet of gravel terrain. Allowing me to escape the crowds of Mount Pisgah Trail, I was able to see soaring views of the Blue Ridge Mountain range from the 50-foot Frying Pan Tower (an abandoned fire tower) at just about 5,200 feet. Although an easy walk, if you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t the trail for you. Perched on the tower and looking down the ridge, it reminded me of a view you’d only get when skydiving (only about 10,000 feet lower).
Graveyard Field Falls: Two waterfalls (an upper and a lower) grace the area known as Graveyard Field, a mile-high valley filled with wildflowers and surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountains.
Asheville, North Carolina: After soaking up as much as I could in Pisgah, it was time to head into Asheville for one last time, where I would stumble on the Friday night drum circle, eat at Mayfel’s and check out the Asheville Music Hall where I would jam out to the sounds of “Big Something” and “The Mantras.” There’s lots more to say about my time in Asheville, and I look forward to breaking it down in a later post. But, that will have to wait as this post is already getting too long. So stay tuned.
Looking back, I could’ve stayed in Pisgah for another week and still not have felt that I had sufficient time to reflect and explore. So, I will probably return. However, I did find time to let go, open up and formulate few thought-provoking ideas from the forest, which I look forward to sharing with you when the time is right.
In the meantime, I hope this gives you an idea of why this forest will forever be a part of me.
Two weeks ago today my ventures took to me Charleston, the oldest and second-largest city in South Carolina. Having missed stopping in Savannah, GA on my way up from Florida, I was excited about what was going to be my first field trip to a quintessential Southern town. And what an adventure it turned out to be, filled with food, history, mixology, sun and an impromptu jam sesh!
Before heading out from Columbia (about 114 miles away or about a two-hour drive), I knew our time was going to be limited. Having heard that you could spend at least a week just putzing around town, checking out its historical sites, like Fort Sumter and The Citadel as well as tasting the fares of its renowned restaurants, I wasn’t going to be able to see and do it all, but that was okay. I had great “tour guides,” who had a few local connections and favorite places they wanted to share. But, before I get into those, I wanted to turn you on to with what most mainstream tourists, which I am not, would’ve had on their agenda.
A brief history
Founded in 1670 as Charles Towne in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its present name in 1783. By 1690, Charles Towne was the fifth largest city in North America, and it remained among the ten largest cities in the United States through the 1840’s, at which time it was a bustling trade center – the hub of the Atlantic trade of African slaves, cotton, silk and tea for the Southern colonies.
It was also the city which started the civil war. In December of 1860, following the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union – hence why the Confederate flag still flies in the capital of Columbia. On January 9, 1861, cadets of the Citadel, an arsenal-turned-military academy, opened fire from Fort Sumter on the Union ship, Star of the West, that entered Charleston’s harbor.
The rest, well, is history…
Known for its rich history, well-preserved architecture, restaurant community, and mannerly people, Charleston has received a large number of accolades, including “America’s Most Friendly City” by Travel + Leisure in 2011 and “the most polite and hospitable city in America” by Southern Living magazine.
Charleston is also famous for its unique culture, which blends traditional Southern U.S., English, French, and West African elements. The downtown peninsula is well known for its art, music, local cuisine, and fashion. Must eats, like the Hominy Grill (synonymous for Shrimp and Grits), Jestine’s Kitchen holly low country eats, FIG and the Tattooed Moose for their Food Network-famous features would’ve been nice, but it was the pristine beaches, epicurean delights, artistry and funk that scratched the surface for me.
“It’s always an adventure with the McCaulley’s”
Before even arriving in Charleston, the adventure had already begun by means of a little car trouble. So I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify a couple questions I received on my previous post “Early Insights,” which alluded to them, but left a little room for worry for some. Yes, we had a minor delay in getting there. It was my friend’s Ford Escape (not my Mazda) that encountered minor break trouble on the way in to town. But, it was not a big deal – nothing that a short stop and cool-off couldn’t fix. Within minutes we were on our way to our first stop in Charleston:
Folly Beach: I had heard great things about this little beach town before even stepping foot on it. It was (and still is) my Wanee sister’s favorite place to be, so we had to check it out even though her husband probably preferred that we didn’t. He’s just not a beach guy, but he rolled with it so she and I could squeeze in a little quality time on the South Carolina shore.
With its beach boutiques, surf and skate shops as well as family-owned bars and eateries, Folly Beach reminded me of a scaled down version of Santa Cruz, California, sans the boardwalk and sea lions. Like many beach-side communities, it was laid back, casual but really cool with a West Coast kind of swagger. Lacking the rocky cliffs and cold currents of the Pacific, it was truly an East Coast coastline, with expansive sandy beaches, significant tidal surge and a fishing pier.
