Taking off from Gaithersburg, Md., to Tennessee in Kristy Staley's 1998 Honda Civic was "a deja vu experience," said travel mate Beth Marchello, who hadn't traveled in Staley's car since the women's first road trip together five years ago. That cross-country adventure spawned the idea for the self-appointed "Roadchix." Stayley, 28, who lives outside of Washington, D.C., and Marchello, 27, of Winchester, friends who met at Boston University, travel together at least once a year.
Their excursions have taken them as close as Vermont and as far as Alaska and Ireland, with several stops in between, including a California road trip capped by Jimmy Buffett's New Year's Millennium show in Los Angeles.
"There are so many interesting things in every state. The more boring the state sounds, the more interesting it is," Staley said, adding that next year's destination is Connecticut.
The Tennessee trip, which the women estimated cost them a total of $500 for six days, was inspired by proximity, a proliferation of tourist sites, and three presidents' homes, an interest of Staley's. (In Nashville, there's the Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home and now a museum; James Polk's "Polk Place"; and in Greeneville, the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library.)
The pair always travel on the cheap, camping at full-service campgrounds. "We take a tent and sleeping bags and a grill. We always stay at KOAs [Kampgrounds of America] or someplace similar," said Marchello, an engineer.
The women's journeys are documented at www.roadchix.com, a site produced by Staley, a Web designer. Over the years, they've even created Roadchix merchandise, including temporary tattoos. The women plan their visits carefully. "The process starts after picking the states and picking out various attractions," said Marchello, who cites "Roadside America" as one of their bibles. "Kristy puts them all on a spreadsheet and makes a note of what book they come from.
Along with main attractions and presidential pads, their interests lie largely in the offbeat, "anything weird or unusual." Tennessee offered a plethora of possibilities.
Graceland, Elvis's home in Memphis, was a given, though they were more excited by the campground across the street, with such road names as "Love Me Tender Boulevard," than they were in Presley's home.
"It's a giant house with a lot of shag carpeting, if you ask me," Staley said. "But the fans were priceless."
In another nod to Elvis, during a tour at Sun Studio, also in Memphis, Marchello kissed the X on the floor that marked where the King used to stand during recording sessions.
The Roadchix also took in the "Duck March" at the Peabody Memphis hotel. Every morning at 11 the trained ducks waddle along a red carpet from the elevator and into the fountain in the ornate lobby.
Two giant attractions, literally, included what the women labeled the "World's Largest Rubik's Cube" in Knoxville, and the "World's Largest Guitar," an oversized Martin set along the highway across from the Tennessee Welcome Center near the Virginia border. They sniffed the whiskey at the Jack Daniel's Distillery, where tastings are not allowed because Lynchburg is in a dry county; toured the blood-stained Carnton House, a Civil War site in Franklin; and were amazed at the gore in the Buford Pusser exhibit at Carbo's Smoky Mountain Police Museum in Pigeon Forge. Pusser, the "Walking Tall" sheriff, died in the mid-1970s in a mysterious gas explosion in his Corvette. What's left of the charred car is on display, along with a bloody belt found at the scene.
Pigeon Forge itself is an homage to roadside kitsch, something the Roadchix refer to with reverence. "It's roadside-attraction central. It's the mecca," Staley said.
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