803-mile solo drive home was a breeze

Travel agent and weather study helped to pave the way

Mary Alice Powell.
Mary Alice Powell.

You didn’t drive home all by yourself? Though I do appreciate the concern, I am tired of being asked that question.

Yes, I drove home alone from South Carolina. And why not? Henry, my 2003 Mercury with 192,000 miles, was ready for the trip with four new tires. I too was prepared for the long drive with routes and suggested lodging from Bobbi, the agent at AAA in Toledo who never steers me wrong.

I did have a few doubts when I drove into the gorge in the Smoky Mountains on I-40 between Asheville, N. C., and Knoxville, Tenn., when it began to snow. Even the truck drivers at breakfast at the Country Inn in Asheville had warned me about the gorge and to take it easy. One said I would be in and out of it in 20 minutes, so hang on and be careful. Wrong!

That reinforces my belief that truckers sometimes exceed the posted speed limit and explains why they pass me far more than I go around them — because the scary gorge drive was more than 20 minutes.

I left three days before Aiken, S.C., was inundated with ice and snow, lost electric power, and even had a mini earthquake. That’s a terrible report from sweet little Aiken, my home in the South away from home.

I had decided to drive and not have the car shipped when I was quoted a price of $981 for shipping from South Carolina to Toledo. I paid the same company $644 for shipping from Toledo to Orlando in December.

So how did I enjoy clear sailing for the 803-mile drive? When I knew it was time to head back, I began studying weather reports in Atlanta, Detroit, and Charlotte, N.C., the hub areas that I deemed the most crucial for possible storms that would endanger my journey.

I wrote down what weather was expected in those areas and decided that Sunday through Wednesday would be the right window for the drive. I made better time than expected, turning onto Posey Lake Highway at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Once I got into the house, all was well. After trying to open the door for a half hour in the cold, I blamed a faulty key and called for help, only to learn the door was frozen shut. Once inside, the house cats were welcoming, especially Geranium, who has since been on my lap or by my feet.

The outdoor cats survived the harsh winter. I was delighted to see them and have been treating them to chicken and tuna.

The first lap of the trip, from Aiken to Asheville, was 200 miles, an easy drive that allowed plenty of time to stop in Prosperity, N.C., for lunch. Several years ago on the same route, I stopped there and discovered the Back Porch, a wonderful hometown restaurant with southern cooking.

After being told by the townspeople that it closed several years ago, they suggested I go to Hawg Heaven, which I could find by all the cars and trucks in the parking lot. Hawg Heaven is a one-of-a-kind restaurant that gives customers more than their money’s worth from several buffet tables that are overflowing with home-style foods: chicken dumpling soup, pork prepared several ways, many styles of chicken, macaroni and cheese, rich gravies for mashed potatoes, and more.

It was Sunday noon after church and the place was packed. A long line had formed outdoors. In the custom of southern hospitality Andrew and V.V. Massey and their daughter invited me to sit with them. Our conversation was perfect for the Hawg Heaven setting. The Masseys’ barbecue team is Swig-N-Pig. They have won several competitions with their recipe, which rubs pork butts with pepper and vinegar.

From the multiple choices, Mrs. Massey encouraged me to try liver bits, a local original. I did try the dish of meat pieces in deep gravy, to be polite, but wouldn’t again.

From Asheville, it was 242 miles to Berea, Ky., and Boone Tavern, a longtime favorite destination, and the subject for a future Sunday column.

My travel plan included driving 193 miles from Berea to Troy, Ohio, to stay overnight. But once the Cincinnati skyline loomed before me on I-75, I was off and running like a horse headed for the barn. There was no overnight stop, but a straight shot to Toledo and Posey Lake.

I made it. Why not?

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: mpowell@theblade.com