Taco Boy: Having just got out of the car, our first stop was a needed one: food and drink. So we stopped into a place my friends frequent every time they’re in town. Taco Boy. Adding to Folly Beach’s west coast flair, Taco Boy served up an impressive selection of taco fusion. So we sampled the Baja fish, kimchi beef, Al Pastor, braised beef and Carnitas Norteno tacos, while slugging several traditional and jalapeno margaritas. Like tequila, but not a fan of sour mix? Try ordering a margarita with just tequila and lime juice. My friend did, and it was a simple and sessionable take on a classic…without the heartburn.
The Gin Joint: After soaking up the sun in Folly Beach, we ventured into downtown Charleston, where I had a plethora of recommendations at which to eat and drink some more. But having filled up sufficiently at Taco Boy, we opted to try a speak easy-style mixologist bar, called The Gin Joint. What an impressive place! At first, we weren’t sure if we were dressed appropriately to even go in but after a quick inspection inside, it was green light go! With its cool-colored walls and hipster-fashioned staff, we perused the menu, complimented with provisions, cheeses, deserts and, of course, cocktails.
Feeling a little daring, I opted to go with the Bartenders Choice, which allows you to choose two adjectives which the mixologist would blend together. In true form, I opted for “smokey” and “herbal”, and while I don’t remember exactly what was included, I have to say I was super impressed by the green-colored concoction I received. My company enjoyed champagne and the Six Shooter, which expertly blended together Rye Whiskey, Smoked Honey, Tosolini, Cynar, on Mole Bitters poured over an oversized, crafted cube of ice. Priced at around $10 per cocktail, I would’ve gladly paid over $22 which represented their signature and most high-end libation – The Apple Skin Bittered Sling, which blended Thomas Handy Cask Strength Rye Whiskey, Ramazzotti Amaro, Sorghum Molasses, Homemade Apple Skin Bitters. Next time you’re in Charleston, be sure to stop by. You will leave feeling right as rain…even if there isn’t any in the forecast.
Running a little late to meet up with a friend of my hosts, rather than hoofing it down Bay Street to King Street, (where the action is), we decided to catch a cab – a rickshaw ride to be more accurate. And, I’m so glad we did! Not only did the driver take us down a path less traveled in Charleston, which allowed us to soak up the sights of its historic alleys, it turned out to be my Wanee sister’s first time in a rickshaw. Yay for her!
Fish: Arriving on King Street, we easily navigated our way to Fish, where we were to catch our friend and local jazz guitarist, Lee Barbour, play an improvised set at this schmancy French-Asian establishment. Too caught up in the calming sounds of Lee’s guitar, we decided not to have a proper dinner, but I have to admit I drooled a little bit over their fresh and seasonal, sweet and spicy, classic and modern menu with the finest local ingredients, reimagining French and Asian classics. We did sample a petite plate of Don’t Peel, But Eat Shrimp, poached in coconut and citrus and accompanied by a ginger cocktail sauce. I didn’t want to leave Charleston without sampling their local, coastal shrimp. The one regret was not ordering the Duck Croque “Mad Duck”, which featured confit duck, foie gras, emmethal, bacon and challah brioche. Next time. And, there will be one!
The Rarebit: With Lee wrapping up his sexy set at Fish and my friends looking to catch up, the four of us headed down King Street only to discover The Rarebit, home of the best Moscow Mule (Vodka, ginger beer and limeade) ever and some damn fine fried Chicken and Waffles, too! In fact the only one of us that didn’t opt for the Chicken and Waffles as breakfast-for-dinner was our female counterpart, who ordered a proper Shrimp and Grits – which Charleston is known for – just so I could say I did. Creamy but not heavy and freshly milled, I’m glad she did. Hey girl, hey!! I’d highly recommend The Rarebit to anyone eating and drinking their way through Charleston. The menu is filled with elevated comfort food. Just keep in mind that anytime after 10pm is breakfast only. And I’m glad it was!
