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Archive for the 'Driving' Category

2. First glimpse of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; 3. Indian Tacos

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

On Friday morning, we woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel. They had a pretty decent selection of food — we ended up making some waffles using the waffle iron and eating some biscuits and gravy, and probably something else as well. It wasn’t stunning, but it was pretty good, and it was free.

We checked out of the Days Inn and noticed that there is a mountain view in front of the building. It was a decent place to stay, at a reasonable price ($60), at a good location. We’ll probably stay there again on future trips to the Smokies.

The Days Inn’s mountain view, complete with Wendy’s and Subway signs. Still, not bad …

We weren’t terribly far from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The directions I initially got had us driving along the edge of the park instead of through it, but I thought we might like to get a glimpse of the park before continuing on to Charlotte. Plus, we wanted to drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, which starts (or, more accurately, ends) in Cherokee, NC. You have to go through the park to get to Cherokee, so it made sense to do it this way.

To do this, we had to drive through Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is where a lot of people like to go for their Smokies vacations. It didn’t look at all appealing to me, with endless strip malls, hotels, and a vast array of tourist attractions, most of which had nothing to do with the mountains at all. I understand that what a lot of people want isn’t the same as what we wanted (to be close to nature and away from crap like that), but it still seemed weird to me that people go so close to so much beauty and spend their time in resorts or playing miniature golf and go-carting.

We stopped at the visitor’s center, primarily because Sarah was getting a little carsick. It was getting hot, and the air conditioning in our car doesn’t work, so the heat combined with the mountain roads was making her feel a bit sick. She felt better after a few minutes, and we continued on our way. I didn’t mind picking up a few maps and pamphlets anyway.

The drive through the Park on 441 was just awesome. I was tempted to pull off at each overlook and gape at how awesome the mountains were, but I knew if we did this, we would never reach Charlotte. Besides, we’d be back later in our trip. We decided not to stop at all during this trip through the park. It was also a very fun drive, as it’s a windy mountain road. I was a little concerned about how well the car would handle it, but we had no problems.

We listened to the Woven Hand album “Mosaic” while driving through the park. I thought the mood and atmosphere of it fit the scenery perfectly.

After driving through the park, we stopped in Cherokee, NC for lunch. We ended up eating at the “Riverside Cafe II.” Sarah had the flounder basket (which was not served in a basket), and I had an Indian Taco, which was described to me as a funnel cake (not sweet though) topped with chili, lettuce, tomato, and cheese. It wasn’t bad, but I have to wonder if it was approximating a specific Cherokee dish, and if so, what that dish really would’ve tasted like, because I’m sure this wasn’t it.

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Riverside Cafe II / Indian Tacos

We also got some coffee at a local coffee shop (my photo didn’t turn out) and headed out toward the Blue Ridge Parkway.

1. Road to Jellico

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Well, since I made a “track listing” intended to be for an album, I thought I’d use it to organize my blog posts about our vacation as well. So here we are, starting out with the first night.

We set out on Thursday night, August 16. I had taken time off work on Friday and the whole next week. We got a lot of our stuff ready on Wednesday, and Sarah had the car mostly packed by the time I got home from work on Thursday (naturally, I rode my bicycle to work). We packed a few additional items and left around 6:30 pm — earlier than we expected. Our plan was to drive to Jellico, TN, where we had reservations at a Days Inn for that night.

Once we reached I-65, it quickly became clear that the bike rack wasn’t working too well. The bikes were being blown around by the wind, and it was making me nervous. I exited the interstate and secured the bikes using some rope. I almost didn’t even bring the rope on this trip, wondering if we would need it.

Securing the bicycles

So, we learned two valuable lessons: 1. always bring rope and 2. my bike rack is OK for small trips, but not for long trips on the Interstate.

The drive was pretty uneventful, and it got dark shortly after we entered Kentucky, so we couldn’t see the land on our way in. I could sense the land getting more mountainous and the road windier as we approached Jellico, but I really had no idea what it would look like in the morning.

The Days Inn was pretty decent, there were no problems with our reservation, and we went right to our room. We found the Bible open to Psalms.

The Bible in our room was opened to Psalms for our benefit

I don’t know why this detail sticks out in my head, but it does. Maybe it’s the fact that I had no intention or reading the Bible, or the fact that we found the South to be every bit as religious as people seem to assume the Midwest is. There are a lot of religious people in Indiana, but it’s not as inescapable as we found it to be in the South.

We wrote some things in our journals (which I’m not even referring to now), something we would only do once or twice more. I had a lot of trouble hand-writing my thoughts. I have crappy handwriting, and I can type a lot faster than I write. For whatever reason, it wasn’t working for me.

We drank a couple of beers that we brought with us and tried to get some sleep, knowing the next day would be a long one. The Days Inn claimed to have a mountain view, but it was too dark to tell if that was true or not. We’d have to wait until morning to find out.

Getting away

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Sarah and I leave tonight for our vacation to the Smokies and North Carolina. We’ve been planning this for some time, and it’s hard to believe it’s finally happening. This will be my first paid vacation ever, and you can bet that I’ll take an occasional moment while standing on top of a mountain to remind myself, “I’m getting paid for this!”

We really need this. Neither of us has had a real vacation in … well, really, since we were kids. It’s about time. I can’t wait to scale up the rock face of a mountain, or plunge into whitewater rapids, or sit in a gazebo overlooking the mountains and stare into Sarah’s eyes until I forget the mountains are even there. To go mountain biking in some real mountains. To get lost on some shitty gravel road that my car wasn’t built to drive on in the first place. To find out how long it takes to boil water at 6,000 feet.

We’ll take thousands of photos, and while we won’t be able to blog while we’re gone, but instead, we’ll try our hand at putting pen to paper and actually writing. My handwriting is awful, and I can type faster than I can write, but I’m hoping that that tactile connection will have its own charms, and the fact that we can write anywhere we go is appealing. I normally don’t even try to write unless I’m sitting at a computer, and let me tell you, I won’t miss sitting at a computer. It’ll be difficult to transcribe our thoughts when we return, but a worthwhile endeavor.

I was going to go into detail about our plans, but it doesn’t really matter what our plans are. The point is, we’ll be getting away from our jobs, school, family, friends … everyone we know, for a time. It will be just us, and it’ll be our world.

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