I just returned from my most recent county collecting road trip. This one took me through a good cross section of North Carolina. On the way I made stops in West Virginia, Virginia, and South Carolina. Before returning home, I detoured into northern Kentucky to revisit one final county.
Here are some of the highlights.
First, a map showing the area through which I traveled (the green counties ranging from WV through VA, NC, and SC). While almost 20 of the 70 postcards I mailed during my five days on the road have arrived, I'll wait a few days before recoloring these counties blue. Details of my odd obsession with county collecting can be found in earlier blog posts, but here is the condensed version. I visit a county seat and mail a postcard to myself. When the postcard arrives home, I change the color on my map to blue and consider that county collected (other colors are also explained in earlier entries).
The trip began and ended with snow in the WV mountains. I had hoped that by traveling in late March, I would avoid such weather, but it was not to be. The weather in NC was generally in the low 60s so that part of the trip was pleasant.
My first night on the road was at the SpringHill Suites in Winston-Salem. Nice property with a very helpful staff. I lucked into “Wind down Wednesday” which featured complementary appetizers, beer, wine, and soft drinks from a nearby restaurant. Not a bad way to begin a trip. I stocked up on North Carolina postcards at the nearby Hanes Mall after a dinner of Carolina BBQ (as suggested by IAHFLYR)
Day two might be dubbed “military day.” I passed Fort Bragg, Cherry Point Marine Corp Air Station, and Camp Lejeune, before stopping at the new Courtyard in downtown Wilmington, just across the river from the battleship U.S.S. North Carolina. Two places really stood out for me on this day. The first was the town of New Bern. Truly a gem. It happens to be the birthplace of Pepsi (though I am a Coke drinker). The German influence in town is impossible to miss. I’ll consider going back someday and if I do, I would probably stay at the CY overlooking the river.
The second highlight of day 2 was the ferry across the Neuse River. I left the town of Bayboro (Pamlico County seat) with hopes to catch the 3:00pm ferry (I looked up the schedule before I left home). Based on the distance (about 17 miles) and the time (2:40pm) that it would be a close call. I decided to chance it knowing that the worst that could happen would be that I had to wait 30 minutes for the next ferry. I pulled onto the ferry at 2:59 and watched the crew close the gate behind me. By the way, Google maps suggests that it should take about 22 minutes to make that drive (I’ll let you do the math).
(my car is the silver Honda Insight closest to the edge of the boat)
The Courtyard in Downtown Wilmington opened about a month ago. It still feels new. One nice feature is the outdoor fire pit in an open air courtyard on the 2nd floor (my room was almost adjacent). I’ve seen similar outdoor areas at some SpringHill Suites, but this is the first time I’ve seen one at a CY. Even the rooms reminded me of a SHS, which, in my opinion, is a very good thing. I recommend this CY to anyone visiting Wilmington. Definitely one of the best of its brand. Taking foxglove’s advice, I dined at the Dock Street Oyster Bar.
On the third day, I drove across the bottom of the state and dipped into South Carolina to collect the final six counties there before stopping in Charlotte for the night. I chose the Renaissance South Park and got to use one of my category 1-5 promo certificates from last spring's MegaBonus. Again, following the advice if Marriott Rewards Insiders (jerrycoin and shoeman1000) I ate at Rooster’s Wood-Fired Grille, not far from the hotel. One thing great about MRI is the willingness of others to share ideas of what is worth seeing as well as good places to eat.
I always love staying at a Renaissance and this location lived up to my expectations. I had a nice room on a high floor at the end of the hall (Gold Elite upgrade?) and experienced the most comfortable bed of the entire trip. Before calling it a night, I had a bit of a craving for some cheesecake and popped down to the restaurant to see what I could find. Success!
From Charlotte, I zigzagged my way north back into the North Carolina mountains and on to Virginia, where I drove along “The Back of the Dragon.” Virginia route 16 winds through the mountains between Marion and Tazewell (both county seats). The 32 miles of road has 260 switchbacks and is popular with bikers and car enthusiasts. I am neither. I did enjoy the scenery when I was able, but the road took most of my attention. Had I been a passenger, I might have needed something to settle my stomach, so I was glad I was behind the wheel.
(In case you are wondering, the words "eleven...try thirty-two" are a reference to the road in the Smoky Mountains called "Tail of the Dragon" which is 11 miles long as opposed to this 32 mile stretch of VA 16)
I returned to Beckley, WV (actually the first county I collected on this trip) to spend the night at the Fairfield Inn. I wish I had stayed next door at the CY. The FFI was actually very nice. I had a top floor room and thoroughly enjoyed breakfast on Sunday morning before I left. The major problem was that I had no hot water. While unexpected bad events do happen, I don’t like when they happen to me. The only positive spin I can put on this, is that I would be home the next afternoon.
The final day of the trip began with snow (again). I had so hoped winter was over, but in the mountains, spring is late in coming. The snow slowed traffic on the roads and reduced visibility. Early in the day, I drove across the New River Gorge Bridge not once, but three times. I realized after I crossed the bridge (almost completely obscured by snow and clouds) that I missed the turn to the town of Fayetteville (the Fayette County seat). I had only driven about a mile beyond the gorge when I noticed my error. It only took a few minutes to retrace my steps allowing me to collect the county. Then back across the bridge on my way to Summersville. It would have been nice to see the bridge and possibly stop at the scenic overlook, but given the weather conditions, it was pointless. From the middle or the bridge, I couldn’t see either end because of the low clouds/fog and blowing snow.
My final stop before returning home was Sandy Hook, Kentucky (Elliott County). I had previously visited in December of 2012, but the postcard I mailed never arrived, so I have no proof I was ever there. While the detour added several hours to the last day of my drive, I knew I would not soon have a better opportunity to revisit this town. My fingers are crossed that this time, the USPS delivers.
Once all the postcards arrive, my collection will stand at 943 (out of 3149). I’ll easily top 1,000 this year. The next definite trip is to St. Louis in May, though I am considering a weekend trip up to Michigan in late April. Wherever I go, I’ll blog about it.