Juanita Greenberg’s Nacho Royale: With the night winding down (or so we thought) and the three of us having to make the drive back to Columbia (duty calls), we wandered down King Street a ways to the most unlikely of places featuring even more unsuspecting sounds. Stumbling into this not-so-impressive taco joint (as compared to our previous stops), the door was over-run with 20-something, college- looking kids, who could’ve been accused of loitering but were just having their smokes. Despite Lee’s recommendation that local musician friends of his were going to be playing, we were just about to call it night when the tunes started up. Funky ass bass! Within minutes, the four of us had drinks in hand and were warming up to a local funk jam session in the making. After only one or two songs, the guitarist approached “Uncle Lee” and asked him to sit in, handing him his guitar. What followed was about 20 – 30 minutes of uninterrupted funk. It was so funky, we could’ve smelled it all the way back in Columbia. Pee Yew! Just goes to show some of the best things in life are not and cannot be scheduled.
Looking back, I was thoroughly impressed with Charleston. I expected to find a Savannah-like, city filled with southern charm but discovered an up-and-coming scene that gives the swanky side of Las Vegas a run for its money. Although there was a lot that I did not get to see or do due to time limitations, I wouldn’t have had it any other way! I was fortunate to have seen the real side of Charleston, from historic sites and what was once a slave market to Food Network-featured restaurants and auditory funk. But most of all, I got to experience the city the way a local would want. Thanks guys!
Before I sign off, I have to acknowledge that this post is two weeks behind the power curve, but the good news is I’m catching up. Check back soon as I will be filling you in on my more recent adventures to Asheville, North Carolina, Pisgah National Park and Nashville, Tennessee where I will be for the next couple of days.
Until then, thanks for stopping by. Love the support!
P.S. – Did I miss anything? If so, don’t hesitate to leave me a comment for next time. I appreciate it…and more, you!
I said it before and I’ll say it again. If you think you’ll have the time, you won’t. Before embarking on my journey, I wanted nothing more than to journal my travels and keep you up-to-date with the thoughts, feelings and experiences of my adventures. However, I’m finding it difficult to find the time. Ironic, seeing as though that’s all I have. There’s simply just so much out there and far too much curiosity along the way!
So although my intention was to give you a daily digest of the who’s, what’s, where’s, when’s and occasional why’s, I realized that it would be narcissistic (and borderline selfish) of me to break it down like that. Too trivial.
So, now that I have made it from Orlando to Columbia and on to Pisgah National Park just outside of Asheville, NC, with a day trip to Charleston, SC in between, I thought I’d catch you up on my time in Columbia as I recharge my batteries (both literally and figuratively) before I head to Alpharetta, GA on Wednesday for Phish.
Here are the highlights in chronological (but no particular) order:
Columbia, South Carolina: They say People make the place and my time in Columbia proves it! My “friends-who-I-met-at-Wanee-that-became-family” extended Southern hospitality like I’ve never seen it before. Sure they showed me around and probably stepped outside the norm (and maybe their comfort zone?) to acquaint me with the area, but spending time, catching up, sharing laughs and meeting their friends were by far the best! The rest was just icing on the cake. Second to them (and their best friends Katie, Brian and someone who goes by the alias Maximus Omega), honorary mentions include:
Saluda River: One of three rivers that flow through Columbia, the Saluda was one of the cleanest and coolest white water rivers I’ve ever seen – perfect for sitting on the cool, rocky banks and reflecting. I should’ve braved it in a kayak.
The Kraken Gastro Pub / Cock N’ Bull Pub: Two of my friends’ favorite watering holes, they exuded both local color (or lack thereof, if you know what I’m saying?) and charismatic charm of the people that frequent them. Good food too, like a duck quesadilla at Cock N’ Bull and a brined and braised Pork Belly accompanied with a micro-green and crab salad as well as the local favorite, proper Poutin, at The Kraken were welcomed indulgences.
Groucho’s Deli – This not-so-New York-style deli, has been curing hangovers with its “dipper-style” subs since 1941. If you’re ever there, don’t skimp; Go for the STP (roast beef, turkey, smothered in Swiss Cheese) or The Apollo Dipper (hot ham, turkey and swiss cheese), both served with their famous Formula “45” dip. YUM!
Hunter-Gatherer Brewery and Alehouse: Hunter-Gatherer is one of two breweries in Columbia, and the only brew pub that offers a well-rounded selection of craft beer (brewed on site) and an impressive compliment of food pairings. Starting out, I ordered their IPA and Pimento Cheese Spread, followed a pale ale paired with the Smoked Chicken Ravioli. Their burgers looked legit too! It’s warm, cozy and unrefined. My kind of place!
Conquest: Conquest Brewing Company is the only tap room in Columbia. Only about 6-months into their production, they (I mean, humbled brew master) offered a balanced portfolio of regular and dry-hopped pilsners, a Pale Ale, regular and dry-hopped IPA and a Stout. Located just across the street from University of South Carolina’s Gamecock stadium, this is one to keep your eye on! Cheers, guys! Keep up the good work.
