The South

Road Trip Through the South

Columbia, South Carolina

Day one was a long one that covered a LOT of ground. Eugene to Portland to Seattle to Atlanta to Charleston to Columbia, all within 17 hours! Weird how it’s possible to cover that much ground yet do so little physical activity.

But after all of that, I’ve made it! And I’m reunited with Ivy in charming South Carolina.

That accounted for half the crew. Deanna and JB soon!

Despite its charming exterior, I didn’t go into the Blossom Shop. I did spend a few good hours, though, wandering around the Five Points area, in and out of all of it’s little consignments and mom and pop venues. I eventually found a lovely coffee shop and record store and set up camp for a little while. The “Vader” at Drip was a wonderful discovery– a cold glass of coke with a shot of espresso and a bit of vanilla, and I’m not even much of a soda fan.

It’s been an extremely comfortable low-seventies in South Carolina, and the sun above feels really, really good. It’s a nice day for walking around outside and it’s been a good long time since I’ve been able to say that. Few things are as great as a perfectly timed change of scenery.

I’ve been getting such a good, comfortable, welcoming feeling from South Carolina, it’s great. Even the casual interactions with people here have all been really pleasant. For a long time, I suspected this would be a state I really enjoyed. I think I’m right… I’m in a really good mood just being here.

One of my favorite ways to get to know a city… Through its microbrews. Discovered Frothy Beard Brewing’s Great Zingiber… a heavily ginger infused pale ale. Whether you’d like this or not would hinge entirely on your opinion of ginger.

Also had the fun discovery of the local bottleshop, Craft & Draft. Good comfy venue and a pretty decent selection. Fun seeing more Southern beers in the place of the more recognizable Western labels I’m used to.

Had a great time hanging and catching up with Ivy, talking about crazy stuff like marriage and starting families and taking care of our parents. As if we’re grown ups or something!

Asheville, North Carolina

I’m loving the Carolinas. North and South. I snuck off to North Carolina on my own while Ivy and JB had work. I’d only ever heard the best things said about Asheville, so I had to go and see it for myself. I’ve never been fully comfortable with solo adventures, which is why I sometimes feel the need to do ’em.

Downtown Asheville, so charming and almost entirely comprised of local shops and venues. I let myself get lost for a few hours. It was damp, which actually made the city seem more lively while I snacked on a savory crêpe and cashew juice.
Getting to see Asheville was a longtime wish fulfilled, even if I wasn’t there for very long. Coincidentally, I came across a “Before I Die” wall, and these things are always a surprisingly emotional encounter.

I’d have things on my list, too. It seems like once I cross one off, I get another idea for another one. Before I die I’d love to hike the Camino de Santiago, and visit the remaining states I haven’t seen, and of course start a family. It’s good to have quests. But, you also never know just how much time you’d have to do all those things. In either case, I’m still extremely thankful to be alive.
Some early road trip highlights:
  • Grimes – I can’t stop listening to her album. Especially Caaaaaaaaa-aaaah-alifornia.
  • San Diego – I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve been back. There’s actually quite a bit I miss about this city.
  • Dagny’s – This Bakersfield staple coffeeshop gets even better once they added beers on tap. It remains a great meetup spot with old friends coming back to town from all over the map.
Loving the look of just about every other church we keep coming across… It’d be impossible to begin to get your head around the character of this place without at least a pause to think about the beauty and atrocity of its churches.

I suppose that applies to all places. And people too. Even if our personal cathedrals aren’t religious in a traditional sense, everybody still has their own place of worship. And these places all have their own stories full of both good and bad.

Lately it seems like we’re prone to want to only defend the things that are a part of us with as much as zeal as we can muster and tear down the things we reject. I guess there’s a time and a place for that, but I recommend exploring instead. Why is this place important to me? What happened here? It’s completely amazing.

My goodness, I knew North Carolina would be good to an outdoor lover but I underestimated just how good it would be. I decided to split my one day between Asheville and the Pisgah National Forest and found a sweet waterfall to hike to.

Unfortunately Google Maps let me down for the first time ever yesterday, trying to get me there via a private road I couldn’t drive down. I found another way but it cost me an hour.

While on my hike, I realized I needed to book it if I wanted to see the falls and make it back out of the woods with the remaining daylight. I felt confident enough to start sprinting towards the falls. I caught a bit of its lower end before I had to go, taking off for a very muddy trail run and an unintended river forging.

