One of MW’s (Mr. Wonderful) favorite snacks is mixed nuts. I think they’re okay, too, but confess to picking out certain ones…mostly pecans and cashews. That is what these posts are…mixed nuts. Hope there is something here that you like, too.

On a trip a few months ago, I asked MW if he knew where he was going or did I need to map it. His response: “I have a general idea.” What??? “Does that mean we will actually get to the campground before dark?” “Probably.” There was a time when that would have totally thrown me, and I admit that occasionally it still does. It’s not, historically, how I roll. I’ve attempted to navigate by the stars or “just head west” before, and I’m not that successful with it. I don’t really mind being lost and know that I can always get to somewhere I’m familiar with (especially now that GPS is almost always present) but it is definitely not my most efficient way to travel. Of course, in all fairness, even when using Thor (our Australian GPS guide) we occasionally end up rambling in odd directions and going the long way. Don’t tell him, but sometimes he doesn’t know what the hell he is doing. I’m keeping him around anyway…it’s the accent!!

Back in the day (before GPS) a friend came up from Florida to visit us in Greensboro. She had never been to Asheville, so the two of us headed over there for a girl’s outing. It was awesome. When we headed home, the plan was a slight detour to drive a little bit of the Blue Ridge Parkway over Grandfather Mountain. No dice! The mountain ended up being in the clouds with REALLY terrible visibility. We were crawling along, and Kathleen was holding on to the dashboard, very nervous about falling off of the mountain. It was clear that she would not get any view, and the road was closed at the top of the mountain, so we turned around. I knew how to get home from the Parkway on the other side of the ridge, but not so much when going backwards. So I took a page from the MW playbook…just go east. Having done a LOT of traveling in NC by that time, I was certain we would end up where I was familiar. First, I took the nearest Parkway exit to a state road. That headed east, and we were on our way. I called MW to let him know we would be home in time for him to take us out to dinner. Shortly after that call, the road started to become more narrow; Kathleen’s eyebrows furrowed. Then the side lines disappeared; Kathleen started getting more nervous. The centerline disappeared; Kathleen was visibly squirming. When the pavement turned to gravel, I think she started having heart palpitations. I assured her it was going somewhere because it was wide and well-traveled, and that lots of the roads over the mountains are dirt. Then it actually turned to dirt. “It’s okay. We are heading east, and will run into something I know. I promise.” She told me she had small children and did not want to die in the jungles of North Carolina. At that point the road was steadily climbing with switchbacks. Then we saw the hunters; a pickup truck on the side of the road with a handful of guys in camouflage putting away their hunting rifles. “I’m going to ask them where this road ends up.” “Oh no you are not!!! I am NOT going to die here!! I have children to get back to!” “It’s okay. These are country folks, and they are typically very nice.” “Bull crap! I saw Deliverance! We ARE NOT stopping!” “Is that a banjo that I hear?” (Okay, I don’t think I really said that last part, but am absolutely positive that one pluck on a banjo would have given her an all-out heart attack.) We passed the hunters, who gave us a friendly country wave, and continued the climb. The road was still very well-traveled, so my confidence had not flagged. A little further and my patience was rewarded when it turned back to gravel, then to narrow pavement, and then lines appeared! Kathleen finally stopped holding her breath; we were happy campers. It had been hours since we left Asheville, and we were getting hungry. The road came to an end, and I look left. WTFudgesicle??!! I don’t remember the exact mileage, but there was a road sign that said something like “Asheville 33 miles”. Wow. We turned right (east) and soon found signs for Boone. I called MW to give him an update, and Kathleen and I found a place to eat dinner (barbecue as I recall). She was very thankful to be in a real town with paved roads. I think she was also very happy to head back to Florida the next morning. LOL. Come to think of it, she never visited me again. Hmmmmm.