Pearlz Oyster Bar: What a night! Definitely a place to make it rain! Their seafood-focused menu is something to explore. We sampled a variety of oysters, regional catches like Tile Fish and Barrel Fish, dusted corn fritters and a few too many lively libations, like the Dark ‘n Stormy cocktail (Myers rum, limeade, and ginger) Holy hangover, Batman!
Pizza Guy: This is a locals only joint, but still friendly for a visitor – but then again I was accompanied with regulars? Anywho, it’s one of the few (only?) bars in Columbia that serves up liquor starting at 7:00 a.m. Mike, the man behind the bar, makes a tasty bloody mary, but I had a mimosa (or two or three) and a stacked bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich, both of which put me behind the power curve for the day.
If you know me then you’re probably not surprised that the highlights of this part trip are food-focused, and I haven’t even gotten to Charleston yet! But, my absolute favorite food experience during my stay in Columbia was the home-cooked meal my hosts made for me: Bacon-wrapped Venison tenderloin and kale chips. For a game-meat starved Florida boy, this was a real treat. Thank you, both! Delish!
So, aside from the state building, which still flies the Confederate Flag in the front lawn, an inside joke about neighborhood called Cottontown and a bike ride to Five Points, which is home Bone, Rugs and Harmony, a vintage consignment shop full of all kind of cool digs, this pretty much sums up my stay in Columbia.
Next time, I’ll breakdown our time in Charleston, SC and fill you in on the fauna I found in Pisgah National Park. In the meantime, thanks for baring with me. If you need to live Vicariously Through.Me more often, find me on Facebook.
See ya there!
Traveling is an eye opener…in more ways than one. In addition to the sights, sounds and surprises that find you along the way, you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn in just the first couple of hours of being on the road. So no matter how prepared you think you are, you might want to think again.
In this post, I’ll share what’s caused me to think twice. First though, I want to let you know that I made it to my first destination: Columbia, South Carolina. And what a great time it is! But, before I recall the experiences this awesome southern city has offered me over the last few days, I want to take a step back and share with you a few of insights I’ve gained in just the first few hours of my first, open-ended road trip adventure.
You need more time. If you think you’ve allowed yourself enough time to prep and pack, you haven’t. Although the idea of journeying had been brewing for a year or more, I’ve been running through the logistics in my mind ever since. Before I left, I was fortunate to have almost three weeks of uninterrupted time to focus on closing out in Orlando. Ridding myself of most material possessions. Checking out of the house I was renting. Moving. Paying off any remaining balances on bills and utilities as well as preparing for my upcoming trip. I’m an intricate planner, live by to-do lists, do my best to schedule and anticipate as many eventualities as possible, but it didn’t prove to be enough.
Intending to leave at 8:00a.m. on a Monday, I found myself up extremely late the night before and running three hours behind the next day due to trivial to-do’s – things I was meant to do but just didn’t have the time. My miscalculation caused me to skip Savannah, Georgia, one of the first planned stops along the way, which brings me to my next point:
Flexibility is the ticket. Unless you’re away on business and have to literally schedule every meeting, meal, networking event and “must see,” I say stay fluid. I’m finding it’s helpful to have a rough sketch of where I want to go, what I want to do and when, but marrying yourself to an itinerary really only seems to impose limits and cause stress. That’s not what traveling is all about. So, out the window it went, and here are the realizations that took its place: Don’t over-plan and remember to take your time! Before you go, say your “goodbyes” and “see ya later(s)” over a meal (no matter how casual it may be) even if your timeline doesn’t allow for it. You’ll miss the people you’re leaving behind and having face time with them before you leave gives you something to remember and hold on to. Skip a stop along the way to provide more time (and consideration) for the people you are going to see – in-so-far you can come back and see it at a later time. Stop often and don’t rush along the way as long you stay in touch and keep your peeps up to date.
You won’t get to it all. Naturally, you’ll want to look into and plan the time you’re going to spend at your destination. Must sees, highlights, historical and natural landmarks are all very important in ensuring you get to experience the destination and everything it has to offer. If a week (plus or minus a few days) seems like plenty of time to do and see it all, it’s not. A few days can’t kill curiosity, but don’t sweat it. As I said before, stay flexible. The people you’re traveling with and those you’re going to see will want to contribute to your experience, and it’s important that you allow them to. I, personally, was flattered to see the care and concern my friends put into my time with them. More often than not, they’re right, and the list you made as an outsider was based on commercial interests (Food Network and Travel Channel) or other travelers’ reviews (TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Local, etc.) who may or may not share the same interests and values as you. So, stay open to it all, and don’t be afraid to substitute one activity or point of interest for another. Chances are you won’t “miss out” and might just be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.