This did not go to plan and I loved it. I hope to make it back to visit the falls properly someday. I can only imagine.

Atlanta, Georgia
The last time I saw Lei was at the Phoenix Airport. He had just filmed our wedding and Deanna and I were headed to the Dominican Republic for our honeymoon and we had no idea we had the same connecting flight. Once again we had the chance to cross paths, without too much advanced planning… this time in Atlanta.

When we talked during our hour long layover that last time, he was telling us how motivated he was to pursue more passion projects and to get to the next level with his pursuit of a career in film.

Then last night, as he transferred over some remaining footage from the wedding, he got me caught up on all he’d been up to lately… as a member of a media team, and writing and putting together his own short film projects. He’s also been able to take part in recording and producing some really cool scenes for other clients, and it made me super excited to see how much he followed through on that spark of motivation back in June.

Keep doing what you’re doing, Lei. God knows the stories you’ll have for me the next time we cross paths, in whatever random city.

Couldn’t go by Georgia without a good effort to see Colin and Judy… Especially since this year will have Colin especially off-the-radar.

We found ourselves a charming little villagey neighborhood around the outskirts of Atlanta with a good breakfast spot to boot.

Best grits I’ve ever had (Gouda grits!) and the best beignets I’ve had outside New Orleans.

Nashville, Tennessee

I heard a lot about great waterfalls in Tennessee and since we were going through in December, I figured we might even have a shot to catch a frozen one. Greeter Falls wasn’t frozen, but much of the hike over there was. Lots of working our way around ice.

The pool at the bottom of the waterfall was perfect, though. Too bad it was freezing, it woulda made a great swimming hole.

This road trip has taken us to some great things and places in between the state lines we’ve crossed. Here are some of my southeast favorites:

  • Appalachian hikes. Between Greeter Falls and the Pisgah Forest, I love the outdoor opportunities around the Chattanooga area and beyond.
  • Tennessee Whiskey. Both as in actual whiskey from Tennessee and the Chris Stapleton song.
  • Ponce City Market. If you’re ever in ATL, this is a must-do food destination.

Our winter temperatures are generally pretty mild, but this time of year definitely gets me ready to see it be warm again. I was thinking of how much I missed sleeping under the stars and I’m looking forward to getting back to the feeling of waking up in a tent.

When we were in Tennessee, I figured at least the cold weather might mean a few of their famous waterfalls might have frozen up. We hiked over to Greeter Falls down an icy staircase. It wasn’t frozen but it still looked really pretty.

If it were summertime, I know it’s basin would’ve made the perfect swimming hole. Can’t wait to hunt down some more waterfalls.

Being on the road is a place where time becomes an afterthought – something that is laughed at because, after a while, you no longer know what day of the week it is, because, let’s face it out here, it doesn’t really matter. The only things that matter are the sunsets and sunrises, and how we try to steal time because sleeping feels like a waste.

–Justin Bonello

I love this quote… or any quote that really attempts to make sense of the odd interplay between time and geography, distances and hustle, routine and adventure.

The feeling of being free, despite your next steps being uncertain, of sacrificing a bit of safety and comfort in order to feel fully alive is super important. I think that extends well beyond travel and adventure, but those two things can help make it more tangible

The past few days have been completely full of hustle, but in a really, really fun way.

Taking a moment to relax and soak in things a little bit.

And some George Dickel is helpful.

This was my favorite day on the road trip. We started in Atlanta, around Chattanooga we ended up tailgating a truck of hunters with the deer they nabbed staring at us for an hour. Then we did a waterfall hike before ending up at a distillery.

I liked a lot of what I tasted at George Dickel and couldn’t leave without taking home a bottle. Plus I learned a lot about the world of distilling.

Full bellies, full tank of gas, and 150 miles until Memphis. Deanna met us in Atlanta last night and we’re officially a full squad.

Crazy to think about how we started today in Atlanta, and all the little stops we’ve made along the way. We’ve covered a good deal of Northern Georgia and Tennessee east-to-west. I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the area. Already reunited with several friends and family, and it’s been a tasty, tasty trip.

Had dinner tonight at the iconic Pinewood Social. If we could only get one meal in Nashville, I think we made it a good one.

Nashville was one of the cities I knew I really wanted to see on this trip, and even if we only got hours there, it was enough to confirm all the good things I’d heard. Had to make sure Marcus Mariota was enjoying his new town.

