A Random January Road Trip

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to visit another four National Wildlife Refuges. On Saturday, I traveled to Virginia for an Eddie from Ohio show at The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, VA, and, as part of my trip, planned enough time to visit a few refuges along the way.

My first stop took me to Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Basking Ridge, NJ. This location features numerous boardwalks and viewing blinds, permitting visitors access to areas deep within the refuge while simultaneously providing protection to view wildlife without disturbance. After four hours on the road, the opportunity to walk around for a bit was welcome, and I found myself amidst numerous white-tailed deer. Unfortunately, my shoes on the composite deck material of the boardwalks made enough noise to alert the deer and I was unable to photograph any. After wandering around Great Swamp for an hour in the relative warmth of 45° sunshine under a bright blue sky, I continued south towards Philadelphia.

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My Southern Excursion, Part 4

The following is the fourth and final installment recounting my trip to Georgia. For the first three parts, see “My Southern Excursion, Part 1,” “Part 2,” and “Part 3.”

The final leg of my northbound journey had just one planned stop, at Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Davis, WV. Already, I had stretched a journey that can be made in 18 hours into a three-day excursion, and too many more diversions would add a fourth day. While I would not have minded an additional day, I found my desires at odds with my wallet. After all, being unemployed necessitates a weekly visit to Connecticut as the state does not offer direct deposit. So, after ending the second day of my trip at an I-79 rest area in Servia, WV, I continued north to US-33, which would take me into the Monongahela National Forest before delivering me to WV-32 and this day’s destination.

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My Southern Excursion, Part 3

The following is the third of four parts recounting my trip to Georgia. For the first two parts, see “My Southern Excursion, Part 1” and “Part 2.”

After spending the night in Cleveland, TN, I set off on US-64 for the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests, and ultimately, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With hundreds of miles of roads crisscrossing these forests in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina, I planned to spend the entire day wandering through the woods. Just before sunrise, my first stop along the way found me at Ocoee Dam #1, part of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system. This dam, the first of three, impounds Parksville Reservoir and is one of the oldest hydroelectric dams in the TVA system. US-64, portions of which are marked as the Ocoee Scenic Byway, follows the northern perimeter of the reservoir, affording many views of the Parkville Reservoir and the river that feeds it. The Ocoee River, home to some spectacular rapids, was the site of the 1996 Summer Olympics’ canoeing, kayaking, and slalom events and is now home to the Ocoee River Whitewater Center. As I continued along the Ocoee Scenic Byway, I encountered numerous scenic overlooks and an assortment of recreation areas that provide access to the river and its famed rapids. Stopping for pictures along the route can be treacherous in some places, however, as an overlook may be no wider than a car, placing one very close to traffic along this two-lane byway. After exiting the Cherokee National Forest just shy of the Tennessee-North Carolina border, I headed north on TN-68 out of Ducktown.

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My Southern Excursion, Part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the first half of my recent trip to Georgia. I headed south to visit my brother and, suddenly finding myself with unexpected free time, I decided to visit the Gulf Coast. Then, after spending a week touring Fort Benning and the surrounding Columbus, GA area, it was time for me to head north again. Thankfully, I wasn’t in much of a hurry.

In light of my obsession with federally-protected areas, I planned my return trip with an eye towards visiting as many National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, and so on as was feasible. To that end, I set out for Macon, GA and the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. As it turned out, however, my visit coincided with the refuge’s annual hunting season (bizarre, I know), which meant that without a special permit, I could venture no further than the parking lot. After taking a few pictures to prove that I had at least made an effort to visit Bond Swamp, I found my way to Interstate 16 and set off towards Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge, on the other side of Macon. My plans were interrupted, though, when I noticed a familiar green mark on my Google Map.

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My Southern Excursion, Part 1

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit my brother in Georgia, where he is stationed at Fort Benning in Columbus. Departing New Hampshire on a Wednesday, I planned on arriving in Georgia the following day. As such, I had no plans to stop at any attractions as I headed south, instead saving those sightseeing opportunities for my return trip. As the Army is wont to do, however, my brother was placed on a last-minute detail, giving me an extra, unplanned day of travel. Being that I was already in Georgia, and that I’d never seen or swum in the Gulf of Mexico, I set out on Thursday to extend my journey southward. In a manner similar to that which began my obsession with federally-protected areas, as I headed south on US-431 through Alabama, I stumbled upon Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge.

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Skyline Drive, Round 2

As I mentioned in my August 19 post entitled “Skyline Drive, Round 1,” I had the opportunity to drive Skyline Drive in May, but the weather did not afford many views. Ever since, I’ve been trying to plan another traverse of Skyline Drive. Just before Labor Day, the weather finally cooperated.

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Now back from my long Labor Day holiday, I am in the process or organizing the 600+ photos I took while on Skyline Drive. Be patient, as I stopped at more than 50 lookouts along the 105-mile drive, and discerning which photos were taken where is a bit time consuming. The weather was beautiful, so the views should be much better than those from my traverse of Skyline Drive back in May.

Having been on hiatus for a few weeks, I have lots to talk about. Expect the frequency of my posts to pick up now that I’m settling back into unemployed reality.