The other thing that will keep you from being the Energizer rabbit that keeps going and going and going is down time. Everyone needs it, but few pencil it in. By not allowing yourself to relax and just be, not only will you run yourself ragged, spend more than you may be able to afford, or worse, put things-to-do in the way of the personal connections you’re there to make. Seek to find the balance between entertainment and the human need to build relationships and just be. You (and hopefully those you’re visiting) will be grateful you did.
What can go wrong, will. It’s Murphy’s law. While I’m happy to report that nothing has gone “wrong” (yet), I anticipate something will. Things break and mishaps happen. It’s all a part of the journey, and it’s all good! As a traveler, it’s important to anticipate them but not let less-than-ideal situations cloud your perception or stand in the way of appreciating an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For me, my 2008 Mazda 3 is my one and only mode. With approximately 70,000 miles on it prior to my departure, I had it checked out before I headed out. The dealer gave it a “green light go” and said everything was perfect. It wasn’t. And although its not the mechanics fault, nor does it effect its running condition, no sooner did I get to Columbia and started running around town with my hosts – who I must say have not only accepted me as family but shown me Southern hospitality like I’ve never experienced before. Love you guys, really do! – the passenger-side door / lock mechanism broke. Now closed, the front right door will not open, but it’s no big deal. I could’ve worried, stressed and paid out the ass to have it fixed, but I didn’t…at least not yet. My mates will just have to play Dukes of Hazard by hopping in and out of the window or climbing across the console from the driver-side door. Worse things could have (and probably will) happen.
Yesterday (Thursday, July 11th) was testament to that. My Wanee music family and I were on our way to Charleston, South Carolina to eat, drink and beach our way through this quintessential coastal town. About three quarters of the way there, we hit heavy traffic and had to play “stop and go” for several miles. As we did, we noticed the car would not coast. Something was hindering the front right wheel from spinning freely. We could smell the brakes, and we could see smoke. So, we pulled over onto the shoulder, let it cool down and tried to loosen the caliper. No sooner did we stop; we were on our way. What was most telling (and an insightful embrace of the nature of exploring) was my friend’s – an experienced road tripper – post on Facebook: “It’s always an adventure.” And that’s exactly what it is. It’s just a matter of how you accept the unexpected.
Gas goes fast. This fact needs no explanation except to say that when you’re driving to and from work and running errands around town, a full tank seems sufficient. Locally, it may be, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised by how fast gas goes and how little a full tank really is when you’re going the distance. Even with decent gas mileage (32 MPG highway), I burned through about one and half tanks just getting to my first port of call. Maybe it is the wind resistance caused by my mountain bike I’m toting on the back of my car?
Anyway, I’m just five days into my trip and feel like I’ve already learned more than I ever could in the “race” I used to run. I can’t wait to see what else comes to light along the way.
Have you learned a lesson you’d like to share? Please do. Just put it in a comment below. I thank you, in advance, as it will help prepare me for what might be next.
What do I pack? Am I bringing too much? Will it fit?
Anyone who has gone anywhere has surely asked themselves these same questions. After all, packing woes are just a part of travel. So, with less than 12 hours to go before I hit the road, I thought I’d share with you what I’m bringing and how I’m going about it.
Before we dive into the packing lists below, it’s worth noting that my road trip is not your average weekend getaway or a week’s vacation. This in itself presents a few challenges that a suitcase won’t fix, but it also provides a little wiggle room that airlines don’t.
In an effort to keep my expenditures low, I am camping quite a bit along the way. But, this doesn’t mean I can just prepare for the woods. I’m also staying with friends and have a handful of hotel reservations along the way as well. This means that not only do I need a fair amount of gear that will keep me self-sufficient when I’m off the beaten path but that the clothing I bring has to be flexible and occasion appropriate for a variety of social situations.
The other consideration that I had to keep in mind when prepping is that the first leg of my trip will likely last at least three months and spread the gap from the peak heat of summer to the cool-down of mid-fall. Additionally, I will experience varying geography, from the beaches of South Carolina to the mountains of Vermont. So as much as I’d love to just throw t-shirts, shorts, a swim suit and flip flops into a duffle bag, I can’t. But, I can afford to bring a small wardrobe of clothes for every occasion, understanding that the longest I plan on going without the convenience of a washer or dryer is about seven days, plus or minus a few?
