Weeks 38-40 (24th Oct-10th Nov) – Southern USA

As we left the north eastern states, the northern magic that had seen the Blue Jays reach the playoffs for the first time in 22 years wore off as they failed to reach the World Series. Almost simultaneously, we arrived in Charlotte to see our team—the Carolina Panthers—for the first time live, and it was as if the luck transferred there too.

The day before the game, we visited the stadium, the best in the NFL—everything adorned with Panthers logos, unlike some of the other NFL stadiums where you had to guess where you were. Outside, we were extremely lucky to bump into the club’s owner and creator Jerry Richardson. When he found out we were from England, he asked if we’d like a tour of the stadium. Of course we obliged and hopped onto his golf cart. Suddenly, we were on the field at the 50-yard line, in the end zone, in the players tunnel, in the locker rooms, in the treatment room, in the gym! It was amazing, and Jerry was a lovely guy.

The following day, we beat the Eagles and went 6-0 for the first time in Panthers history. Having only been to NFL games at Wembley, where there are fans from every team, being the home team in an actual NFL stadium is incomparable— the hush when our offence is on the field, the growl of 1st down, the calamitous noise on 3rd down.

We spent the rest of the week in Charlotte waiting for the next game. It rained torrentially almost every day so worked in the office most of the time. We tried to go camping, but after a lengthy drive and a stop at a Hills Have Eyes type gas station complete with out-of-tune choir singing Amazing Grace, we arrived at the campsite to a chorus of gunshots from the numerous hunters there. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of murdering animals, and the sound of gunshots isn’t exactly a relaxing camping experience, so we swiftly left.

We tried to sightsee, but it turns out there’s not much to do in Charlotte, and it being a very religious town, what little there is in the city centre is shut on Saturdays, so on Halloween we walked around the deserted city thinking the zombie apocalypse might have happened. Despite how all-out America goes on its Halloween decorations, with people adorning their houses throughout October, their attempts at Halloween costumes were just generic fancy dress. We spent the night at our first drive-in movie, Badin Road Drive-in, having great fun watching Hotel Transylvania and Goosebumps.

Finally, it was Monday Night Football against the Colts. The torrential rain continued, but despite getting soaked before the game, I was delighted to meet Sir Purr, the Panthers’ adorable mascot. Then, we discovered our back row seats were directly underneath the jumbotron screen, so we remained dry for the entire game much to the chagrin of the rows of fans in front of us. After a tense game and overtime, we won at half-past midnight. To top off our Panthers experience, before leaving Charlotte we went to a Panthers practise, met some of the players and met head coach Ron Rivera, who chatted to us and was absolutely lovely.

Our next stop was Brevard to see the beautiful white squirrels. We found our first independent coffee shop, Brighter Day Coffee. Having recently watched America Unchained, a documentary about a guy who attempted to travel across America entirely using independent gas, food, and motels, it was pretty pertinent. Our experience of America so far had been towns full of chains, each looking like a blueprint Sim City—towns that had looked the same across the whole of America.

In need of some nature, we drove on through the beautiful Pisgah National Forest and the pretty Lake Junaluska to the stunning Great Smoky Mountains, where we were greeted by a field of groundhogs and elk. The campsite was basic but a massive improvement on truck stops and Walmarts, and a nature walk rewarded us with a beautiful orange marbled orb spider and a pretty garter snake. We saw an incredible view above the clouds from Clingman’s dome, then continued on to Tennessee.

After a brief stop in Knoxville, nothing to do there except go to mall, we arrived in super cool Nashville, home of country music. We admired the pretty Bicentenial Park, Capitol Hill, and the replica Parthenon. We enjoyed the bright lights of Broadway, went to a proper American bar, and had hot chocolate in Mike’s vintage ice cream parlour.

From there, the weather and the scenery picked up as we drove through small towns to Lynchburg. Peb is a big Jack Daniels fan, so we visited the traditional distillery and were thoroughly educated on a great, and free, tour. We stayed in the historic town of Lynchburg, a cute village with chocolate-coated bacon, my favourite. From there, it was due south…

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