A very different landscape: Mr J fossil hunts with our friends in Maryland.
The children went back to school last week. Finally, a moment to reflect on the dying days of their summer break…
Firstly, preparation for our most ambitious road trip to date gets off to an inauspicious start with our Chevi Suburban spending a whole week at the mechanics.
Our Chevi has almost become an extended member of our family, and like many 17 year olds is increasingly expensive to maintain. Funnily enough, the mechanic called out last year to jump start the battery cheerfully stated that, at 250,000 miles, we were just “breaking it in…” Having spent the equivalent of a ‘new car’ on our children’s schools fees this month we have to hope he is right.
One day later the Chevi’s radiator explodes towing our Airstream home from a fruitless pre-trip service (not surprisingly, spare parts are hard to find for a 45 year old caravan). Now, with just 24 hours until departure, we scramble to find a radiator specialist open on a Saturday. Thank you Mr Smith!
With a sense of déjà-vous we embark on a 2,000 mile round trip to see our friends in Maryland with no hot water and no air conditioning in our camper. It is an uncomfortable re-run of last August’s Florida turtle-hatching adventure, only this time we are heading north.
Day One: We camp in beautiful north Georgia, and cross the following morning into North Carolina near Cherokee, the home of the Cherokee people. We pay to visit to their Oconaluftee Village, where a mature 15 year old Logan walks us through a number of traditional craft demonstrations: weaving, beading, pottery, carving and weapon-making. I ask if Logan’s school incorporates local Cherokee culture, like playing stickball, into the curriculum. It does not. However, two weeks ago Logan picked up a blowgun for the first time and it turns out he is a bit of a hot shot. Logan really wants to get out of North Carolina and get into acting…
Cherokee comes across as is a static representation of a former nation. It leaves me wondering what kind of future our guide Logan and his peers can look forward to.
After Cherokee we pick up the 469 mile long Blue Ridge Parkway – and soon spot our first wild black bear, ambling across the road in broad daylight. Mr J is thrilled. Master J is asleep.
Another abiding memory from this 30-mile section of our trip is the thousands of Red-spotted Purple butterflies fluttering in the dappled sunlight on the roadside, or lying dead on the tarmac. When we park up at the numerous scenic spots in the mountains our children cradle dead and dying butterflies by the handful.
After almost setting our breaks on fire on our precarious descent from the Parkway’s 5000ft peaks, Mr J quickly learns to drive our automatic in manual gear! When the (literal) smoke clears we have missed our planned campsite’s 8pm curfew… Just another anecdote to add to our growing list of Airstream mini-adventures.
Enjoying another amazing view on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
With my role as Chief Trip Planner falling at the end of a long summer keeping the little ones happy I decide to indulge my own interests en route. My daughter thinks I am joking when I state we will call in on north Georgia’s artisan potters, Asheville’s excellent Folk Art Centre, and Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is well worth a visit – and general admission is free.
We could have spent a whole day at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. However, with our tight schedule we can only squeeze in a guided tour of the largest public collection of Fabergé outside Russia, briefly admire the sculpture garden, and spend an hour in the polished Yves Saint Laurent special exhibition – which is free with our military ID.
I only wish our 7 year old daughter, with her natural flare for crafting headwear from paper and footwear from kitchen foil, was more impressed by Yves’ creative genius… She is not. She is tired and bored.
As a teenager Yves Saint Laurent used models cut from magazines to show off his fashion creations.
Day Six: We make it to California… California, Maryland, that is. The next day we drive to Washington D.C. with our Canadian friends and split team: dads/kids/Botanic Garden; mums/no-kids/The National Art Gallery. Mrs F and I enjoy several hours of light-hearted art critiquing, resulting in the idea of a layman’s guide to modern art with the working title: ‘Would You Use It To Fix A Broken Window?‘
I enjoyed the detail of this oil painting by Jean Dubuffet. “Preserves of Matter and Light (Texturology LIII)” 1958
A few of my favourite female portraits. I apologise for not noting titles and artists…
I take some pictures to show my children, after all, what child does not like cake and toads?
Our friends have three teenagers at home these days. Teenagers = free babysitting.
The grown ups sneak out for a matinee showing of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dunkirk‘.We come back moved, and slightly disorientated that it still only mid afternoon…
After lots of late night board games with cocktails (adults), fossil-hunting and Lego-making (adults and children), and family day trips to Baltimore and Fort McHenry – home of the original ‘Star Spangled Banner’ – it is time to say goodbye for another two or three years and head back to Georgia with our lobster-flavoured potato crisps.
I add to a few more painted barns to my collection.
We travel via Charlottesville to visit nearby Monticello, home of the third American President, Thomas Jefferson. On the Slavery at Monticello Tour my daughter asks why the man who stated “all men are created equal” had 200 enslaved people on his plantation? I can see her social conscience developing before my eyes. A week later, a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville will result in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer – and ignite a debate on America’s complicated past and its ongoing divisions.
Travelling with two young children in a 25′ travel trailer is no bed of roses, especially when one of your children has ADHD. However we do manage to tick off a pretty idyllic-sounding list of experiences: Old Winston-Salem, buying ‘mint’ Thomas Jefferson $2 bills (for $2), camp fire making, rainbow trout feeding, bison watching, butterfly collecting, extensive bottle cap collecting, lake fishing, moonlit frog hunting, flint knapping, hoop-rolling, and miniature train and pedal boat riding at the 5th oldest amusement park in America…
Petersburg Campground Usace, a US Corps of Engineers campsite near Augusta, GA.
I hope in years to come our children will look back on this trip – possibly the last road trip we’ll ever take on our posting – and agree that we are one very fortunate family.
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