But before we get to what I’ll be wearing along the way (sorry fashionistas), let’s start with what I love most. Gear.
Camping Gear: While my car-born road trip will cause be to break from my preference of being an ultra-light minimalist, much of the gear I have acquired along the way will still come in handy. The following items will keep me going during the camping leg of my trip and help me get through even the most unexpected situations:
- Kelty Redcloud 90 liter, internal frame backpack with detachable lid that doubles as a waist pack
- Camelback 30-oz reservoir
- Ascend ultra light 2-man tent
- Mummy bag (Sleeping bag rated to 20 degrees – although that is questionable base on previous experience)
- Travel pillow and lightweight flannel blanket
- Ascend hiker tapered sleeping pad
- Eno double nest hammock with suspension straps
- Collapsible camp chair with
- MSR MicroRocket backpacking stove
- BioLight wood-burning CampStove with thermo-electric rechargeable battery
- Primus Micron Lantern with replacement mantels
- 5 canisters of Iso-butane fuel for stove and lantern
- Head lamp and flashlight
- Black Diamond Apollo LED lantern
- Gerber hatchet and knife
- Collapsible camp shovel
- Oh Cool camp fan
- FroggTogg’s Ultralight 2 rain suit
- Flint and steel fire starter, Fatwood, dryer lint
- Waterproof matches, lighter(s)
- 1 liter Nalgene wide mouth water bottle with water purifying tablets
- 5-piece mess kit, stainless steel cup, spork(s), can opener
- Portable grill
- Spatula, kitchen knife, sheet-style cutting board, heavy duty aluminum foil
- Bungee cords
- Emergency blanket
- First aid: Tweezers, scissors, medical tape, gauze, non-stick pads, assorted band aids, moleskin, ace bandage, hot / cool pack(s), alcohol / cleansing wipes, antibiotic ointment
- Medicine locker: ibuprofen, Benadryl, acetaminophen, sleep aid, Nyquil, Pseudoephedrine, Tums, vitamin C, Emergen-C, wet wipes
- Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, travel-size body gel and shampoo, shaving cream, razor, Q-tips, lip balm, lotion
- Arctic chill towel
Technology: These days, no packing list is complete without tech, and as a social media guy portable communication technology is the name of my game. Here are the essentials I’m bringing with me:
- Acer Windows 8 touch screen laptop with 1TB of storage
- Google Nexus 7 Android tablet
- Microsoft Wedge Keyboard
- Olympus TG-830 camera
- External hard drive
- Google Nexus 4 Android Smartphone with essential weather, maps and GPS apps
- USB thumb drives
- NOAA Emergency Radio
Clothes: Next to all the fun survival and tech stuff above, clothes are distant second. But for those of you who are curious, I included my wearable packing list below.
- 6 pair of shorts
- 3 pair of jeans / pants
- 3 polo shirts
- 8 long-sleeve / short sleeve t-shirts
- 2 Columbia PFG tactical nylon shirts
- 3 dress shirts
- 2 hoodies
- 8 pair of underwear
- 14 pair of socks (why so many? Because clean, dry feet are key!)
- Hiking shoes, tennis shoes and flip flops – all with arch support
- 3 baseball caps
- Towel (Technically, it’s a bath sheet if you wanted to split hairs?)
- Aftershave bag with many of the toiletries mentioned in the camping list section, but nicer 😉
So, there you have it. My next three months in a bag…literally. I’m sure there are a few, non-essential items that I’m leaving out, like a journal, pens important life documents, sunscreen and bugspray but you get the gist of it.
The question still remains, “What am I forgetting?” Leave a comment and let me know. Or, just wish me luck! I leave tomorrow around 8am EST and will update you from the road. First stop, Savannah, GA then through to Columbia, SC to see my Wanee Family.
P.S. – This just in: Thanks to two very loving and concerned parents, I now have a plethora of gift cards that will keep me happy, fed and fat along the way. Anything that keeps the expenditures down is key! Thanks Mom and Dad. I love you!!
Ideas are miraculous things. Like seeds, they have small, humble beginnings but with the right conditions and cultivation they not only direct the start of growth, but also guide the design and development of a life to come. They are in effect kernels of inspiration.
So while inspiration is everywhere and can be drawn from anything, I want to share with you just a few of the ideas planted by the amazing minds of Steve Jobs, Alan Watts, George Carlin and others that have helped inspire me to spring to life.
Alan Watts, a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter and populariser of Eastern philosophy for a Western audience.
