23 May 2022

Aimless Road Trip

  1. Journey without a destination… Jun 21, 2018

    Natasha is in New York and Nikita is in Duke. Not knowing what else to do, Sharmila and I decided to hit the road. We have no particular destination. We will take it easy on the road, enjoy the small things and experience those things we miss when we are in a hurry to go somewhere.

    We will stay in the Midwest and East Coast zone, visit a couple of friends as we meander around and then eventually find our way to Nikita in Duke ten days later and get her back home.

  2. Random rest stop Jun 21, 2018

    Day 1 of journey to nowhere in particular

    Stopped at a random rest stop up in the mountains. I think we were near Waynesville in North Carolina. Brought out the snacks and drinks and enjoyed all the vehicles – especially all those motorcycles – zooming by on the highway. It was a steep slope and with the trucks engine braking downhill and the motorcycles screaming uphill, it was anything but quiet.

  3. Found the perfect road for ourselves… Jun 21, 2018

    Check out the road direction… since we are on a journey without a destination… sounds about the perfect road for us…

  4. Here is something we have not done in a long time… Jun 21, 2018

    … actually, ever.. in the USA.
    A train journey together… like good old India days.

    For the next five hours or so, we will be traveling thru the Smoky Mountains in this train…

  5. Our first stop on first day.. Jun 22, 2018

    Tallulah Gorge in Georgia.
    The gorge has, at times, sheer drops of nearly thousand feet…

  6. Enjoying at a street corner in Asheville Jun 22, 2018

    We eventually made our way into Asheville in North Carolina on first day. Checked into a hotel and started walking the streets. It is an incredibly beautiful town – both the surroundings as well as downtown…

  7. Lazy evening… Jun 22, 2018

    After dinner, we came back to the hotel and instead of going to the bar, I got the wine out and sat on a bench next to the hotel. After Facetiming both the daughters, I settled down to feel the light breeze and watch the people going by. Sharmila got busy ordering food from Amazon and getting it delivered to Nikita (apparently, she has run thru her stock of snacks for three weeks within half that time !!)

  8. Seen during the train ride… Jun 22, 2018

    A very cute little house in a rare opening in the mountainside. Apparently, this is one of the oldest houses around in the state. Built in 1865.

  9. Now that is a house I would like to live in for a couple of days… Jun 22, 2018

    Right in the middle of Fontana lake. A clear half mile away from any shores…

  10. Reconnaissance mission… Jun 22, 2018

    If you have not heard of the Tail of the Dragon, it is a very circuitous route in North Carolina/Tennessee border that is often considered a rite of passage for motorbikers. It is something I have a goal for myself to conquer someday on my motorbike. The 11 mile route has 318 switchbacks – and some very steep hair pin bends. On a bike, you rarely get to sit up. You are constantly pushing your bike down to the left or immediately recovering to push it down to the right. The route, unfortunately, claims one biker’s life every year on an average. There are some interesting statues and structures made of broken motorcycle parts at the entrance.

    Since we were in North Carolina already, we decided to enter Tennessee thru the Dragon. Of course, I was much safer in a car. But I wanted to get a feel for the route. It is as demanding and scary as it is billed to be.

    Someday, I will make it on my motorbike. For the time being, I slayed the dragon in a car…

  11. Bikers finishing up the Tail of the Dragon… Jun 22, 2018

    … and straightening out in the last stretch…

    Someday, it is going to be me…

  12. A quick stop in Tennessee… just to see what Nature has to offer.. Jun 22, 2018

  13. Another random stop at a random resting place… Jun 22, 2018

    The water behind (if you can see it) is Little Tennessee river, I believe.

