November 2003

Bridges Ice Before Roads

Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee

Or ……….. heaters then fans then heaters then fans; heaters then fans, oh my!

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The weather is changing back and forth so often we can’t tell whether to wear shorts or woolies when we get up in the morning.  It’s either “unseasonably” warm or “unseasonably” cold.  But it’s definitely fall.  We started moving south in September, with the idea of seeing fall color wherever possible, and drifting along with the falling leaves.  We have been more successful than we ever thought possible.  You never know if you are traveling through an area at its “peak season” or not, but it doesn’t really matter.  It’s always lovely, there has been plenty of color wherever we have been, and we really struck gold when we arrived in northern Georgia.  You certainly don’t remember, but we have a “home park” outside Cherry Log, Georgia, where we plan to spend two weeks at the tail end of autumn each year.  This is a small park in the northwestern part of the state, up about 1800-2000 feet, at the southern tip of the Appalachian Range.  We love it here; it’s quiet, rural, the new apples are in all the roadside stands, the people are friendly, and the trees are filled with gold.  We have been taking a long walk each morning, following a gravel road alongside a pretty little stream that’s filled with fallen leaves.  A little piece of Paradise!  These are lazy days, warm in the afternoons but nippy during our early morning walks.  Cherry Log is about 100 miles north of Atlanta, and roughly the same distance from Chattanooga, Tennessee.  During our two weeks, we took advantage of both.  

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Atlanta has a lot to offer, but spaghetti-like freeways, nightmare traffic, and big-city growth issues go right along with it.  We stayed out of the core of the city, but ventured close twice; one time to visit a BMW dealer (and spend some money, natch) and a second time to investigate a home that we had been wanting to see, the Bulloch House, which was in Roswell.  Typical of the area, Roswell used to be about 20 miles north of Atlanta, but now is just part of the sprawl that surrounds the city; most of the growth outside Atlanta is to the north.  I’ve read that Atlanta is very proud of the integration it has achieved over the years, but that it isn’t what it appears, because all the white part of the “integration” heads directly out of the city at 5:00 pm.  We saw an interesting example of this.  For several days prior to Halloween we’d been seeing flashing freeway signs predicting heavy congestion in the Atlanta area the afternoon and evening of that day, and suggesting that travelers take alternate routes around the city.  We figured Atlanta must be some big party town, if they were giving out those kinds of warnings; maybe the core of the city shuts down and they have parades and street parties; stuff like that.  But noooo …… it seems that about 2:00 in the afternoon all the parents take off from work and head home so they can spend the time with their kids and take them trick or treating!  I bet the poorer sections of town weren’t having traffic problems……

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But back to Bulloch House.  We were interested because this is the childhood home of Theodore Roosevelt’s mother; it was built in the 1830s.  It’s not a plantation, but a town house, built on 10 acres.  It was quite lovely, and in good repair; the personal tour was delightful, given by an older woman who had so much information to share she kept stumbling over her words and losing track of where she was in the story.  But we had a fine time.  Roswell was, until recently, just a sleepy little southern town, and it retains all the charm you could want.  Roswell King came there from Savannah in the 1830s to start a mill, and talked the Bullochs into joining him.  Lot’s of interesting history, including the fact that TR’s parents were married in the house, and then he took her to his home in the north, where Teddy and the rest of the children were born.  During the Civil War she had very divided loyalties but remained true to her husband throughout; her family was fighting for the south, while she was living in New York and her husband was very strong for the Union.  One of her brothers was actually one of the most important of the Confederate Raiders, running arms and supplies into the south via sailing vessels and harassing union vessels.  He spent the war in England when not at sea and lived the remainder of his life there after the war.

We are deeply enmeshed in TR history these days, reading biographies of him and books about the building of the Panama Canal.  He was a very special person.

We didn’t want to get buried in Atlanta, so skipped (this time) the Civil War sites there, but did stop at Kennesaw Mountain, an interesting war battlefield, which holds great promise for a return visit on a day not filled with so many folks (too close to the city, too nice a day; we’ll come back when it’s raining).

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A few days later we made a trip to Chattanooga, which we enjoyed a lot more.

Chattanooga was very important in the Civil War, being the junction of railroads going east and west with those going north and south, as well as being on a major river.  Rivers and trains were the way stuff moved then.  But our visit was to see the aquarium.  We took a lovely, meandering motorcycle ride along the Ocoee River to get there.  It was dammed in several places as a TVA project, and otherwise is a broad running stream among large rocks.  It was a pretty day and we thoroughly enjoyed the trip.  The aquarium was a visit we made only because it had been so highly recommended, but it was well worth it.  It’s relatively new, and part of its mission is to explain the ecosystems that make up the route of the Tennessee River on its path to the delta.  It was very well done.  An extra treat was an excellent, large exhibit on seahorses and sea dragons.  They are endangered, you see, and losing ground rapidly.  This exhibit, along with one in (Baltimore, I think) have been created to raise our awareness of this problem, in addition to showing us how varied and really totally cool the little beasts are.  We had a delightful day, including lunch at the Mellow Mushroom, a wonderful pizza parlor near the aquarium that was probably started up by some leftover hippies out of the 60s.

