Car trips with paper maps and a trip through the southeast US

April 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

In  Nov 2012 I joined the modern age and upgraded to a smart phone. It comes with a navigation app that can get me from wherever I happen to be to absolutely any address in the United States, probably the world. For a few years now, my wife has had a Garmin which does likewise and I have taken advantage of it many times. In her job, where she regularly travels to new locations throughout the US, it is indispensable (although she got by without one for a few years).

I still like paper maps. They are my friend and my favorite benefit from my AAA membership. For my photography, which primarily relies on what I randomly encounter "on the highways and byways, the back roads and side streets", I don't want to go directly from point A to point B. I want to meander. I don't want a voice (sweet though it is) telling me "In one-quarter mile turn right on Clarksville Pike", etc.

Recently I drove from my home in Columbia, MD, to Orlando, FL. I had work to do in Orlando but I chose to drive because I wanted to see some of the south that I had never seen before. I did not want the I-95 direct route to Orlando (I'd have flown were that my only drive option). I budgeted 5 days to get there and hoped to do at least 50% of that on non-interstate roads. I had paper maps from AAA for Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina.

Here is my rough itinerary for the trip south, sketched before I departed (using Google Maps for the distances which are "shortest route" distances so primarily interstates, much less than the distances I expected to encounter on my drive):

Wed Mar 13: Columbia, MD to Wytheville, VA,  327 miles
Thu Mar 14: Wytheville, VA to Chattanooga, TN, 292 miles
Fri Mar 15: Chattanooga, TN to Milton, FL, 370 miles
Sat Mar 16: Milton, FL to Wakulla Springs, FL, 172 miles
Sun Mar 17: Wakulla Springs to Orlando, 244 miles

I was to overnight with a friend in Milton, FL, on Friday and that was my only hard constraint, besides arriving in Orlando by 4PM on Sunday for a business meeting. All else was best guess that looks reasonable. Here is roughly the reality of the trip, thanks to the outline and those paper maps when on the road:

Wed Mar 13: I-70 to I-81 to Christiansburg, VA, then leave I-81 and meander to Abingdon, VA, where I spent the night.

Thu Mar 14: US 19 west through towns of St Paul, Coeburn, Norton and Appalachia in VA, then on to the Cumberland Gap (VA, TN and KY convergence) and into Tennessee. I make my way over to I-75 and continue south to Chattanooga where I spend the night.

Fri Mar 15: I-75 into Alabama then exit in Gadsden. Exit and continue south on Rt 77 to Talladega. Continue south on US 231 to Montgomery. There take I-65 through city and on to Georgiana, where I exit and take US31 working my way to Evergreen, AL. I continue south on US 31 to Brewton where I take Rt 41 into Florida and on to Milton, FL.

Sat Mar 16: Head east through the Florida panhandle, mainly on US20 with brief encounters with I-10. Eventually work way to Rt 267 and Wakulla Springs State Park.. Overnight at the Wakulla Springs Lodge in the state park.

Sun Mar 17: Continue east on Rt 267 till merge with US 98. At the town of Perry 98 merges with US 19 and turns south, towards Ocala. At Chiefland, with time running out thanks to many photo stops,  I take US 27 east, at high speed, for I-75 and the Florida Turnpike to Orlando. I arrive at the meeting with 5 minutes to spare.

For the return trip I took an easterly route with the same philosophy. I drove north through central Florida and hit the coast at the Florida-Georgia state line, overnight in St. Mary's, GA. I spent two night there, visiting Jekyll Island. The weather was not good, heavy overcast with intermittent rain all day. The next day I departed St. Mary's and it rained hard and steadily so I took I-95 into South Carolina. My goal was to visit Charleston, SC, a city I'd never visited before. I overnighted in Charleston, a beautiful city. From there I took back roads, mainly Rt 41, north through eastern SC and into NC. Arriving in Lumberton, NC, at 4PM, I decided I would spend that night in my own bed at home, so I got on I-95 and made a bee-line for Columbia, MD, with only a 1 hour dinner stop. I arrived home at 10:30PM.

I don't know how I'd have seen all that I saw, enjoyed myself as much, and taken the semi-random route I did, without good old paper maps. Did I take a lot of photographs? You bet I did. I chronicled some of the vanishing, rural south.


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