I set out to see America on May 27. With my bags packed, gifts for family and friends ready, and a 2018 Kia Niro to try out, I set off on a three-week solo adventure.
I left my home in Texas and headed east to Birmingham, Alabama. The Westin Birmingham in downtown was my base. Between raindrops the next day, I visited Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Vulcan Park and Museum, and Red Mountain Park.
From Birmingham I headed to Isle of Palms, South Carolina, where I was a guest at Wild Dunes Resort. My suite was beautiful and within easy walking distance of the beach. One day I made a sweetgrass basket with Sarah Edwards-Hammond, the owner of Charleston Sweetgrass Baskets. What a thrill to create one of these legendary pieces of art. I also took Barrier Island Eco Tours excursion to Capers Island for an afternoon of exploring with a crab boil at the end of the adventure.
I headed north to Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, where I picked up my son Shane Thorbahn and his wife Katie for a weekend in Wilmington and Carolina Beach. Our hotel, Courtyard by Marriott, was right on the beach. We headed out right away to explore the NC Military History Museum and Fort Fisher Historic Site.
Saturday was a fun day of historic exploring as well and included Battleship North Carolina and Burgwin-Wright House and Gardens. Wilmington is also famous for its many television and movie filming location sites. We spent the afternoon taking the Hollywood Locations Walk and a horse drawn trolley tour to discover the city’s Hollywood connection.
Sunday started with a short walk at Carolina Beach State Park where we discovered the Venus flytrap trail. Venus flytraps are native only within 60 to 70 miles of Wilmington. Airlie Gardens was our next stop. The beautiful 67-acre expanse offers walking paths, formal gardens, live oaks draped with Spanish moss and historic structures.
After dropping Shane and Katie back at their home in Fuquay-Varina I headed for Silva where I was the guest of Balsam Mountain Preserve. The mountain is currently home to more than 100 homeowners. Facilities include stables, Arnold Palmer golf course, seemingly endless hiking trails and gorgeous cabins, one of which I stayed in.
I spent one day in Sylva where I explored the filming sites of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” A fantastic look at the behind the scenes of movie-making.
I traveled north and into Ohio where I took a few days to visit friends.
My next writing assignment took me to Vermilion, Ohio, a perfect little community on the shores of Lake Erie.
Leaving Ohio behind, I visited Madison, Indiana. What a charming and historic city on the Ohio River. I wandered the old part of the city admiring the streetscape, toured homes, stayed in the beautiful and historic Iron Gate Inn and took a fun and scenic cruise down the river with Rockin’ Thunder.
My last stop was in Metropolis, Illinois — Superman’s “home.” Here I visited the Super Museum and photographed statues on Superman and Lois Lane. I stayed at Riverview Mansion Bed & Breakfast and enjoyed the evening at Harrah’s Casino located within walking distance.
My Experience with the Car
My last day on the road brought me back to home sweet home. My driving took me to the mountains and beaches, along interstates and country roads, and through cities and small-towns. The Niro is a hybrid with a separate plug in. I did not use the plug-in feature and still managed to get 47.3 miles-per-gallon.
After 22 days on the road, 4,014 miles and 15 states, I can honestly say the Niro is a fantastic touring car. Using the car’s navigational system, I had no problem finding any other attractions or accommodations.
The Kia Niro has great safety features as well.
I drove on a lot of Interstates. If I set the cruise control and came up behind a slower driver, my car slowed accordingly. As soon as I changed lanes to pass, my car resumed its cruising speed. If I put on my blinker and a car was beside me, the car told me. The car also told me if I left a lane without the blinker on, so I would never drift into another lane.
Parallel parking was a breeze with the Niro’s backup camera and front and back “too close” signals.
My sincere thanks to Kia for allowing me to drive the Niro and to DriveShop for coordinating everything. I had such a wonderful time that I plan to take a road trip west next year. Stay tuned!