The idea to take a road trip, got thrown around in a conversation we had in late October of 2015. The plan was to take a road trip as far as we could go, to do and see the most, with the least amount of planning, in the shortest amount of time in order to make it home before Thanksgiving. What resulted was a plan to drive to from New Jersey all the way to Nashville for a night. Thanks to Google maps, the route to Tennessee had plenty of stops along the way. I wanted to include some outdoor adventures and my best friends, Paul and Nick, wanted to check out the nightlife in the cities. We settled on a route that would take us through a National Park, great cities for BBQ, incredible nightlife, massive college football stadiums, camping, and some major cities along the way. Oh yeah… we only had 3 days to do and see all of this.
The journey started off by me picking the guys up at 5:45AM, and we set off to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The sun began to peek over the horizon just as we passed Baltimore, MD and the guys were on nap #1 out of a hundred on the trip. Once we entered the park we stopped at almost every single overlook that we passed. The early morning light spread across the Virginia soil as far as the eye could see from atop the ridge where we sat on Skyline Drive, the road that passes through the entire park on top all the mountains. We finally arrived at a parking lot near skyland rest stop where we set off for a quick walk in the woods. Seeing as it was November, all the leaves had disappeared from the tree branches and we trudged through the park in search of as many waterfalls that we could find. After we passed through the rest of the park, after the hike, we made our first stop for some down-south BBQ food at Log Cabin BBQ in Elkton, the pulled pork and ribs were incredible. It wouldn’t be the last time on the trip we stood out among the locals.
Next stop, Blacksburg to check out Virginia Tech’s campus. What originally was just a place to get out, stretch our legs, and swap drivers; turned out to be one of the best parts of the trip. As we headed over towards the football stadium with the hopes of getting a glimpse of the field, lead us towards the north end zone where a security guard allowed through the gate and down onto the field. So what does any guy do…break out into a dead sprint to the 50. After a ton of pictures and a few 40yd dashes inside the majestic Lane Stadium, we were left with permanent smiles from an unreal, spontaneous experience.
Back in the car, and finally switching up the drivers, we drove into the sunset with all sights set on getting the best ribs in America in Knoxville. Our search lead us to the unique Calhoun’s On The River, nestled right in downtown on the Tennessee River. A place that claims to have the best ribs in America, but I refuse to believe that the title “Best” is reserved for restaurants that serve you a rack of ribs right from a smoker and requires you to wait an hour in line for them, not a place that could pass off as a TGI Fridays…It was great none the less.
Even though I had the trip’s drive times were calculated down to the minute, I forgot to include the 1-hour time change when we crossed over in Tennessee. This couldn’t have worked out any better once we got to our AirBnB in Nashville. A quick, $6 Uber ride to Broadway, and we finally had beers in our hand at the infamous Tootsies Orchid Lounge listening to some of the best country music around. The main strip of bars in Nashville are all located down the strip on Broadway, which is lined with neon signs and music pouring out of all the open doors. It doesn’t matter where you end up, because you’ll be surrounded by incredible music and a drink in your hand. To get our fill of dancing, we popped into the Honkey Tonk bar for the rest of the night where we were serenaded by the voice of an angel in an awesome country band.
The next morning we headed back downtown to stop into the world famous Jack’s BBQ on Broadway for a large breakfast that included pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and brisket, along with all the fixins. It was a meal nothing short of amazing and easily one of the best BBQ meals I’ve ever had. Walked down to the Cumberland River to checkout the home of the Tennessee Titans. The tourist walk was followed by a quick visit to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Even if you’re not a big country fan, highly recommend stopping by just to see their tribute to The King, Elvis Presley.
Next stop, Louisville. Since we didn’t really make plans to do anything in any of the cities we visited, we really relied on Google maps when we were driving to each city. That is how we made a stop at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby. Unfortunately there were not any racing happening that day, but we did get to stop by the museum and also see a previous winner in his barn right out back.
After heading downtown on Main Street, we found the Louisville Slugger Museum. Unfortunately we arrived too late to get the real tour, so we had to do our own thing. Which worked out for the best, since we were able to swing historical bats like Mickey Mantel’s. We had one goal when we got into Kentucky, and that was to get fried chicken. But after consecutive BBQ meals for the past two days, we decided to change it up and scarf down a Mexican feast at Los Aztecas Mexican Grill. If you’re in the area for dinner, make a stop there and know that the portions are huge and delicious.
After dinner it was onto the next city, The Queen City of Cincinnati. As the night fell, we passed over the last mountain on Route 71 before we caught a glimpse of the beautiful city. As you cross the bridge over the Ohio River, you get to see the how, surprisingly, large the city really is. Our plan was to camp outside of the city limits, so we called a few sites from the road and found what ended up being a gem. But before we headed off to the campsite, we wanted to explore Cincinnati. Unfortunately, it was a ghost town on a Monday night. My friends compared to driving around a city with traffic turned off. The bar streets that a friend recommended we check out was absolutely dead. So after a few laps around the city, we gave up and headed off to Winton Woods Campground. By the time we got there, temps were already dropping down towards freezing, but we secured a spot right on the water so that our morning would start with a sunrise over the lake.
It wouldn’t be a true camping trip if we didn’t wake up covered in frost, check. Off to the next city, Columbus to check out Ohio State University’s campus. We held off on breakfast because I knew there was this awesome breakfast joint on High Street called that I had been to before when I visited OSU in college. It’s called Buckeye Donuts, and the breakfast sandwiches and donuts are delicious . On a whim, we tried to see if we could get into football stadium #2 on the trip. After talking to a die-hard, lifelong OSU fan that allowed us to head down and check it out. The sun was shining and it couldn’t have been a any more perfect moment in the Horseshoe.
[Click] Full Photo Album from this Adventure
Not that we haven’t been to Pennsylvania before, but none of us have ever been to the Steel City of Pittsburgh. I went to college with more people from the Burgh than I can count, and of course the one time we’re there is mid afternoon on a Tuesday when none of them are around. But we were able to capture an incredible view of the city and the rivers from an overlook that I heard so much about named, West End-Elliott Overlook. If you know anything about Pittsburgh, you know that if you’re hungry, you make a stop at Primanti Brothers. After a couple Pitts-burgers and wings, we wandered around Market Square and the downtown. Unfortunately we were pretty wiped out from our trip and we really weren’t in the mood for more walking around or another stop. So we hopped on the turnpike with our sights set on Jersey.
It was an incredible trip that spanned 9 states over 1,721 miles in only 3 days. The memories that the three of us have from this trip will be cherished forever. It’s incredible that we were able to make this journey so spontaneously and with little to no issues. Life on the road is definitely something that I love and I was so stoked to be able to share it with my two best friends. We were able to make it to cities that we really had no plan on ever visiting again. Even though most of the driving was in flat states, it was the perfect way to see our little portion of America in the North East. I highly recommend convincing your friends and just hop in the car, drive to a place you’ve never been, and stop everywhere you can.
Adventure Doesn’t Find You… You have to seek adventure.
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.