Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

6/2/2014 Cades Cove, Smokey Mountains National Park, Tennessee

I left Lexington at 2pm, though that time was after getting gas and food at Trader Joe’s. Blessed Trader Joe’s. I’ve missed their familiar foods. It never changes. Apples, celery, cheerios, and cash back for on the road snacks (i.e. ice cream bars). And amazingly the park wasn’t all that far away. Went south on 75 and it was effortless. My car rolled over to 222,222 miles just across the border, and I was in a spot where I could take a picture. It hit 222,111 to 222,333 today. Nice round numbers. I wonder if some day it’ll roll over to 300k. Seems likely. It’s running well and I keep the oil changes regular.

Anyhoo. The national park wasn’t far past Knoxville. There were plenty of spots at Cades Cove, which was unfortunately $20 a night but I still went for it as there were no rest stops/Wal Marts near by (both places where you can relatively safely doze for a while and not worry about being harassed). Just one night’ll be good. I’ll drive to the proper visitor’s center in the morning and do a hike and some sight seeing and get to a rest stop tomorrow night as I head to Alabama. But I had time to do the scenic loop drive, which was VERY scenic and beautiful. Just those picture perfect rolling hills mottled with sunlight, fields of tall grass, deer, and just all that general pretty majestic stuff that makes you feel patriotic for your country.

Got back to my camp site and worked on my scrap book & cleaned out my car. Campsites are perfect for taking a second to collect oneself and ones things. Valet makes it so your car isn’t easy to get through and you have to pull what you think you need. Crashing at someone’s house puts the car far enough away that going back and forth is a bother. Sleeping in your car doesn’t really give you a space to work on things. But setting up a tent at a site, pulling out your bedding, and putting a few things in the tent, it frees up enough space to spread out on a picnic table, work on things, and pull stuff from the car as needed without too much distance for the back ad forth. If I could afford to camp every night, I would.

So yeah, tomorrow I’ll check out the park. Another darn free entrance one! I’m still ten bucks from making my annual pass start to pay for itself. I know it eventually will but come on!

6/4/2014 just on this side of midnight at a rest stop on I75 near Chatanooga & Athens

What a fun day! It was the ideal “I only have a day to check out this park” type day. I got to sleep in, and had no rush to break down my tent. Ate throughout the day. Kept my energy up. Treating myself to those “Snowballs” quick treat. Saw some lovely scenery and the weather was perfect. Glad I haven’t been in a storm in a while.

No bears disturbed me in the night. I thought I heard something, but it was just a campsite neighbor snoring.

First up: I went to the visitor’s center in Townsend and got a stamp. They weren’t the MAIN visitors center (this park has several) so I drove back in, and went left to Gatlinburg instead of right to Cades Cove. It was a long winding road, but all the roads in this park were long and winding with thick tall trees on each side in lush shades of green. A very vibrant park. You can just breathe in all that fresh air. And while warm, it wasn’t unbearably so. I was in shorts and a medium weight hoodie came on and off as needed. The main visitor’s center provided me with a “what to do in 2-3 hours” map, which is where I took my cues from for the day. It also provided me with postcards and later on a patch of the day’s main activity, which I’ll get to in a hot minute, you just hold your horses!

I watched the park video, I got my stamps, I looked at the taxidermy on display. Then I headed to Gatlinburg, which is a small tourist town stuck in the park, or on the side of the park. Either way, it had restaurants and inns and funky museums but not art museums. Just tourism stuff. I took the right on the eighth stoplight and went to do the nature loop drive. Many miles of 10 mph driving through the woods, with plenty of turn outs. And there was the Grotto Falls Hike. I stopped to do the Grotto Falls Hike. 1.4 miles uphill one way. The mist coming off the falls was refreshing. I saw two kids with well over 10 Junior Ranger badges EACH! So many! I only have two. But when you are an adult, they make you do the whole packet and they expect you to do a good job of it. So basically those kids got their badges through ageist loopholes.

I also saw a kid in a Breaking Bad shirt, and I mean younger than a teen. What’s he doing in a Breaking Bad shirt at that age? A gift? Who is letting this kid watch that show?

On the way down from the falls, I eavesdropped on a Harry Potter conversation and when they said to let me by, I said I was enjoying eavesdropping and I agreed that Harry wasn’t all that smart before I went on ahead.

