At Christmas, my brother Josh and I started planning our “epic summer vacation,” which included camping on the Outer Banks in North Carolina and mountain biking, rock climbing, and other general adventuring along the way. I informed my manager at the bike store that I needed a week off in July, and considered everything settled. Around mid-May, Josh accepted a new job, and with it, lost his vacation time. But all was not lost. I still had a week off of work, even if Josh couldn’t go along. My parents offered to let me accompany them on a cycling trip in Idaho, but after breaking my leg in April, I wasn’t sure if I was up for the challenge of riding a bicycle up mountains, so I declined and began planning my own trip. In what became the Great Summer Road Trip of 2016, I made plans to visit some friends in Florida during my week’s vacation. About a week later, a friend contacted me and asked me to stop in North Carolina and visit sometime this summer if I had a chance. I told her that I could probably make a stop on my “Florida Trip.” As I continued to plan, about a week prior to my trip, I realized that, though I have driven the 20-ish hours to Florida through the night before, I preferred not to. So I contacted some friends living in Nashville and asked if I could crash on their couch for a night. I also decided, at about the same time, that I should spend a bit of time with my other brother and sister in Pennsylvania this summer–and that this week would be my only chance. The plan was to leave Fort Wayne around noon on Saturday, July 9, and to return around 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 17.
About three days before departing for Florida, as I was collecting the addresses of the places I would be staying along my journey, my friend in North Carolina mentioned that there was some sweet mountain biking near her house. At that point, I decided to spend a full day in North Carolina mountain biking on my journey back north to Pennsylvania–and to make room in the car for two bicycles: one mountain bike to use in North Carolina, and a cyclocross bike to use on the bike paths and roads in Florida. As such, the bikes were a last-minute addition–which meant that I did not necessarily think through what taking bicycles along on the trip might also entail: like bike pumps. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
In typical fashion, I signed up to play in a beach volleyball tournament on July 9, thinking that with a 10 a.m. start, it would finish early–by 2 p.m. at the latest. We did not even make it all the way through the tournament (we lost in the second round), and it was still 4 p.m. by time we left the beach courts. I drove home, showered, threw some snacks in the car, and set out on my adventure.
By around 10:30 p.m., I made it to Nashville, Tennessee: my first stop. There, I stayed with a couple who taught at HOPAC during my first year in Tanzania. We spent several hours eating ice cream and reminiscing about people and places in Tanzania. Though I feel like I adapt well to life in the U.S., it was so, so nice to be able to talk with others who know and understand my other life in Tanzania.
I woke up early the next morning for the next segment of driving: 10.5 hours to central Florida. This was my originally intended destination and the home of the HOPAC middle school principal’s parents, who have in some ways “adopted” me, since visiting Tanzania last year and going stand up paddleboarding together. Here, I was able to visit with my middle school principal and her parents, spend time cycling around central Florida, and go surfing at Cocoa Beach. On my first evening there, my hosts took me on a cycling tour of their little town, and the next morning, I had plans of riding 50+ miles on a nearby bike path. It was as I set off on the second, longer ride, that I discovered that I had neglected to bring either a bike pump or an adaptor for my tire valve to be able to use a standard air pump. I also learned that the clipless pedals on my “new” cyclocross bike were not compatible with the cleats on my mountain bike shoes. So instead of riding to the nearby bike path, I rode to the nearest bike shop, about fifteen miles away. There, I chatted a bit with the sales people who wondered why I was in Florida instead of riding RAIN in Indiana, and purchased an adaptor for my tire valve as well as some cleats to change out the ones on my shoes before riding back to the house. I also took use of the few days there to do some reading and catch up on sleep. One of the things that I find myself valuing more and more over the years is the input and advice of those older and more experienced than myself–and I enjoyed the many conversations covering topics of everything from education to current events and travel destinations. They encouraged me to stop at St. Augustine, Florida on my drive north, so I left mid-afternoon on Wednesday to do just that.
When I arrived in St. Augustine, Florida, my first stop was a small cycling and surf shop about two miles from the beach. I had seen online that they rented surfboards, and after a successful day surfing on Monday at Cocoa Beach, was hoping to get a bit more time on the waves. As I walked in, I was greeted by what seemed to be a sales person, and the owner or manager of the store. Within five minutes, they had collectively offered me a job–either now, or if I ever came back in the future (after I explained that I actually live in East Africa at the moment). We chatted bikes for a bit, and then they helped me get a surfboard for the afternoon. I also got some rock climbing destination tips from the sales person who happened to be a climber originally from Louisville, Kentucky. The waves at St. Augustine weren’t great–small and mostly windblown–but I had a few good rides, and enjoyed being in salt water again. After returning the board, I spent about a half hour riding my cyclocross bike around town and taking photos before climbing back into the car for the next stretch of driving.
Early Wednesday morning, before leaving for St. Augustine, my former roommate, Abbi, contacted me asking if I would be passing through South Carolina, and if we might be able to hang out. Because I have visited Abbi three other times since being students together at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, and because Abbi and I get along so well, I said that I would stop at her place instead of going directly to North Carolina to mountain bike. Thus, Spartanburg, South Carolina was my next stop, which was about 6.5 hours from St. Augustine, Florida. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning and made myself at home on the futon Abbi had prepared for me. The next morning, I briefly met Abbi’s husband for the first time, then went with Abbi for coffee at a local coffee shop in downtown Spartanburg, before setting out on our traditional cliff-jumping adventure at Turtleback Falls in North Carolina, something we’ve done on nearly all of my visits to South Carolina. We got back from Turtleback and Rainbow Falls around 3 p.m., and I set off for Tsali Recreation Area for some mountain biking.
My host for Thursday night was also a past student at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, and is currently staff at a high-adventure camp in North Carolina. During each week of camp, they do a massive drama production that she invited me to watch. This put a bit of a time constraint on the time available for mountain biking, so once I arrived at Tsali, I calculated that I had just about an hour to ride. As it turns out, a thunderstorm chased me out right as the hour was coming to a close–so I wouldn’t have been able to ride any longer anyway. Regardless, Tsali was by far the best and most fun mountain biking I have ever done–super fast and flowy trails–and I will go back sometime in the future. I took enough time to take a few quick photos of the incoming storm over the mountains as I was leaving, and then drove the next hour and a half to the camp where my friend and host was working. The drama production was incredible, and I really enjoyed the message preceding it as well. Afterwards, we went back to the house, where my host made chapati and chai (a Tanzanian / East African staple) and we talked adventure sports, international life, and the camp world for several hours before heading to bed.
On Friday, my goal was to make it to Miracle Mountain Ranch in Pennsylvania by 3 p.m. in order to see my younger sister’s drill team presentation at the evening rodeo. That meant getting up at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and driving 11 hours from North Carolina with as few stops as possible. I made it, but I did stop on the way at the New River Gorge bridge to take some photos. At the Ranch, I caught up with old friends, hung out with my brother and sister, and even rode a horse for a few minutes. Sunday morning, I was back on the road in order to get back to Indiana for a sand volleyball game. Funny how my trip began and ended with sand volleyball.
In the end, I drove somewhere over 2,850 miles, spent well over 45 hours in a car, and visited 11 states–all in one week! It was an awesome trip and I am so glad that I took the time to go, to visit friends, and to enjoy the beautiful country I call home (at least for two months out of the year!).