Well, our journey down to Texas at the end of May started off optimistic and full of excitement and anticipation of the impending college graduation of our daughter, Madeleine. We flew down from Boston, lined up our favorite Austin restaurants to enjoy on our final journey to this food centric city, and checked off the final details with a hired car carrier to ship her car back to New Hampshire.
There was a mixture of sadness and happiness as our daughter put closure to a very memorable stage of life, hugged her friends and roommates goodbye one last time, moved out of her apartment, and turned in the keys.
We toured the campus one final time and she showed us all of her favorite spots. We had fun taking photos in front of her favorite buildings as she captured final memories of her college years.
In between the festivities, I kept checking in with our car carrier and became increasingly worried with each phone call. “Everything is just fine…we’ll call you with the location and time for car pick up,” the woman repeated each time I emailed. Three days before we all flew out from Austin, the response was repeated…then two days, then repeated again the day before our departure. We decided phone calls were in order..enough emailing.
Then, no one picked up the phone 48 hours before our departure…and no pick up 24 hours before departure…no answer on the morning of departure. After a barrage of phone calls to the parent company, they began their own stream of phone calls to the carrier. When there was no point in holding our calls at bay as we were within 3 hours of our flight, the coordinator finally answered the phone.
Unbelievably, he was stringing us along because he had no carrier for us. He offered no excuse or explanation. We all stood in our hotel room looking at one another knowing what we had been joking about for a few days…was now reality…a road trip was imminent.
“Kenney family,” droned on the no show car carrier coordinator, “Please, just leave your car in the hotel parking lot and we will take care of it for you. Don’t worry.”
The answer at that point was…no way.
So, within 3 hours of our flight back to New Hampshire, we realized two of us were looking at a cross country drive. No one was jumping up and down with excitement. As we began frantically googling the route, my daughter and I started to hatch a plan. We started running our fingers over interesting places we could visit along the way. What about national parks? D.C.? Friends? Relatives? Thank goodness, time was on our side because we had a good two weeks of freedom before commitments needed attention.
If we veered a little bit south of Knoxville, Tennessee we could slip into Smoky Mountain National Park. There was Chatahoochee National Forest and Cherokee National Forest. “What about riding through Washington D.C. to see the state capitol and the White House, Mom?” “What about squeezing in a whirlwind drive through NYC, Mom?”
Yesssss!! Now we were excited. With the car filled to the brim with college paraphernalia, we filled up tank and lumbered out of Austin waving goodbye to the boys who would be back home later that same day.
It had been since Christmas that we had been together so we certainly had ample conversation topics to cover. Somewhere around Memphis, Tennessee we realized that being a week out from Memorial Day weekend, meant heavy traffic on all the major highways. Campers, trucks, and motorcycles filled the roads. Canoes, bikes, and suitcases were piled high and strung in precarious fashion to the tops, backs, and crevices of many vehicles on the road. We probably didn’t look much different from everybody else with every inch of our car stuffed to the brim.
Memorial Day flags were blowing along every small town Main St. as we inched our way state by state up to the NE. We drove through Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, and finally New Hampshire. It was wonderful having snapshots of our country all along the route preparing to celebrate and commemorate all of our brave citizens who have fought in the armed services for our country.
We discussed everything from the best way to cook a filet of fish… to the fate of our country in the next elections…to my giddy anticipation of the mammoth pile of mulch waiting for my gardens upon our return home.
We argued over everything too….
“Bubble Space!!” is my constant bellow from the passenger seat. “Mom!! Stop yelling that!” was the repeated refrain. Bubble space means my panic stricken mind believes that we are too close to the cars and trucks in front of us. Bubble space!! said in my panicked high pitched tone, is a warning that will probably haunt my poor children the rest of their lives.
We argued over correct hand placement on the wheel. We argued over where and when to stop for lunch. We argued over whether coffee smells terrible or divine…We batted about the true meaning of a feminist from a 40-odd perspective versus from a 20-odd perspective. That argument didn’t go over so well (smirk).
