Long drives are not necessarily conducive to a good vacation, unless the drive is the point, in which case it can be amazing. Susan and I set out last week to spend several days driving the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway from where it begins (or ends, at milepost 459) in Cherokee, North Carolina, all the way past milepost 1 to Rockfish Gap, Virginia.
There we picked up the Skyline Drive, which meanders another 105 miles northeast, much of it overlooking the picturesque Shenandoah Valley. My senior pass to the National Park system came in handy on that one: unlike the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Skyline charges admission. Other than the beginning and end, there are only two exits, but park-owned facilities at Meadowbrook and Skyland offer lodging and food about midway through.
The Skyline Drive comes to an end in Front Royal, Virginia, where the Soul Mountain Cafe serves up fine barbecue and collards. From there we took both interstates and scenic country roads to a cottage on the Susquehanna River in Mahaffey, PA, about 15 miles from Punxsutawney, home of the famous “Punxsutawney Phil.” I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised when we looked out the window and saw two groundhogs ambling through the yard.
Our intent was not just to drive, but to hike a sampling of the many trails that intersect with the two parkways. On our first excursion, a steep climb to the Bunches Bald overlook not far from Cullowhee, we’d gone about halfway when we met a woman sitting beside the trail with a chihuahua. She said, “If you meet my dad, tell him I’m sitting in the shade, waiting.” Near the top, we met Pelham Thomas — 94 years old — who taught mathematics at Western Carolina until he retired to run a berry farm and do volunteer work. He was determined to make the climb, and he did.
In mid-to-late June, the Catawba Rhododendron are in bloom, and there’s no better place to enjoy them than at Craggy Gardens, north of Asheville, where the short hike is more than worth the effort if you like the thought of being surrounded by an embarrassment of pink-to-fuchsia blossoms in all their glory — not to mention gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.
Other hikes took us to Crabtree Falls, Linville Falls, and the Fodder Stack trail at Doughton Park in North Carolina. In Virginia we explored trails in the Peaks of Otter, stopped at Mabry’s Mill, and followed the Appalachian Trail to view columnar jointing (caused by the rapid cooling of lava) at Compton Mountain, just ten miles from the northern end of the Skyline Drive.
We were inspired and impressed by the visual splendor of this one part of this great country, but the experience was also tempered by the periodic notifications that would ding on our smartphones when cellular service was available: while we were enjoying the beauty of the land, a beastly terror was unfolding in Orlando, where a misguided young extremist had wreaked havoc and slaughtered scores of people with an assault rifle that no civilian should have a right to own.
The physical grandeur of our land and the richness of its people cannot be eclipsed by evil, but neither can it hide the malevolent potential of barbarity. As long as we live, there will be people who love, and people who hate; people who do good, and those who choose evil. May we follow Amos’ injunction to “seek good and not evil” (Amos 5:14a); the Psalmist’s pleas to “depart from evil and do good” (Ps. 34:14a, 37:27a), and Jesus’ mandate, repeated often in scripture, to love one another (John 13:34).
Perhaps Paul has the clearest word for days like this: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).