Travelogue: New Roads Found in The Carolinas
New adventures, new opportunities…these are what I always worked hard to achieve.
This seems to be the theme of this work on this site of late. So far in 2017, I experienced Snocross, Monster Jam and Supercross. I even got to party with the Twin Cities City Auto Show and several automotive retailers from across the state. The way things have been going, who knows where I would end up to file a story onto here?
That answer came a couple of weeks ago. An e-mail came from a brand/manufacturer that I have done a few things with over time. They invited me to come to a place that I was curious about to drive a new vehicle that I felt would be an important one for that brand/manufacturer.
It has been a year-and-a-half since I last participated in a media launch drive. It was in the Raleigh-Durham area for the 2016 Lexus RX. I had a very successful time with Lexus, but that was all. Health issues – physical and emotional – prevented me from doing anything worth while in 2016. I only looked no further from my personal Facebook page to see what I was missing. Doing so did not help matters.
I vowed to center my writing efforts on telling my own stories – repeatedly. Yet, I would also be open to entertaining opportunities to tell new stories with new products at new locales.
On Sunday, I got on an American Airlines jet from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Charlotte, with a change of planes to Greenville, South Carolina. I have never been to the Palmetto State in my life, even during my four years living in the Washington, DC area. I was ready for an experience.
Greenville was just the first stop of this media launch drive. Chevrolet wanted us to "find new roads" from the nearby town of Taylors Mill up into the Upcountry of South Carolina and through the Blue Ridge Mountains into Asheville, North Carolina. To do so, we were introduced to the all-new 2018 Equinox. Our task was to take the new Equinox through its paces by checking out a few sites along the way.
I like a good challenge. I also like new experiences and finding "new roads." To top it all off, we were to drive the all-new 2018 Equinox on the Vernal Equinox.
What I found was a great start to an adventure. My later arrival into Greenville came as the University of South Carolina defeated Duke University during the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament. It just so happens that the game was almost finished at Bon Secours Wellness Arena. Though there was a huge public safety presence, things seem too calm for a major sporting event happening. Yet, I was liking what I was seeing so far of this wonderful city in South Carolina's Upcountry.
My first night was spent at the Westin Poinsett in the heart of downtown Greenville. This historic hotel was absolutely wonderful accompanied by great service and hospitality throughout. The name might be familiar to some, but the namesake happened to be a historic figure from this city. Joel Poinsett was a legislator and diplomat during the early 1800s. He became the first Minister to Mexico for the USA. In his travels in the country, he happened to see a field of red plants. The Mexicans called them "la flor de la noche buena." Poinsett liked these flowers so much, he would have his name applied to them. Hence these flowers would become Poinsettias, usually seen around the holidays.
The next morning – the day of the Vernal Equinox – was the usual media launch drive rigor. Get breakfast at the hotel, take a shuttle to our start/finish point and be ready for a day's drive. Having lived in Northern Virginia, I had access to a swath of Southern cuisine. One of my favorite breakfast foods from the South was grits. They're not supposed to be sweet nor overly savory. They were just creamy and right. This would be sort of a theme in my food adventures this time around.
My fellow compatriots in this media launch drive and I were in for many treats. Tucked away in Taylors Mill was a coffee place called Due South Roasters. It was an opening to the "find new roads" adventure that included "hip and cool" in the mix. The location began as the Southern Bleachery in 1924. Today, it is part of an effort to foster a creative community out of an old industrial location. This was a superb backdrop to the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox media drive in finding new roads. Not to mention, the tea I got from Due South was pretty good.
Along with my driving partner, Jill Ciminillo, we began to go "back in time" to trace a route set with historic landmarks. Ciminillo became the new president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association earlier in the year. This is an organization I am a proud member of and was honored when she asked me to partner with her on this drive. We've known each other for as long as I have been a member of MAMA, so we would be a good pair along this drive. She is also known as the "girl in the trunk," for which she thought there could be a "Randy in the trunk." That was not going to happen…nor did it. You can tell where a lot of this journey will be going.
