Wednesday, July 13, 2016

VIRGINIA!

Over the 4th of July long weekend we decided to take a trip to Virginia. The drive time involved was pretty lofty even by our standards. And for the first time ever we were unable to hit every county as planned. More on that later…

We set out on Friday night, fighting holiday traffic in Chicago and eventually getting to our hotel – the Sheraton Indianapolis Hotel at Keystone Crossing. On Saturday morning we got an early start, leaving before 7:00. We had a long day planned. Our destination was Raleigh, NC. We never made it.


We initially traveled south from Indianapolis towards Cincinnati. Once we got close we veered off onto I-275, essentially going around Cincinnati, crossed the Ohio River and found ourselves in Boone County, Kentucky – our first new county of the trip. From there we followed the interstate east picking up Kenton and Campbell Counties before exiting onto HWY 9 and heading southeast, where we picked up Pendleton, Bracken and Mason Counties.



As we neared the city of Maysville we hit our first two bonus counties of the day. Heading south on HWY 68 we drove to the Blue Licks Battlefield State Park. In doing so we picked up Robertson and Nicholas Counties. From there we wormed our way through the middle of nowhere (a theme on this particular trip) towards the city of Elliottville, picking up Fleming, Rowan and Carter Counties along the way.



As we headed towards the Virginia state border we picked up Elliott, Morgan, Magoffin, Johnson and Floyd counties in Kentucky. We even passed through Pike County – a county we’d been to before. But finally we reached Virginia. As we crossed the border we found ourselves passing through the lovely wilderness area of Breaks Interstate Park. By this time our path had become pretty mountainous as well. It would stay that way for quite awhile. Once we got out of the mountains we headed to Bristol – our first independent city (which are basically county equivalents). On the way we picked up Buchanan, Dickinson, Russell and Washington Counties as well.



While in Bristol we stopped to eat an early dinner at Olive Garden. After a long day of driving with no fun stops the meal seemed to recharge our batteries – which was perfect since we still had several hours of driving to go that day. We even decided to travel a few miles south and cross into Bristol, TN (Bristol VA's sister city) which resides in Sullivan County Tennessee – an unplanned new county. From there we traveled east on the Jeb Stuart Highway. I don’t know who Jeb Stuart was. But I curse him for this road. The road hovered just above the Tennessee and North Carolina borders for mile after mile of twists and turns. I love roller coasters. But those usually end after a minute or two. This one went on forever. And my stomach was hurting. Nonetheless we endured, picking up Johnson County, Tennessee, Ashe and Alleghany Counties in North Carolina, and Grayson County in Virginia. When we finally got off the twisty roads and into relative civilization we found ourselves in the tiny independent city of Galax.





After we exited Galax we got into Carroll County. And here’s where our trip found another twist – this one unexpected. As we were about 1000 feet from the Floyd County border a deer jumped in front of our rented Jeep Renegade. And we hit him hard – hard enough to shatter the headlights, lose the license plate and cause all the transmission fluid to drain onto the road. We were so remote that the sheriff’s office couldn’t get a deputy to us for about 40 minutes. The closest town was about five miles away. But Meadows Of Dan, VA has very little to offer. Thankfully they had a motel – The Blue Ridge Motel. It’s the kind of place that when you call, they answer the phone by simply saying “Hello?” It even had actual keys. The accommodations were not what we were used to. But they were perfect! It had a bed. There was also a friendly cat named Bootsy. And it was a welcome sight considering the lack of anything else around – not to mention the pouring rain that started just after the tow truck driver pulled up. Our drive to the hotel ended up picking up both Floyd and Patrick Counties. Did I mention that I kept the license plate?







After spending a couple of hours on the phone that night and the following morning we were finally able to arrange a ride. Our car rental place insisted that the car be towed to their nearest location – which was the Greensboro Airport, 100 minutes away. Their nearest service driver was in Wytheville – about an hour away in the opposite direction. So when he got there (an incredibly nice guy by the way) he picked up our vehicle and drove us to the airport. So we picked up Henry County in Virginia, as well as Rockingham and Guilford Counties in North Carolina. From the airport we picked up a new Ford Fusion car rental and were on our way. We had to cancel our previous night’s hotel reservation in Raleigh-Durham. And we had lost several hours of drive time. But by noon on Sunday we were back on the road. Our destination was Monticello – home of former President Thomas Jefferson. Our drive there had us pass through Caswell County in North Carolina, the independent city of Danville in Virginia, Pittsylvania and Campbell Counties, the independent city of Lynchburg, then Amherst, Nelson and Albemarle counties.


We had tickets to tour Jefferson’s home. Our time was 11:15. We didn’t get there until around 3:00. And being the 4th of July weekend, they could not squeeze us into any other tour group. Everything was sold out. They did refund our money though. And we were still able to walk the grounds. So we were able to visit his gravesite.






Since we were still several hours behind schedule we decided that we really had no choice but to drive a direct route to our hotel. Although being county collectors, even a “direct” route is never completely direct. As we left Monticello we briefly drove into the independent city of Charlottesville before hopping onto I-64 west. From there we drove through Augusta County and the independent cities of Waynesboro and Staunton. At Staunton we had to briefly exit the highway in order to officially cross the city border. Then we headed north on I-81 hitting Rockingham County and the independent city of Harrisonburg.


