The long and winding road trip - Part one

I’ve been struggling for the last couple of days to write a coherent post about our recent road trip. Usually when I’m struggling this much, it’s because I’m on the wrong path using the wrong tool.

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

10 comments to The long and winding road trip – Part one

  • Your post and your photos make me want to hop in the car! I agree with you regarding cell phone photos of a black bear! It’s impossible to get my mind into the train of thought that would suggest that’s the right response. 😉

    • Natasha

      Thanks! I had a lot of trouble deciding which of the 200+ photos we took to stick in the post. Yeah, I can’t possibly imagine that I would start taking pictures with a bear closing in on me.

  • Here on the East Coast we call it an ‘Oh sh!t’ bar. 🙂
    You’re pictures are beautiful! I love road trips, it’s been so long since my husband and I have done this. It’s harder with kids, they don’t have the patience to sit in the car while we slowly explore new places. One day I want to fly to the east coast and rent a car for a couple of weeks and just drive up and down until I’ve seen everything-or until I get home sick. 🙂
    I hope you have a great time. Did poor Lola get stuck at home or did you take her too?

    • BTW: In my first line, I meant the West Coast. This is what happens when you rush through comments on blogs while you’re suppose to be WORKING. Now I’m going to go back to what I’m should be doing… :o(

      • Natasha

        I knew what you meant re: east/west. Road trips with kids — in my experience — work out well before the kids can walk and then again in middle school, which is an awesome age for road trips (at least it was with my own personal kid).

        I would love to have another van like the old VW one and travel for months at a time and take Lola, too — even though our forays to the vet with her have suggested she’d be a real pain in the butt to have along for a longer ride.

        She stayed home and scared the spit out of Angie, who came to feed her, by knocking over the palm tree in the living room, which made a bunch of furniture move around and the door get stuck from the moved furniture so Angie couldn’t get in the room. Fortunately she was able to figure out what had happened before calling 911 to report a break-in.

  • *sigh* how utterly, utterly gorgeous….

  • I know what you mean about having tons of pictures and having to share only a few. It’s very hard to decide which to post.

    You definitely presented a gorgeous selection. The patchwork designs, winding roads and the fall colors are splendid sights.

    What’s so alluring that A hopped the fence?

    • Natasha

      You can see the rock ledge that he’s climbing onto. To his right once he gets onto the rock is maybe an 800 foot drop, straight down. If you were lucky (?), you might hit a tree or a boulder on the way down to slow your descent. There’s a reason they put a fence and a ‘keep off’ sign there.

      I’m getting dizzy just thinking about it now. He took some pictures from the rock ledge but it’s hard to tell from them just how breathtaking — in every sense of the word — that drop is.

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