  14. Stopped over at our friends’ place… Jun 22, 2018

    For the second night of the trip, we swing by our good old friend Budhu’s house in Knoxville. Ranjan-da came over too. We missed both Arpita (in India now) and Nita-di (in Davidson right now). A good relaxed evening on Budhu’s deck over some wine as he kept himself busy with the grill…

  15. Question for all train experts Jun 22, 2018

    In Bryson City, while they were rearranging the coaches for the train, I noticed something. Growing up in India, every coach of a train used to have two huge buffers on either end. Looked like two big cylinders with two large plates in front (of course, with some humongous springs inside). I remember watching as they would attach one coach to the other how the train driver would back the train at very slow speed to the coach to be attached. The buffers from either side would eventually make contact with a large noise, the springs would give in and then eventually recoil.

    I noticed that the coaches in the train in Bryson City had no buffers. In fact, as the driver backed in slowly, the trap mechanism eased into the vault that looked like a rack and pinion joint and almost seemed to autolock. There was no recoil whatsoever. More interestingly, when the driver pulled forward, there was no “give”. You know – like the first compartment would move a second earlier than the second one (till the springs got elongated enough to make it a taut connection) etc etc. Here the whole train moved simultaneously when it started as if it was one solid body.

    I assume these connection technologies have changed over the years? In India, do we still have the “buffers?”. Were they ever in use in US?

    Are there any train experts in this group?

  16. Got off the highway… Jun 22, 2018

    …and drove 20 miles into David Boone National Forest to check out the Cumberland river…

  17. Cumberland Falls Jun 22, 2018

  18. Gem by the roadside… Jun 22, 2018

    As you drive up north on 75 in Kentucky, you will come up against a small town called Berea. If you exit into that town, within a quarter mile, you will see a big sign for “Kentucky Artisanal Center”. If you have time, get in there.

    Amazing arts center in the middle of nowhere. All featured artists are from Kentucky and you can see some really wonderful paintings, wax work, blown glass work, metals work and so on and so forth.

    Sharmila and I spent over an hour enjoying the artists’ works…

  19. First time ever in this state!! Jun 23, 2018

    That would make it state number 41 that I have visited in the US of A. 9 more to go.

  20. How do you explain this? Jun 23, 2018

    Sharmila was driving down I-64 deep in the mountains of West Virginia. I was busy trying to take pictures with my camera.

    Glanced at my phone to see if we had any connection. What I saw was very surprising… look at the top left corner of the pic.

    The surprising part was NOT that we still had 4G connection in such a remote place. The surprising part was we are T-Mobile customers!!!

    The phone has been on AT&T network for over an hour. In fact, I am posting this thru that connection….


  21. Meeting up with the Meades Jun 24, 2018

    Last evening, Sharmila and I finally landed up in Lexington. In the gorgeous new house of my good old friend Mark! There was a great party last evening at his place, a good walk this morning to catch up on each other’s lives and then a splendid breakfast outside.

    It was great to see Mark and Jen after almost a year. Missed Allison though!!

  22. Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia Jun 24, 2018

    Sharmila was the driver. As the highway spun around Charleston, managed to a get a couple of shots from the moving car. The golden dome against dark clouds looked great…

  23. Somewhere in West Virginia Jun 24, 2018

  24. Next time I am in West Virginia, hopefully, I will be in one of these… Jun 24, 2018

  25. One more biker shot Jun 24, 2018

    Just looking at how much she was leaning in with the heavy Harley makes me scared…

  26. Wonderful time with the Marathes!! Jun 24, 2018

    We crossed over from West Virginia to Virginia last evening and made a beeline to Blacksburg to meet up with my friend from engineering days – the much acclaimed professor in Virginia Tech – Madhav Marathe. The four of us went for long walks and chatted till past midnight last night!!

    Had a great time with Madhav, Achla and Aparna. Missed Malvika this time though!!

  27. One more change of direction… Jun 24, 2018

    I woke up this morning thinking we might be headed to Durham to touch base with Nikita once.
    Later in the day, that got changed to DC. Then Philadelphia.
    We started from Madhav’s house thinking we are going to Philadelphia.

    One more change in plan. We are now redirecting ourselves to head out State College.