At Harrisonburg we ventured west into the mountains on Highway 33, eventually crossing into Pendleton County, WV. With a slight route adjustment we drove through Randolph, Barbour, Tucker, Preston and Taylor Counties – with Tucker County requiring a five-mile turnaround.



As we neared our hotel we had one bonus county to hit. As we headed north on Highway 119 we turned off the road into what appeared to be a trailer park. Although there were some non-mobile homes there as well. By this time it was night. And the neighborhood was unpaved. But we found our way though a few blocks and crossed into Marion County. There were no signs alerting us to this fact. But we were there. We then got back onto the highway, crossed into Monongalia County a minute later, then went right to our hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn) in Morgantown. We got there around 10:00, grabbed a quick bite from McDonald’s, and ate it in our room. Needless to say we slept very well that night.

On Monday morning we set out for home. We got on I-79 north. And 10 minutes later we crossed into Greene County, PA. At the city of Washington we got onto I-70 and headed west back into West Virginia followed by Ohio. But before we crossed into Ohio we got off the interstate and went south for a few miles in order to pick up Marshall County, WV.  Once we got into Ohio we headed northwest picking up Jefferson, Harrison and Tuscarawas Counties. From there we headed mostly west, picking up Coshocton, Knox, Morrow and Delaware Counties. At that point we headed sharply north straight into Marion County and the city of Marion itself. We stopped for lunch at Arby’s and paid our respects to President Warren Harding.





After we left President Harding we set out for the final stretch home. We headed southwest into Union County. And after putting in an address in our GPS, we found that we were only about five miles away from another bonus county. Some quick math found that if we were to get this one later on (it would have been the only non-visited county in the area) it would have cost us over 90 minutes of time. So it was a no-brainer to get it now. So we went a little further south, crossed into Logan County, then entered the city of North Lewisburg – and the elusive Champaign County.


Feeling quite satisfied with ourselves we headed back northwest onto our planned route and went through Shelby, Auglaize and Mercer Counties before crossing the border into Indiana. From there we hit Adams, Wells, Huntington, Wabash, Miami, Cass, Fulton and Pulaski Counties. With Pulaski County we notched our 79th (and final) county of the trip.



County-wise it was our most productive three-day weekend ever. However it would have been 93 counties had we not run into that deer. And it was disappointing that we didn’t get to see some of the fun sights we’d planned to visit. But we still had fun. And we had an adventure to talk about. As for the missed fun sights, we’ll simply have to go back. And you know we will.


The 79 new counties gave us a grand total of 212 for the year. What’s next? Well next month we’re going to a place we haven’t been to as a couple yet – Alaska. We’re taking our four kids on an Alaskan cruise. And the stops will net us (I believe) three new county-equivalents. Beyond that we have nothing planned until a visit to Mammoth Cave in October. Will anything additional take place before then? Well, there’s nothing planned. But you never know. Stay tuned!


                                                NEW COUNTIES - 79
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2016 - 212
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1477

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

PANAMA CITY, FLORIDA!

Our third road trip of the year found us flying into Atlanta. Our goal was to knock off a bunch of counties in the tri-state area of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Before we left we knew that this was going to be a trip that took us to some very rural areas of the country. So unfortunately there wasn’t an abundance of fun sights to see as the majority of cities we traveled through were extremely small. Nonetheless we set off, anxious to see places we’d never seen before. We were pretty much alone though. Our flight to Atlanta was nearly empty!



After picking up our rental car at the airport (a 2016 Chevy Malibu) we traveled several miles west to the Chattahoochee River and entered Douglas County, our first new county of the trip. From there we hooked up with HWY 5 going south and got into Carroll County. Once we got to the city of Roopville (population 218) we turned down HWY 27, drove two miles and crossed the border into Heard County. From there we turned around back to Roopville, stopped at the Dollar General and bought a few snacks to tide us over.


We continued west on HWY 5 and headed toward the Alabama border. As we neared the state line we got onto HWY 48, then veered off to the north to cross over into Cleburne County. We then crossed back into Georgia, got back onto HWY 48 and crossed back into Alabama – but this time into Randolph County.



We continued south and west picking up Clay and Coosa Counties on the way. We stopped in the city of Lineville to pick up some subs at Subway. Then we were off to the city of Goodwater - where we headed east onto some back roads, attempting to enter Tallapoosa County. But the dirt side road we followed ended with a road block and a “road closed” sign. Based on our maps we were probably within five minutes walking distance to the border. But just to be sure we instead drove a few miles south and crossed into the county on a real road.



From there we went south, and entered the Montgomery area. We ended up driving through two counties we’d already been to on a previous trip. But once we got south of the city we entered Pike, Crenshaw and Covington Counties. After leaving the oddly-named city of Opp, we headed southeast on HWY 52 and crossed into both Coffee and Geneva Counties.