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We left Cherry Log on October 31, our second anniversary on the road.  We skirted Atlanta again, heading toward the Carolinas.  You can’t stay far enough out of the metropolitan area to keep away from the tedious traffic and the subdivisions that are gobbling up the countryside.  Their developments have goofy names, just like ours, only not Spanish all the time.  We passed Harmony On the Lakes (does it have a sister subdivision called Discord In the Hills?).  And California doesn’t have a corner on weird houses.  We passed a large cement block home (grey) with turrets, a block wall around that had gnomes sitting on the top of each corner, and a moat between the wall and the “castle.”  Damn!  Couldn’t get a picture.  

Eastern Georgia begins to flatten out, with rural areas where they grow cotton; we passed Athens and the University of Georgia (“Go Dogs!”), crossed the Savannah River and found ourselves in South Carolina.  This was a landmark of some sort; it leaves only Rhode Island and Alaska as the two states we have not (yet) visited; we don’t count Hawaii because we’ve been there several times and you can’t travel there in your coach anyhow.  We’ve finally filled in the SC blank on our map and put a stop to the endless questions about how we managed to see all those states surrounding it without seeing SC.

Well, South Carolina doesn’t have a lot to offer outside of Charleston; what we saw was quiet and rural, without a lot going on.  The state has the poorest highway signage we’ve ever seen, we’ll give them that.  You know the turn is right there, you come right up to it and maybe even go a little past it, and there the sign is, on the road you should have taken.  Rats!  About face and try it again.  We did manage to find Abbeville, the birth and death of the confederacy, and a homemade sign in someone’s yard that said “It’s Not Over Yet – Go Flashes”; I’m so glad “it’s” not over yet, whatever “it” is…..Oh, and South Carolina is where we first spotted the sign for “The Incredible Pre-Lit Christmas Tree” – I don’t even want to think about what that might mean.  

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The part of South Carolina we traveled becomes much nicer as you get closer to Charlotte, North Carolina, which has become a huge financial center in the southeast and has made the entire region much more prosperous.  The countryside is scrubby and brushy, but rather nice.  We skirted south of the city of Charlotte by using some back roads, crossed the state line into North Carolina, where we were immediately hit with a sign that says “Motorcycles Burn Headlights.”  We’ve since seen them on all the major roads.  You tell me what YOUR imagination conjures up!

Right across the border between the two states is the small town of Waxhaw.  We’ll go back there again some time and explore this pretty little spot.  It’s the birthplace of Andrew Jackson, although South Carolina claims him, too.  It seems Jackson always said NC, but the border is so close, and the home has disappeared.  Makes for good discussions over sweet tea.

We moved eastward across North Carolina, a trip we have made several times by now.  Fortunately, the state has lots of nice east-ward roads, making the trip new each time, without ever having to use the interstates.  We passed through Mineral Springs, where Gary Studley is running for Commissioner – we’re glad his parents didn’t name him Dudley.  And Marshville, the home of Randy Travis, for those of you who care.  We were starting to see cotton in the fields, to our great puzzlement.  We always thought cotton was harvested in the early fall (isn’t it, in Fresno??).  You always associate great heat with growing cotton, but it’s cool now and it’s still in the fields.  Could someone please tell me about cotton growing?

It’s still true that you cannot get anything but local sports on the radio around here – and local means college, high school and Nascar.  Stock car racing is alive and well and thriving in the South.  Tracks are frequent, popular, and look dangerous.  Not our choice.  

The ground is no longer the red clay of Georgia and western South Carolina, but the sandy soil of the central and eastern Carolinas.  We were approaching the Raleigh area, our destination for the next week or so.  We passed through the Pinehurst area, a region to the west of there that’s full of resorts, golf courses, and, of course, plenty of pine trees.  It has a lot of charm, and we weren’t surprised to see it was  popular with vacationers.  

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Raleigh is the home of our great friends John and Beth Lawton, along with doctors and dentists and the like.  While here we can combine visiting with our normal poking and prodding, and even see some sights.  We like Raleigh a lot, and are always happy to pull up to our friends’ doorstep.  This time it was covered with leaves, as their property contains several zillion trees, with leaves falling like flies.  (There’s something wrong with that metaphor; hmm, maybe it’s a simile?  Anyway, you get the picture.)  We helped rake, had good food and lots of laughs, survived the medicos, and moved on.  We had time one day to visit the Bennett House, outside Durham, which was the site of the largest troop surrender at the end of the Civil War.  Sherman, after marching through Georgia to the sea, moved north through the Carolinas, chasing Johnston and his confederate army.  Johnston finally surrendered at this quiet, small home outside Durham.  We enjoyed our stop here.  