    I will tell you later why!!!

  28. The reason we went to State College, PA !! Jun 26, 2018

    I had not seen Mrs. Godura for over 35 years. She was our school teacher when I was in my tenth grade. Although she never taught me directly, she was my brother’s teacher and more importantly, she was an important link recently in getting me in touch with an old school mate and another old school teacher.

    I knew she was visiting her son Ruchir in State College and since we were on the road anyways, we headed her way. After 7 hours of driving thru absolutely bucolic Pennsylvania, we finally made it to State College. Had a great evening with Mr. and Mrs. Godura, Ruchir and his family!!

  29. Bison… in a random farm near north Pennsylvania. Jun 26, 2018

    They are big. I mean real big… I am glad we were separated by the wire fence…

  30. Another random shot of the farms in Pennsylvania Jun 26, 2018

  31. Sometimes the grass is greener on this side… 🙂 Jun 26, 2018

  32. That was a crazy sight… Jun 26, 2018

    Check out how the mountain seemed to have been formed by repeated alterations of two different kinds of the rocks. And looks like when they sliced open the mountain to build the road, it took the appearance of a layered cake! I think this was on Highway 322 in PA.

  33. It is like the water had washed off the colors off this duck… Jun 26, 2018

  34. Another Statue of Liberty? Jun 26, 2018

    Yesterday, Sharmila was driving around Harrisburg in Pennsylvania. The road kept twisting around hugging the wide Susquehannah river closely. And then suddenly, I saw this sight… in the middle of the river there was a small island… and on that island was a replica of Statue of Liberty!!!

  35. Another unique experience Jun 26, 2018

    Sharmila and I went to Penn’s cave near State College, PA. Took the boat ride inside of the half mile cave. Some very fascinating formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Would certainly recommend the ride…

    It was difficult to capture the pictures with the phone but here is one shot. (The red color is due to a light put in there for viewing).

  36. Jersey Shores!! Jun 26, 2018

    Sharmila and I were thinking of what to do once we left Pennsylvania. Initially, we thought we would head out to Philadelphia (this would be our second attempt). But some well timed text message exchanges with my school friend Partha and his wife Jaya later, we actually we landed up in New Jersey. In fact in the Jersey shores.

    Is it not too apparent that we were having way too good a time?

  37. Jersey shore skies Jun 26, 2018

    The western skies as seen from Jersey shores…

  38. After all those beautiful rides thru the countryside of the Midwest and the East… Jun 27, 2018

    … we left New Jersey and drove straight into Manhattan in New York City. I am not sure when was it the last time I ever drove in New York city. Maybe 25 years back??

    This was just before we went under Hudson river to emerge on the other side in Manhattan.

  39. Yay!! We reached Manhattan. Jun 27, 2018

    Never thought we will make it into the Big Apple when we thought of a road trip through the mountains and beaches on the East side of America.

    I don’t think Sharmila thought that I could make it to the Big Apple and out with her humongous SUV without putting a dent on it.

    That I would do it completely unaided by anybody else in a gas station in the middle of nowhere is a story for another day 🙂

    For now, it is all about the energy of New York… and the anticipation of seeing Natasha!

  40. Best part of the road trip yet!!! Jun 27, 2018

    We got to see Natasha!!!

    The entire time these two just could not stop talking!!!

  41. Always a shoulder to lean on… Jun 27, 2018

  42. The return trip starts… Jun 27, 2018

    New York is the furthest we pushed ourselves northwards and eastwards. We will now start slowly climbing down.

    After leaving New York, we entered New Jersey and after about an hour of driving stopped at a Starbucks in one of those service areas on New Jersey Turnpike to plot our second half of the road trip.

    After a lot of consultations with Google Maps, I think our rough idea is to come down along the coast and enjoy a couple of days of rest on the beach somewhere. But for today, we are going to see downtown Philadelphia, have dinner in a restaurant by the Delaware river and then drive a little more and check into a hotel in Wilmington, Delaware.

