By the middle of February, every phone call that we made to our relatives in North Carolina would bring some report of the imminent arrival of spring.
It is bad enough that folks in North Carolina get to enjoy pansies which bloom all through the winter, but when they start plowing the ground and planting stuff, it is really hard for a farmer to take especially if he is looking at two feet of snow on his fields.
This February 17 morning we are perched on a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia just beyond the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley.
The south has endured a tough winter in 2011 but right now we are basking in some great temperatures and likely to see some 100 year records fall today.
This morning we awoke to 61F or 16C. This afternoon we should make it to 75F or 24C.
Those are pretty nice temperatures for the middle of February.
The nice thing about living in the South is that you do get to see signs of spring in February. Earlier in the week I noticed the first bulbs sticking their green leaves above ground.
Down on the coast of North Carolina where we spend most of our time, I recently saw some of the wild grasses turning green.
Even harder to believe, in about four to five weeks, it will be time for the first mowing of the year in Virginia's bluegrass country.
Early spring bulbs will be blooming by mid to late March even in the mountains of Virginia.
While I think many eastern Canadians take the easy way out and fly off to a warm beach, and then have to face an abrupt re-entry into Canada's lingering winter, I have often thought that the best way to really appreciate spring and get away from the snows of Canada is to drive south through some warmer spots.
While it was only a weeks ago when 65% of the US was covered with snow, today the number is probably under 25%. The national snow map shows that once you get half way through Pennsylvania, you will be out of the snow even in the middle of February.
And if you time your trip right, sometime between the middle of March and early April, you can watch spring unfold as you drive down Interstate 81 through the Shenandoah Valley. There is always a chance of spring snow storm, but you get even worse ones in Canada.
I can recommend taking Interstate 81 all the way down to where Interstate 77 heads south from Virginia into North Carolina. North Carolina is an easy state to wander through.
The people are gracious and happy to see Canadians. They might not know much about Canada, but they wrote the book on southern hospitality and cooking.
I can recommend swinging off Interstate 77 and heading towards Mount Airy, NC where you will find traces of Mayberry and the Sobotta Manor which is our old homeplace and now a wonderful bed and breakfast. It you can't get in at the Manor, there is a very nice Hampton Inn there. You can check out Goober's Restaurant, Odell's Drive-in, or Snappy Lunch. Be aware, you might get asked for documentation in Snappy Lunch if you are there early.
After Mount Airy, I would follow Highway 52 south to Interstate 40 and stay on it until Greensboro where you can pick up 421 South to Siler City and then 64 East towards Cary and Raleigh. It is a very pleasant drive through the countryside. Try some barbecue or Brunswick stew at Smithfield's in Siler City.
You might want to swing off the road at Pittsboro and take 15/501 North a few miles to Fearrington Gardens. They can be spectacular in early April. There are some fancy places to eat there.
Then I would head on back to 64 East which will take you eventually back to Interstate 40. An hour east of Raleigh, take exit 373 off of Interstate 40 and follow Highway 24 to Jacksonville where it exits towards Swansboro.
You can find lots of information about the area in my Beaufort, Swansboro, and Emerald Isle travel guides which are links on the left side of my homepage. Make sure you take time to walk on the beaches and visit some of the area restaurants where you can enjoy some great fresh seafood. Nicky's is my current favorite unless you want some of the best grouper on earth, then you need to go to Riverside Steak and Seafood.
If you get to the area in mid-April, it is the perfect time to visit Tryon Palace and their amazing gardens. A dose of their tulips will keep spring fresh in your memory for a long time, maybe even long enough for spring to arrive in Canada.
If you are in the area in mid-April, you might just get to taste some fresh local strawberries.
From New Bern, Interstate 95 isn't very far, and if you are brave and clever, you can head north and maybe even avoid traffic around the DC area.
A ride through a southern spring is much better than having the crow of winter waiting to steal away your hope of warmth.