Day 3 – Evolution

Wilmington, DE – Front Royal, VA

184 miles

It’s funny how a day can start one way and evolve into another. I woke up this morning a bit foggy from the revelry of the wedding and its celebrations that occurred the night before. I tried for an early start but saying goodbye to all my family members and general sluggishness resulted in my leaving around 11 a.m. It was my first time in Wilmington and it felt very sterile in an urban sort of way. I was eager to get on the road.

After stopping in Bethesda for lunch, I headed west on 495 and then hooked onto I-66 to take me into Virginia. Throughout my ride in the Northeast corridor on I-95, the NJ Turnpike and the Capitol Beltway, I’ve felt vaguely claustrophobic from all of the car traffic around me, much like standing at the urinals at Giants Stadium during halftime.

But as I headed west on 66, everything started to change. The trip started to unfold. I started riding, not driving.

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Somewhere around Gainesville, VA, the ever-present traffic started to melt away and long stretches of road presented themselves despite having been reduced to a two-lane highway. Instead of the distant skylines of Baltimore and Washington, the rolling hills of the Shenandoah Mountains rose up on the horizon. The shoulders of the sloping road and its medians became lush green forests as opposed to Roy Rogers Rest Stops.

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My exit off I-66 rewarded me with The Apple House, home of the some of the best cider donuts I’ve had in years. I started with eating just two and then sheepishly returned to the counter for another two. The establishment might be a bit of tourist trap but regardless, the smell of BBQ and deep fried dough let me know that I had left the Northeast and was now squarely in the South.

I soon pulled into Front Royal, VA, the home of the top of Skyline Drive.

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I felt good about my decision to slab the big interstates this far because I wanted to push my way into unfamiliar ground as soon as possible. Considering that I’m writing this at the lovely Gooney Creek Campground (I’m not making this up), having set up my first tent in 15 years, and driving on one of America’s most beautiful highways in the morning, I think I’ve arrived at unfamiliar.

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And the best part is that I’ve already made my first road friend. As I pulled into my camp spot and dropped my gear, my neighbor Nafi called me over to offer a hamburger he was making on his grill (a damn good one BTW). He introduced himself and his family that had come to America from Afghanistan and now live in outside Washington DC. He told me about leaving Soviet occupied Afghanistan decades ago to make a new life in America. It was great to hear his immigration story and the optimism he still holds despite the recessionary challenges in the economy. Let me reiterate that this man makes a damn fine burger.

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These are the kind of experiences I’m hoping for as I drive across America. My goal for tomorrow is to be set up to start Skyline Drive, one of the most scenic highways in America, by dawn.

Pretty good day.

WHAT DID I LEARN / DISCOVER TODAY: People are nice. Be open to meeting new folks and hearing their story. Rewards, or at least a hamburger, will follow.

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