Unexpected Surprises and Hidden Gems

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We’ve been traveling on the road now for well over a year and are ready to pack up the van, and Carlos, and head west.  A month’s worth of decluttering, yard work, minor repairs, and tidying up at Catherine’s properties in Glen Ellyn, Illinois has kept us plenty busy here. We’ve also enjoyed some free time and time to reflect on the last 15 months on the road.

The other day we sat down with Catherine and outlined our route on our well worn US map and shared a brief story on each stop along the way, three quarters around the map.P1020749

The words unexpected and surprise are synonymous. For me, unexpected evokes more of an undesirable feeling like a tire blowout 30 miles outside of HOT Houston. Where surprise has a more pleasant meaning like a ferry ride to Put-in-Bay. Either way, we have experienced many unexpected surprises along the way-mostly pleasant. As far as stopover surprises go, three places stand out: Jalama Beach, California, Apalachicola, Florida, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Jalama Nights

Last July, Jalama Beach on the Central California Coast was recommended to us by a ranger at Pismo Beach. We had camped a week at Pismo in seven different campsites. Summer months are always booked on the coast, so for us “through campers” moving at a moments notice became routine. When this friendly ranger told us about this “beach paradise” we stocked up on beer supplies and spent two weeks on the beach.

Sky High in Jalama


It’s hard to explain Jalama Beach. Off the beaten path of HWY 1, along a long winding road, smack dab in the middle of the Central California Coast is this little slice of beach heaven. One little store and only for those “in the know” it feels like an exotic beach destination. You won’t even find it on AAA maps.


The best part of Jalama Beach is that there is absolutely no high-rise hotels, no yahoo tourists, no coco locos, no lame luaus, no long flights. No, none of that. Just this campground overlooking one of the most beautiful stretches of beach on the California Coast.



We stumbled on this quaint little gulf town back in November, literally. Try saying Apalachicola. It’s a small port town on the Gulf Coast; historic, quiet, rustic… our daughter asked, “How do you come up with these places?” And, I guess that it is a pretty good question because most everyone we met along the way has asked the same.

Since 1905

“Apalachicola? What brought y’all here? Well, we needed to get off the interstate and off the beaten path of Florida before we head to the well worn path called Disney World.”  That’s a sample conversation we had on several occasions here on this portion of the gulf coast of Florida. Locals call it “Old Florida” and boy, did we find a gem.

P1030421 (5)



P1010723 2When I told Hali we were headed to Asheville, North Carolina, after visiting Uncle Rolf on the coast, this was her response, “Asheville? What’s in Asheville? Heard of Nashville, but nope, not Asheville. What’s in Asheville, the hillbilly museum of modern art”?


Mabry Mill, Virginia – so postcard perfect, that copycats as far as Connecticut have a postcard proclaiming it as “their” mill

Mabry Mill, Virginia

I was less unexpectedly surprised by Asheville than Hali but both of us were pleasantly surprised nonetheless. Asheville has been on my radar since we set off last May. What surprised me most was to read that Asheville is considered Beer Town USA. Coming from Portland, I wanted to find out how this little town, on the edge of the Smokey Mountains, surpassed Portland as Beervana and wanted to surprise Hali with this little gem of a town.


P1010726Asheville is certainly worthy of another visit. I guess it did surprise me that this little town offered much more than dozens of craft beer breweries: the hills, the hiking, landscapes, art district, and food trucks. For Hali, Asheville surprised her in it’s smaller in scale than Portland yet it felt a bit like home. And no, it didn’t feel the least bit hillbilly.


While in Illinois, we’ve also taken a trip to local AAA office to get some maps. Time to plot a course. A course off major interstates, a westerly course, and of course, more chances to find hidden gems or surprises along the course. These are the road maps we picked up: Iowa(???), the Dakotas, Montana, and Idaho.

We’re hoping to stumble upon more unexpected surprises in the next 2100 miles. A trip most people would make on the interstate in 29 hours (we’re actually tinkering with this crazy notion). For us, we should be pulling into Portland in about a month. Fair warning to our Portland friends.

Maybe pick up an unexpected/surprise project along the way. Is Long Island on the way?P1020292 2



About Woody

We are a couple who took the first step toward a life of traveling in May, 2015. Staying within the continental US, we amp'd the adventure-factor by traveling in a VW Vanagon, circa 1985. Our mission is to share irresistible and compelling stories conceived from this lifestyle of travel.

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