Recently in Awkwardness: Auto Train Adventure to my New Job!

I’ve missed the last couple of weeks when I was supposed to add more posts about last summer’s road trip but it was because I was too busy packing & moving back to Maryland! I landed a job working on a project at Historic St. Mary’s City, the same museum where I did my field school in 2017. It’s kind of surreal to be back here, it doesn’t feel like it’s been a year & a half, but I’m excited about it!

Coming from Florida to the D.C. area was the perfect opportunity to cross the Auto Train off my to-do list! The great thing about the Auto Train is that you can bring your car without having to actually drive it, it just rides along in the auto carriers behind you.  The ticket cost $379 for me & my car, plus it included dinner & a continental breakfast. So that saved me gas, a night’s accommodation, wear & tear on my car, a meal, & the stress of driving 800 miles. We left Sanford, FL half an hour early at 3:30 pm & arrived in Lorton, VA an hour early at 8:00 am so altogether it was a 16 & a half hour trip that Google says would have taken about 11 hours driving on I-95 but with stops & traffic & whatnot it probably would have added up to about the same. Plus they let you pack as much as you want in your car & mine was FULL, which is no fun to drive with. Boarding is a very simple process, you just show up at the station between 11:30 & 2:30, check in at the entrance booth, drive up to the station building, grab your overnight bag (no access to cars in transit), an employee loads your car onto the train & you’re done until you pick it up the next morning in Virginia. Supposedly the Auto Train is the longest passenger train in the world, mine was 45 cars: 18 for 295 passengers & 27 for 237 vehicles, plus 2 engines. They said it was a full train but nobody was sitting next to me which was GREAT, I could curl up across both seats if I wanted to move around a bit. I saw several people with nobody next to them, I wonder if they allot 2 seats for each vehicle & if you’re traveling alone you get both?

I had the lasagna at dinner, which was very good, but for some reason they pair every entree with green beans. There’s 3 choices for desert & a variety of toppings, I chose vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce. They fill all the seats at every table; if you don’t have a party of 4 they seat you with strangers so that was good & awkward. Fortunately the 3 ladies I sat with had all lived in New York City for at least part of their lives so mostly they talked about that but of course everyone loves archaeology so they were very interested as soon as I told them that’s my job. I didn’t end up eating the breakfast because I just wasn’t hungry yet when it was available. My car was the 2nd to last to be unloaded so I was waiting around in the station for almost an hour & a half but it wasn’t a big deal. I was mostly annoyed that I had yet ANOTHER person wanting to hear my life’s story while I was trying to listen to the station announcement for my car to be ready. I really have to learn that I don’t have to indulge all the obnoxious nosiness of random strangers. It’s really too bad that our society considers it perfectly OK to demand that someone satisfy unwelcome curiosity but incredibly rude to refuse to do so.

So my first week on the job is done, I’m getting settled into my new housing, & I’m excited to be back here for a while. I have a car this time so hopefully I’ll be able to get some exploring in, there’s plenty of state parks around here & Washington is just right there so I’d like to hit some of the museums & the zoo. I’m planning to be here for about a year so there’s plenty of time to see all of those things. Looking to get back on track with my road trip posts probably the week after next. It’s funny how the stress of traveling completely derails my ability to maintain a travel blog. I think I just need to plan ahead so that it’s not a thing I’m trying to figure out on the fly on top of all the other things I have to think about. Make a list of pictures to take & times to post them or something. Anyway, onward & forward!

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Road Trip 2018: Stop 4

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Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Stop 4: Paducah, Kentucky, June 30th – July 3rd

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3

On Day 13 I left Nashville & made a quick drive into western Kentucky so that I could spend Day 14 exploring in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  Unfortunately by the time I got there I’d been on the road for two weeks in weather roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun so although it’s a huge park with lots of trails & stuff I was running out of energy for outdoor activities & didn’t stay long.  I’d like to go back though, maybe in the fall when it’s cooler & the leaves are turning.  The name is pretty literal – it’s a big weird peninsula trapped between two forks of a dammed river, so there’s lots of water for boating, kayaking, swimming, etc.  There’s also a wildlife lab zoo thing, drive-through bison safari, living history farm, a really nice museum at the visitor’s center, & some ruins of iron smelting furnaces.