I’m enjoying every minute of this adventure. New cities and long talks are two of the things that make me feel most alive.

Tennessee mountains then Civil Rights historic sights then Texas flatness then deserts and deserts.

With each hour, California keeps getting closer. Twenty questions, throwback jams, gas station grub, podcasts, name that tune, and repeat.

Real quick, these are the top ten books I got to read this year–

1. The Invisible Girls, Sarah Thebarge
2. The Girl in the Picture, Denise Chong
3. A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins
4. And The Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseni
5. State of Wonder, Ann Patchett
6. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
7. A Path Appears, Nicholas Kristoff & Sheryl WuDunn
8. Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
9. Under The Same Sky, Joseph Kim
10. Forever The Road, Anthony St. Clair

At the beginning of the year, I realized my reading list was predominantly male… meaning I was totally missing out on some great authors and on widening my perspective a little bit more. I decided to try to actively diversify my reading list.

The result? I made some great discoveries, including Ann Patchett and Celeste Ng.

Totally missing this guy’s visit to Oregon because of this Africa trip, but glad I got to track him down in Nashville.

Brett is one of my most creative friends and puts in the work needed to bring his ideas to life. I don’t get to see him so often being on opposite coasts and all but his projects have been a blast to keep tabs on.

Best of luck on your film, bud! And come back to Oregon sometime I’m around!

Little Rock, Arkansas

It’s hard to imagine a more fun way to have spent our first holiday season together. A road trip plus getting to see both families? That’s pretty fortunate.

We stopped by Little Rock along our way, which I got to explore last April and wasn’t expecting to return to so soon. It’s a fun city that exceeded my expectations.

When she was in middle school, Deanna did a documentary project on the Little Rock Nine and desegregation. She got to interview seven of the nine, which is quite a feat. Even though I got to go to the high school where it all took place in April, I knew she had to see it for herself while we were in town. It’s still a functioning high school, and a powerful site to visit.

Officially half way there!

Of all the amazing road trips I’ve had the chance to take, this is the first time that I’ll have legitimately gone from one coast of the USA to the other.

In a lot of ways, humans weren’t exactly designed for this. Cramped up limbs will mess with your blood flow and the typical road eats combined with the sitting around isn’t the epitome of peak health.

Look twice though, and we were totally made for this. The great conversations that erupt. The thoughtfully made playlists and memories that get retold with each song change. The cameras-ready, check-out-this-place attitudes, and most of all, knowing that where you’re going isn’t always as important as the story of you getting there.

Considering I’ve been sitting in cars for hours, eating southern cooking, and getting fed plenty by famiy, I’m coming back home very, very full. And not just of biscuits and barbecue but the other kind of full too, where I’m really happy and thankful for the people I have in my life.

I got to see Derek and Holly just outside of Dallas for the first time in almost two years. (Take their BBQ tips seriously, by the way.) I got to see friends in Atlanta and Nashville, and lots of family in California.

I’m thankful to have people in my life who have been a part of it for the long haul. I love seeing where we’ve ended up so far.

I had the chance recently to take a road trip through the South with three of my favorite people… and it was a blast. I hadn’t seen much of the South prior to last year, but that has definitely changed.

Along the ride, I kept thinking this: Aside from the part where your legs are squished for hours on end, how much of the road trip experience mirrors what I want out of life overall? A good portion I’m pretty sure. The good conversation, playlists, good eats, and constant discovery of new places. From the Heartland to New England to the road trip that sparked my first book to this one, that’s been pretty consistent.

San Diego

Arrived in San Diego last night having put on some mileage and at least a couple of pounds. It’s been a blast the past few days crossing the country with this crew.

Saw a ton of great things along the way, most of my favorites being east of Arkansas. Midland was fun, though, if for no other reason than the fact that we had an amazing Airbnb, complete with a fat chef themed kitchen.

It’s been a great past week and Christmas and all the associated festivities still lay ahead. It’s good to be back in SD with just enough downtime to get refreshed.

And my first Christmas gift of the year will be a tough one to top! Through Ivy, I’ll be getting a brand new cousin-in-law.

It’s a pretty fitting end to a fantastic road trip, a cherry on top of a wonderful Christmastime, and the beginning of something great.

Looking forward to having you in the family, JB! And not just cause I’ll finally have somebody to watch games with, though that’s a plus.