USA - Kentucky to Tennessee

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August 26th 2017
Published: August 29th 2017
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David here...

The journey into Kentucky was around 2 hours. We stopped at yet another Walmart for supplies, including vodka and more bourbon as this Walmart, unusually, had a liquor store attached. We also managed to download Amazon Music and a few of our albums onto the tablet so we had some music for the evenings. We were staying in the Daniel Boone National Forest. The pitch was among the trees on a gravel pad and quite secluded.

It was early evening when we arrived so wandered down to the lake and around the area before settling down at camp for the evening. We had pasta bolognese, and drank beer and spirits, listening to Iron Maiden. A pretty good way to spend any evening. We also had lots of insects visiting us to keep us company.

We had a full English for breakfast the next day, or a close approximation of it with American ingredients. It was very tasty though. We spent the day down by the lake in some shade, just enjoying the view and trying not to get too hot. In the afternoon we got into our swimming cossies and dipped into the lake, which was very refreshing. Later we wandered to the little store and treated ourselves to some ice cream. Quite a lazy day. It was another evening of music and beer after a small evening meal of a hot dog and scrambled eggs, though we did polish off a big bag of salt and vinegar crisps later on, a flavour we cannot remember the last time we had.

The next day we were packed up and on our way by 10:30. Our first stop was a Walmart outside Lexington to use their wi-fi and call Thrifty to organise a car exchange (the loose bumper was bothering me). That done we drove to the Bluegrass Airport where we swapped over our stuff into the new Nissan Versa and set off for some lunch. Ramseys Diner provided the fried chicken... in Kentucky. It was very tasty. On the way to our next stop, Nolin State Park, we discovered that the new car had digital radio... hello Hair Nation, Liquid Metal, Octane and Ozzy's Boneyard!

We arrived at the camp in high spirits, which were soon dashed as we got to our pitch. It wasn't bad, just nowhere near as good as our last stops. The tents were among trees but much closer together and there were cigarette butts everywhere. It is still littering you know. It was also a drive to the shower block. Plus it was noisy. We got set-up and sat by the lake for a while before making tea (pork chops with potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower and gravy) before going for a shower. We were in bed early as it was an early start the next day, thankfully we checked the time before bed, finding out that we'd crossed a timezone so put that right.

We were up at 06:00 and jumped straight into the car. We were hoping to avoid the traffic going south as we aimed for a little town called White House in Tennessee, 90 minutes away, that we had randomly chosen to view the total eclipse from. We expected half of America to be on the road. Well, there was no traffic and we pulled up at the sports fields at 08:00 just as the first few cars were parking up. We paid $10 to park and $5 for an eclipse viewer to share. The guy on the gate was really interested in our travels and how we had come to be there. We asked him about breakfast options and he gave us directions to a branch of Cracker Barrel nearby. As we'd parked we decided to walk.

With hindsight we should've driven to Cracker Barrel as it was so hot, but we made it after 25 minutes and then had a 20 minute wait for a table. Breakfast was good, both opting for fried eggs, bacon and coffee, with me getting sausage patties as well and Suzanne opting for hash brown casserole. They came with all the fixins', which meant grits, white sauce and biscuits (hot scone type things) with butter and jam. It was all very nice but nowhere near as good as a full English. It was then back to the sports field, which had now filled up nicely but we still had a good 2 hours until the eclipse started.

We got talking with the people around us who were interested in our trip, England and us. We had a little rug to sit on and were given a thicker one to go on top. We were offered food stuffs and use of all the viewers and glasses around and it was just such a joyous and welcoming atmosphere, in particular I have to mention Sharon and George who we talked to for ages and Ted and Mick (plus their other halves) who were great fun. There were stalls and food trucks dotted around and it was just a great place to be. There was also some chalk for people to write where they had come from on the path. Many people stopped to talk as I drew out the UK and put our names underneath.

Finally, the eclipse started, and it was amazing. The light changed very subtlety each passing minute. Shadows through the leaves became little crescents and then it got cooler and then it was like sunset all around us as the total eclipse happened. The 'ooooo's got louder until cheering broke out and then lots of 'oh my gods' and 'it's amazing' could be heard. And then the sun slowly broke out from behind the moon again and it got back to normal. We had 2.39 minutes of the total eclipse and it was well worth the change of plans and drive to be there. It was such a fantastic experience and we felt incredibly lucky to have had the chance to see it for ourselves.

Then it was off again back to our camp. We hit the highway and immediately got stuck in traffic for about 2 hours as everyone tried to leave at the same time. We did stop at a Walmart to use wi-fi to do some last minute research on our next destination and had a lovely burrito at Chipotle. We finally got back to camp where we got a laundry load done before getting back to the tent at 21:00, 15 hours after we'd set off that morning.

We were woken up at 06:00 by loud people being loud and eventually both got up and packed up by 08:00. We showered and hit the road. Our first stop was another Walmart to buy more supplies as we crossed back into Tennessee. We stopped for lunch at a park before getting to Henry Horton State Park and our next campsite. We were shocked to find a campground full sign outside but checked anyway and found that was left out after the weekend, thank goodness. We pitched in a shady spot in the trees and whiled the time away until food time.

We'd just finished our chicken fajitas when the heavens opened. It was a huge thunderstorm and for the next 2 hours we had to shelter in the car. It absolutely hammered it down and we feared for our tent. When it abated we found that the tent had held up pretty well, slightly damp around the edges but fine to sleep in.