On Day 15 I went wandering around in Paducah, where I found a tugboat with the same name as my dad, an art gallery, & a tree on the sidewalk where the roots somehow grew into a square (the square root, lol).  Then a short hop over the Ohio river to Metropolis, Illinois to take a picture with the Superman statue in the middle of town & walk across the street to the Super Museum, which is basically a warehouse jammed floor to ceiling with some guy’s Superman obsession.  If you’re around in early June they have a Superman Celebration every year!

Next Week: all of the Abraham Lincoln in Springfield!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 3

2018.06.27.004
Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Nashville, Tennessee, June 26nd – June 30th

Stop 1 | Stop 2

On Day 9 I headed out from Chattanooga & drove 150 miles or so northwest to Nashville, with a stop about halfway through at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester.  The park is home to a Native American ceremonial enclosure which was long abandoned by the time Europeans arrived & mistook it for a fort.  I didn’t really see much of the earthworks because I got so hung up on the beautiful waterfalls!  Enclosure Trail is a 1.4-mile loop leading from the visitor’s center along the Duck & Little Duck rivers, as well as to some other trails.  Near Big Falls the trail passes through the ruins of the Stone Fort Paper Company mill, the last of several factories that were built here to take advantage of power supplied by the river.  I only had a couple of hours to spend there but there’s a lot to see & I would love to get back there to hike some more.

Day 10 was just wandering around seeing what the place had to offer.  Downtown Nashville was OK except for having to get after some guy in the middle of a gift shop to get him to stop dancing all up in my personal space.  I think he was part of a scavenger hunt or something, he was in a group all wearing the same t-shirts & headbands, & I kept seeing people all over town wearing the same t-shirts with different colored headbands.  What was the challenge – get a stranger to dance with you?  If it was get a stranger to yell at you they definitely got to check that one off the list.  Anyway I walked down Broadway to the river & it was mostly just bars & kitschy shops so I didn’t hang around long.  I went over to the Parthenon at Centennial Park.  It’s a full-scale replica built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, complete with 42-foot statue of Athena.  The building also houses an art museum & plaster casts of the original Parthenon Marbles (sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles but that’s a whole rant I won’t get into today).  I ended my day at Belle Meade Plantation, which started off as a single cabin on 250 acres purchased by John Harding in 1807.  The property was right on the Natchez Trace, the main trading route between Tennessee & Mississippi.  The farm eventually became a successful thoroughbred breeding & racing operation that allowed Harding to build a large brick house.  John’s son William expanded the house & property before being one of just a few Confederate prisoners sent to the fort where I used to work on Mackinac Island!  The mansion & grounds were very cool & in the middle of a fancy-pants part of town so when I was done with my tour I basically just drove around staring at rich people’s houses.

On Day 11 it rained.  It rained alllll day.  So I headed down the road from my campground to do some indoor exploring.  Gaylord Opryland is a resort & convention center but it’s also basically a jungle inside a building.  There’s 3 sections of garden, complete with waterfalls & a river, all protected from the elements by giant glass domes.  It’s amazing & beautiful & free as long as you park at the shopping mall next door & walk over because parking on site costs a bajillion dollars ($27 – seriously) unless you want to eat at one of the expensive restaurants or stay in the expensive rooms.

On Day 12 I did what I do at least once on every single trip I ever take & went to the zoo.  The Nashville Zoo isn’t huge but has plenty to see, including an aviary with a sloth & a whole pen of guinea pigs that are pretty darn cute.  Plus of course lots of large African animals, monkeys, reptiles, & big cats (I didn’t take many pictures there.  I have no idea why.).  In one corner is the Grassmere Historic Home, which offers tours & a chance to pet heritage breeds of farm animals.

Next Week: nature & Superman in Paducah, Kentucky!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 2

2018.06.24.021Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 22nd – June 26th

Stop 1 | Stop 3

ALL THE BATTLEFIELDS.

Seriously I visited so many things related to the Civil War in the second leg of my trip.  On day 5, on the way from Forsyth to Chattanooga, I finally stopped at Sweetwater Creek State Park, another Atlanta site that I’ve been meaning to go to for years.  The park is beautiful but I was really there to see the ruins of the New Manchester Manufacturing Company textile mill which was destroyed during the Civil War.  The burned out brick building along the river is so picturesque that it was used as a film set in the Hunger Games.  The interior unfortunately is closed off but it’s an easy hike to see them & the museum at the visitor’s center has a model of the ruin along with several very nice exhibits of the machinery from the days when the mill was in use.

