Day 10 – From the Top of the World to the Bottom of the Barrel

Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg / Smoky Mountains

A day of contrasts today. We are perched in the hills high above Pigeon Forge, living in the lap of luxury…

Down in Pigeon Forge, life does not seem to run at the same slow pace. Imagine Skegness and Blackpool combined, throw in a little Vegas showmanship and overdo it in the way that only Americans can, and you will have some idea of what Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg are like. As far as I can make out, Pigeon Forge is where the larger attractions are and the all-you-can-eat sing-along-ho-down-diner-barns (Americans love their barns!) and Gatlinburg is more arcades, souvenir shops and catering for the hard-core drinkers with the moonshine tasting experiences. My cold had reached the level where I couldn’t smell anything, but the moonshine bars managed to break through that – although I sensed it first with my eyes!

The joys of Pigeon Forge

Sunday breakfast in Pigeon Forge was quite an experience. I suspect that on top of the tourists, it may be an occasion for folk to come down from the hills. Nuff said.

From Pigeon Forge we drifted into the Smokies proper and up to Clingmans Dome – the highest point in the east Smokies I am reliably informed. The majestic views were somewhat veiled. I can’t help but think that sometimes things can be a little too smoky!

Ethan, of course, is still looking forward to meeting the creators of these that we keep seeing everywhere…

Be afraid, be very afraid…

The trees are full of them and we can’t figure out whether each is the work of one spider or a colony. Not sure which is worse.

And just when I was feeling bad about once again stereotyping folk, this turned up at the cabin below us…

 

Day 4 – Hunkered down in Hopkinsville

Woah!

Bowling Green to Memphis via Hopkinsville

Well, it seemed like a good plan: Get to Hopkinsville (sorry, Eclipseville) early, avoid the traffic and soak up the party atmosphere.

Even without an eclipse, the 21st August is an important date in Hopkinsville, being the anniversary of the Hopkinsville goblin incident when a number of locals were pestered by goblin-like creatures – possibly of extraterrestrial origin, possibly the result of moonshine visions. The incident is celebrated every year with the Little Green Man festival. Having a total eclipse on the 62nd anniversary is surely a sign of imminent return, and we wanted a piece of it.

Unfortunately, as I was wide awake at 4am like an excited kid at Christmas, I was in danger of dozing off and missing the eclipse entirely. I even set an alarm just in case!

The heat doesn’t really help. It’s one of those days where to exist is to sweat – no movement necessary. Rather aptly, the W3W tag for this place is tapes.saxophone.sweat (can’t help thinking that that should be somewhere in Memphis). If only I had checked first. The other thing that may have borne checking was where the viewing site is in relation to the centre of town. Ethan and myself are no strangers to walking, but 3 or 4 miles in this heat is probably not sensible, so probably just going to have to tough it out here and sadly miss all the weirdness.

Ethan has even been (largely) restrained in telling me that I was overly paranoid about traffic, and needn’t have made him wait in the heat for 5 hours, but I expect I will pay sooner or later.

It is all depressingly sensible and civilized at the viewing site. Everyone seems to have come prepared with their gazebos, deck chairs, coolers, barbecues, telescopes etc. We had a beach mat purchased from Walmart this morning, but assumed the moral high ground, having travelled further than everyone else.

Still, you don’t need all of the professional kit. The eclipse itself was awesome. I can see why people chase them all around the world.

Woah!

I was a bit concerned at the sound of gunfire during the eclipse though. Fireworks, fair enough, but shooting at the sun?

Having ventured off the interstates today, we have seen something of small town Kentucky, which all looks very pleasant. Into Tennessee and we found a town which seemed to have more churches than people, I am actually going to check. It also had a place for drive-thru prayer, which I couldn’t quite get my head around. Ethan has done some more routing jiggery pokery today to maximize the number of states visited. Hence we traveled from Hopkinsville to Memphis via Missouri and Arkansas, crossing the mighty Mississippi several times in the process.

It's huge!

