Heading for fall

When we got home from our summer trip in western USA, and I got back to work, I discovered that I could take some time off in October. I therefore decided to use that time for one more trip to The United States. While I have always previously been with someone, family, wife and/or children on my trips to America, I was going on my own this time, which in the end made it a very different experience. I planned on leaving Denmark on October 12th and return on the 20th. I had to postpone departure though, as I had forgotten that my ex mother-in-law turned 80 on the 12th. I therefore didn't depart until October 13th, and in stead returned on the 21st. Like on the past two trips I bought tickets for Icelandair, and as I was on my own, I decided to fly business class. Because of the time of year, the business class ticket was about $ 500 cheaper, that what we had paid for the economy-comfort tickets in june/july.

Along the wayEver since one of my first trips to USA, I have wanted to see the fall colors of The Appaachians, so I decided to go to western North Carolina - a place I love to visit, and where I have been several times before, but only in summer. With short stays in Banner Elk, Cherokee and Wilkesboro, it also gave me another opportunity to spend time on my interest in Tom Dooley. Actually I managed to hit three birds with one stone, as I also found time to visit a few wineries in the area. There is no lack of airports in North Carolina. Unfortunately none of them has connections to Denmark, so no matter where I wanted to go to, I had to have one or more stopovers. Most of the airports in the area are regional, which meant, that I had to have at least one stopover in the U.S. of A., and probably at least one more stopover in Europe. The airport closest to my goal in The Blue Ridge Mountains was Greensboro, 130 miles away, which was within reason, but I would havce to travel for more than 30 hours to get to Greensboro from Copehagen. Actually the small airport in Asheville is closer, as Asheville is in the foothils of the Appalachians, but it would take me almost 40 hours to get from Copenhagen to Asheville, so I decided otherwise.

My original plan was to visit and stay overnight in three places, Banner Elk, Cherokee and Wilkesboro. Banner Elk should be the base of my trips on Blue Ridge Parkway, Cherokee the base of my visit to Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Wilkesboro as starting point for the Tom Dooley part of the trip. I planned on spending two nights each place and then have one spare night for something else, or to prolong the visit in one of these places. In the end it didn't turn out that way, but that was the plan. I decided to fly to Washington DC and then drive south from there. Banner Elk was to be the first goal, followed by Cherokee, and then finally Wilkesboro. The trip from Copenhagen to Dulles International Airport would only take around 11 hours, including a short stopover in Reykjavik on Iceland. Unfortunately the plane would land so late, that I would have to spend the spare night, somewhere in the vicinity of Washington, before heading south, as the driving distance from Dulles to Banner Elk is around 400 miles, and I found that to far to drive after an 11 hour flight, that would bring me to Washington around 7.30 pm. Before leaving home, I booked hotel rooms in the three towns, but the problem with mother-in-law's birthday meant, that I decided to spend one night only in Banner Elk, two in Cherokee and finally three nights in Wilkesboro. The travel sites I visited all claimed that it would be a good idea to book rooms in advance, as a lot of other people would also come to the mountains to enjoy the fall colors. As it happened I could probably have gotten room on arrival, but I didn't know that before I got there. When I booked my tickets and my rooms everything was normal, but when I left, the federal government shutdown of 2013 was in full blossom, and all the national parks were closed, so probably many Americans stayed at home.

Finally it became time for me to leave home. Tim drove me to the airport, and promised to pick me up again, when I got back. There is nothing much to tell about the flight - it was boring as most flights are. I spent the time, reading a book and trying to sleep, with no luck. in Dulles immigration was rather fast and the baggage was already waiting, when I got through. Maybe because of the shutdown, only two custom officers were on duty, so a very long line waited to get through customs, but eventuelly I got through and took a shuttle to the Avis rental office. I got a car with no problems at all. I had booked from home through FDM, the Danish version of Tripple A and just had to show my voucher and my drivers license. The cars were right behind the building, så I carried my bags to the car that was to mine for the next seven days, and pulled out my gps. I keyed in Front Royal, where I had planned to spend the first night, though I hadn't booked a room, if I happened to be too tired to drive there. Finally I was ready to get underway. And that was when troubles started.

My plan was to take I-66 to Front Royal or somewhere around there and then spend the night, and then take I-81 south the next morning. I told the GPS to avoid toll roads. Not that I mind paying toll, but I have had troubles on Dulles Toll Road before as told in two earlier articles on the 2004 travel page. It was almost ten years ago, but I still wanted to keep myself out of trouble, so I needed the gps to get me to Dulles Access Road. First, however, I had to get out of the parking lot. The parking lot was very dark, and as I drove toward what I thought was the exit, there were arrows painted on the ground. All pointed in the opposite direction of what I was driving. I was therefore convinced that I was on the wrong track, so I chose turn around, and drive a little around the site. Eventually I discovered an open gate and a small booth in the direction of the arrows came from, so I headed for the open gate, and soon I could see, that it actually led to the road. Just before the gate there was a tire deflation system, like in all rental car parkings I have visited in USA. The spikes are supposed to "flatten", when you cross them if you are drving in the right direction - of course to avoid car theft. As I was leaving I was convinced that these spike would allow me to pass, so I just continued. Unfortunately they did not, as I later learned, because I was leaving through the entrance. So just outside the gate, I stopped with four flat tires. At this time a woman emerged from the booth, and asked me what the problem was.  I told her and she said I should just return to the office and get another car. As I got my bags from the car ans started walking back to the office, she called them to explain, what had happened and request transportation for my car.

Back at the office the guy that I had previously spoken with, laughed loudly, when I entered, but after completing various insurance claim forms and other papers, I was hasnded the key to another Impala, and this time I managed to leave the parking lot without without further ado. Of course at this time I knew exaclty where NOT to exit. When I left the lot, the first car had been removed and the woman in the booth wished the best of luck. As it was now almost 10 pm, I decided to drive to Front Royal and no further. The gps worked fine ad took me to I-66 without entering any toll roads and about one hour later I left the interstate in Front Royal. Having just left the interstate I passed a Walmart, and decided to make a short stop here, to buy some bottled water for next days drive. I also bought some fruit, as it was almost 6 hours since I had anything to eat.

Then I went for first motel I came across. It wasn't the best motel I have ever slept in, but the bed proved to be clean and the bathroom ok. And it was cheap, only $ 39. The receptionist was a very young man about 5 feet tall and twice that around thee waist. He exited a back room , panting and groaning, but was a really nice guy.  This was the last time I saw anybody but myself on that motel. The key was not one of the modern smart cards, but an old-fashioned key, chained to a large, very heavy block of brass, but it did open the door. When I entered the room, it smelled a bit mouldy and when I turnes on the air conditioner, it was quite noisy. On the other hand, it was placed so I didn't got blown out of bed, and in a short time the mouldy smell had disappeared, not least because I left the door open as well. As mentioned the bed was clean and the bathroom was newly renovated. The only problem was that the towels, two of them, were the size of stamps, but there was nothing to do about it. I put my water bottles in the fridge, ate my fruit and set the alarm clock  for six the next morning - and then I slept fine all night.

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