On Day 6 I took a short trip my steam locomotive at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.  Chattanooga was a rail hub of the south during the Civil War so a lot of the sites that aren’t battlefields have to do with trains.  Which are usually presented in their relationships to battlefields.  Anyway the train trip was fun, aside from the guy who made train noises THE. WHOLE. TIME.  At the opposite end of the tracks from the main rail yard the museum has a workshop where they repair historic trains from all over the country.  They also have a turntable which they use to switch the engine around & that was really cool to watch.  That trip was only about a hour but if you’re really into historic trains they also have an all day trip that goes all the way to Summerville, Georgia.  In the afternoon I went for a hike at Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District, where parts of the trail follow the original route of the Trail of Tears.  It was a sobering experience to walk on those paths.  (Be careful not to accidentally wander onto the grounds of the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute like I almost did!)

On Day 7 I took another short rail trip, this time on the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway, the steepest funicular railway in the U.S.  It runs at a 72.7% grade up the side of Lookout Mountain (home to a battlefield) with beautiful views of the city & surroundings all the way up the incline & from the observation tower at the top.  It’s actually a legit form of public transit used by locals, especially in the winter – it’s certainly safer than driving down the mountain in the snow.  Coming back down off the mountain I headed back into Georgia to the Chickamauga Battlefield (the Chickamauga & Lookout Mountain Battlefields plus Moccasin Bend, Chattanooga National Cemetery, & a couple of other properties collectively form Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park).  Chickamauga has like 762,000 monuments, pretty much one for every single regiment that came anywhere near the war.  I did the cell phone tour, where you drive around the loop & call in to hear the audio tour.  I didn’t stop to see every single monument but I did climb up to the Wilder Brigade Monument for a panoramic view of the whole area.  They also have an insane firearms collection at the visitor’s center, I’m not kidding when I say I think they have every type of gun ever made (at least up until the collection was donated in the 1950s).

Day 8 was dedicated to a totally different activity – a drive to Scottsboro, Alabama to the Unclaimed Baggage Center.  This place is A.MAZ.ING.  It’s like a garage sale, thrift store, junk shop, all rolled into one & on steroids.  It’s literally a huge warehouse full of everything that gets left on planes AND YOU CAN BUY IT.  HOW some of this stuff gets lost I will never know.  The walls have permanent displays of some of the weirder things – ethnic headdresses, musical instruments, priceless antiques.  I think those must be the things that airlines lose entirely (which is pretty wild, I mean how many people are flying with giant Alpine horns that nobody can reunite that with its owner?); there most be some intense angry airline customer stories behind some of it.  Then there’s the stuff that’s for sale – wedding dresses, cameras, laptops, jewelry, mountains of clothing & purses, it just goes on and on and on.  THEN, there’s a warehouse behind the main warehouse where they have clearance stuff & lost commercial shipments so there hundreds of rolls of toilet paper or a zillion tubes of toothpaste.  I bought a charger pack for my phone, a head band for my GoPro, & a practically new U.S. atlas for like $15.

Next week: historic sites & wild animals in Nashville!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 1

2018.06.20.034Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Forsyth, Georgia, June 18th – June 22nd

Stop 2 | Stop 3

About 6 weeks after I graduated from USF I was offered my first job on an archaeological project & headed out on a cross-country adventure from my home in Florida to the job site in Wisconsin.  On Day 1 I drove a little over 350 miles from Hernando, FL to Forsyth, GA, with a stop in Thomasville, home of the Big Oak.  The Big Oak is just that, a 300+ year old live oak tree which has grown to a height of 68 feet & a trunk circumference of 27.5 feet.  I really developed my obsession with KOA cabins on this trip – I bought a membership & it really paid off, 10% off each night plus I earned enough points to get a discount on my way back to Florida & even another whole year of membership for free!  The one in Forsyth is pretty nice, & the location halfway between Atlanta & Macon was great for visiting sites in both cities & the surrounding area.

On Day 2 I visited the beautiful historic downtown area of Macon, which has several historic homes open for tours.  This time through I visited The Cannonball House, which is named after the projectile that came through the living room wall during the Civil War (even though it wasn’t actually a cannonball!).  A few miles away is the prehistoric mound site at Ocmulgee National Monument, which has a museum and recreated earth lodge built around an original 1,000-year-old floor.

