For one thing, I’d been trying to cram too much into the post:
• pictures of breathtaking mountains and equally breathtaking switchbacks on one-lane roads to get around them
• comparison of free-wheeling road trips and seat-of-the pants writing
• unexpected pleasures just around the bend
• unexpected pitfalls just around the bend
• Appalachian arts
• environmental rape and pillage
I could spend a lifetime writing about any one of the above and barely scratch the surface. No wonder I’ve been beating my head against the keyboard. I decided to ditch writing about writing and just write about the trip (phew). I’m also dividing the post into two parts to make it more manageable.
Focus. Zoom in for a close-up or two.
We try to take spring and fall road trips every year. Our pre-planning usually consists of tossing some road maps, the cooler and a pile of pet-friendly hotel directories in the back seat of the car. Once we’ve cleared day-trip distance from home, we get off the interstate and hit back roads. We explored parts of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee this fall. Fasten your seat belts and join us. (Click on any picture if you want to see a bigger image.)
Back roads and by-ways
Given the choice between a highway and the road less traveled, this is what we choose.
A asked me why all the mountain road pictures I shot showed guard rails when most of the roads didn’t have them. It’s because on those hairy switchbacks, I was gripping the Jesus bar with my camera hand.
The Jesus bar, for those of you who haven’t done much driving in the mountains, is the handle above the car door that you cling to while whispering ‘Oh, Jesus’ as you will the car to stay on the road even as that coal truck is coming straight at you from the other direction. Passengers only, please, on the Jesus bar. Drivers keep both hands on the wheel, but you can pray if you think it might help.
Not so much. If I had done any research before the trip, I would have known that the entire Red River Gorge – campgrounds, trails, kayak put-ins – had been closed at the end of June/early July due to ‘the first black bear attack on a human in modern Kentucky history.’
After reading the article, though, I can’t say I blame the bear. Hello? You see a bear coming toward you in the woods and you pull out your CELL PHONE AND TAKE PICTURES?
Some people get what they deserve.
At any rate, the cell phone guy got stitched up and lived, but that bear is still running around in the woods, which I didn’t know until we got home and I did some reading on where we’d been.
I’m sort of hoping the bear bumped into a couple that we met hiking one day. Kentucky was dry as a bone, campfires were prohibited throughout all 37,000 acres of the Gorge area, some trails were closed due to active wildfires, and this woman was SMOKING as she walked down the trail.
Ack. Calling all bears.
These would be some of those unexpected pleasures just around the bend.
Why they’re called the Smoky Mountains
Mountains: Refuge and Healing
From a roadside placard in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park:
Clingmans Dome is a sacred mountain to the Cherokees, where the Magic Lake was once seen. The Great Spirit told the Cherokees that, “if they love the animals of the earth, when they grow old and sick, they can come to a magic lake and be made well again.”
For Cherokees, these mountains have meant a refuge, homeland, and a mythical and spiritual foundation for their people. During the Indian Removal Period of the 1800’s known as the Trail of Tears, the mountains meant safety from pursuing soldiers. Today these slopes provide a refuge and offer inspiration for visitors from a hectic modern society.
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find that going to the mountains is going home. ~ John Muir, 1898
What do these mountains mean to you?
Tomorrow’s post: A lump of coal