What do you desire?
Steve Jobs, American entrepreneur, inventor and co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc.
2005 Stanford Commencement Address (It’s long, but worth it.)
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs
The American Dream:
“It’s called ‘The American Dream’ because you have to be asleep to believe it.” – George Carlin
Rethink Your Life:
“..Everybody makes their own path in this world, but a lot of people don’t follow the path that they really feel pulled to.” – Joe Rogan
Michael Jackson (a.k.a MJ), The King of Pop – American singer-songwriter, dancer, businessman and philanthropist.
Man in the Mirror:
“If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place, Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change.” – Michael Jackson
Feeling inspired? I’d love to hear what inspires you. Share your sources of inspiration in a comment below.
Red, white and BOOM! Just what the world needs…another blog. As fledgling and obscure as this may seem, my intent is that it will mirror the spirit of my adventure. Evolve, grow and take on a life of its own, but it has to start somewhere, right?
Made public on July 4th, 2013, Vicariously Through.Me celebrates life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in its most literal, non-governmental form. It acknowledges the right to be who you are, do what you want to do and to live life to its fullest without letting excuses and rationalizations get in the way.
For me personally, it commemorates my independence from the confines of the status quo. Having recently resigned my position and walked away from my corporate career, I’ve consolidated everything I own into a handful boxes and reduced my overhead (mortgage, rent and utility-free) to allow for an open-ended, nomadic journey for the soul.
By means of this albeit ambiguous collection of stories, thoughts and travels, my life is taking a new direction – a frivolous pursuit of freedom. But that is not to say it does not have a purpose. It does. And the value will be actively participating and paying witness to what my – no, our – higher calling turns out to be.
In the meantime, much like your Fourth of July celebrations, it will be filled with fireworks, food, festivals, family, friends, funk and most importantly FUN!
But, what it’s missing is you! It needs your eyes, but more importantly your thoughts if it is going to thrive. So if freedom, as it is described here, speaks to you and means as much to you as it does for me, I hope you’ll consider being a part of a renaissance and reformation in the making by sharing not only this, but your points of view.
Have a happy and safe Independence Day.
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill travel blog, but a physical manifestation of me ditching dogma and getting in touch my true self uninhibited by the layers of mainstream society. Inspired by life, science, music and mother nature, this is a chronicle of one man’s journey into the unknown and personal pursuit of purpose, inner peace, harmony with others and unity with the world in which we live.
Who is to say exactly when or why this quest for a more meaningful existence began? All I can say is that my previous life as a corporate communications professional just wasn’t adding up, nor was it all that it was cracked up to be. And it wasn’t because I was not good at what I did. I was successful – at least according to other people’s standards. I graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in a nationally-recognized mass communications program. And over the last 10+ years, I was fortunate to amass a wealth of experience in the field, serving as a publicist, principal writer, public relations account executive, account manager at a full-service integrated advertising agency and most recently as the first-ever social media specialist for an internationally renowned travel brand. I even earned awards, accolades, public speaking opportunities and published a few by-lined articles along the way. I was accomplished yet unfulfilled. Something was missing.
For all intensive purposes, I was doing everything that I was “supposed” to. From the outside looking in, I guess you could say that I had everything that most people seek to achieve: independence and financial stability by means of a fruitful career; I was driving a new new car and living on my own in a modest two-bedroom suburban home that was furnished to the “T”. I donned an extensive wardrobe comprised of designer brands, and more importantly I had a loving family, friends, romantic flings and lots of weekend fun! But still I couldn’t help from asking myself, “is this all there is?”
As I told my friends and family who questioned my “plan” (or lack thereof) along the way, I sometimes wonder if having a wife, family of 2.2 children and a mortgage payment would’ve provided a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment. After all, a life of love is about doing right by and making sacrifices for others. The answer is maybe? But, I wasn’t about to over-commit only to be let down, as so many of others I know have done before me. These were choices they made – not desires of my own or even decisions I was willing to entertain. I just knew there had to be more and now I am risking everything to find it.
As of today, July 4, 2013, I’m poised to do what many students do after graduating college but never did. Travel. But this isn’t your typical “gap year” which has a beginning, an end and destinations in between. I’m walking away, leaving my income behind, liquidating almost everything I own and worked so hard to gain, but most of all I am relinquishing the “model” and distancing myself from the creature comforts so many of us are not only married to but find identity in. This is freedom in its simplest form. This is about letting go and opening up to everything at the same time. It’s a solo sabbatical for the soul. My goal: To afford an adventure full of thoughts, feelings and experiences that will pave the way for a more sustainable and fulfilling future.