The loop continued, and as it was a loop I was brought back into Gatlinburg, and I returned to the visitor’s center, and then went south to the….the…hold on I have to check my notes. Newfound Gap! That is the road that goes south out of the park into some states that are not on my itinerary just yet. On the Newfound Gap road is a road that goes off to the Clingman’s Dome hike, which is a half mile one way up hill walk (it’s paved) to this structure that is situated on the highest point in Tennessee. Literally took my breath away, but I started breathing real quick after the initial gander at the landscape. Just gorgeous! You are at level with the clouds, so they roll through the hills, obfuscating the for brief moments and then opening it all up again. I was there late in the day, so the hills were getting that lovely late afternoon sun. Just a wonderful view of so much wilderness.

Downhill is so easy. I stuck my Smoky Mountains sticker on my cooler and then emptied the ice water out of it. I’m putting my stickers on my cooler. Right now it has a Discretion Brewing Santa Cruz sticker, a Zion, Carlsbad Caverns, and Hot Springs sticker, and now a Great Smoky Mountains one! It’s a good thing to put stickers on, as you can put many on it and it fits. Cars have a threshold before it becomes too much.

Can you guess which patch I bought? Was it:

a) Clingman’s Dome
b) Newfound Gap
c) Great Smoky Mountains
d) Grotto Falls

It was a nice descent out of the park. The driving has been really easy lately. Not a lot of traffic, not any aggression from other drivers, just open roads with no horrible weather and while humid it isn’t getting above 85ish so it’s all good. There was a nice expressway which cuddled the bottom of the park lines westward towards Chatanooga. Not a fast road (45-60) but I didn’t end up too far south, which I didn’t want. I’ll save Atlanta for when I’m done with Florida. The place where I had to get onto I75 North was under construction, so I missed the unmarked onramp several times. But I got on it eventually. Why I75 North? Well there was a rest stop near Athens and I didn’t want to drive too much more.

So tomorrow is Alabama. I have a pal in Alabama, though not a supremely close one. Once I find out where they live (they know I’m coming and they work during the day). Now I shall sleep, hopefully well, in my car. Camping is nice, but getting to campsites late and leaving in the morning isn’t fun. I like setting up in the later afternoon, tooling around a bit, and coming back to my site and sleeping from there.

The first leg of my journey would be “getting past how far east I’ve been before, not including Florida” which would be the California to Colorado stretch of the journey. Then the “okay south, show me whatcha got” stretch, which I’d call Texas to Louisiana part. Now I’m finishing up the sort of “across the river, but not to the Atlantic” stretch, which is Mississippi to Alabama. So will Florida to Maine be its own stretch? Or will Florida be its own thing, with the rest of the East coast being something else? Only time and travel can tell.

6/4/2014 10am Dunkin’ Donuts in Athens, Tennessee

Wasn’t going to stop at DD, but I saw they had free wifi so I grabbed some caffeine and doughnuts and now I’m here! My goal today is Montgomery, Alabama. Which is pretty far down into Alabama, so I’m in no major hurry. Especially since my friend won’t be off till the evening. It is looking to be a nice day.

It’s amazing how much self-consciousness gets obliterated when you are shuffling into a rest stop bathroom in your pajamas to change into clothes. Yeah I’m scruff, whatchoo care about? And then fresh clothes and a hair brush and BAM looking like a passable member of society once again.

So now I shall update social media with my photos and head on out! Fun!

The answer was d) Grotto Falls

Monday, June 2, 2014

last day in KY

All right! My Kentucky relaxation has come to an end. It's been nice having many good nights of sleep, and time spent not fueling up my car every day, but if I don't move then I don't go anywhere, so time to get a move on! Southwards back into Tennessee. There is a Trader Joe's in Lexington, so I'll swing by there and get some food stuffs. It look like a minimum of four hours to get to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Not bad! Then I'll zag down to Alabama then do a loop through Florida, then up into Georgia, then the East Coast leg of my journey will be underway. It's all happening so fast!

Anyway. Dee & I spent a lot of time watching movies and snacking and eating. But that's good. Good to get those full meals. Good to get froyo with a pal-ski. Good to watch Temple of Doom and How To Train Your Dragon for the first time. I'll be sad to leave, but I don't want to 1) overstay my welcome and 2) give Dee some time during their weekend to themselves. I know how it can be to spend all your free time with others and want some time to yourself but nope straight back to work!

So yeah, it was a lot of hanging out. Dee doesn't live near downtown and anything downtown would be an apparent fuss to park, so I just rolled with my host.

