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 2

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

Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 22nd – June 26th

Stop 1 | Stop 3Stop 4 | Stop 5 | Stop 6 | Stop 7

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 stop: historic sites & wild animals in Nashville, Tennessee!

This Week in Awkwardness

I made it back to Florida in one piece!  All went well right up until I got off my train in Orlando, only to find that my duffle bag had not made it onto my train in Alexandria.  Fortunately it was just on the next train but I still had to wait around for two hours just hoping it would be there.  Also, Amtrak ripped a hole in it, which is currently covered with duct tape.  I have a little time off before the new semester starts, so I’m just trying to relax a bit when I’m not at work before my hectic fall schedule starts.  It’s good to be home.  I feel like I’ve been gone forever but also like I never left, it’s weird, like I just imagined that I was in Maryland for two and a half months.


Added to the Travel Map:

Wreck of the Francisco Morazan, South Manitou Island, Michigan – a freighter that ran aground in a storm.

Vasa Museet, Stockholm, Sweden – world’s only preserved 17th-century ship, raised from Stockholm Harbor.

Wanli UFO Village, Taiwan – mostly abandoned resort neighborhood of Futuro & Venturo houses.

Hunot Gorge State Reserve, Shoushi, Turkey – wooded canyon with waterfalls & medieval village ruins.


Crossed Off the Travel Map:

Mount Vernon, Alexandria, Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia

Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown, Virginia

Jamestowne Settlement, Jamestown, Virginia