Notes from the Road: North Carolina

At this point I’ve fallen so far off the chronology train that this post is out of left field, but I figured I’d pick up where the last road trip post left off. I’m challenging myself to actually chronicle this trip before too much time passes/I hit the road again, so here we go!

From Asheville, I headed eastward down the mountains towards Charlotte. One of my dear friends from Austin moved out there with her fiancée and they were one of the few certain stops along my whole harebrained route. I spent some much-needed time there catching up on work writing and exploring one of the southeast’s great cities. It’s also where I finally met up with Jamey Price who photographed my car for the Petrolicious piece I ended up publishing a couple of months ago. Aside from that hilariously fun afternoon drifting the car around a horse ranch south of town, that week was largely spent ‘out of the car’ catching up on rest, catching up with friends, and taking a quick (36 hour) trip from Charlotte to Los Angeles and back for work.

After spending some time tooling around the city, I came to an epic fork in the road. Jamey invited me to go fly fish near Boone with him and some friends, and some guy named Charles Stanley had invited me to Chapel Hill for Targa Carolina (you may remember him from this post), the grand opening of a place called Road Scholars, and a weekend of bike riding, feasting, and driving. I agonized for a little too long and tried to scheme a way to make both work, before finally settling on eating further east towards the Research Triangle. I still plan to catch up with Jamey again to do some fishing, but I decided that on my trip I wanted to cast as wide a net as possible. I texted a bit with Charles and it was settled. I belted east on the interstate so I could get a bike ride in with him before the rest of the out-of-town crew arrived for the Targa Carolina festivities.

Upon arriving, I was greeted with the type of immediate warmth and friendship that’d characterized so much of my trip, especially the connections made via the extended Porsche community. I was offered snacks and immediately changed into my spandex so we could get out on bikes before anyone else arrived. More than once, we opted to turn away from the house instead of towards it in spite of a ringing cell phone and a setting sun. Bike rides like that are a source of life for me, and have been painfully rare since I was hit in June. We had a gamut of laughs and real talk that characterize the best and rarest of conversations, and it was a great welcome to Chapel Hill. Soon, I felt much more at-ease with my decision to go out on a limb instead of follow a new fishing buddy to Boone. We returned to his place when Charles asked, “Hey, do you think it’s too late to cancel the hotel room I transferred to you?”

I called and asked at 5:57 and the deadline was six. My room was cancelled, and just like that, I was staying in his eldest son’s room in fresh linens and the most comfortable bed I slept in on my entire trip. The bond forged by common interest and some time on the bike is a strong one. That he married his high school sweetheart, owns a weimaraner, and lives in the woods in North Carolina meant that our connection was uncanny.

By the time I got out of the shower, the driveway and garage were full of cool cars and cooler car people. They’d come from other parts of North Carolina and Virginia and arrived in all manner of vintage Porsches and a stray Lotus Elise. We piled into a couple of Charles’ family cars and drove to dinner at a lovely spot in Chapel Hill, where I felt listened to and valued in a manner that is so uncommon these days. Guys I’d just met were clinging to every word of my notes from the road so far and wondering what it might take to inject their own lives with such a trip.

It’s a good question—wondering if we require life-altering tragedy or despair in order to trade cold comforts for harebrained hope. After living enough life and getting better at being an open book every day, I presuppose that most of us have enough latent despair that we might could use a hearty kick in the ass to reverse course before our current tracks shuttle us through years like zombie coal miners hypnogogically prying at empty shafts.
That dinner was an unforgettable highlight in a trip full of them: a gathering of car guys debating the merits of differential ratios and tire selections then drifting into the philosophical, wondering aloud at whether such a trip would ever be possible in their own lives.

My vote was an obvious and emphatic ‘Hell yes!’ and it was not a thoughtless one. Even if seven weeks is an unreasonable ask for those with an intricate web of dependencies and loans and responsibilities, such a trek depends far more on mindset than vehicle or calendar. It is humbling and inspiring to have your normal perceived as enviable and heroic. Being comfortable with solitude and uncertainty does require a certain disposition, but the central theme of everyone’s amazement seemed to be the idea of ‘taking the leap.’ Less than any prohibitive airs or mechanical reluctance was a sense that jumping off a linear progression of time and progress and things going ‘according to plan’ was an unfathomable move. And even though I was heralded as the paragon of such an action, I still find myself agreeing with them that such a move might be impossible, as if I’ve learned nothing from history and am doomed to reluctantly repeat it.

The Targa Carolina was a bleary-eyed, epic affair. We arose early and jumped dutifully into our rip-roarious machines, Charles in his hot-rodded longhood 3.2 Frankenstein, Tom in his glorious green 964, a blue 356 Cab, and down the line. We caravanned to a parking lot in the heart of Carrboro, where we were met with more aircooled Porsches from original safari 912s to a red 959 driven by a battle-scared owner who noted his fresh facial wounds were the result of a night’s heavy drinking and the hazards of the living room coffee table. (Porsche) People never cease to amaze.

Once the parking lot was loaded with so many fine cars that you couldn’t decide where to focus your attention, we headed out for a drive through the gorgeous and winding roads of central North Carolina. The pace was relaxed-yet-spirited, with enough space even in a lengthy convoy that the later cars could put some distance on their elders before the fun was reigned back in.

We ended at Road Scholars’ grand opening in Raleigh, which was a star-car-studded affair that felt at odds with my mission to get my car as dirty and lost as possible and talk to people about everything, usually except for cars. Still, many of the attendees were amused by the raccoon paw prints that traced their way up and over my roofline and windshield and the California license plates affixed to a car parked a mere hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and a few recognized me/the car from the writing that’d been published on Bring a Trailer earlier that summer.