Before Petunia or Penelope, we did a LOT of road-tripping. Our first one together was actually pretty good, once it got started. The day before we were to leave, MW was in Norway and I was working my last shift at PDK (Dekalb-Peachtree Airport) before two weeks of vacation. The plan was for MW to fly into Cherry Point, pick up his truck and head down to get me the next morning. I was SO ready for a break. The kids were with their Dad visiting Grandma Ann, so we were going to have some quality alone time. (This is important when you’re stationed far apart, trust me!) My shift over, I was hanging out in the tower, batting the trash with my ‘troller buddies when the phone rang. Now, I’ve known MW since Driver’s Ed class on the first day of 11th grade at North Cobb High School. His voice has occasionally sounded a lot of ways over the years, but NEVER scared. When I got on that phone, his voice was shaking. He said that “something happened” and he wouldn’t be home until the next day at least. He said he was okay, but had to go and would explain it all later. USMC Captain Jones flew in an EA-6B Prowler, or “the manly jet” as we call it. What the hell could have happened that would 1) scare him like that, and 2) delay his return? Well, I was already off work, shaky as hell, and ready to go, so I did the logical thing: called Greyhound and got a bus ticket to Morehead City, NC. (Flying was not in my budget, although if I had been smart, I would have called my cousin Diane, who worked for Delta…hindsight, of course!) My Mom was none too happy when I let her know I was leaving from Atlanta at midnight…alone…on a BUS! When she couldn’t dissuade me (I mean, I was 29), she and Larry agreed to drop me at the station so I didn’t have to leave my car in town. (They’re cool that way.) At the time it was very important for me to be in NC when MW arrived. I guess I needed to make sure he was really okay. Well, let me tell you that a Greyhound bus from Atlanta, Georgia, to Morehead City, North Carolina, (an 8 1/2-hour drive with breaks) takes freaking forEVER! MW actually beat me to Morehead City…FROM NORWAY!!! Wow! Once I made sure he was okay, I got, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. Turns out they were flying off the coast of Norway and had a “refueling incident”. I know, I didn’t understand what that mean’t either. So visualize…a jet (use any one you can picture) approaching a huge fuel tanker (maybe a Boeing Stratolifter or a Lockheed Hercules). Now, picture putting a baseball bat on the front of one jet into a wire trash can dangling out the back of another jet. The pilot positions the jet below and behind the tanker, then works to get the nozzle into the basket. Once that task is done, the basket is locked on, and the tanker dumps a crap load (yes, that is a technical term) of jet fuel into the jet. Well, that’s how it is supposed to happen. The pilot was relatively new, and had a little trouble hitting the target. He tried a couple of times, then, literally, hit the basket. Well, the side of it. The basket broke off, which released that crap load of fuel. The plane was coated pretty good and a whole bunch went through one of the engines. Boom, there was a LOT of fire. The engine flamed out, and according to witnesses, the plane looked like a giant fire ball. A LOT of things were going on at that moment in that plane, but the points I remember from the story were: 1) The pilot reaching for the eject handle (if he ejects, they all eject in sequence) and being told sternly NOT to pull that lever. (That would have been a short-lived but VERY cold dip!) 2) The plane was not on fire, just the fuel. I guess a calm, rational person would have remembered that and taken comfort in it. I’ll just go ahead and admit that I would have been pooping in my flight suit! 3) It was a LONG flight back to Norway! I wish the guys in the other plane had thought to get a picture. Wouldn’t that be cool to have! In any case, all’s well that ends well, and we were able to head out on our road trip, finally. On that first trip we decided to take it slow and stay off of the interstates and that has really shaped our travel style. We drove the entire width of North Carolina, half of Tennessee, and parts of Northern Alabama wandering on back roads. For such a rough start, it turned out to be a great trip.

Another road trip many years back started with a fun plan for MW. He was a big Cowboys fan, and the new stadium was opening up, so I decided we needed to go out there for a game. We found a package that put us in the hotel with the team and gave us a tour of the stadium and a dinner party with some of the team, in addition to tickets to the first Monday night game in their new house. (Neither of us were particularly enamored with the HUGE Jumbotron.) When we flew out, there were four objectives for the trip: 1) Cowboys weekend; 2) Booked Up, Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City (I’m a huge fan!); 3) San Antonio; and 4) the Texas State Fair (the largest in the country). The rest was just a ramble. We made a giant circle through Texas and looped through New Mexico. Some of the things I remember (aside from the four planned): 1) The Barbecue Barn in Amarillo…brisket that totally melted on your tongue! We are heading out to Texas later in the year, and looked it up. Sadly, it is no more. 2) The Texas Ranger museum in Waco. I actually met a Texas Ranger. You think that isn’t a big deal, but at that time there were only 80-something of them in the entire state! 3) Tarantulas on the roads…LOTS of them. 4) 75 MPH limits on two-lane roads…awesome! 5) Taos. 6) Learning that Texas is the top producer of cotton in the US (seeing all of the cotton fields in Georgia growing up, it was a surprise that they produce almost three times as much). 7) Percheron’s are HUGE! 8) Riding around Texas Motor Speedway in a van makes you feel like you are going to roll down in the turns. 9) Boarder Patrol agents don’t have a sense of humor. All of these things were awesome. But the best was a total fluke. We were in Santa Fe and turning towards San Antonio when the air conditioning in our rental went on the fritz. No worries. We just called the rental company to see where to trade it. The nearest location was two hours south of us in Albuquerque. We headed south, a little irritated at the detour. When we were almost there, we really got ticked after finding that the AC problem was operator error. One of us hit the button that actually turned off the compressor, and we didn’t notice it. Sooooo…after calling the rental car company to cancel the exchange, I started looking for a room for the night. It took several tries to find one hotel with one room available at a ridiculous price, and it was a Motel 6! What the heck??!! Turns out, we were there during the famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! The clerk told us to get up early to be able to see them take off, and that’s what we did. Beautiful! Truly amazing and unplanned. The other thing that the detour did was put Carlsbad Caverns on our route to San Antonio. After that trip, we don’t get as irritated by the detours. Every route has something to see. (I actually have digital pics for this one! LOL.)

Well, back to what started this ramble…in our new life as nomads, there are often times when we are headed in a “general” direction with no plan, and that’s okay. There have also been times when our direction changed because of a detour, or even a road sign pointing to something we had no idea was near. We still stay off of interstates as much a possible, and sometimes just head off in a direction. Next time you take a road-trip, try it without a plan. You’ll be surprised at what you find.

See you on the road!