Our first stop was to be at the Upcountry History Museum at Furman University. That stop was thwarted by a small parking lot that was overflowing. Ciminillo and I looked at each other, took the app that was guiding our adventure and moved on to the next stop. Had we stopped, it would have been a good introduction to the Upcountry region and of the legacy this part of South Carolina left behind. As much as I loved museums, I wanted something outdoorsy. It was a nice day for such pursuits.
Our next stop was near Gaffney and the Cowpens National Battlefield. When I lived in the DC Area, I would always venture to historic battlefield areas. I was lucky to experience such places, as Gettysburg, Fredricksburg, Spotsylvania, and Chancellorsville. These were key Civil War battlegrounds. Cowpens is from a different era, the Revolutionary War. This was where my History undergrad went into deep Rolodexing. I have forgotten that there were significant battles deep in the Southern colonies prior to the establishment of this country. Cowpens was a key battleground that turned the Southern Campaign around for the Americans, pushing back the British towards the Atlantic Ocean. It is now a well manicured and preserved property managed by the National Park Service.
On the Cowpens property was a lovely cabin. The Robert Scruggs House was built decades after the battle in 1828. This well-preserved cabin stood out for us as a backdrop for a few photos, but it became a curious locale for a house. Did the Scruggs family knew there was a major battle that occurred within this property some forty or so years before? I read through the text to discover that the Scruggs initially did not know of the land's history until someone showed up at their cabin a couple of decades later. The National Park Service bought the cabin in the 1970s and integrated it into the park property.
As we left the battlefield, Ciminillo and I looked at the rest of our itinerary to see what would fit for our due time at our hotel in Asheville. We decided to make more time on the road than to try to step everywhere on the itinerary. However, one name popped up for us on the list. We had to get there. That meant traversing a chunk of the northern part of South Carolina to reach Interstate 26, then climb the Blue Ridge mountains over into North Carolina. We had to see Carl Sandburg's home.
For being based in the Midwest, the name Carl Sandburg came up in our journeys. Born in Galesburg, Illinois, Sandburg would retire in the town of Flat Rock, North Carolina, south of Asheville. This after being a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, one of them for his biography of President Abraham Lincoln. His poems spoke of Chicago and the Midwest. Yet, he sought solace from the world when he moved to Flat Rock in 1945 on his estate. A third of Sandburg's work was produced in this mountain hideaway.
After Sandburg's death in 1967, the National Park Service took over the property. We only had access to a parking lot, which was full. Any attempt to park and climb up the mountain to his home would not provide us enough time to accomplish. The clock was indeed ticking. We needed one more stop.
The North Carolina Arboretum is located just south of Asheville. Nestled away from the Blue Ridge Parkway, our mapping took us behind the property instead of the main entrance. Once we found our way in, we were hoping for a great photo opportunity with the Equinox. Sadly, we were not able to accomplish this. It is a nice place to show off foliage found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and elsewhere in the state. We just had enough time before arriving downtown to our hotel.
Our hotel, the Renaissance Asheville, was right in the heart of where we needed to be. It was walking distance to all of our evening stops. Once we settled in, we were off and walking. We walked past Thomas Wolfe's Memorial site, which happened to be next to the hotel. Eight minutes later, we became guests to modern musical history.
Moog's synthesizers changed the musical landscape. From plugging into Bach to driving the Progressive Rock movement, every genre of music got the Moog treatment with its keyboard and knob driven sonic infusion. Artists such as Stevie Wonder, Giorgio Moroder, Dr. Dre and Keith Emerson took to behind the Moog synthesizer and created some of the finest sonic pleasures ever recorded.
Downtown Asheville just happens to be the home of Moog. Our group was introduced to the MiniMoog, a timepiece that is still in production today. A tour took into a studio where local duo RBTS WIN performed in front of huge set of circuitry and a massive board. In total, this music lover and hobbyist conguero was treated to a piece of electronic musical legacy.
