Juárez or Bust, Part II: SC to AL

We said goodbye to D and left South Carolina on Monday, headed for Georgia on interstate 85 south. It was a morning full of minor irritants: between severe insomnia the night before, wheeling a luggage cart back and forth four times in the morning heat and humidity to load the cars, and getting stuck at a gas station for an inordinate amount of time dealing with low tire pressure, we didn’t say goodbye to D and get on the road until just after noon. We also missed the chance to eat breakfast with her, since she’d slept as poorly as we had and needed extra rest. Then we had one mishap after another trying to eat on our own – two places in a row closed due to the pandemic, another with indoor-only seating, a final had closed its breakfast menu 45 minutes before we arrived. I was pretty well ready to go back to bed and start over by that point! But instead we just got out of Charlotte; strong A/C, tunes, and a lovely resort in Alabama we knew awaited us made for a good trip once it did get underway.

This leg of the journey was a little over 400 miles. It would be my first time in the state of Georgia (other than a flight cancellation more than a decade ago that left V and I stranded in a crappy motel overnight with no toothbrushes), and I was sorry to tear through it as if it were on fire. Originally we had hoped to spend a few days in and around Atlanta on our way to Mexico, but of course the pandemic changed all that.

Like on the rest of this trip, we stopped as few times as possible, ate mostly outdoors in the heat, and wore masks whenever we were outside our cars or hotel room.

Driving across eight states with your cars full of valuables means every time you stop to get gas, use the bathroom, or eat, one of you has to keep an eye on the cars, which inevitably slows you down

Getting back into the cars after each stop also required a decontamination process involving hand sanitizing and wiping down phones, keys, seats, and high-touch points in the cars with alcohol wipes. We also quickly discarded any used bottles, wipes, or other trash. In short, it was a pain, but we did it consistently to avoid contaminating our cars with whatever we could have picked up in all the high-frequency travel places we stopped. We also minimized eating in the cars, although I admit there may have been a Dairy Queen Blizzard (or two) in my cupholder!

Monday afternoon we drove through South Carolina, hit the state line, and carried on to Atlanta, where both the heat and the traffic got a little nuts.

The state line was on a bridge with nowhere to stop, so this was an action shot!

Hello, Atlanta! Hope to see you again!

Leaving the part of South Carolina where my stepdaughters D and her older sister A grew up marked the part of the road trip where things got a little more interesting for me, because although I have seen the stretch between DC and the Charlotte metropolitan area dozens of times, I’ve seen little south of there. The road and landmarks and geography were new, which made them more interesting and kept me more alert as a driver. Also, when we passed through Atlanta on interstate 85 south we caught interstate 20 west, the demarcation point in my mind between the “southbound” and “go west, young man, go west” portions of the voyage. Of course, being from California I am partial to the west, but more importantly, turning west made me really feel like we were getting closer to our destination: Mexico.

Fourth state line checked off the list!

Virginia has a lot of nice rest stops, but I think this one in Alabama was probably the nicest I’ve ever seen – from landscaping to facilities

V and I took turns leading and following each other, and when we finally arrived at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa in Hoover, AL, we were pleasantly surprised.

Burning up the Alabama roads, trying to make it to our hotel by dusk

From the outside, it looked something like a castle, and on the inside, it was pure coolness and comfort. It was much nicer than the Hiltons we stayed at across the rest of the trip. When we had gotten the thumbs-up for the packout and I’d gone ahead with hotel reservations, I was looking primarily at places where we could avoid concentrations of COVID-19 outbreaks. This place in particular fit the bill, being off the main roads, upscale, and sparsely occupied. So we went for it, even though it was a shame to only stay one night.

The following morning, Tuesday, we packed up, ate breakfast, and hit the trail for Mississippi. Some of the most beautiful driving of the trip – as well as some unexpected car trouble – lay ahead.

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Sarah W Gaer

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