While in the Raleigh area we spent some time visiting with family a few miles away, and fortunately had been able to organize the visit to coincide with a visit there by Rick’s mother and aunt.  We got caught up on the news and saw a lot of family.  Rick’s cousin lives in a rural area with lots of cotton and soy beans in the ground.  This is old tobacco farming country, and the drying sheds are everywhere, falling down and looking very picturesque.  We passed a country church (they are EVERYWHERE) advertising “The World’s Smallest Baptist” (?); we also saw a sign in a school entry area saying “West Johnston County’s voted Best Principle” (sic – unfortunately).  It’s so quiet here at night you lay in bed watching the moon and stars and hearing the geese pass by overhead.  Nice country.  

After our visiting, we had intended to move right along, but we found out some Trekking friends were going to pass us along the freeway as they headed toward Florida for the winter, so we waited for them, staying in a campground we found along the roadway.  It was a good choice.  A small campground, it had a pond with geese and ducks, lots of trees, a bunch of goats, and two ostriches.  We had lots of fun.  We variously named the ostriches Gobble and DeGuck and then later on decided on Hedda Gobbler and Joseph Gobbles.  We must be looking towards Thanksgiving….

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To kill time, we took a ride down to Kinston.  Used to be Kingstown, during the colonial era, then they shortened it up with the Revolutionary War underway.  Nice spot; it is home to one of two extant confederate ironclad ships.  We had a great time and had a personal tour given by the local historian.  There’s something quietly satisfying about a man who’s getting to share information on a subject about which he cares so passionately.  So many of us just bumble along with our lives; he gets to talk about his big love to whomever comes along.  All that is left of the ship itself is just the lumber from the keel and sides and a few iron parts for display, but they have the whole thing laid out to its full size so at least you can visualize it somewhat.  They also have a video and some well done informative displays to tell the story.  The whole thing has been a private effort of individuals and groups in the town with a little help from the state.  The current location is the second one the ship has occupied since being raised; the first location nearby flooded some years back so they relocated to higher ground.  Plans are well along to move the ship yet again to a fully enclosed building downtown where the climate can be controlled to better preserve the timbers.  By the way, if you come looking, the other confederate ironclad is at the wonderful new museum of civil war naval activity in Columbus, Georgia.  They have less of “their” original ship, but a much more complete display.  On the other side, the Monitor, the first union ironclad, is under restoration at the maritime museum in Newport News, Virginia.

Carolina barbeque is special and unique to this part of the country.  I wanted some; Rick puts up with me so wonderfully that he agreed to come along.  But Carolina barbeque isn’t like real barbeque.  It’s not the same kind of sauce.  So I gobbled it up, Rick endured, and I made him cheese sandwiches later in the evening.  (How can you call it barbeque without barbeque sauce??? – Rick)

We met up with our friends, had a lovely visit, made plans for the next rendezvous, and moved west – a bit.  We headed for Burlington, west of Raleigh, where we had some work done on the coach.  This by a muffler and trailer hitch company that advertises “No appointment necessary – we’ll hear you coming!”  The purpose of the stop was that we are currently in the midst of a project to do away with our trailer so we can travel a bit smaller and lighter.  We had arranged to have racks installed to carry the motorcycle on the rear of the coach and the bicycles on the front.  In the process we discovered that the existing trailer hitch was cracked as was the rear frame of the coach where the hitch was mounted.  So, a one day stop turned into three plus a weekend.  But, all went well and we are now ready to make the change as soon as we can sell the trailer.

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Along the freeway, on I-95, there were at least 10 signs for the J&R Outlet, which advertised it sold “Everything from Brassieres to Chandeliers, at WHACKO Prices”; we could hardly wait.  Going through Smithfield, which is close to the J&R Outlet, the signs advertised “Ava and the Outlets” as being a reason to get off the freeway.  Sounds like a rock band to me………..actually, Ava Gardner was born there and the town has erected a small museum of memorabilia; no, we didn’t stop – at either of these tempting locations. 

We are in the land of turkey shoots everywhere; I suspect they’ll ease up after the Thanksgiving weekend.  But this is definitely hunting country.  Twice we’ve passed Jones Sausage Road; this conjures up all kinds of thoughts, but mostly just that it probably used to be a road leading to a butcher’s shop.  And we’ve seen a sign “Beaver Control, call”…..we don’t even want to suppose.  On a more geographic level, driving through central-western North Carolina you see signs saying “Neuse River Basin,” and “Cape Fear River Basin,” reminding us how far-reaching these watersheds are; those two rivers are not really prevalent until eastern North Carolina.  Nice country, I might add.

