Grab your girls and get going on this easy yet epic road trip adventure.

Ni'Kesia Pannell
Nov, 21, 2017

When I first moved to Atlanta a few years ago, I initially thought of it as a big city with even bigger opportunities. Though I was excited about all that it had to offer, I never wanted to drive through the city because it gave me anxiety and when I thought about all the bumper to bumper traffic, I died on the inside. It wasn't until recently that I discovered there was more to the city then, well, just the city. So, when I decided to join in on a mini road trip from Asheville to Atlanta, it was the perfect opportunity to see the beautiful off-road scenery that many people told me about before.

Joining in on the first southern installment of Drive Toward a Cure — a driving program that raises funds and awareness for Parkinson's Disease —  gave me the chance to go on an open road adventure and test drive the new Maserati Levante (the brand's first SUV) while doing so. The entire set up was basically a win-win situation.

Since the road trip was scheduled to start in Asheville, I took a quick flight from Atlanta to Asheville a day before the road trip was scheduled to begin. Before making it to my hotel, the illustrious Omni Grove Park Inn, I took a small tour of the city to take in its country-like scenery. From huge trees bearing beautiful colors to evolving districts, the city is more than meets the eye.

After getting settled in my room with a perfected view and getting introduced to the pearl white Maserati that I would be driving for the trip, I paired up with the remainder of the drivers that would be hitting the open roads alongside myself. Though I wasn't completely surprised that I was the only Black woman in the crew, I was surprised that I was one of (if not the only) millennial out of the group. Needless to say, there were plenty of questions that came in over dinner from those attending about what I did, how I was enjoying the time, and just how I nabbed a Maserati Levante for the road trip.

Once we all bounced back from a long night of opening dialogue and good eats, we met outside the hotel at 9:00 a.m. to pull out onto the open road. Since each car was scheduled to leave at a specified time, being on time was important. Taking an hour and a half drive through some of North Carolina's most beautiful roads — including the iconic adventure road, Blue Ridge Parkway — I was overcome with an inexplainable feeling of appreciation while driving through picturesque routes. Stopping along the way to take fun driving tests like the pros, we wrapped the day with lunch and an incredible view of Grandfather Mountain before heading back down to our hotel in Asheville for the evening.

On a usual day, you probably wouldn't catch me wanting to drive for hours on end, but when you're exploring new spaces and driving a car as luxurious as the Levante, what is there really to go against? So, when I was told that the second day of driving — which would lead us back to Atlanta — would be longer than the previous, I was all in. Beginning at 8:30 a.m., the drive from Asheville to the Historic Tapoco Lodge in Robbinsville, NC took about three hours to complete. Filled with breathtaking views, still waters, and backdrops that can only come from God's imagination, the over 5,000 feet elevated drive was a kind reminder that beauty is everywhere if you look for it.

Taking the remainder of the day to sightsee and take in glorious views that could have been ripped out of a National Geographic magazine, we finally arrived to Château Élan and enjoyed a night of fun, specialty foods and education on Parkinson's Disease.

Rising along with the sun on the final day, I went to walk the Château Élan grounds for the Atlanta Concours d'Elegance. Filled with a rare multi-million collection of classic automobiles and vintage motorcycles, the event was designed for car connoisseurs and those that appreciate the art of automobiles.

Although the trip itself was one that was incredible because of all that it had to offer, as the only Black woman (and person of color in general) on this trip and one of few at the Atlanta Concours, it served as an opportunity to open myself up to something new. While there are many things that I could have been doing over those few days, being able to get some fresh air, see places that I normally wouldn't go, and meet people who were welcoming, loving, and equally as open to getting to know me was something that could never be replaced.

A true depiction of cars and camaraderie, this is one event that everyone — whether lover of cars or the open road — should experience.

For more information on the Drive Toward a Cure initiative and where the next trip will take place, visit www.drivetowardacure.org.