Reflections on the Summer of ’18

With the summer of 2018 coming to a close I take a look back at all my road trips, adventures, and stories, and look toward next summer.

Written by

Jason Barnette


September 3, 2018

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COVID-19 has changed the world. The tourism industry has been one of the hardest hit areas of the global pandemic. Local restaurants, museums, state and national parks have all changed hours of operation, procedures, and some have gone out of business altogether.

Please verify current operations of any places you want to visit mentioned in these articles, and contact me if a business has permanently closed so I can update the article. Thank you and stay safe out there!

A lifetime ago I lived in the coastal haven of Emerald Isle, North Carolina. Each year all the islanders looked forward to the Labor Day weekend for one reason: it marked the unofficial end of summer. On this Labor Day I look back at my adventures, discoveries, and the stories I have discovered from the Summer of ’18.

While living in Emerald Isle I developed a habit of breaking out The Ataris’ Boys of Summer on this weekend each year. I would cruise the empty streets, enjoy the wind blowing through the empty windows, the song blaring from my sound system over and over again.

Nobody on the road, Nobody on the beach.

I feel it in the air, the summer’s out of reach.

Empty lake, empty streets, the sun goes down alone.

Of course this is actually a sappy love song about a guy falling for one of those islander girls but I always ignored that part in favor of celebrating the end of summer.

TOP: A stunning Mississippi River sunset from Natchez-Under-the-Hill. BOTTOM: One of the best burgers I have ever eaten from The Stables Grill in Tupelo, Mississippi.

I began and ended this summer doing what I do best: road tripping. I started with a 30-day road trip along the Natchez Trace Parkway across Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee. I discovered the highest mountain in Alabama, and by the end of the summer I would have hiked, drove, and climbed to the highest point in four states. I saw the Mississippi River for the first time, enjoyed peaceful evenings at Natchez-Under-the-Hill, and visited the first of twelve units of the National Park System.

My road trip stories have evolved to become more than just the journey, even though that cutesy little saying will try to convince that is the best part. The best part is getting out there and exploring the world. I have changed the way I write to include anchor points, or destinations, connected by a road trip. The Natchez Trace Parkway was the road trip; places like Natchez, Vicksburg, Tupelo, and The Shoals of Alabama were the destinations. I explored the birthplace of Elvis and devoured one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten after almost dying (okay I didn’t almost die but I thought I was about to die).

TOP: I finally captured the light trails photo at dusk of Roanoke, Virginia that I have been wanting for years. BOTTOM: This instantly became my favorite macro photo I have ever captured.

Of course that was just the beginning of the summer. Two weeks ago I left for another epic road trip, this one a three week journey along the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina to New York for the 2018 Travel Blog Exchange. The #RoadtoTBEX has been pretty amazing so far; I drove the entire Blue Ridge Parkway for the second time, spent three days in Shenandoah National Park, and spent the Labor Day weekend exploring the history of Old Town Winchester, Virginia.

I have driven thousands of miles. Hiked perhaps hundreds of miles. I’ve seen stunning waterfalls, breathtaking sunsets, and discovered amazing hidden destinations. I have met interesting people, learned so many great stories, and been inspired to keep traveling further and longer than ever before.

TOP: The view from Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama. BOTTOM: Moss-covered fallen tree on Mt. Mitchell, the highest point in North Carolina and the Eastern United States.

As I write this I am sitting in the pedestrian mall at Old Town Winchester at a table to some restaurant that is solidly closed today. A woman walked past me a few minutes ago, waved, and asked, “How you doing today Jason?” I’ve only been here for three days but I’ve already made friends. That’s just what I do.

And now another summer has come to a close. It wasn’t long enough, but then again it can never be long enough. The sun is already setting earlier, the days getting shorter; just yesterday I tweeted my first post of the year about autumn colors. How long do we have until Christmas?

I learned a lot this summer. I finally discovered my niche! And as I inch closer to TBEX I realize everything is about to change for me. The same determination, but a different approach.

On the first day after Labor Day business hours on island beach towns change. The water slides are only open on the weekends now and the movie theater doesn’t open until 3; nobody stays open until midnight now. But even as restaurants close for the season and local owners finally get to take a vacation of their own they are already thinking about next summer.

So am I.

Leave me some comments below. Tell me your favorite part of this summer or share your favorite adventure.

TOP: My summer began with the Natchez Trace Parkway. BOTTOM: And my summer ended with the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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