The next day started with peanut butter sandwiches before we set off for Lynchburg, a 45 minute drive away. We parked up and found the restrictions to be more severe than most high security places; no bags etc. We paid $17 each for the Flight of Jack tour, which included 5 tastings plus the walking tour.

We only had a 15 minute wait until the tour so looked round the visitors centre, bottle shop and got some free lemonade, asking the girl serving her recommendations for barbque in town (Barrelhouse BBQ). The tour was called and we hopped onto a bus after a quick photo session and were whisked up the hill. The tour guide was excellent (Michael) and the tour was fascinating, going into the history of Jack Daniel, the brand and the distilling process. Then we got to sample 5 varities of Jack, our favorite being Gentleman Jack which we bought a bottle of. It was one of the best tours we've done of this kind ever and is highly recommended.

We walked into the town proper, had pulled pork and ribs at Barrelhouse, again, highly recommended, before wandering the small, quaint little town square. We stopped off in the frankly quite weird but enjoyable jail museum before heading back to camp for the evening, stopping off at... Dollar General this time just for a change for some basic supplies, mainly ice and beer. We had a light meal of a cheese burger in the evening and spent it listening to music and surreptitiously drinking beer, we were in a campsite that didn't allow alcoholic beverages. What is the point of camping if you can't enjoy a tipple?

The next day was to be a long travelling day across to the Smoky Mountains, only broken up by a stop at Walmart and a Dunkin Donuts (the vanilla cream was delicious). We arrived at Elkmont campground at 16:30 to find the office closed already. There was a list of free pitches and we quickly found one and set-up. This campsite was bigger than previous ones but oddly didn't have any showers. We had a barbeque in the firepit, eating steak, chicken drumsticks and sausages until we felt like we were going to burst. It was a relatively early night as we were both very tired.

After a cooler nights sleep, we washed our hair (makeshift washing-up bowl 'shower') as wild turkey's roamed about, and quickly paid up for our camping pitch to cover 3 nights, making sure we were first in the queue to leave the camp quickly. Now, you know how at the end of some days you feel everything just went perfectly? This was one of those days. Once we'd sorted the camp pitch out we were straight on the road. While heading to our destination we came across a black bear and her cub in the middle of the road. We've stayed in many campsites over the years and read all the bear warnings and instructions but never thought we would have the chance to see a wild bear and here were 2 of them right in front of us with no other traffic around. They moved away quickly into the trees before I could get a picture but it was something we will never forget seeing.

So onto our destination. We arrived at 09:00 at Dollywood! Yep, you read that right, Dollywood. While at our previous camp we had drunkenly discussed going for a laugh and the more we discussed it, the better the idea became. Suzanne likes Dolly and I fully respect what she has done, even if it is not something I would choose to listen to. I did insist on wearing an Iron Maiden t-shirt though and Suzanne joined in by wearing a Saxon one.

We bought tickets, which were very expensive, it has to be said ($170 for two with parking), but as Suzanne pointed out, someone has to keep Dolly in Rhinestones. We had a 20 minute wait until the park opened properly at 10:00 where we heard a barbershop choir sing the Star Spangled Banner. There's not much to say about Dollywood or the day really. It is a typical theme park, themed on good, clean wholesome fun, and obviously Dolly's face is everywhere. But her story, covered in the extensive museum is genuinely interesting it is just a lovely place to stroll around.

The rides are also very good. I won't give a detailed review of everything we did. But special mentions must go to; Thunderhead, on old style wooden coaster that is surprisingly fast and steep, Wild Eagle, where the seats are either side of the track and the first drop is inverted...and amazing and finally Lightening Rod, the worlds fastest wooden coaster and I can honestly say I've never been on a coaster like it, just stunning. It's easy to be a little po-faced and dismissive of Dollywood but we had a great day in the park and would highly recommed a visit.

We finally left the park 7 and a half hours later. We'd decided to eat on the way back to the campsite and picked out Boss Hoggs Barbeque. Boy, what a treat. A typical hole in the wall that was very busy. We had a half rack of ribs and some brisket. We both agreed that this was the best barbeque food we've ever had, the brisket being especially tasty. We thanked the staff and told them how much we enjoyed the food, which they were pleased with before heading back to camp where we spent the evening drinking wine and bourbon while listening to music.

The next day was a slow start with coffee and a nutritious breakfast of Reeses Peanut Butter cups. We made our way to the visitors centre and managed to download a map we were missing, though it took ages. The hike we wanted to do along the chimney pots trail was closed so we ended up doing the shorter and busier hike to Laurel Falls. They were nice and it was good to sit among the trees with the clear water rushing by. We stayed for about 45 minutes before making our way back. We picked up more supplies before heading back to camp to read a while before having chili and tortillas and then settling down for the evening.

That was Kentucky and Tennessee. We had no plans to go into either state originally. However as we learned about the eclipse and our plans changed it felt obvious to do them both. We are so glad we did as Tennessee in particular has been stunning. The tour round the Jack Daniel's Distillery and the day at Dollywood and Boss Hoggs barbecue have been 2 of the best days of the entire trip. And then to have the eclipse thrown in as well, amazing and very lucky. The people have all been exceptionally friendly and genuinely interested in us, our travels and why we were in their state. People have also loved our accents, especially the girl at Dunkin Donuts who wanted to keep asking Suzanne questions just to continue listening to her voice. We will be back to Tennessee in the future, we are sure of that.

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