Chapter 1: The One Where I Skip The Boring Introductory Crap And Dive Right In. Hi. I’m Mark. This is my 10th Trip Report here on the DISboards, so at this point most of you know the drill. We are a family of six. We cram ourselves into one minivan and drive around the country, in an epic quest to visit all 50 states. Because we are idiots. Anyway, welcome to the trip report! I’ve decided to skip all the usual introductory nonsense this time around because, as I mentioned, I’ve done it 10 times now and I’m running out of creative ways to introduce me and my family. Instead, I’ll start right into the regular nonsense. As usual, I’ll try and spice it up with movie references so you at least have something interesting to look for amidst my typical garbage. I also try to include links to the websites of the various places we visit in case you ever get the crazy idea of trying to see some of these things yourself. Please join the adventure and leave plenty of smart-alecky comments along the way! Or, find something more interesting to read. Like this, for instance. Also, I know you’re wondering about the trip report title. Well, that’s what we in the TR business call a “tease”. You’ll have to stick with me to learn the truth. But I’ll tell you this—it is not meant to be a figurative statement. In the summer of 2017, we started on a drive from our home in Delaware (we’re #1!) to Florida, via Oklahoma. That is not a typo. I told you—we’re idiots. When we started on this trip, my wife (Julie) and my older kids (Sarah, David, and Scott) had been to 42 states together. Personally, I have visited 49 states, but the family has told me I’m not allowed to cross off Alaska as my 50th until they catch up. My youngest son, Drew, had been to 32 (we had already started these trips before he was born, so he’s just had to catch up along the way). We had yet to tour the deep south, so the plan for this road trip was to fill in that gap on our map. Sharp-eyed readers will note that we have been to Florida before. Why include that as part of the itinerary, especially when we had to go as far west as Oklahoma? Well, as we planned out the route, a couple of things became obvious. 1) This was going to be a crapload of driving. More than we’d ever done before, in fact. And we’ve done some whoppers of road trips. Our previous drive through the Midwest had covered over 3,600 miles. As I’ve noted in the past, it’s always fun to watch the rental car agent do a double take when he/she checks in your car as you return it. 2) We were visiting several points of interest along the way, but this trip just didn’t have that one show-stopper destination in the same way that, say, the Grand Canyon or Hawaiian Islands would be. Whereas there’s a certain destination in central Florida that does have that same appeal. Additionally, that same destination would serve as a great incentive to the kids to put up with the rest of the drive. And no, it’s not the Green Meadows Petting Farm, as wonderful as that may be. Thus, Florida was added to the itinerary. We left Delaware on a Friday morning around 8:00 a.m., trying to time the trip so we’d reach the Washington D.C. Beltway well after the morning rush hour had cleared. Driving the D.C. Beltway is similar to running with the bulls in Pamplona, although the bulls usually move at much higher speeds than D.C. traffic. Generally, it's is only clear of traffic around 3:00 in the morning, and even then it’s a 50/50 shot. But on this morning, fortune smiled upon us, and we were clear of the city and heading west through Virginia by 10:00. We were ultimately heading to my uncle’s house in Abingdon, VA, way down in the southwestern tip of the state. We left I-66 at the town of Front Royal and drove to the northern entrance of Shenandoah National Park. This was one of the very first national parks we’d visited as a family, having driven the majority of its 105 miles back in 2010. There are four entrance stations along Skyline Drive, which travels from north to south along the Shenandoah Mountains. In 2010, we’d first visited Luray Caverns (highly recommended) and then entered the park at Thornton Gap, heading south from there. So we’d covered about 80 miles of the park back then. But we’d missed the northern section of the road at that time, so we thought we’d finish off the drive this time around. We entered the park and immediately started climbing into the mountains, stopping after about 5-6 miles at the visitor center. There we commenced with highly scientific educational activities for our children. Skyline Drive makes for a gorgeous outing. The road is tree-lined all the way (and probably looks amazing in autumn), with plentiful overlooks with views of the mountains and valleys. The road actually connects with the Blue Ridge Parkway at the south end of the park. The Blue Ridge travels another 450 miles to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and gets its name from the bluish haze that seems to settle over the mountains most of the day. Our drive was only about 30 miles, so it didn’t take too long. We stopped at an overlook for our traditional road trip lunch of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. In case you’re new to our road trips, this is one of the cost-saving initiatives we employ in order to try and afford to be able to take 6 people around the country. Other measures include staying at hotels with free breakfasts, forcing everyone to order water at sit-down meals, and conveniently forgetting a kid or two when making hotel reservations so we only have to book one room. On the upside, we have had PB&J sandwiches in some of the most beautiful places in the world. We left the park at Thornton Gap, so we could now officially say that we’d driven the complete length of Skyline Drive. That plus $12 will get you a small burnt coffee at Starbucks. We headed back to the interstate and drove the rest of the way to my aunt and uncle’s place. You never realize how big Virginia really is until you have to drive all the way across it, east to west. We arrived right around dinner time. He treated us to pizza and let us use his hot tub, which was of course big fun for kids who never get to use a hot tub. We also got to play Frisbee golf, which is exactly as exciting as you think it is. The next day, we took turns watching Drew at the house while my uncle took us in shifts over to the gun range. He’s an enthusiast, and has built several working replica historic pistols and rifles from scratch. Given how divisive gun issues are in our country today, I’m not going to spend much time in detail or showing photos because I don’t want to start debates. All I’ll say is this—I do not own a gun. I have never felt the need to do so. We also had a great time firing at targets at the range. These two statements don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Also, remind me never to get on my wife’s bad side, as she turned out to be a crack shot with a .357 Magnum. Do I feel lucky? After she put three straight shots in the first ring, no…I don’t. We left my uncle in mid-afternoon and drove from Virginia through the northeastern corner of Tennessee down into North Carolina, stopping in the city of Asheville for dinner. We pulled into a joint just north of the city called Luella’s Bar-B-Que. This place was our first hint that whatever this trip would lack in scenery, it would make up for in food. Besides that, they even provided hula hoops for your entertainment while you waited to be seated. We loaded up on plates of pulled pork, beef brisket, pulled chicken, mac-and-cheese, hush puppies, and a dish called “cheese ‘n comfort fries”. How does it look? It was excellent. Juicy, tender BBQ goodness all around. Right off the bat, we were ready to award our first Drooling Homer Award for Excellence in Unpretentious Dining. After dinner, we drove another hour or so to a Hampton Inn in Cherokee, North Carolina. Two days into the trip, we were now resting at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains. Coming Up Next: Seriously? I just gave you a really big hint.