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This must be the place: I know the journey’s long and I’m sure you’ll find your way

Rural South Carolina. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Rural South Carolina. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

It was a couple miles beyond the Georgia/South Carolina border heading north on Interstate 95 when the highway sign blinked brightly: “Incident, Mile Marker 14.” Expected delays and brake lights just ahead. 

Like clockwork, by Exit 5 I saw the red taillights and snail-pace traffic. With less than a quarter tank left in the ole Tacoma, time to pull off and gas up. Hit the bathroom. Grab an energy drink. Hop back into the pickup and merge back into the molasses collage of vehicles and defeated faces. 

Sitting in the passing lane in the late Monday afternoon sunshine, I rolled the windows down as the sweet smell of spring wafting into the truck. Rural South Carolina and its lush vegetation. No smell of diesel and slammed brakes in the line of automobiles hovering at five miles per hour. 

Nowhere to go but ahead. Switch from the constant undulating stereo playlist to the digital archives of “This American Life,” this vast treasure trove of decades of radio stories that have remained a pillar of National Public Radio (NPR) — a sacred haven of interesting people and wild tales to feed the body, mind and soul, especially when in transition via your car along some endless highway. 

It was at this juncture of my road trip — from visiting my parents at their vacation spot in St. Augustine, Florida, to my humble abode in Waynesville — where I began a deep dive into a series of memories, emotions and visions that kept me company on the solo trek back to Western North Carolina, back to some semblance of myself within the whirlwind madness that is daily life. 

The first episode that I stumbled upon was from “Rest Stop” from 2009. A series of “This American Life” reporters posted up at a New York State Thruway rest area and interviewed whoever about whatever while they passed through the doors from and to destinations unknown amid the late summer rush.

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For someone like myself who wanders through rest stops and travel plazas on a pretty consistent basis — and throughout seemingly every corner of this country — I found a lot of solidarity in the responses from those who were approached and questioned. 

Voices heading somewhere for summer vacation. Voices in transition, physically and emotionally. Voices, in essence, just moving from one dot on the map to the next, either for work or play (or both). And even though I’d never met or interacted with those voices, I knew and acknowledged each one.

Somewhere near the intersection of I-95 and I-26, the radio program slipped into another episode, 2011’s “Middle School.” Journalists roaming around schools and interviewing young kids as they hop the fence between their elementary years and their impending teenage experiences. 

Interactions and moments not thought of since I myself was in middle school, the late 1990s on the Canadian border. Hallways and lockers slamming. Broken pencils, always in need of an eraser. Worried about a pop quiz and the mile test in gym class. The smell of crappy pizza and sounds of overzealous excitement in the cafeteria. 

Somewhere between Columbia and Spartanburg, South Carolina, “Middle School” slid into 1998’s “Notes on Camp” episode. I hadn’t thought of my past summer camp experiences since I was, well, in middle school. YMCA Camp Abnaki on the shores of Lake Champlain in North Hero, Vermont. 

Myself and a few of my friends from school heading off to camp for a week each summer (for four years in a row), learning the ropes of not only rock climbing, canoeing, archery, arts/crafts and capture the flag, but also how to navigate the choppy waters and unknown landscape of growing up. And not to mention those awkward, sometimes promising weekend dances with YWCA Camp Hochelaga from just across the water in South Hero.

It’s funny, you know? You spend every day trying to accomplish the tasks at hand, whether it’s work-related or whatever it is that brings you happiness when not in the presence of work. You compartmentalize the day at hand, more so the week ahead of you, now in the rearview mirror come Sunday, when you put it all in a shoebox in the closet of your memory, only to start over with a fresh, empty box come Monday morning.

And then there are the days and hours (and minutes that fly by with ease) you’re alone in your truck, cruising along I-95 and I-26 back to Southern Appalachia. A glorious spring sunset falling behind the deep forest of South Carolina. Your aging parents hundreds of miles below you in St. Augustine. Your hometown over a thousand miles due north, filled with faces not seen in many moons.

They say home is where the heart is. And my heart always seems to fill to the brim with pure emotion and gratitude when I get lost in those moments like last Monday afternoon/evening, rolling along that lost highway, happily lost in thought. 

Don’t forget, all who wander aren’t lost. The miles continue to tick away, as does time. It never stops. Tick, tick. Just like the memories when darkness fills the sky and traffic is long gone. Put on the cruise control and turn up the volume of the radio program for maximum immersion. 

Remember the good times (and the bad times, too). Think of the beauty and nature of your own path moving forward. What lies just ahead? What more to come further and farther down the road? It’s all one moment, anyhow, you dig?

By around 11 p.m. or so, I finally pulled up in front of my apartment in downtown Waynesville. Another solo trek in the books. But, no matter the road taken or length of the journey, it’s always an adventure, where you’re never really ever the same again once you return to wherever you started from. The same goes for middle school, and for summer camp, too. Such is life, eh?

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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  • Hey y'all! Apologies for the typo. Rarely happens on my end, but it does from time to time. I wrote the piece right after driving all day from Florida to Waynesville (as stated above). Pretty tired, but on deadline. Alas, I fixed it above. Appreciate you reading this piece, always. Best, Garret K. Woodward, SMN Arts & Entertainment Editor.

    posted by Garret Woodward

    Tuesday, 04/26/2022

  • Walter, it's actually a bit more than 100 miles between the borders of South Carolina/Florida but your point is well taken. I also know that Garret is familiar with this stretch of Georgia real estate as he's written previously about stops at favorite places such as Tybee Island, so we'll give him a pass on this one.

    posted by Cliff Kevill

    Tuesday, 04/26/2022

  • Garret, I know music creates a blissful wandering in your mind, but perhaps when driving you should turn down the volume a bit. You wrote of your experience a few miles from the Florida -South Carolina border. It is a bit more than 400 miles of Georgia red clay between the two borders. Play on.

    posted by Walter Cook

    Sunday, 04/24/2022

  • Garret, I know music creates a blissful wandering in your mind, but perhaps when driving you should turn down the volume a bit. You wrote of your experience a few miles from the Florida -South Carolina border. It is a bit more than 400 miles of Georgia red clay between the two borders. Play on.

    posted by Walter Cook

    Sunday, 04/24/2022

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