Tennessee is longer than you think it is. I’d make a corollary for Hofstadter’s law to say this:
Corollary for Hofstadter’s law: Tennessee takes longer to drive than you think it does, even when taking into account the Corollary for Hofstadter’s law.
To be fair, Tennessee was only a little more than half of the distance I needed to cover.
There was rain and construction most the way on I-40 west. Fortunately fog and pink redbuds made the drive scenic even when I was halted to a stop.
Long after the sun had set and I continued on, not even close to being through Tennessee, Nashville appeared as ghostly lights through the rain. My legs were starting to get antsy and I was happy to stop driving, even in this ghost city.
Sidebar: I have a trick for finding the most interesting spots of any city: search for vegan restaurants nearby. You usually find two categories of vegan restaurants:
Asian restaurants serving mostly vegetables and vegan beef and chicken (sometimes vegan eggs, too; My good friend T had some and didn’t think they were like eggs at all), and
Very hip, ethical vegetarian/vegan places in very hip parts of town.
I’d only driven past Nashville in the past to head west (or east) to (or from) Dallas, TX. I wanted to dip into the city a little bit and get a feel for what it might be like. I tried the vegan restaurant trick by using Yelp near Nashville. I found a place called The Wild Cow. Seemed like a pleasant residential area around that restaurant. I feel like I hit the jackpot every time I see tattoos and blue hair. And not only that, the food and scene were both delectable.
I stayed the night in Memphis after getting very, very tired of driving through the car wash that was weather over Tennessee.
Little Rock was a beacon of hope while driving the next day. I only had a little longer to go before finally making it to Texas. The sky was clearing up. I filled up on gas there and marked another merit badge in the dirt coat my car was wearing.
I traveled along I-30 long enough and sure enough eventually made it to Texas. I put on some Throwing Muses albums, looked out at the silver sky, and felt tingling elation. After two years away, I was back to see my old stomping grounds and friends and coworkers.
Up next: an entry on the fun in Dallas, TX and surrounding area.
There’s something about mountains that really magnetizes me to them. When I was little, I had these dreams that mountains magically appeared in my backyard. Having grown up in the Midwest, the greatest changes in elevation I was used to were tires popping into potholes. Mountains beckoned me last summer as I drove east from Seattle through the Cascades, and then again into the Rockies of Montana and Alberta. I knew I wanted to see the Appalachians this time around.
Heading south from Cincinnati, the other side of the Ohio River is Kentucky, a land of good basketball teams and fried chicken. I didn’t spend much time there, as my next planned stop on the tour poster was Kingsport, TN, and I intended to get there quickly so I could spend more time with my kin there. But there are a couple notables from Kentucky.
I took the route south through Lexington, KY. I got into some rolling hills and forest in southwest Kentucky, part of Daniel Boone National Forest.
There’s a fascinating part of this trail that goes through three states in a very short distance, called the Cumberland Gap. You’ll be in Kentucky, then Tennessee, then Virginia, all in a matter of minutes.
The sunset beauty around the Cumberland Gap behind me, US-58 through Virginia felt like a roller coaster in the dark, a Space Mountain. Along US-58, I experienced my first DUI checkpoint, two flashing blue cop cars on each side of the highway. “Uh, Officer,” I said, “What is this?” He flashed a light in my eyes, looked at my clearly-not-Virginia license, and let me through. Apparently I was not drunk.
US-23 south spiraled through some more mountainsides, passing by Food Lion, Food City, and Food Country stores, and then I was in Kingsport, TN. A few wrong turns through town and I finally made it to my kin’s renovated farmhouse on a hill. I was welcomed with sushi and a local IPA. Feeling full in all regards, I fell into pillowy bed and collected four times as many sleeping hours as I had the previous two nights.
I started my day nice and slowly in the fairly luxurious “spare” bedroom. The room had a couch where I typed up the previous entry, a coffee nook with several K-cup flavors, a bathroom with all the amenities. I doubt I’ll stay in any room that nice for the remainder of the trip.
My kin and I went on a hike after breakfast around Bays Mountain. I love hiking through the woods. Plenty of fine vistas around the Kingsport Reservoir, which was historically the fresh water supply for Kingsport, TN.
I drove south to Asheville after a warm goodbye to my kin. It feels good to know I have such a comforting place to stay in Appalachia.
After I parked near my friend W’s house in Asheville, I ate dinner at Plant on Asheville’s north side. Some of the most delicious food I’ve had, let alone vegan food.
I walked south through Asheville’s downtown to the River Arts District (RAD). I immediately felt at home seeing a high relative density of plaid shirts worn. Asheville is a very pretty city. So many colors!
I decided to get a beer at Wedge Brewing, a beer garden and brewery in the RAD I heard good things about. I thoroughly enjoyed their IPA and their peaty Scotch ale. Both cooled me down from how sweaty I’d been walking that way.
Eventually my friend W made it to Wedge and we caught up. It was nice to sit outside with beer and chat, something I haven’t been able to do in the Midwest since last September. We headed to Wicked Weed Brewing afterward and enjoyed some sour beers produced by their offshoot Funkatorium.
I had fragmented sleep on W’s futon because a cat named Hazel wanted to rub her head on my hands and face at all hours of the night. She was darn cute, so I let it happen. I’ve met three cats along this road trip so far, and I hope to meet more.
As I write this, I’m sitting at Izzy’s Coffee Den in downtown Asheville, NC. I’m planning out how I want to get to my next “planned” stop, Dallas, TX. Something like 14 hours of driving that I hope to split across a couple days. I hope there will be music blue, green kudzu, and barbecue along the way.
If you’re driving south into Ohio, do yourself a favor and avoid US-23 south for as long as possible. Yes, Google Maps suggests it is a shorter route by 10 minutes and 23 miles (distance and time may vary). Don’t fall for it.
If you go that route, you will be forced to drive through rural Ohio, including the bizarre Fostoria. Here is what you can look forward to on that route.
The first “posted” stop on my road trip poster itinerary was Columbus, OH, in the Short North neighborhood. My best friend B and her husband live there with their furbabies. I hadn’t seen them since I officiated their wedding last July. (Search here for “Lauer” under last name. I’m available to perform your marriage ceremonies in Ohio.) It was great catching up.
We ate pizza and drank pitchers of beer at Hounddog’s.
The next morning we sat around taking in the morning light and chatting, and later ate at a cute Asian deli serving both vegan bagel sandwiches and spicy tuna bowls.
Be sure to visit Cincinnati. Until last summer I thought the city was only pigs and P&G. Turns out I was mistaken. Cincy feels like an independent city state that happens to be in Ohio. My friend B was telling me that they designed it to be like New York City. I agreed that it smelled about the same.
Cincinnati’s architecture is classic and lovely. Some examples below.
Definitely check out Main Street in Over-the-Rhine (OTR). Park + Vine is a general store and vegan cafe in OTR that satisfies me every time I visit. They serve vegan goetta, which is normally absolutely not vegan, a product of Cincy’s meat culture.