Earlier this summer, when I decided I would strike out for the Florida Keys, it never once occurred to me to fly the 1100+ miles. Instead, for the past 6 weeks or more, I’ve joyfully unfurled maps of every state from Virginia to Florida on the kitchen table, highlighting and plotting my itinerary. It makes me giddy. Researching new places, plotting a route – this is comparable to childhood Christmas mornings. I can’t help it. I’m a planner by nature. Well, not for everything (ie. ironing and lesson planning come to mind immediately as areas in need of work) but certainly when it comes to travel.
From the onset there was a sense of persistent curiosity to investigate the unknown. The problem – the possibilities were endless! Oh yes, and the other problem – a miniscule budget! I embraced both issues and brainstormed. The added challenge of traveling on a dime took the adventure up a notch. I determined that ending every day at a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express seemed like cheating anyway. However, in my chai latte soaked brain, that does not mean that it isn’t completely appropriate and perhaps necessary to find a Starbucks somewhere along the way each day!
So how to begin? This part was easy. For pretty much my entire adult life I have lived less than 40 miles from the northern gate of Virginia’s Skyline Drive, the north/south byway that runs for 105 miles across the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park. Prior to this trip, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve entered its gates. Shameful. No more. I resolved to explore the length of it over the course of the next day and a half.
And so on Day 1, I packed up the SUV (ok so I say this casually but truly, it took me weeks to feel confident regarding what I needed to be on the road for two weeks) and headed west. Note: for those who may be directionally challenged, west is NOT the obvious direction to drive to Florida from Virginia. But it’s mine. And I wasn’t gone 5 minutes before I had the most satisfying sense of freedom. In hindsight, I think that’s why I headed to the mountains first. Clear, clean, fresh. All concepts I needed to apply to shed the gunk of everyday life and recover the joy within.
My expectations for this day were reasonable. Drive to Skyline Drive and leisurely head south. The end game – camping in my SUV at Loft Mountain. Wait . . . WHAT? (Well, I said I was on a budget!) I don’t have much experience in this area, but this trip is about trying new things, stretching myself, branching out. First off I’d like to say that you can learn just about anything you want via Pinterest. Turns out camping in your car isn’t that weird. And so I did it. Thinking back to my dad’s repurposing of the pickup truck (see earlier post), I determined the same could be done to my good ole’ Pilot. For $15, I could have an amazing night on top of the Blue Ridge.
And looking back now on the day itself, it was God-designed and perfect. I’ve been praying about this trip for a long time. I can’t explain it except to say that I have been compelled to do this. I couldn’t NOT do it. So, I knew that God would honor it and lead me where I needed to go, and protect me and stretch me along the way. Somehow as the sky fell and raindrops pelted my windshield as I drove through the gate of the park, it seemed just right. The forecast was for this to be the last day of the epic rains of the past 10 days, and I just trusted that by the time I got to the campsite, all would be dry-ish.
The whole day became a metaphor for the trip ahead. Fog everywhere, with glimpses of sky and, at the many overlooks, quick previews of far-off valleys and the occasional peeking-through of a shot of blue or a ray of honest-to-goodness sunshine. I felt so much peace as I drove slowly (because you can’t go over 35 without driving over a cliff) around each bend, not knowing what I would find, but always expectant. Sometimes I could only see about 50 yards in front of me, but I trusted the road was there and that the fog would clear. And it did.
While I don’t profess that God brought down rain down on Virginia just so that I could learn a thing or two, He did use it to get my attention. As excited as I was about beginning my trip, the fog and rain forced me to go slowly, and to think about every turn and every view. And yes, there were just glimpses of what was to come, but I could only see what I needed to see, and trust for the rest!
By the time I shyly pulled up to the campground and picked out my site, I felt a little bit empowered. After building a successful fire made mostly with very wet wood, making dinner, and finally packing it in (literally packing ME in my SUV), I tucked myself down to work through my first blog post. Breathing in the cool wet mountain air, snuggled up on my daughter’s super cushy college mattress topper in the back of my Pilot, I felt like things were off to a pretty grand start indeed. I couldn’t wait for the promise of morning.