Near the Florida/Alabama border we passed through the aptly-named city of Florala, where we stopped for gas next to Lake Jackson. We also saw an interesting painted semi trailer.


With a full tank of gas we crossed the state line into Walton County, Florida. A few miles later we headed west on HWY 85 and crossed into Okaloosa County. After turning around we headed toward the city of Defuniak Springs. From there we went east on HWY 90, crossed into Holmes County, and briefly drove through the city of Ponce De Leon.



At this point we were able to put our hotel into the GPS. And the straight shot took us into Washington and Bay Counties. We spent the night at the County Inn & Suites by Carson, in Panama City. After checking in we ventured out to find a place to eat. The most popular restaurant in town is Hunt’s Oyster Bar. We decided to check it out. But the lines were way too long. Instead we crossed the street and ate at the Shrimp Boat. And we were seated immediately. I recommend the seafood platter. The portions were large. And they were tasty as well. Ask for Mikey!



The next morning we went south on HWY 98, driving along the ocean for as long as the road would allow. The area is surprisingly not touristy, save for a few towns – such as Mexico Beach. But for the most part this drive through Florida’s panhandle (and both Gulf and Franklin counties) is pretty remote.







As we turned away from the ocean for the last time, we put the city of Fanning Springs into the GPS. Over the next couple of hours we drove through Wakulla, Jefferson, Taylor, Lafayette, Dixie, Levy and Gilchrist Counties. The only sticking point was Lafayette County. We again had to take an alternate route when the road that Google Maps wanted us to take was a private road.




After turning around in Fanning Springs we headed back northwest towards the general direction of Tallahassee. About 15 miles past Perry we briefly crossed into Madison County before heading back into Jefferson County, which we had entered earlier in the day.

A few minutes later we found ourselves on I-10 – the first time on this trip that we got onto an actual interstate. But it didn’t last long. Eight miles later we got off and headed north into Leon County. At this point the roads got a little dicey. We went north through the small town of Miccosukee. And although Google Maps had showed several roads that would get us where we needed to be, nearly all of them were private roads with gates. We needed to get to Old Centerville Rd, which allegedly crossed into Alabama. Our GPS wanted us to go way around and add about 30 minutes of drive time. But we were determined to find a way though. We wormed our way through Moccasin Gap Rd. And thankfully it led us right to Old Centerville Rd. We still weren’t convinced though, as we had to drive about seven miles north. The paved road became dirt, then red clay. It looked like the road had been dug out of the ground without anyone maintaining it. That was later confirmed by several signs stating that Leon County did not maintain them. Nonetheless it was quite scenic as the live oak trees created a canopy effect. We drove through these roads for maybe 15 miles, never once going over 30 MPH. I believe we saw one other car the entire time. But we managed to cross the border into Thomas County, Alabama. Then after a brief turn onto Sunny Hill Rd., we crossed into Grady County, AL. No counties left behind!






We hugged the state line border for several miles, crossing into Gadsden County, FL then Decatur County, AL. We then put Blountstown, FL into the GPS and headed southwest, crossing into Liberty and Calhoun Counties.


After Blountstown we headed north into Jackson County. We passed through the tiny community of Two Egg. We saw no egg, let alone two. From there we hooked up with HWY 2, crossed the Chattahoochee River into Georgia and Seminole County. We headed into the city of Donalsonville and picked up the bonus county of Miller about two miles north.




At this point we were able to put our hotel into the GPS. The direct route took us through Early County, GA, then back into Alabama where our hotel waited for us in Houston County. We spent the night at The Country Inn & Suites by Carlson in the city of Dothan. By this time it was around 7:00. And we were ready for supper. We chose a Mexican restaurant because it was the #1 rated place in town. And it did not disappoint. Two super burritos cost me $15.00. The salsa for their free salsa and chips was fantastic. If you’re ever in Dothan be sure to visit La Parrilla. It’s well worth the lofty rating!




The next morning we had a leisurely drive back to the Atlanta Airport. We went north on HWY 431 out of Dothan. A few miles later we entered Henry County. Near the city of Abbeville we went northwest on HWY 10 and crossed into Barbour County. Right after crossing we turned south onto HWY 105 and took a one-mile side trip to the Dale County border. We also passed by the former home of Rosa Parks.





From here it was virtually a straight shot back to Atlanta. Along the way we picked up Bullock, Macon, Russell, Lee and Chambers Counties in Alabama, as well as Harris, Troup, Meriwether and Coweta Counties in Georgia. The last 90 miles found us on I-85. So in a trip of over 1100 miles traveled, only about 100 of them were spent on the interstate. The rest of the time was rural, rural, rural. The sights in this tri-state area were interesting. We saw many burned-out trailers, some of which were virtually next door to small mansions with pillars. It was quite the cross section.


All in all we visited 52 new counties – not bad for a three-day weekend. So what’s next? We have a pretty ambitious trip planned for the 4th of July weekend that will take us to Virginia and North Carolina. Stay tuned!



                                                NEW COUNTIES - 52
                                                TOTAL COUNTIES FOR 2016 - 133
                                                ALL TIME COUNTY TOTAL - 1398