Our last week of travel felt pretty strange. Just heading northward with the setting sun out the driver's side window was a change! But most of all was seeing everything so green and lush. After two months spent mostly out west in blazing heat and drought, to see green hillsides, streams, lush forests...it felt like a different world.
After leaving the swamps, we went to Jackson, Mississippi where we were able to accomplish one of Tanner's goals for the trip...take in a baseball game. The Jackson Braves are the AA minor league team of the MLB Atlanta Braves, and we just happened to be there on fan appreciation night. That meant cheap tickets and even cheaper food! $1 hot dogs and drinks. Unfortunately, the concession stands didn't seem prepared for 5000 people wanting multiple hot dogs, and the lines quickly grew dozens of people deep, and many people waited over an hour to get food. We patiently (not) waited until the lines had died down a bit in the 7th inning, and got our dogs. Tanner was able to get some pregame autographs on his glove, and in between innings was even given a foul ball by a very kind usher, who thanked him for coming all the way from Boston for the game! It was a fun night to be sure, topped off with a couple of free Papa John's pizzas as we watched the post-game fireworks.
From there we went to Asheville, NC to visit the largest home in the US...The Biltmore, built by George Vanderbilt, one of the children of the railroad monopoly giant Cornelius Vanderbilt. The home was immense, dwarfing the summer cottages of his brothers in Newport, RI, and the gardens and grounds were spectacular. We particularly enjoyed learning about the crucial role of Frederick Law Olmstead, since he is deeply rooted in the history of our town of Easton, MA.
Along the way to Asheville we made one small stop thanks to a billboard announcing tours of the Mayfield Dairy Factory...including its world famous ice cream! It was a great tour that shared the history of the dairy, the Mayfield family, and the process of making ice cream. Best of all was the free samples at the end...a huge ice cream cone. And yes, it was fantastic and delicious, some of the best we've ever had!
Our trip north followed the Blue Ridge Parkway, one of the truly beautiful and scenic drives in our country. Following the Smokey Mountains and the Appalachian Trail, the parkway hugs ridges, flows through rhododendron forests, and crosses rolling farmland. There was a nice sense of relaxation driving through this scenic byway, rather than simply speeding north on the major highway. It was slower going, but worth it.
One final stop remained before we returned to New England. Hershey, PA and both the Hershey Chocolate Factory and Hershey Park. We camped right at the park campground, and spent the first evening at chocolate world, learning about the chocolate making process and the powerful witness of Milton Hershey, the founder of the chocolate company, who left his entire fortune to create and sustain a school for underprivileged kids. And of course, there was chocolate everywhere! Even the town's light posts are shaped like Hershey Kisses! The chocolate/peanut butter Hershey's milkshake was unbelievable! The next day had us as one of the very first people through the gates at Hershey Park. We spent the entire day riding roller coasters and having a great time. Tanner even did a loop to loop coaster...and more amazing, so did Johnny! The favorite ride was The Claw, a wicked looking ride that spun 360 degrees at the same time that it rocked back and forth a few stories into the air. Johnny did sat that one out.
On Labor Day weekend we pulled up to Ann's Dad's house in CT. We spent a fun weekend with Ann's family, sharing moments from our trip, apple picking and doing load after load of laundry. We arrived home on Monday night, knowing that Tuesday would be a day of chaos, as we figured out schedules for school, sports and music, and got ready for school on Wednesday. Bright and early Wednesday morning, Tobi began 9th grade, Lucy started 7th grade, Elsie entered 4th grade and Tanner began 2nd grade. Ready or not, here we go!
Over the next few weeks, we'll add a few more blog posts as we continue to reflect on our trip. We are so grateful for the many prayers and well wishes we have received throughout our journey. We are home. But we still have a purpose...to be the light of Christ to those whose paths we cross.