From Tennessee, we continued driving into North Carolina, passing through the Great Smoky Mountains – and man were they smokin’ today:
The Smokies are named for the fog that rises in early morning hours and after it rains, a result of warm humid air from the Gulf of Mexico cooling in the higher elevation. It was raining as we entered, soon causing an endless amount of impressive plumes.
I always hate having a destination on a roadtrip, especially one with a time commitment, because it means you’re less free to take the unexpected detours that make roadtripping so much fun. Unfortunately, if we wanted to see the Biltmore Mansion, we had no choice but to high-tail it through the winding mountain pass with zero stops.
To this day, the Biltmore is the largest private residence in the United States, with over 250 rooms. I wish I could show you pictures of the interior, but they have a no photography policy. Not sure how I could possibly damage the Vanderbilt family’s revenue by putting up pictures to entice people to visit, but oh well.
After going on the 3 hour tour, I will agree that the Biltmore is one of those places you absolutely have to visit before you die…
…but I do have one complaint: $60 a head?? Are you kidding me?? Then, after paying and going inside, we learned that that the audio guides (free at nearly every self-guided historical building I’ve ever been to) cost an additional $10 each! EACH! I think the elderly woman working the counter noticed the look of exasperation on my face, because she snuck us two for free.
Again: worth seeing, but definitely devote an entire day to the experience to make it feel like your money was well spent. I honestly felt more satisfied with my $30 trip to Graceland.
As we continued our route north to New York City (at this point, traveling on Interstates to get back in time), we decided to make one final stop in Washington D.C. After parking the car, we ate lunch on a bench in front of the White House, and it never ceases to amaze me that you can get so close to the home of the President.
I gotta admit, every time I visit Washington D.C., I feel really inspired.
It’s easy to be cynical about American politics, but I find that this washes away when I explore the city.
While the grandeur of the buildings and monuments are certainly impressive, it’s the overall concentration of accomplishment and history that really gets to me.
To be clear, it’s not a pride thing – personally I’ve never been one to feel pride simply because of shared geography. Immensely grateful, amazed, uplifted, and inspired by the triumphs of others, absolutely.
Seeing the space suit that allowed Buzz Aldrin to walk on the moon at the Smithsonian brings me to tears. Such an unbelievable achievement, and I immediately feel that aspiration to contribute something of my own. Standing in the literal shadow of such a triumph, it really does feel like anything is possible.
The same goes for seeing the vest worn by Gene Kranz at mission control as he helped bring Apollo 13 safely back to Earth. I mean, really – the stuff of legends here.
Washington also has its share of artifacts from the failures and tragedies of America’s history, and I find these to be equally moving. Inspiration can just as readily come from a desire to learn, evolve, and overcome as it can from the great successes of others.
For these reasons, I’ve always considered D.C. to be an important stop for any cross-country roadtrip, and as we were driving through the city, I was happy to find that we were suddenly on US-50 – the two-lane route that had taken use across the US!
In D.C., US-50 is better known as Constitution Ave, and passes by the White House, the Washington Monument, and the National Archives, which houses the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (among many, many other documents). It was a nice way to end the trip by rejoining the route we had started on.
We made it back to New York City later that night, and as I pulled into a space that was safe from the dangers of alternate side parking, so concluded the Great Road Trip of 2010.
Thank you all very much for joining us on our journey via the internet. To me, nothing offers such endless possibilities and promise for adventure, experience, and triumph as an open road stretching into the horizon. I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip, and maybe have even been inspired to go one yourself someday.
Just remember the rules: 1) not too much planning, 2) no Interstates, and 3) bring a friend.
PS -A look back on US-50, from start to finish. It’s not entirely complete – we started in Indiana and ended in Nevada – but I’ve included the beginning and end mileage signs from Ocean City, MD, and Sacramento, CA, which I hope to see one day in person. Enjoy!