The Adventures of Lou and Janie
Few short phrases are as evocative as "road trip."
Just hearing those two words makes the pulse a little quicker and the brain zip to places the body has never been before.
Sisters Lou Schell, 77, and Janie Gass, 70, are in their fourth month of a legendary road trip that will last most of 2011.
"We are sisters from a small town north of Mobile called Chatom, Ala.," Schell said. "Janie now lives in Austin, Texas. We've both lived other places, but Chatom is home."
Currently, Lou and Janie are spending the month of April at a condominium at Chateau Cloud in Blowing Rock.
"We're visiting 11 places that Charles Kuralt wrote about in his book 'America,'" Schell said. "We have arranged our trip differently because we're driving, and he flew back and forth. We met in New Orleans on Jan. 1, and we're staying a month in each place. So far, we've been to New Orleans, Key West, Charleston (S.C.) and here."
Schell and her husband, Fletcher, first had the idea for the epic road trip more than a decade ago when they both read Kuralt's book. When Fletcher died six years ago, Schell put the road trip idea on hold for a bit.
"I called Janie two years ago and suggested the two of us take the trip," she said. "Then last spring, Janie called me and said, 'It's time.'"
"That's when we seriously started thinking about the trip and making our plans," Gass said.
Those plans included packing appropriate clothing for an entire year at places as different as Key West, Fla., and Ketchikan, Alaska, and finding suitable lodging for each month's stay.
"Our car is packed for a year," Schell said.
At the beginning of May, Gass and Schell will depart Blowing Rock and drive to the bright lights of New York City. Their itinerary will take them to Woodstock, Vt., in June, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, in July, Ely, Minn., in August, Twin Bridges, Mont., in September, Ketchikan, Alaska, in October, and New Mexico in November.
"These are some odd, out-of-the-way places, but that's where he stayed," Schell said. "We're not sure where in New Mexico we're staying, but it will be somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley. Everybody has said Santa Fe's the place you need to be."
The sisters will conclude their trip at the end of November, go to their respective homes for the month of December, and then reunite in January to begin writing a book about their travels and adventures.
"Janie writes quite well; I do not," Schell said. "If you read our blog, you can tell the difference."
What? These two sisters in their 70s are not only taking the adventure of a lifetime, but they're writing about it on an Internet blog?
"We're writing about our journey at louschell.blogspot.com," Gass said. "I say come one, come all. We want to get as many people to read our blog as possible."
Keeping up with their blog has led to their one complaint about their condo in Blowing Rock.
"Here we can't get Wi-Fi reception, so we have to go to Kojay's or one of the other places in town that has Wi-Fi reception," Schell said. "We've sort of picked Kojay's as our computer place. Plus, we have to hang off of the balcony to get cell phone reception, but that is really our only complaint."
So far, the sisters have seen a few Blowing Rock sites and Grandfather Mountain, but intend to take more day trips as the month progresses. They plan to visit some of the churches that feature frescoes by artists Ben Long and Roger Nelson, and Gass stated a desire to see the Mast General Store to shop for an item for her 4-year-old grandson.
"He said, 'Nonny, I want you to bring me a bear slingshot,'" Gass said.
Being Southerners, the sisters were in unfamiliar territory when they arrived in Blowing Rock on April 1 and were greeted by a snowstorm.
"I'm sure everybody up here was unhappy about the snow, but we were thrilled," Gass said.
The unique trip is also giving the sisters an opportunity to see how different houses of worship conduct their weekly services.
"We're visiting a different church every Sunday," Schell said. "I've been at my church in Chatom for 48 years, and I decided that in taking this year off. I would visit a different church every Sunday. And that's what we're doing."
On their first Sunday in Blowing Rock, they attended services at Laurel Fork Baptist Church because that was where a local man who helped them tote their luggage up to their second-story condo.
On their second Sunday, they attended services at First Baptist Church of Blowing Rock.
"We're having the best time," Gass said. "We've met so many nice people, and we're seeing new country."
"It's been quite and experience," Schell said.
"And more to come," Gass added.