But by day two…
we settled into a routine that was wonderful. My daughter and I are very similar…VERY similar. We like to think of ourselves as free spirited, care free, daring and adventurous but in reality we are organizers, punctual, planners, detail-oriented, and conservative.
Smoky Mountain National Park loomed ahead of us on day three. We decided to stop for the night in Gatlinburg, Tennessee before spending the day driving through the national parks. Thinking Gatlinburg is a sleepy little town tucked at the base of a section of the Appalachian Trail, we were completely unprepared for the hustle and bustle of the town.
Attractions of every type were compressed one after the other on a main strip that included hotels, theaters, arcades, thrill rides, restaurants bigger than life, tramways, skylifts, museums and much more. Families strolled up and down the packed sidewalks. I wouldn’t even know where to start in choosing which options to choose for entertainment or dining. There were thousands of shops and entertainment venues with blinking lights, King Kong towering from the side of a building, a humongous replica of the Titanic ship, a wax museum.
You name it…Gatlinburg has it…bigger than anywhere else. Madeleine and I decided that the only way to describe this, not-sleepy-at-all, town tucked away in the mountains of Tennessee was…Las Vegas meets Disney World! It was truly over the top, clean as a whistle, and humming with activity of every sort.
We wearily slipped into a Courtyard Marriott and surprisingly couldn’t have been more pleased. The hotel was beautiful and certainly exceeded our expectations. It was the perfect location for launching into the Smokies and the people there were so friendly and sweet.
Very early the next morning, we drove into Smoky Mountain National Park. Because of the teems of families all vacationing in Gatlinburg, we wondered how packed the scenic drives would be in the park. Claire, at the hotel, told us it would be worth it to get up and drive early in the morning and it will feel like we have the entire drive to ourselves. Families get up slowly, have big breakfasts, and typically don’t get moving until lunchtime.
Claire was right…
The drive through the Smokies was amazing. The air was cool and sweet. We put the windows down. There wasn’t a car in sight for several hours. We passed wild turkeys foraging on the side of the road. Wildflowers varied from yellows to pinks to blues along the drive…framing so perfectly the overlapping purple-hued mountains of the Smokies in the distance. A wonderful babbling stream of water tumbles over large boulders and hugs the winding road through the park.
Slowly, families, motorcyclists, and couples started setting up picnic spots on the beautifully maintained look out stops. Picnic tables are everywhere…by babbling brooks and overlooking one impossibly beautiful scene to the next. There is no where to stop along the drive except for look out viewpoints…no gas stations, convenience stores, or souvenir shops. The festive hype and colorful noise of Gatlinburg was far behind.
Somehow, not quite by intention, we ended up missing our turn east to Asheville and dropped down into the southern round of Pisgah National Forest. The scenery continued becoming more and more beautiful. We decided to let the drive take us in a meandering fashion back NE because it was scenery that was unforgettable. Honestly, forget the Smokies, the stretch bisecting PNF was unbelievably gorgeous. We realized we were driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
We found ourselves twisting and turning up and down lush mountain curves along the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern PNF. The Smokies must be more popular of a drive because of its proximity to fun entertaining towns like Gatlinburg, but the Blue Ridge Parkway was a completely unexpected and scenic treat. Absolutely worth the several hour long detour that we (unintentionally) took.
About day four, my college weary daughter just wanted to be home. She was leaving behind so much of her life and independence in Austin and has so many exciting adventures ahead of her in a short time. We decided that the treat of the national parks would complete the detours of the drive so we aimed the car for New Hampshire. We drove through beautiful Virginia, a portion of Maryland, and then through a stretch of bucolic Pennsylvania.
One agonizing stretch through Pennsylvania, we were trying to deviate around long delays on the highway due to holiday traffic and construction. We took out the maps and pulled on to country roads to wind our way NE while trying to stay off the major highways. We ended up stopping at a sweet sleepy flower infused little town called Strasburg.