    Planning is in progress here…

  43. Lazy stroll in downtown Philadelphia Jun 27, 2018

    This was Sharmila’s first visit to the City of Brotherly Love !!

  44. Seven days and two thousand miles later… Jun 27, 2018

    … we pulled in to Virginia Beach. Kicking the throttle back to one level higher on the “Relax” scale.

    No more driving till day after.

    Started the evening by a long walk on the boardwalk with Sharmila by the Atlantic Ocean. Four miles, to be precise…

  45. Sharmila dwarfed by Neptune Jun 27, 2018

  46. Moonrise in Virginia Beach Jun 27, 2018

  47. Seen on the drive today… Jun 27, 2018

  48. The incredible engineering feat of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel Jun 27, 2018

    Nearly 23 miles of continuous bridge and tunnel system to conquer the Bay…

  49. Another perspective of the loooooong bridge… Jun 27, 2018

  50. Waves upon waves… Jun 28, 2018

  51. At the moment of cresting… Jun 28, 2018

    You can see the left side has not crested yet…

  52. That one came way too close to the lens… Jun 28, 2018

  53. And now about what is creating all the waves… Jun 28, 2018

    It is mostly the effect of moon’s gravitational force and the occasional boats going by.
    What were you thinking? 🙂 Ha ha 🙂

  54. As seen from below… a fighter plane Jun 28, 2018

    I assume it was getting ready to land… given the landing gears were down. It does look as if the wing tips were armed with missiles.

  55. As seen from below… a commercial plane Jun 28, 2018

    This one also had its landing gear down. Getting ready to land…

  56. As seen from below… couple of fighter planes on sorties… Jun 28, 2018

    No landing gears down…

  57. Bubbles within bubbles… Jun 28, 2018

    Couple of kids were playing with bubble makers near the beach…
    It was difficult to get the camera to focus on the bubble as they kept flying around…
    You can see how the wind was distorting the shape of the outer bubble…

  58. Main chali, main chali… Jun 29, 2018

  59. “A poor life this, if full of care, Jun 29, 2018

    we have no time to stand and stare”

    A random flower in a nondescript rest stop … somewhere on Highway VA 168

  60. Outer Banks, North Carolina Jun 30, 2018

    First visit to the Outer Banks. Had heard a lot about it. Saw it for the first time. Beautiful beaches. Will have to come back here again.

    I was wondering why it is called the “Outer Banks”. Here is the funny part. Nobody on the internet seems to know the answer!!

  61. Breakfast at the famous Old Nags Head Cafe Jun 30, 2018

  62. Random shots from the ride to Raleigh, NC – 1 Jun 30, 2018

    (taken from inside the car)

    That machine was laying down a new lane like it was putting butter on bread…

  63. Random shots from the drive to Raleigh, NC – 2 Jun 30, 2018

    (taken from inside the car)

    The long bridge on 64 on Croatan Sound

  64. Random shots from the drive to Raleigh, NC – 3 Jun 30, 2018

    (taken from inside the car)
    The bridge to nowhere?

  65. Random shots from the drive to Raleigh, NC – 4 Jun 30, 2018

    (taken from inside the car)

    Sailing in Roanoke Sound

  66. Last stop … picking up an extra passenger… Jun 30, 2018

    Reached Duke University this morning. Picked up Nikita and a dorm-roomful of things. She concluded her summer program.

    Now for the last – and a long – leg – back home!

