Nothing speeds by. The world hovers in a roadside slow motion, a calm green mass that rolls on into North Carolina. I feel like I’m being driven through the Parkway. I’m a passenger in the driver’s seat of my rental car, watching the curves and corkscrew roads unfurl in front of me at 45 MPH. Even that seems too fast; I find myself hovering closer 30 most times I check the speedometer.
Little pull-offs punctuate the roadway, allowing for moments of reflection, a gentle indentation that lets me steep in the forested quiet here and there. Driving the Parkway is like traveling through a landscape painting: too real to be real. Its beauty is both untouchable and tactile, a wild and verdant world hidden in plain sight.
And then I find myself in the woods, walking an old-time trail to an abandoned farm in the hills. Hiking past balancing rocks, the air is dense as I hand-over-hand a few errant boulders. The path opens up and I’m alone in a mountain homestead watched over by a scarecrow couple, faceless and steadfast. Like so many places along the Parkway, it’s deeply still, forcefully calm.
This 469 mile line through Virginia and North Carolina has over 12 million visitors each year, but more often than not, I felt completely alone.
Here, an undiscovered world, seemingly lying in wait, bristling with emerald-gray horizons and hard-won histories. A place that I never knew existed, somewhere that gets under my skin and takes a little of my blood home with it—in the quietest way, of course.
The Black Twig Pickers bubble-up on my Spotify playlist: fitting, but also wildly out of place. Smartphones and Bluetooth become instant anathema to this place. I turn the stereo off and drift around another perfectly nameless bend in the road.
From Justin Armstrong, 2016 Wildsam Travel Fellow, who spent 10 days driving through the American South in August. Busker photo by Ian Brewster.
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