A road trip is not a trivial thing, even if the destination is trivial.
Boiled peanuts. Is there anything that signifies the essence of a road trip better than a bag of boiled peanuts, purchased with cash from a shack on the side of the road? In my mind, there is no better road trip food, which is ironic considering the boiled peanut is one of the toughest foods to eat in a car, logistically speaking. They take two hands to eat, they’re juicy as hell, and you’ve got those shells to discard somewhere. And yet, I can’t imagine a proper road trip without a bag of damn-salty boiled peanuts. Of course, you have to be on a road trip to enjoy boiled peanuts. For whatever reason, they don’t sell that particular snack in metropolitan cities. Even if there was a boiled peanut stand on the street, it wouldn’t taste the same. You’ve got to drive for these Southern delicacies. There needs to be at least 100 miles on your trip odometer before you can truly enjoy the mushy goodness of a boiled peanut.
Now, is a $2.99 bag of overcooked nuts reason enough to drive several hours, possibly crossing state lines? In a word, yes. A bag of boiled peanuts is a perfectly valid reason to hit the road.
I can track my own personal evolution through a series of road trips. I went to my first strip bar on a road trip. I started my first accidental fire with a misguided pyrotechnics show on a road trip. I discovered craft beer on a road trip. I climbed my first rock wall on a road trip. I saw my first Allman Brothers show on a road trip. You could say I owe everything that is good in my life to a road trip: It was on a road trip that I first met my wife. And it was through several subsequent road trips that I finally wore her down into the submission that society calls “marriage.”
So believe me, the road trip is an important thing. But that doesn’t mean you need an important destination for your road trip. You don’t always have to set your sights on some place epic like Las Vegas. In fact, I’d argue that the more trivial the final destination of a given road trip, the better that trip will be.
To prove my point, here are five seemingly trivial things worth driving a very long way to experience.
Chesapeake Bay Oysters
Why It’s Worth the Gas: The Chesapeake Bay oyster has long been a delicacy, but over-harvesting and pollution have put a strain on this wonderful natural resource. Oystermen used to pull more than a million bushels of oysters a year out of the Chesapeake Bay. Now, they’re harvesting less than one percent of that level. The Chesapeake oyster is salty, succulent, and only in season during winter months. Check out the Urbanna Oyster Festival, in November, for true oyster culture and an all-you-can-shuck competition. urbannaoysterfestival.com
Howling Moon Moonshine
Why It’s Worth the Gas: In a word, “process.” There are bigger moonshine makers in the South, but there might not be a more purposeful legal moonshine distillery in our parts. The folks at Howling Moon create small batch hooch made from local corn, using a family recipe, in a hand-crafted still with pipes held together with rye paste. Now that’s old school. Howling Moon can only produce 80 cases a month, and you can only find it in a dozen places in Western North Carolina. howlingmoonshine.com
Oconee Bell Wildflower
Why It’s Worth the Gas: This tiny white bloom is one of the rarest wildflowers in the U.S. For nearly a century, scientists thought it was completely extinct until a teenager found one while hanging out in the woods. Today, you can find the flower in only seven counties, all lying in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The flower blooms in early spring. The best place to see the Oconee Bell en masse is along the Oconee Bell Nature Trail inside South Carolina’s Devil’s Fork State Park. southcarolinaparks.com
Soft Shell Crab
Why It’s Worth the Gas: Enjoying a good soft shell crab is all about being at the right place at the right time. Every spring, blue crabs molt out of their hard casings, allowing crabbers to catch them in their more delicate “underpants” so to speak. Soft shell season typically starts with the first full moon in May, and the crab are considered the tastiest before the next full moon in June. The window is short. You can get them frozen, but that is just a “shell” of the soft shell experience. Like seeing a picture of the Mona Lisa, instead of the actual painting hanging in the Louvre. Check out the Kayak and Crab tour in the Outer Banks, where you kayak to catch your own crabs, then learn how to cook them. outerbanksepicurean.com
Why It’s Worth the Gas: A truly dark sky is an increasingly rare thing these days. In fact, I’d be willing to argue that few of us have ever truly experienced a dark sky full of stars. Spruce Knob, at 4,863 feet, is the highest mountain in West Virginia and is surrounded by mostly forest and tiny towns that don’t emit much light pollution. Thanks to the sheer volume of people in the Southeast, Spruce Knob is one of the last truly dark places in the Southern Appalachians. Go there for vertigo-inducing darkness and more stars than you can count. darksky.org