Monday, September 10, 2012

The Second Sunday Drive, Day 32

Downtown Cincinnati
(as seen from Interstate 71)

When you hear the whistle blowin' eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in
Gotta keep it rollin'
Woo, woo, Chattanooga there you are
- words by Mack Gordon, music by Harry Warren
To hear Glenn Miller and his band play Chattanooga Choo Choo, click here.  

Kevin has spent time as a long-haul trucker (as any of you who read my posts about riding in the big rig can attest).  For long-haul truckers, the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System has been a God send.  With Kevin in the car, it was no longer a matter of twisting, turning back country roads.  Now we were dealing with miles to cover and how to get to the next destination in the most efficient way.  Nancy's shortest gave way to fastest, in other words.  Well, for the most part.

After the complimentary hotel breakfast, we turned right onto Hamilton Road and left onto I-70, a block north of the hotel.  Nancy (and Mapquest, I might add) wanted us to turn left on Hamilton and take city streets to some point south and west where we would catch I-71.  Instead, we drove west into the center of Columbus where we bore left onto I-71 heading toward Cincinnati, the Ohio River and Kentucky.

We did have a new traveling companion on this leg of the drive.  Hurricane Isaac had hit land a couple of days earlier, devastating the Louisiana lowlands, and moving up the Mississippi River.  By Sunday, September 2, the middle of Labor Day Weekend, Isaac had been downgraded but was pelting the Ohio River Valley with torrential rains.  The storm's path was wide, and we had heard thunder during the night in Columbus.  Most of the day's drive would be in rainy, and sometimes windy conditions.  It was not a day for stopping, admiring the scenery and getting out the camera.

A Kentucky Barn
(Near Berea, Kentucky)

We crossed the Ohio, passing from Cincinnati to Covington, Kentucky, home of the Cincinnati airport  (now you know why your luggage tags for Cincinnati are marked CVG--CoVinGton), and continued south across Kentucky on I-75 toward Lexington.  I've spent many a pleasant day in Lexington, and wouldn't have minded getting off the highway to visit  Joseph Beth Booksellers or have lunch at Joe's Crab Shack, but it was not to be.   We also passed by Berea, Kentucky, a place I have wanted to visit for many, many years.  As we drove into London, we saw a sign for Biker's Leathers, and decided that maybe, just maybe, it was time to get off the road for a bit.  Ah yes, it was Sunday of Labor Day Weekend and the leather outlet was closed.  But the truckstop restaurant next door, the one with the huge sign reading "Home Cooking" was open and it was lunch time, more or less.  

The restaurant gave us the choice of getting in line for the steam table buffet or sitting at a booth and having a waitress bring us a menu.  We choose the latter option, and when our waitress arrived at the table, Kevin asked if the sign was correct.  As the walls were covered with signs, the poor woman didn't know what to say until Kevin pointed out the large one reading "It's all good!"  She assured us that it was.  Now I have to admit, I never actually heard her say "Kiss My Grits," but if Florence Jean Castleberry had a human model, it was surely our waitress.

With an order each of Pork Chop Sandwiches in our bellies, we climbed back into the Saab and continued south through the Daniel Boone National Forest and into Tennessee.  Just north of Knoxville, the rain, which had been intermittent all day long, became torrential.  I don't recall ever seeing a rain as heavy, and as I could no longer see the road nor any of the traffic on the road, I became very nervous--not the best state for a driver on the Interstate.  I pulled off the highway and let Kevin take over as he claimed he could see the road.

A Rainy I-75 in northern Tennessee
It would get much, much worse

Passing through Knoxville, the weather alternated between heavy rain and overcast, but dry conditions.  Some stretches of the highway actually seemed dry, but then, in a quarter mile or so, we'd be back in the rain.  It reminded me of the Montana saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait five minutes."  

At Chattanooga, we missed the opportunity to see (and ride) the Choo-Choo, but left I-75 for I-24 heading west.   Now one of the things I like to capture through the windshield is any sign indicating that we were crossing into a new state.  But I had been relying on Nancy and didn't have a Tennessee map, so the sign saying "We're Glad You're in a Georgia State of Mind" flew by before I could get my camera up and ready.  I mean really, the last milepost I had seen indicated that we still had over one hundred miles of I-24 in Tennessee.  I missed the fact that the road dipped into Georgia, then curved back north into Tennessee to head on to Nashville and points north and west.  We, however, wouldn't as we turned onto I-59 toward Birmingham.

A Knoxville, Tennessee, residential district

If Interstate 75 is one of the longest sections of the system, running from southern Florida to Sault Sainte Marie on the Michigan/Ontario border, Interstate 59 is one of the shorter sections.  Designed to connect Birmingham, Alabama with New Orleans to the South and Chattanooga to the north, it never actually enters Tennessee due to that dip in I-24.

There are only three Georgia exits from I-59, and we passed each of them, heading into Alabama.  Kevin offered to turn around so I could get the Georgia sign from the southern side, but I said thanks, but no thanks.  We were headed for Bluff Creek Falls, a gay men's campground outside of Steele, Alabama, and I was worried that we might be running out of time.  

I had called Bluff Creek Falls earlier in the morning, asking about the possibility of getting a cabin for the night.  It was Labor Day Weekend, after all, and I wouldn't have been at all surprised to find them full up.  On the other hand, Isaac had been playing havoc with people's travel plans for the past week, and I could always hope for the best.  When I called, I was told that at present the campground was full, but I could call back after noon.  We were still on eastern time and Alabama is in the central time zone, so by noon C.D.T. we would be quite far south.  I was pleasantly surprised when a couple hours after my initial call, my phone rang and a man asked if I had called earlier about a reservation.  Indeed I had, and they now had an opening, in Papa Don's cabin.  I quickly reserved it and we had driven south knowing that we had a place for the night.  

I did have some unanswered questions, however.  Some gay campgrounds have cabins that are more like hotel accommodations, and some are more primitive.  A few are like Roseland and have both.  I wasn't sure what would be the case with Bluff Creek, nor did I know if they had any facilities serving meals or selling food.  As we drove south through northern Alabama, these questions became critical.  Best to call and ask, I guessed, and that's what I did.  For future reference, if you're staying at Bluff Creek, bring your own bedding.  Ditto on the food.  We pulled off I-59 at Gadsden, told Nancy to find us a WalMart, and ended up purchasing an entire bedding ensemble, complete with four pillows.  We needed queen-sized sheets for the campground, and knowing that our guest room bed at home also takes that size, I rationalized the purchase as getting an extra set for guests.  We also needed to eat before getting to the campground, so I called On Star and asked if there were a Popeye's or KFC nearby.  Indeed there was--right next to the WalMart parking lot, so Kevin was initiated into Popeye's chicken.

Once at Bluff Creek, we were quickly made to feel part of the family as it were, and once we had made up our bed, we were welcomed into the community and passed a very enjoyable evening.  For the day, we had driven almost 575 miles and had been on the road for close to twelve hours.  I thought this was one of the longest days we would spend on the road.  Boy was I mistaken.

 North Georgia's Southern Appalachians
From I-59

No comments: