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A native Southerner takes a month-long road trip alone to explore the Southern states…and ends up finding herself

By Katy Henriksen

One hot August in 2008, I drove through the South. I lost count of the couches I crashed on, microbrews I sipped and local coffee I tasted. The open roads were abundant: I-40, I-95, I-20, and a memorable stretch of the fabled windy Blue Ridge Parkway. It was the first time I’d ever been on the road solo. It was a month of new adventure and self-discovery--the kind of trip that was made for the sporty and economical 2014 Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback.

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback, with its 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score for safety from the NHTSA,* and available turbocharged engine with a 40 mpg highway rating,** is made for firsts, just like my solo road trip. Style meets practicality and economy, an irresistible combination that celebrates the independent spirit of the wide, open road.

I’d just said goodbye to the hustle of New York City, where I lived it up in my late 20s, and moved back to the sleepy college town of Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I was born and raised. A fellow Arkansan working in the publishing industry thought of me for an assignment: go on the road for Rough Guides to research the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee for The Rough Guide to the USA, Vol. 8. With that, I took my first-ever solo road trip and saw a South I never knew.

I grew up on the open road—month-long adventures out West camping, scenic travels throughout the country, visiting family and friends, were the norm. My parents, both teachers with summers off, took my sister and me for epic summer adventures. We’d zigzag up steep two-lane highways, pitch tents in expanses of evergreens or near a bluff overlooking a forested valley, cook turnovers on a campfire. It wasn’t until that August that I commanded the steering wheel and took to the highway all by myself, which was at once daunting and liberating.

It was also the first time for me to experience much of the region that everyone who heard I was from Arkansas said I was from: the South. The South I knew was rugged and ancient—dark bluffs shrouding narrow rivers curving through the Ozark Mountains, the oldest mountain range in North America. On the itinerary and new to me were the iconic places of the Old South. I’d never seen expanses of cotton fields or ornate plantations, not to mention that famously romantic Spanish moss dangling all around Savannah.

As a child, I was always so scared when I slept in tents that I cuddled up beside my parents and sister. I felt vulnerable to the world and all the night sounds. After driving through the longest stretch of I-40 that goes through Tennessee and the hills of North Carolina, I made it all the way to the Outer Banks, where I pitched a two-person tent right against the waves of Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Those endless waves crashing against the grassy dunes and the chirping of night creatures—not another tent in sight—soothed me to sleep shortly after nightfall.

That summer was one for firsts, much like the Sonic hatchback, with its trail-blazing design that boasts the first-ever in its class*** 5-Star overall vehicle score for safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. I’d now slept alone in a tent for the first time. When I saw the day unfold in its glorious expanse, the sun rising along the waves and up into the rose-colored sky, only the sound of wind, seagulls and crashing waves accompanied me. In addition to peaceful, it was both empowering and liberating. Why had I waited until I was 30 took to venture forth on my own?

Since I was the sole decision maker, there was no bickering on what music to play on the car stereo or what to eat, or even anyone to tell me what my next destination should be. Certainly there were moments when I hungered for a good conversation, but all that time on my own gave me a chance to really be at one with myself. I soaked in the old growth trees, the ladies selling sweetgrass baskets along the roadside, and even the high Americana kitsch of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, home to Dolly Parton’s Dollywood theme park.

I’m generally not one for Top 40 radio, but T.I.’s slow beat hip-hop anthem, “Whatever You Like,” was ubiquitous that August, and it felt just right for my solo road trip. I’d blare it, the windows rolled down, reveling in the freedom and expanses of the open road, those thousands of miles, at moments curved up through the Great Smokies and other flat stretches along the Delta. A rich collage of so many cultures and landscapes took me through a South I’d never known and on a journey inward, at once to my very center and radiating outward into the vast unknown.

The trademarks mentioned in this story are held by their respective owners.

This is the first in a three-part series of Sonic Solo adventures.

Katy Henriksen is the music editor for TheRumpus.net and a classical music and arts producer for KUAF 91.3 FM (NPR) in Fayetteville, AR, where she hosts the daily classical music show "Of Note with Katy Henriksen" and the weekly "KUAF Sunday Symphony." Her tumblr is helloloretta.tumblr.com and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @helloloretta.

 

*Government 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score for safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) New Car Assessment Program

(www.SaferCar.gov)

**Based on EPA estimated for LT/LTZ with available 1.4L turbocharged engine and 6-speed manual transmission.

***Based on GM Small Car segment.

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