The rented 2017 red convertible Camaro had 400 miles on it. I’d add another couple hundred over the next eight hours or so, up in the hills of North Carolina.
From behind the wheel the hood had a sexy hip-like curve, and the barest suggestion of speed was met with a throaty growl of impatience. Let’s go, let’s go.
We flew east into the hills, toward Township 9, and had one perfect moment on a wide boulevard when a classic Chevy came up beside us and we were beautiful there together, and smiled and gave each other the thumbs up before separating.
The roads narrowed and the traffic fell away till it was just us hugging curves and holding our breath as we crested hills. “There’s a ghost town near here,” Melani said, setting the map on her cellphone without having to ask whether it was a good idea.
The signal was sketchy in the hills, but we followed as best we could and were ready to turn right onto a narrow ribbon road, but for the bright orange sign: Road closed.
There were some cars down there, locals, we assumed, yet we followed the detour and let the mapping system catch up and reroute. We were as high up as we were going to get, roughly following Little Meadow Creek past the gold mine, then up toward Ophir and Troy in the Uwharrie National Forest. Jilly was asleep in the back and we hadn’t yet realized she was burning slightly in the sun, in stripes because her hair had blown over her face.
We were lost but had hours yet.
The Camaro’s belly was low to the ground but didn’t feel it. She wasn’t bothered by pockmarked roads or dimpled grass, sliding onto them and creeping over with equal ease.
We had circled far around this alleged ghost town and had stopped twice to explore abandoned buildings. Then the asphalt fell away and we were faced with a slim dirt and gravel road. We looked at each other with lumps in our throats. This would be a breeze for old Jo the Truck. But this beautiful monster with her smooth cherry shell and slinking form … yet we’d come too far.
Detour 4 miles.
There is no turning back. And so we turned in. It was only four miles, after all.
The Camaro fought me, pushing to go faster, steady with those low wide tires that could handle this. Let’s go. Let’s go.
There were folks fishing at the edge of the one-lane bridge. The land opened up enough that we’d have plenty of space to turn around — we were only one mile in. Their heads turned, shaking slowly because the Camaro was so beautiful but so very very out of place. We eased onto the narrow bridge with its low barriers.
We met jeeps and trucks on the other side, as we crunched along the narrow road, cringing each time a rock slapped against metal. They pulled into the woods to let us pass, bemused looks on their drivers’ faces.
The Camaro and I had found our rhythm but I was still watching the odometer as the cellular signal wavered.
Two miles to go. One mile to go.
“Almost there,” Melani promised. “You’ll be turning right up there.”
And sure enough, there was the road — we’d done a giant looping detour to arrive here, at the mouth of our destination. And there was the sign, the twin of the one we’d come all this way to avoid: Road closed.
The Camaro was rumbling behind my thighs. Melani and I shared another look. There’s no turning back.
We snuck around the detour and onto the forbidden road. Bits of debris suggested parts of the road had been washed out, but it was otherwise passable. And quiet. Not ghostly quiet — just country-road quiet.
The Camaro was pulling now, desperate to get back up to speed. I let her take the lead. There was no ghost town here, and we had a plane to catch.