I’m sure it was the quickest route… I’m not sure what to think about those two states though. Imagine the excitement of Lincolnshire if it was the size of France. (Seems I didn’t have to wait too long to pay for the early start after all!)

The Memphis apartment seems pretty good and ideally located, even if it was like an episode of the crystal maze to get in via various codes, time trials and battle of wits. Seems unlikely that much exploring will be done tonight after the epic drive,  but lots within easy walking distance to see tomorrow. I feel that driving 1100 miles in 3 days entitles me to a day off.

Day 2 – Drive until you drop

Mmm...salty

Three States in a Day – Washington to Winchester, KY

Not much sleep last night due to what sounded like a cricket ball rattling around the air-conditioning duct. Still, not a bad thing to be up early as the car hire company was already getting pretty busy before 7am … and of course we do have some distance to cover today.

I am Ethan’s bad books on 2 fronts with the hire car. Firstly, turning down the offer of a free upgrade to a Mustang on the basis that the cases wouldn’t fit (wouldn’t look so cool with the boot wedged open and a stream of stray underwear flying behind the car) and being assigned a car with New York plates, which I’m assured will not go down well in the South. Could be a long day…

Not much to see today as we blasted across Virginia (both the basic and West varieties), beyond some nice scenery and distant mountains which bode well for the return journey via the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline. We have had to amuse ourselves by admiring the custom registration plates passing us by. We have had

Giga TB, Dr Bytes, (presumably IT), Sparx (electrician?),  Go Kart (a small Fiat with an encouragingly amusing bumper sticker stating, “* Actual Size”) and our favourite XStacey I. We wondered whether this was deliberate or just that someone called Stacey was convinced that this was the closet she could get to a custom plate, much to the amusement of the people selling it.

Also encountered a rather strange toll road in West Virginia. We were charged twice along the stange stretch of road, without any opportunity to leave between the two sets of toll booths? Why didn’t they just charge double at the first one I hear you ask. Good question. We could only surmise that it was some sort of job creation scheme. For the record, the toll road was the worst maintained road we have been on.

By mid-afternoon it became apparent that after the earlier hold ups on the I81, reaching the Buffalo Trace distillery was but a pipe dream and pulled over at a Bob Evans restaurant for some refreshment. The manager who came over bore a striking resemblance to the pictures of the founder and I couldn’t help but wonder whether every branch of the franchise had a similar looking, middle aged genial manager called Bob. You don’t mess with a winning brand! You can tell we are back in the States though . What’s not to like about deserts with bacon?

Onwards to Kentucky and a hotel in Winchester. Switched on the TV and seem to have slipped into a time warp…

but at least Ethan can watch the baseball. Go Braves!

We have been researching drinking laws and been bewildered by the wet, dry, and moist (I have no idea) counties – some of the dry counties being the home to famous distilleries. Apparently even in wet counties, selling drink on Sundays is not allowed, nor between 29th December and 2nd Jan. That must have been some New Year’s celebration.

We thought we would go out and source a bottle of the local delicacy, but the local general store did not seem to stock spirits. It did, however, have plenty of stereotypes, so we beat a hasty retreat.

As ever in the US, everyone has been remarkably friendly and 500 miles in the first day means we can take it easy for the next couple. Weather forecast for Monday seems to be improving (fingers crossed) so, all looking good.

I’m melting…

Another week in glorious Swindon. The mid 30s and humid, and this is what passes for air conditioning in the Travelodge…

That should do it then!

Still, at least Swindon has its compensations. There is, of course, the magic roundabout, a marvel of modern traffic management…

Be afraid, be very afraid…

… and an integral part of what makes Swindon such a joy to drive around…

Believe it!

 

Preparation continues…

With only a few days to go the crucial business of the road trip play list is needing attention…

Whether to go with the US biased

or stick with the usual old upbeat standards

Obviously need the Monument Valley specific one

… and maybe another to get in the right state of mind and offset the cultural guilt generated by the last one. Ah the damage done by growing up in the 60s & 70s!