On Day 3 I finally made it to Georgia Aquarium!  After years of driving back & forth, each time thinking I’ll go see the whale sharks & then deciding I didn’t feel like dealing with Atlanta, this time I finally went.  It was AMAZING, I could seriously sit there & watch the whale sharks swim around all day, it’s very calming in the dark theater with the blue water & these super chill animals just drifting slowly around their tank.  Apparently they were shipped in from Thailand via UPS, just like all the junk I buy on Amazon.  They have tons of other stuff to see as well, including a dolphin show (avoid the first 10 rows if you don’t want to get wet), sea lions, penguins, & thousands of fish from a variety of ecosystems.

On the way back to Forsyth I stopped at High Falls State Park, which has some nice trails along a river as well as an abandoned ruin of a power plant.  It’s fenced off but the profusion of graffiti says that a lot of people ignore said fence.  It’s still really cool to see though.  On Day 4 I had lunch in Juliette (where parts of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed at the Whistle Stop Cafe & they never let you forget it) & stopped by the historic Jarrell Plantation, where all of the original buildings are open for visiting.  It was owned by the same family for 140 years before the founder’s descendants donated the property to the state.  Also they have goats to pet, & it just doesn’t get any better than that.

Next week: trains & battlefields in Chattanooga!

Event: Dade’s Battle

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In 1835 the Florida Seminole were struggling to defend their homeland from the encroachment of white settlers. Tension had been building for over a decade what with the tendency of the Seminole to take in escaped slaves and the U.S. government trying to move them out to Oklahoma. Everything finally exploded in 1835 when Seminole warriors attacked U.S. soldiers under the command of Brevet Major Francis Langhorne Dade who were on their way from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala. The soldiers had a cannon but the Seminoles had the element of surprise and claimed victory after a day of fierce fighting. They won the battle, but they ultimately lost the war. The Second Seminole War that started here lasted over 6 years, only ending in 1842 after the deportation of over 90% of the Seminoles – 4,000 people – from their ancestral homes in Florida to Oklahoma.

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park now protects the ground where the battle took place & hosts a reenactment every year in January. I attended this year’s reenactment & found it to be very interesting. The event began on a scary/exciting note when one of the horses threw her rider & went tearing around the park! Fortunately another rider caught her pretty quickly, nobody got hurt, they restarted the battle, & everything went without a hitch after that. There were a couple dozen reenactors on each side, plus a canon firing every couple of minutes, so it was pretty intense! Before & after the battle itself I wandered through the encampment, where a variety of booths sold everything from alligator skulls to Davy Crockett style raccoon hats. The park also has trails & a small visitor’s center with a museum.

I don’t know how it was when they started doing these or how much input the Seminole tribe has with it, so for all I know it’s a huge improvement over what went on in the past & everybody’s happy, but I did find parts of the event to be fairly biased. The Seminole narrator discussed his people’s feelings about their land & the idea of having to leave their homes at the beginning, so that was good, but then at the end he left the scene while the Army narrator talked about trying to escape the battlefield with a friend, so the sympathy ended up being pretty one-sided. One of the speakers, I don’t recall who, said that there were only 3 survivors of the battle, but there were actually only 3 survivors on the Army side of the conflict – nearly all of the Seminoles made it out alive. I get what they’re going for but I think it could still use some tweaking.

The Last Three Months in Awkwardness

Welp, I’m down to the home stretch of my time in Sheboygan (maybe at some point I’ll post the half-finished piece on my 3-week road trip up here…who knows, miracles do happen). It’s been a stressful, weird, wild ride & as much as I’ve come to enjoy this town, my job, & my new friends, I’m looking forward to getting back to Florida & resting up for a while.  For probably like a week before I get bored.

I’ve finally crawled out from under my rock & gotten a Twitter account, so you can follow me there, Facebook, Instagram, and/or YouTube if you want to.

Winter plans include trying to learn a new language (again), adding some blog posts about past travel experiences, video games, sleeping, having a real refrigerator & oven, paying down student loans, visiting family, uploading some new stock imagery, and just generally being warm & stuff.  (I forgot what cold is like.  Also the sun goes down at 4:30 here once daylight savings time ends.)

Some unique Sheboygan weirdness to brighten your day:

I found this under a bridge; it’s like 4 feet across so not a small undertaking & I seriously have no idea what’s going on in this image or why it’s there – graffiti?  City-sponsored art project?  Who are these people?  Why do they have a monkey skull wearing a top hat?  The world may never know.