Next you hear from me, I'll be else where.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dee's Place

5/30/2014 Dee’s Place

Wonderful to spend time with a friend and to have conversation flow effortlessly. It’s nice to have breaks from being in my head for so many hours on the road. I don’t know when I’ll leave Kentucky. Might be here another night.

Had a good long sleep in. I fell asleep really quickly. Sleeping in a car just doesn’t cut it for well rested sleep. We had our morning tea and then went to a Thai food place for lunch. It was scrumptious and I ended up with left overs. That’s a good deal right there. Lexington has a street named Man o’ War, and it’s set up like a wheel with ring roads and spokes. Pretty nifty layout. Dee took me to Sqecial Media (with a Q) which was a sort of hippie knick knack stationary cool art book shop. A nice little place. Then we got boba tea and played Yahtzee in the tea store. I won the first by 3 points, and Dee won the second by about 20.

There was a quickie Wal Mart trip and I got some more ice as the New Orleans ice I got from the hotel vending machine had melted. At home Terry, Dee’s mum, wanted dinner so she put in an order to a barbecue place and we picked it up. Ribs, Texas toast, mac n cheese, and just… piles of food. So good! We just gorged and it was all so warm and tasty and wonderful. We watched some Netflix (Red Dwarf and The Family) and as Dee has work in the morning, it was called an early night. I’ll go do some stuff in Louisville tomorrow and come back in the afternoon/evening.

6/1/2014 Dee’s Place, still

It’s been nice to sleep all the way in continually. My body is getting some time to heal from whatever imaginary damage all the restless nights of car sleeping might incur. And getting ready for more restless nights. Also it’s great to be with a friend, but I think I’ve already said that.

So I got a late start heading out, due to the sleeping in and being on the Internet and whatnot. Then I set out for Louisville! I parked in a parking structure, and took the ticket, but there was no way to pay the ticket when I left…well no obvious way. And no one was in the vestibule. So hopefully some Louisville fine doesn’t show up in the mail later. Anyway, I went to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which wasn’t the full distillery but they had a small batch barrel a day one there. It was a tour that had a video with renactors being Evan Williams and co back in the day. The brand Evan Williams has nothing to do with the man, it’s just taking his name because it’s a good historical name. But the Heaven Hill distillery has been around for years. They are the people that make the stuff. Anyway. There was a video and some history and a breakdown of the process of distilling. Good to learn more about the process. And there was a tasting, and the glasses were in this secret cupboards in the tables, so when you lifted the section of table up, the glasses emerged. Pretty nifty! There were two more aged samples to try. Some dudes in a bachelor party drank all of theirs before they went through the tasting, and they were treated to refills. From the other distillery I went to, I knew there was a way they wanted us to do the tasting. So I was good and didn’t glug glug glug it all. And it was good stuff. Very warming. But not much. Obviously they aren’t going to give whole shots to every member in a 20 person tour. So that was fun. The gift shop had this spicy apple grilling sauce that was REALLY GOOD. I didn’t buy any because then I’d have to tote it with me for months before I could use it. I’ll just have to order it later and have Dad grill me a burger with it.

I wandered around downtown for a little bit. Swung by the Louisville Slugger museum, but entrance was more than I wanted to pay for something that barely fascinates me. But I did get a crushed penny in the museum lobby and snap a picture of the world’s largest bat.

I swung by the Jim Beam Distillery too, but it was closed (by a few minutes). Which was fine, I just wanted a few pictures anyway. Sometimes distilleries do start to look alike, and I had a tasting of the only bourbon that really matters to me. So I headed back to Lexington. And I made the mistake of listening to my GPS when it told me to take backgrounds.

Then my GPS stalled and then it couldn’t get service. Then it was referencing my Atlas time and going East and hoping I’ll find a “this way to Lexington” sign. And I did get back, it just took 30 more minutes than it should have.

I was treated to Steak n Shake for dinner. I had the mint oreo shake with the bacon and horseradish and crispy onion burger. Pretty tasty, and not a huge challenge burger, so it was well eaten. The server called Dee & I darling and sweeties and love and all sorts of things. It bugs Dee but I’m not used to that sort of manner. West Coasties are pretty…well they are nice but not overly friendly in that manner. Properly stuffed we went home and watched TV.

Brunch was Waffle House. Hitting up all the regional chains in Lexington! No horse burgers though. You’d think horse capital would have horse meat, but nope. Now I think we’ll get froyo or something. Tomorrow I’ll head out once again into the southern yonder.