But, believe it or not, this space is more about YOU than it is me! Despite the saying “It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else,” (Erma Bombeck) this is precisely what I intend to do. And not only do I trust that my thoughts, feelings and epiphanies will be safe and maybe even echo with you, but I realize they are less without you. To say it another way, it would mean a lot to me if they meant something to you. Why? Because I believe WE are spiritual beings having a human experience and these experiences need to be shared with one another if we are to uncover its meaning. So, if part of our purpose in life is to learn from each other then my hope is that this community and my travels, will help facilitate a better understanding of self, others and nature.
So, to those who said they were jealous of what I am about to do, let this inspire you and prove that you can too! For those contemplating a similar move, I hope to provide some resources, feature the stories of others pursuits, and share some lessons learned along the way in which you can hopefully find value. Equally so, I hope – no, trust – that you’ll want to chime in from time to time to provide some insights, suggestions, opinions and challenges to my sometimes progressive points of view. That is what is meant when I say to live Vicariously Through.Me.
Welcome to Vicariously Through.Me, an evolving life story of a communications professional going rogue.
Created in the Summer of 2013 on the precipice of doing something epic in life, Vicariously Through.Me recognizes the value of unique perspectives and experiences, including your own. It was born out of a necessity to embark on a quest to find meaning and a greater sense of purpose in life, and it is dedicated to the hearts and minds that are seeking to escape the materialistic tendencies that can so often dictate the course of our lives.
Told in the first-person through the eyes and adventures of an overly-consumed and under-liberated 30-something, it acknowledges that it’s a little late to the table in terms of travel blogs. That’s why this is exactly what it’s not.
Surely, it serves as a platform to share my adventures, expand on my experiences, and tempt your senses with the tastes, sights and sounds of travel. (Please don’t call me Shirley.) But, it also promises transparency, honesty and humility in the thoughts, feelings, frustrations and fears that motivated me to leave it all behind and begin again.
Because I do not presume to be the first person or the last to drop out of the rat race in search for something bigger, Vicariously Through.Me is not special, but it is as unique as the perspective and chronicles of one man’s journey to make sense out of an otherwise meaningless model. My own.
I hope you will accompany me on my journey and consider writing your own story as we move forward in navigating the uncertain terrain of an interpreted life.
It’s an honor to invite you live Vicariously Through.Me.
A writer at heart and communications junkie by trade, Keith is an accomplished copywriter, public relations and social media strategist. He’s worked hand-and-hand with high-profile celebrities, liaised with top-tier media, produced highly experiential marketing events, and served as contributor to many lifestyle and trade publications. In addition, Keith has participated in countless advertising account pitches, has been invited to participate on professional panels and speak to his understanding of and expertise in consumer-oriented media and communications. Most recently, Keith was tasked with creating, maintaining and managing an engaging, service-oriented social media presence on behalf of a nationally recognized travel brand. But, he can’t be described, nor fully understood by what was his day job. That would be boring.
With 10+ years of experience in the field of integrated marketing communications, Keith, like many of us, found himself over-utilized and under-appreciated, spending one too many hours lobbying arrogant and less-than-sincere executives in stuffy, impersonal boardroom perches. Constrained by an industry that at the surface says they value strategically-driven, solution-oriented talent, Keith aged. He grew tired of giving it his all only to see his work devalued by companies that wanted its people to put their heads down and operate more robots than the individuals they are. But most of all, he sought an outlet that would appreciate his passions, embrace his free spirit and, at the end of the day, provide a sense of fulfillment and gratitude in providing exceptional service. An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
Looking back on his experiences and four of his most progressive employers, Keith realized that wasn’t going to happen in corporate. So today, he is done. Done with it and the rat race model, at least for the time being. Over the next 12 – 18 months, he intends to do what the working world seldom has a chance to do. Journey without constraints. Dance as if no one is watching. Camp with compassion and connect with people and the outdoors. He plans to leverage his understanding of consumer behavior, marketing motivations and media to surface what really matters in life: people, ideas, shared experiences and nature. In doing so, he hopes to uncover universal truths, create a living relic of a path less traveled and demonstrate continuity of his ‘work’…as spiritual as it may be.
To contact him personally, feel free to email him at VthruMe@gmail.com.
Or, as he would say, embrace the voyeur in you and live Vicariously Through.Me, as he does something that most people wish for but never take the time; something that if he doesn’t do he’s afraid he’ll regret later in life: Wander.