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