In 2019, I used both airplanes and automobiles in my leisurely travels. And, unlike last week’s focus on air travel and autonomous cars in comparing our double-digit calendar years of 1919 and 2020, my automobile travels had me squarely in the left-side pilot seat while my trusty map-loving, navigating Lady Jane occupied the right-sider.
While I enjoyed immensely last year’s sojourn overseas for a second trip to the Emerald Isle, with the focus this time on Northern Ireland, I think the trip I remember most fondly is my fall car trip. As I’ve told you before, there’s just something pioneer-like heading out on the road loaded with a cooler chock full of goodies for a week to explore the wonders of our own country, just as journalist Charles Kuralt once did in his CBS “On the Road” segments.
This year, Lady Jane planned a route that took us to Alexandria, Virginia, just seven miles from the D.C. area that we wanted to experience before moving on to Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks, and Black Mountain, North Carolina, before our trip’s cherry on top, the Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area and the Smoky Mountains, which scratched that national-parks itch that so frequently needs tended.
As for Washington, it was my first visit to the Capital since I was a child on a family vacation well over a half century ago, so, basically, everything I saw was brand new. We found parking just off Constitution Avenue along the north part of the National Mall, just north of the Lincoln Memorial.
We were able to see the simple and somber Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a long black granite wall consisting of 140 highly polished panels containing the names of the more than 58,000 men and women who lost their lives in the war. The wall, at its apex is 10.1 feet and, on the ends, descends to just eight inches. Nearby, the bronze statue The Three Servicemen served as a symbol of the diversity of those who served in a war that was the most impacting conflicts for Jane and my generation that came of age in the 1960s.
Next, we headed over to the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool and then worked our way east toward the very impressive World War II Memorial and then the Washington Monument. Each of these represented both the sacrifices and the history of those who contributed so very much to our country. Eventually, we moved farther east to the Capitol Building, while along the way getting in to see a bit of the Smithsonian displays, which, like the outdoor sites in Washington, D.C., are all free.
To see the famous Smithsonian in more depth, of course, it would take much longer than the one afternoon we had, since there are 17 separate Smithsonian museums and galleries in Washington alone.
As Ohioans, we thought a good Smithsonian building in which to spend what time we had was the National Air and Space Museum, given the rich Buckeye heritage above the earth, from Dayton’s Wright Brothers to John Glenn and Neil Armstrong of Cambridge and Wapakoneta respectively.
Much to our delight, in addition to dozens of vintage aircrafts on display, including Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the Apollo 11 command module and The Wright Flyer, the first heavier-than-air plane that sustained flight for 852 feet while staying airborne for an amazing 59 seconds at one of our later vacation stops in Kill Devil Hills, a town in North Carolina’s Outer Banks in the Kitty Hawk region.
A bit sadly retracing our steps down Constitution Avenue to get back to the car, since we’d realized we’d really only covered a small slice of D.C., we buoyed our spirits with the thought of more adventures further down the line. Our next stopover was Virginia Beach. Our hotel had a great boardwalk-and-ocean view, and our “board-walking” and bike-rental experience during our two days was topped only by some pretty amazing sand sculptures we saw, including a full-sized mid-1950s Ford pickup truck, which was a part of a large, what I’ll call, ephemeral art competition sponsored by Ford.
Then it was on to the Outer Banks, where the aftereffects of Hurricane Dorian that impacted the area just a month earlier over Labor Day weekend were still noticeable, especially on Cape Hatteras.
Please check back in with me next week for a look at what The Banks had to offer and a look at a slice of the Smokies that Lady Jane and I were so glad we sampled.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.