While in Burlington, we needed cat food (a special kind that you have to get from vets), so Rick stopped by a nice looking spot and had a grand adventure!  This was absolutely the most charming veterinarian practice imaginable.  Our own theory, based on our own experience and held as truth until proven otherwise, is that all vets are special and wonderful people; but these folks are a cut above even that high standard.  The practice was formed by three young female vet grads who wanted to start their own business, and the place is beautifully decorated (the right word is charming, but I’ve already used that one) and very homey with cats and birds, even a chicken, in cages in the lobby and one cat roaming free.  They had found a wonderful internet source for pet pictures with whimsical quotations and these were on all the walls.  It was so nice that the next day we stopped by again so Kathy could see and so that I could get pictures of some of the posters.  Well, we got a guided tour of the facility, told them all about Jeremy and Agnes and were made to promise that we’d send photos.  Needless to say, if the need arises, we’ve found our vet in the Carolinas.

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Finally finishing up coach work, we headed west for a week spent along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and then have ended up in Tennessee for Thanksgiving.  Western North Carolina is a great area for camping and bike riding, and we had several days of lovely weather, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  We went on some great rides.  We’ve decided all the best roads in America follow little streams and go down pretty little valleys.  This area has tons of them!  Happy riding for months, in good weather.  We had marvelous food along the way, and met up with the daughter of a friend who is in school in Boone (Appalachian State University) and living in Blowing Rock – can’t get much better!  She’s having a ball, and we really enjoyed seeing her, having known her for many years.  She works in a small diner called Sonny’s.  While we knew she worked in a restaurant, we didn’t know which one and had already had a meal at Sonny’s because it is recommended in our “Roadfood” book.  A great, great little place.  Once we connected with Rachel, she had us meet her there for lunch and we had another terrific meal.

One day, on one of our rides, we ended up at a tiny little wide spot in the road for breakfast; it had been recommended in one of our motorcycling books.  Food nothing to brag about, but the fellow behind the counter was worth the price of admission (he called me “Li’l Lady” the whole time we were there …. I was in love).  Southern charm is alive and well all across the south and truly adds to the enjoyment of traveling here; but Joe, well he was in a class by himself.  Well past retirement age – he actually retired after 29 years working at a furniture manufacturing company before taking over the Grocery Basket and Grill in Ferguson, NC, 19 years ago – Joe maintains he’s ready to sell out to someone so he can retire, but who knows.  He was born and raised and has lived his life within a few miles of the store, and was just an absolute delight.

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After a week here, we knew we needed to get over the mountains into Tennessee.  We had family coming for the holiday, and wanted to get to our spot, which is where we are now.  It’s a nice little park just up the road from Knoxville, on Raccoon Valley Road (doesn’t get much better than that!).  We’re snug here, but it’s cold.  This morning it was 22 degrees at a little after 7:00.  We’ve done a little riding, but it’s cold.  We have some friends in Pikeville, so we did get over to see them, but it was cold.  About 200 miles round trip, a bit longer than we should have attempted.  It was cold.  But we really enjoyed seeing them.  And we had a great time with family here for the Thanksgiving weekend.  Even cooked and served dinner here in the coach, and that’s hard to do!  We rode around some with them in their car (thanks for that!), and saw some nice countryside.  We’re on the west side of the Blue Ridge Parkway now, and on over the Smokies to the other side.  We had snow on the ground one morning, which added to the picture-taking moments.  Or should have, but everybody’s hands were too cold to take pictures.  

We tried to visit several interesting things in the area, but all were closed for the holidays, so we contented ourselves mostly with driving around.  Knoxville is next to Oak Ridge, of nuclear fame, and their museum was open, so we spent some time there, including having a “hair raising experience,” which was a kick.  

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But fall is over.  Occasionally you still a tree with some color, usually a liquid ambar, interestingly enough.  In California they are long gone.  We need to move south, much further south, and plan to head down into southern Alabama in a couple more days.  We’re heading for a campground we like near Mobile, where we will probably stay until the new year.  After that, probably into Texas and then Mexico.

So happy trails to you, and happy holidays.  We think of you often, and wonder what you’re doing.  We hear from some of you regularly, some of you not at all, but most of you from-time-to-time.  Whenever you can manage, we’d love to have you fill us in.  Just a caution, of course, but be sure to start fresh messages rather than hitting the reply button.  That just gums up the works!  

We love you all;

Rick and Kathy

 See more photos from the US & Canada in 2001 to 2003

© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2018