Chasing Autumn through the Appalachians

a maple leaf falls to the ground


There is nowhere in the nation so marvelous as the Appalachian Mountains in Autumn.

I recall as a child that first time after returning to school where you’d walk outside and smell it. It’s a flat, thick in the air type of scent, somewhere between bailed hay and wet leaves. It’s the smell of Fall in Pennsylvania. Children go screaming happy hopping into piles of raked leaves, apple orchards open their doors to the public, and for us full-time travelers, the world of possibilities opens up as campgrounds empty out their summer’s over rates and we can meander at will.

Where many travelers are already way south, uncertain of even a few cold nights that could snap one out of their comfort zone, we are rallying the cry to chase Autumn from north to south. To experience the seasons, this season, and all this nation has to offer.

There is nothing, after all, quite like watching all of Mother Nature change her clothes all around you, out your RV’s window or tent door.

It was October of 2008, and Tristan and I had already been on the road rookie roustabout for three months, hopping around our home state of Pennsylvania doing test runs in a somewhat shifty Class C RV.

Homeschooling lessons on deciduous vs. evergreen trees opened days that closed over a good campfire and laughing with my boy. In between, we’d hike around places like the Pine River Gorge (colloquially, “The PA Grand Canyon”) and Allegheny National Forest. Some time just after his birthday we decided to begin heading south, perhaps it was the lower temperatures, or maybe it was some amount of trust in our jalopy of an RV that sent us pointed at Texas, but I know it was not on purpose that we followed the leaves south that year.

It just happened.

From Pennsylvania to the rugged mountains of West Virginia, on to Memphis and Arkansas. As we packed up every few days, the leaves were falling nearly naked from their trees, and as we’d arrive a few hours south that day, so that region would be just getting started.

We watched the metamorphosis of Autumn over and over, like catching multiple sunsets in a single day.

That was all by accident, a fluke. A beautiful random happening that has, now six years later, inspired our latest journey.

We’ll be touring around Pennsylvania, once again cutting through West Virginia, exploring the Gauley River. Mountainous destinations in Virginia and North Carolina will be the terrain as the change of color in foliage is determines our speed. Come November, we will be in Northern Georgia, getting campfire stink on our clothes and by then surely to have more than just a few leaves stuck in our hair.

Once again, we’ve realized that while the West is magnificent because it is massive, the East has a magic all of its own. The Appalachians are subtle, often rolling, but only from their ancient age and matching modesty, so that once a year they are more than happy to remind America exactly how beautiful they can be.