From there, another walk brought us to dinner. It was served at a "vegetable-forward" restaurant called Sovereign Remedies. Emphasizing locally grown and produced ingredients, we were treated to a three course meal. Along with these dishes, the hospitality was superb. Yet, it also helped anchored a feel about Asheville and its hip, cool and funky atmosphere.
The next morning, we were shuttled to another hip and cool eatery for breakfast in West Asheville. Biscuit Head is known for its massive biscuits, but it shall be known for the best breakfast I had in years. That big biscuit was joined by some scrambled eggs, Moon Fries and a cup of grits. It was absolutely divine and delicious.
From there was perhaps the best part of the trip. A drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway is a drive into heavens. This ribbon of road defines the mountains that stretch from Georgia to New England and is seen as a playground for drivers. However, one must understand that one cannot go at breakneck speeds on this fine piece of road.
For us to get there we had to take on a road where shoulders do not exist. The twisty and winding access to the Blue Ridge Parkway out of West Asheville certainly put our all-new Equinoxes to the test. The reward was arriving at the great parkway in the mountains and a bit of breathing room. Making the Parkway great was a combination of short tunnels and well-crafted curves. The bonus was the majestic scenery. I have not such such beauty in a landscape of the mountains in such a long time.
After several miles of Parkway, we headed downhill on US Highway 276 towards Brevard, North Carolina through the Pisgah National Forest. Coming into and out Brevard was an amazing highway that made me think of a drive through the Alps. I have not been through the Alps, but have seen enough automotive shows to be equally amazed. There were some wonderful curves and switchbacks that were simply stunning.
Our second-to-last stop was in the town of Brevard, a quaint mountain town en route towards Taylors Mill. There was still that vibe of narrow streets lending to quaint homes and architecture pointing to previous centuries. It was too bad that we did not spend much time there, but I did catch a breath of fresh mountain air even as the elevations began to level off in this town.
Our dash back to Due South Roasters got us through some Upcountry landscapes. It was again a mix of mountains, hills, countryside and suburb. The skies were blue and the sun was warm. It was a lasting finish to an adventure in a part of the country I felt accomplished to finally visit. It was all extraordinary.
What did I miss that I wanted to visit on this trip? There was the Biltmore Estate in Asheville and the BMW Zentrum in Greer. Maybe next time I will make those stops.
You hate to compare places while on travel. That would not be fair to a place being visited for the first time. With that said, Asheville has a vibe that goes beyond "hip and cool." There is a deep creative pulse in that city. That was confirmed when the official travel brochure for the city included a photo of a drum circle held downtown. I had to look at my conga drum across my bedroom and wondered if a road trip to Asheville was in order in the future.
My operating word for this trip was "vibe." Not just in a musical and creative form, but of that extra sense and feel for these communities. As a combine set of destinations, I found that Asheville and Greenville showed me a vibe that was cool and full of creative possibilities.
As for the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox, it took all of these miles in with great form. It is a compact SUV plunked into the heat of battle for supremacy in a highly contentious segment. Our vehicles were equipped with the 1.5 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic driving only the front wheels. For the weather, this was just fine. It worked quite well when toddling through the countryside. On the highway, it worked quite hard to keep up with traffic.
It was also a nice place to be. I found no fatigue driving the Equinox with its two-tone leather seats and multitude of power adjustments. The Equinox boasts the most connectivity of any vehicle in its class – 4G LTE Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – with a lovely set of Bose speakers filtering the noise through. We did encounter loss of mobile signal in the mountains away from the Interstate, which is something to consider when driving around and through them.
The idea of "find new roads" was a smart one, especially for those of us who have never been to certain parts of the country. For me, I found some wonderful new roads and experiences in South and North Carolina right in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I'm sure I will find more on the next round through these historic places.
For more insights on the 2018 Chevrolet Equinox and the trip itself please see our videos on Victory & Reseda's YouTube channel!
DISCLAIMER: Vehicles, travel and logistics were provided by General Motors
All photos by Randy Stern