From the library to the town hall to the many cute antique shops, the bakery called Tippy’s, and the Old Grist Mill…it was all so adorable and quaint. We spent the night in this sweet village before moving on to the last stretch of driving.
One thing that struck me was the smells of BBQ along the drive across the US. From south to north, the aromas of BBQ hamburgers, chops, ribs, and all manner of smoked and roasted vegetables scented the air from stop to stop. America was celebrating so much…the arrival of summer, impending produce, warm summer days, memorials of our soldiers, and the beauty that is the change of seasons.
As we rolled through New York, waved to our old brownstone where we lived in Albany, NY, reminisced about the time Madeleine was Clara in the Nutcracker at The Egg theatre there, thoughts of getting home were getting stronger.
All the wonderful sights of Vermont were so welcoming. Farmer’s ambling alongside curvy country roads going about readying their fields for the planting season. Small antique shops, cyclists, and antique cars were like little visual gifts as we got closer and closer to our beloved New Hampshire.
I began dreaming of my gardens waiting for me to give them days of attention. What would my broccoli plants look like? And the tomato plants…were they o.k.? The peas need staking and the lettuce must be ready to be eaten by now.
Menu plans needed to be written up now that we are a foursome again for a few weeks. A savory zucchini ricotta tart was being requested as well as my rustic mushroom & bacon quiche, blueberry chutney salmon…but especially… something BBQ’d.
There’s nothing like a delicious all-American burger…loaded with favorite fixings. This is the burger that I made for New Hampshire Magazine for June to celebrate the beginning of summer. I had a great time meeting with another round of farmers. From the beef to the brioche rolls, the sweet potato fries, and everything else sandwiched in between…New Hampshire made and farmed products went into this BBQ hamburger.
A few things to pass long of interest:
Mentions of Local New Hampshire Suppliers in this post:
Meat: Webster Ridge Farm – Webster, NH http://websterridge.com/
Brioche buns – Bread & Chocolate – Concord, NH – https://www.facebook.com/Bread-And-Chocolate-442613189105357/
Mustard – Blackwater Mustard’s “Hot & Sweet” – http://blackwatermustardco.com/
Chutney – Nila’s Chutneys “Sassy Cilantro” – http://www.nilaschutneys.com/products.html
Cheese – Rat Trap Cheddar from Calef’s Country Store – http://www.calefs.com/shop/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=66
Lettuce/Onions/Tomatoes – Work Song Farm – Hopkinton,NH – http://worksongfarm.com/
Sweet Potatoes fries- Warner River Organics – https://harvesttomarket.com/farmers-market/Weare-Farmers-Market-NH/local-farms/Warner-River-Organics
Salt on Sweet Potatoes – “Icelandic Thyme” from The Salt Cellar – Portsmouth, NH – https://www.salt-cellar.com/
BBQ Sauce – Swineheart’s “Bang! Zoom! BBQ Sauce” – Meredith, NH – http://www.swineheartsauce.com/
Beer – Nepenthe Ale House – “The Shire Stout” – Manchester, NH – https://www.facebook.com/Candia-Road-Brewing-Company-116106775166830/
- 1 pound ground lean (7% fat) beef
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup minced onion
- ¼ cup fine dried bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- About ½ teaspoon salt
- About ¼ teaspoon pepper
- In a bowl, mix ground beef, egg, onion, bread crumbs, Worcestershire, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper until well blended. Divide mixture into four equal portions and shape each into a patty about 4 inches wide.
- Lay burgers on an oiled barbecue grill over a solid bed of hot coals or high heat on a gas grill (you can hold your hand at grill level only 2 to 3 seconds); close lid on gas grill. Cook burgers, turning once, until browned on both sides and no longer pink inside (cut to test), 7 to 8 minutes total. Remove from grill and add all kinds of yumminess to your stacked hamburger!