Say Hello To America 2016: Days 1-5

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Christian Carollo
Wow, the first five days of the Say Hello To America 2016 road trip have been a whirlwind! Nearly 1,700 miles driven, nine states, and different lodging each night.

When I mapped out this trip, I knew just how much driving would be involved. However, planning and executing are two very different things. I fully expected to have moments when I was exhausted and wanted nothing to do with driving, but what I didn’t anticipate was how quickly it would hit me. I’m talking the first few days! I questioned what I had gotten myself into and if I had the desire to continue at this pace for 8 weeks! Some of the longest drives were in the beginning of my trip and I reminded myself that I simply needed to get into a groove. Besides, I’ve never undertaken a road trip of this enormity — what do I know about the feelings I’d experience about life on the road? Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve gotten over that initial sense of panic and am fully in that “groove” I needed. Sure, I’m exhausted when I roll into a new town each evening, but I’ve already had some great experiences and collected a trove of stories. On to the recap!

Waiting out the storm

Waiting out the storm

Day 1 | I left that morning around 8:30am and began the long, tedious drive down I-95 towards Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My first rest stop was at the North Carolina Welcome Center, where I emerged into 90° weather — nearly 30° warmer than what I had left behind! Within a few hours of Winston-Salem, I began to hear reports of severe thunderstorms – including golf ball sized hail – in the vicinity. With the false belief that I could outrun the storm, my car soon began to be pelted by hail and gigantic raindrops. After waiting out the storm, I finally arrived and immediately went to search for the last remaining shell-shaped gas station — one of 8 that was built in the 1930’s. Have I ever mentioned that I’m a huge fan of roadside attractions?

Shell-Shaped Gas Station in Winston-Salem

Day 2 | Before moving on to Tennessee, I made a quick stop at the historic district of Old Salem. My primary objective was to replicate a few photographs that my grandfather had taken, but I ended up loving how much the quaint streets reminded me of Colonial Williamsburg.

The majority of the day was spent driving a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, specifically the Linn Cove Viaduct — a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge which snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. It was completed in 1987 at a cost of $10 million and was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be finished. The Blue Ridge Parkway is one of the country’s most beautiful drives and, despite the overcast weather, I took in some stunning views.

Linn Cove Viaduct

Upon arriving in Chattanooga around 8pm, I headed straight to my Airbnb home for the night. My host, Lexi, was a super friendly girl and offered suggestions for places to eat. I was quickly sold on Urban Stack, a burger joint in downtown Chattanooga. With a full stomach and weary eyes, Day 2 was in the books.

Day 3 | My remaining hours in Chattanooga were spent walking the Walnut Street Bridge, which offered stunning views of the city and Tennessee River, and driving through the downtown area. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this little Tennessee city! Somehow I had this preconceived idea about the city, but I could not have been more wrong.

View from the Walnut Street Bridge

View from the Walnut Street Bridge

Walnut Street Bridge & MLK Mural in Chattanooga

Walnut Street Bridge & MLK Mural in Chattanooga

Upon reaching Birmingham, I met up with my friends who had moved to Alabama a few years ago. BBQ was on the menu for the night — perfect after a long day of driving. It was nice to see familiar faces for my stay that night, even though they neglected to tell me how wonky my eye was! Somewhere between the ride from Chattanooga to Birmingham, Southern allergies kicked my butt and caused my eye to get insanely puffy and red. As I write this, it still hasn’t quite cleared up.

Day 4 | Off to New Orleans! After a quick stop in Tuscaloosa for a Past Present Project photo and a stroll around the University of Alabama campus, I found myself in the middle of the French Quarter. The most interesting experience that night involved a girl named Bianca. I had a very specific photo in mind to capture on Bourbon Street, but I needed an extra touch to put it over the top. Then a flash of yellow caught my eye! I waved over the girl, who was perhaps a bit too inebriated, to perform the task I needed for the “perfect” shot — stand perfectly still for one second. Despite the struggles, we managed to capture a few decent shots. What do you think?

Bianca on Bourbon

Bianca on Bourbon

Bourbon Street

Day 5 | What would a morning in NOLA be without beignets and cafe au lait? My final moments were spent noshing on sugary treats and people watching from the comfort of my seat in Cafe Du Monde. The pure charm and beauty of New Orleans will have me coming back many times in the future!

Speaking of beauty, Oak Alley Plantation was the perfect rest stop on my way to Natchez, Mississippi. Although I’ve experienced this historic home located along the Mississippi River before, there was no way I could be so close and not return. The mansion tour is packed with history from a very engaging tour guide and allows for a view down Oak Alley from the balcony. I’ll just let the photos do the talking for me!

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley

Cafe Du Monde

Day 5 ended with a picture-perfect sunset over the Mississippi River. The perfect evening in Natchez is spent enjoying a drink at the Under-the-Hill Saloon and then walking out to the sun dipping below the Mississippi. While the sunset was just as glorious as I remembered during my visit two years ago, my experience at the saloon was a little more memorable. A mother and daughter accepted me into their family as an adopted son as soon as I set foot in the bar! Needless to say, alcohol played a small role in the encounter, but the mother told the story (several times over, I might add) about how she always wanted a son — and would have named him Christian. On the bright side, I now have a place to rest my head when I’m in Orlando. That is, if they even remember me.

Five days in the books! 53 more to go. Stay tuned.

Natchez Sunset