20: Alabama and the Next Five

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They're on the road for hours, Autumn cruising through her books and updating her list every few hours. She has passed the halfway mark to her goal long ago, and finishes her 628th book while on their way to Alabama. 

Autumn snaps a photo of the sunset as they drive, as it's 6:30 by the time they finally get to the Welcome to Alabama! sign. Adrian struggles to stay awake when they get off of the highway and onto the slower roads. Autumn has to nudge him sometimes. He makes her nervous. 

He slides into a parking space and checks into a hotel, where they are asleep without bothering to change.

The next morning, Adrian wakes first. He arouses Autumn and tells her he hopes she's not afraid of heights. To groggy to wonder what in the world he's talking about, she just agrees to get up and follow him to breakfast and back out to the car. 

With coffees in hand, they drive south for half an hour and Adrian seems excited the whole way. Autumn doesn't ask. 

They drive past a bright sign declaring, "13th Annual Hot Air Balloon Festival!" It then clicks in Autumn's mind that this was the height fear that Adrian had asked her about. She grins. 

"Looks like fun," she comments. 

"Oh, and it should be," he says, looking giddy. 

She has to laugh at his expression as they travel to the site. They pay for two tickets to a balloon ride and within minutes are floating up into the sky. 

Adrian stands and tries to fathom how the air balloon works, his scientific mind never fading. He stares up at the small flame and is astounded that that little bit of heat can carry so much weight. 

While he looks up, she looks down. She's the opposite of acrophobic - she bends at a ninety-degree angle over the edge of the basket so her face is parallel to the ground and watches the people and other balloons not yet taken flight get smaller and smaller, and the landscape grow bigger and bigger. 

She takes photos of the ground, secretly terrified she'll drop it and securing the band around her wrist as tightly as possible. As the clouds get closer and closer above her, she takes pictures of their fluffiness, and briefly ponders if there is a heaven beyond those clouds. 

The heat is turned off and they float to the ground just as the air begins to thin. Adrian pulls Autumn from the edge of the basket, and she giggles. 

Adrian is the one babbling about how incredible it was this time. He explains that he is still fascinated by the fact that the lightest thing in the world, hot air, can carry so much weight up into the sky safely, and Autumn wonders aloud who decided it was a good idea to set a flame under a huge piece of cloth tethered to a basket and ride it up to the sky with no way to get down. He laughs. 

They spend the night at their hotel, then drive the next morning to Gatlinburg, Tennessee to view the Smoky Mountains and various waterfalls. Autumn discovers an effect on her camera that slows the shutter speed just enough to get the waterfall to look like a veil draped over the rocks. They stay in a two-story cabin that they rent for a night and see a bear rooting through their trash in the morning. 

They ride north to Kentucky, where they watch glass blowers create little animals and flowers in extreme detail with just a blowtorch and a few sticks of solid glass. Autumn watches in fascination, and the two of them attend a tutorial in the evening to attempt their own creations. 

They are shown how to make a little glass rabbit. Adrian's starts out ok, but goes downhill from there. Autumn's is the opposite - hers begins as a blob, but the details are nearly perfect. They take their creations with them, and though neither of them are particularly proud of their creations, are tedious not to let them touch anything so they don't crack. 

In West Virginia, they tour caves from the times of Native Americans, where it is cold and wet, but mesmerizing to the two who love learning about history. 

They then head west to Ohio, where they ride on roller coasters at Cedar Point. They embrace the adrenaline rushes all day. 

On July 4th, they journey West to Indiana to a Popcorn Festival. They buy large bags of the strangest types of popcorn you can imagine, and take it to their hotel. They sit under the stars together, watching fireworks burst in the sky from a city firework show, munching on popcorn as if watching a movie. 

"I can't believe we've been to so many places in just a month," whispers Autumn. 

Adrian responds with one word. "Dedication."

She smiles, though it's pointless in the dark. Maybe, just maybe, she'd get to see every state in a matter of months. 

Maybe. 

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