  67. The long road back home… Jun 30, 2018

    It is as if someone laid long ribbons down on the ground as roads…

  68. Road humor Jun 30, 2018

    I am sure if this town had a soccer team they would be in the World Cup, per the new rules this year…

  69. This place absolutely has the right to demand to be the birthplace of Stoicism!!! Jun 30, 2018

  70. Wherever we went… there we were… Jun 30, 2018

    12 states
    3,000 miles (4,800 km)
    10 days

    We had no idea where we were going to wake up the next day.
    No hurry to get anywhere.
    Stopped at so many random places…

    Talked to so many strangers with great stories of their lives – Rosalind at the bar in State College, Ryan who was cleaning the restrooms on Jersey shores, Jovana who has gotten me excited to visit the erstwhile Yugoslavia, Vicky our cleaning lady in the Durham hotel who is from Guatemala…

    So many old friends revisited – middle school friend Partha and his family in New Jersey, college friend Madhav and his family in Virginia, old colleague Mark and his family in Kentucky, not-very-sure-how-we-becamme-friends-but-we-are-strong-friends Budhu and his family in Tennessee…

    Not to forget the chance to see Natasha in New York and then pick up Nikita in North Carolina

    The incredible mountains of Tennessee and West Virginia and the equally beautiful beaches of Virginia and North Carolina… and those teeming crowds in New York city…

    That random waterfall…
    That even more random flower by the roadside…

    The endless roads…
    No destination…
    Just the journey…

    Wherever we went… there we were…

  71. Do you wake up in the morning and feel happy and contented? Jun 30, 2018

    This is a remnant post from our destination-less journey that Sharmila and I undertook last month. My school friend Partho, his wife Jaya and his daughter Rohini and the two of us had just spent a beautiful evening on the Jersey shores – entirely unscripted. Finding a place to have dinner was a little chore but we did find one and settled down there.

    Not sure how the discussion progressed but I soon found myself in a familiar zone. I was the only one fighting for one side of a debate – pitted against three others in this case. Rohini kept a diplomatic silence thru the debate. I can argue for a case with so much passion that I can come across almost self righteous – triggering many an opposing view from others as an instinctive reaction. This case was probably more than that.

    Again, I am not terribly sure how I landed up there but I know I was explaining the concept of “Memento Mori” (remember, you will die) and how that drives what I do. In essence, I wake up every morning and remind myself that I am going to die. I have one less day left. And that helps me set priorities on what is truly important for me that day and over the longer horizon. Many of the things I have done in life will be considered counter-intuitive. Some may even call them stupid. But as I explained that evening, it all starts with the end. In fact, I think I talked about the book “The Top Five Regrets of a Dying Man”.

    There was spirited – and I am not merely pointing to the spirits in the glasses – pushback from the other three. A big catalysis was that discussions around death and regrets cast a negative cloud on the the whole perspective. Such a gloominess should not be the framework of how we live.

    In fact, after about twenty minutes of back and forth, Partha succinctly put it – “Do you wake up in the morning happy? If you do, that is all”.

    I resisted all the knee jerk reaction to give an answer. He repeated the question. I let him know that I understood his question. And strangely, I found myself very conflicted to answer that question. I let him know that I will think about it and see what I come up with.

    Frankly, nary a day passes without me thinking about that conflict for some time. And I am still not sure where I am on it. Thought it best to pose in front of you.

    At the root of it, the conflict is the following: Does contentment work against improvement?

    If I wake up very content and happy everyday, would that imply that I will never seek how to better myself and achieve them? On the other hand, if I am constantly thinking of proper priorities because of an impending end, will I be incapable of fundamental happiness?

    This question can be extended from the individual to the larger human kind… If everybody imbibed into the “Pura Vida” spirit of Costa Rica, would we make great strides in our lives? Doesn’t fundamental change for the better come a lot from being unhappy with the current state of affairs – that triggers the desire to change the world?

    Wake up every morning with a sense of happiness and contentment – for we do have a lot to be happy and content about?
    Recognize that the number of mornings left is down by one and refocus your life to make it more fulfilled at the end of it?

    Is there a way to think of this where they are perfectly compatible with each other?

    What do you think?

    P.S. Sharmila, Jaya and Partha, I hope I have represented your side of the argument well here. I know I have my own biases and that can come in the way of articulating the opposing view.