Skyline Drive, Round 1

Back in May, I had the chance to traverse Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Unfortunately, as you’ll see from the pictures, the weather wasn’t conducive to sightseeing. Nonetheless, the views I could capture were beautiful. In the near future, I do plan another attempt in fairer weather, so keep an eye out for Skyline Drive, Round 2.

As its name implies, Skyline Drive follows a mountain ridge through Shenandoah National Park. At 35 mph, the 105-mile drive takes roughly four hours, without factoring in the regular stops for deer. As I discovered, deer are everywhere on the Drive, so when I came across “deer crossing” signs, I knew I’d better slow down. In all, I spent about five hours on Skyline Drive between the speed limit, deer sightings, and stopping at its 75 overlooks.

Check out the photos at https://i.ethitter.com/2009/05/skyline-drive/.

Celebrating 50 Years of Beauty on the Kancamagus

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of what is now known as the Kancamagus Highway, New England’s first National Scenic Byway. When the road, then known as Forest Highway No. 8, first opened in 1959, it was unpaved, not maintained for winter travel, and only open during daylight hours. This last restriction was on account of the treacherous nature of the road and its lack of artificial lighting (a welcome state for anyone who has driven the “Kanc.”). Now, the Kancamagus is paved and maintained year-round, much to the delight of visitors to the area. The highway is particularly popular in the fall, when the New England foliage turns beautiful shades of red, orange, and yellow. It is also a popular way to see the snow-capped beauty of the White Mountains and Mount Washington while traveling across New Hampshire’s North Country. Whatever the motivation may be, if you ever find yourself in Lincoln or Conway, New Hampshire, you should gas up the car and take the time to drive State Route 112, the Kancamagus Highway.

Anniversary celebrations are planned at various points along the Kanc on August 14, 2009, with an official commemoration at 2pm at the Russell Colbath House. For more information on the festivities, check out the Union Leader article “Marking a half century of riding the ‘Kanc’.”

If you are interested in driving the Kancamagus Highway, Byways.org provides some valuable resources. An overview of the road, including some history, pictures, and directions to get to the Kanc are available here. A map of the route can be also be found here at Byways.org.

To give some idea of the route’s beauty, here are a few shots from my personal collection, taken Memorial Day Weekend 2008:

Mount Washington from the Kancamagus
Mount Washington from the Kancamagus
From the Kancamagus Highway looking down towards Lincoln, NH
From the Kancamagus Highway looking down towards Lincoln, NH

On Being Unemployed

Last month (technically, June 26), I was laid off, completely unexpectedly.

When I tell people this, most respond with some sort of condolence, but I’m not saddened by this. In fact, I’m happier than I’ve been in years. To top it off, the lease on my apartment expired at the same time, so now I’m homeless, in a way. Still, I couldn’t be happier.

In all honesty, my mood has much to do with the situation in which our country finds itself. Normally, joblessness and homelessness would be conditions of much concern. But, with three million other Americans out of work, how can I really complain. After all, I received a severance and I live in a state with a high cost of living, so my earnings from unemployment won’t be that bad. Plus, without an apartment, I’m saving on all those overhead costs.

Further improving my mood, I hadn’t been happy at my job for a while. Frankly, I was bored. I wanted to travel, to do anything other than sit in a cubicle, roaming the internet for hours. I never thought I’d reach a point where the internet bored me, but I found it, about a month before I was laid off. Having recently taken a 4,300 mile road trip, I was ready for more travel, not more endless days spent at my desk without a project to complete. I’ve never seen the West Coast, and I want to drive Skyline Drive. Losing my job couldn’t have come at a better time.

With the economy in its current state, I don’t expect to find a job soon, even though I have a recruiter working diligently on my behalf. Normally, that should bother me, but, again, I’m among millions of other US residents who find themselves taking money from the state. As previously mentioned, I also find myself in the odd predicament of having no housing. My lease nearing expiration, I was in the process of finding a new apartment when I was laid off. Upon losing my job, the apartment hunt ceased, since no landlord will rent to someone without a steady income. At first, I was concerned, to say the least; then, I considered the opportunities these twin “tragedies” brought me.

To clarify, I’m an accountant but not a CPA. I’d planned on studying for the exam this summer, after finding a new apartment. In both losing my job and ceasing my search for new housing, an immense amount of free time has suddenly presented itself. Unlike the past two summers, I finally have time sufficient to study for the CPA exam. I can’t make excuses that work is too busy, that I’m too consumed with moving, or that as experience is concerned I’m insufficiently prepared for the exam. Suddenly, I have nothing to do but study for the exam. And travel.

The upside to an exam like the CPA certification is that scheduling is done months in advance and the test is standardized. As a result, I can plan months exam dates months in advance and spend endless time studying for a particular section of the test. Knowing when I have to be at a specific testing center allows me to plan the road trips I’ve only dreamed of.

I now find myself presented with the opportunity to travel the country while reviewing for the exam that will let me continue my career, all because I lost my job. In between sightseeing, I can study for the exam. I can even listen to review guides as audiobooks, all while visiting the vast parts of the United States I’m unfamiliar with. Given today’s technology, I can do most anything I need to from anywhere across our continent, and I intend to do so. Before I chain myself to a desk once again, I want to see the United States of America.