A Nashville to Knoxville road trip doesn’t usually take 6 days and being on the road for 1000 miles, but I took a more unusual route. Taking in Memphis, Holiday World and 5 new states on the way to the Sunsphere. Here’s my diary from the trip, in the last instalment I visit 2 state parks and drive through 5 states in 2 days.
24th July 2016
I was feeling incredibly lazy the next day but I decided to take a walk through downtown Memphis right after my complimentary coffee but before my check out time. Well, the light reveals everything and Memphis didn’t look quite as beautiful as it did last night. It certainly didn’t smell as good. It smelt like stale urine. It seems that it’s a weirdly glamorous, drinking town by night. Not a party/club type of place, instead to me it was like an affluent drinking spot without a care for the city’s daytime affairs. Which on a Sunday seemed to be not much at all, whether people were at church or nursing a hangover was their business. It was a place from literature if I ever saw one, endless stories could uncurl from the extreme spectrum of the sides of the city. That some of the sides transformed from day to night gave it a macabre type of charm I can only imagine coming from the South. My walk didn’t last long, I went back to the comfort of the hotel lobby. Only a tourist, the reality check was a little too much and I am too ill-informed to know any more about the way the city runs. You can’t know a city in an overnight stay, but you can get a first impression and the duality of the city both fascinated and terrified me.
Well, it was Sunday and I didn’t know that meant the most famous BBQ place in the city would be closed so I had to find somewhere else to try Memphis style ribs. Step in Central BBQ, right next to the National Civil Rights Museum. Perfectly placed for me to kill two birds with one stone around lunchtime before I got on with another long drive. The Lorraine Motel and balcony standing as a memorial to Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The exterior was affecting, to think of a light being snuffed out and good intentions being defeated it felt especially poignant in relation to events happening in the US.
From the Barbecue I tried a meat trio with pulled pork, brisket and ribs. All three were unimpressive. I’ve been to Kansas City and Texas and both I think have spoilt my expectations. Memphis style underwhelmed me, but perhaps it was just this joint.
Then I was off to Tishmingo State Park on my way to Huntsville, Alabama. Actually before that was a forgettable pit stop to knock off the state of Arkansas, which consisted of stopping at the first turn off after the state line. The state line is on a bridge in the middle of the Mississippi river, with absolutely no opportunity to take a picture of the sign. I was low on gas so after taking a photo of a sign saying West Memphis (my proof of being in the State), I filled up my tank in Arkansas too. I’m not sure if it is enough for me to tick off the state, but technically I have done it now. I feel a little bad for Arkansas, having to rush it so much that I feel it almost doesn’t count.
Tishmingo State Park was not what I expected, but I should have known what it would be like. References to these types of places are everywhere within American popular culture. Summer camps held at lakes with camping facilities that seem so well maintained are in countless movies and here they were in real life. Somehow the two did not click until I actually went to a state park. The whole place was weirdly empty and that only made it more idyllic. A pioneer’s cabin. A real life raccoon in the middle of the road staring down my car. Swinging bridges, that was my personal favourite part, I have a thing for bridges and walkways in forests. On top of that the lady at the front gates let me in for free as I was “from out of state”. Mississippi only got a short amount of my attention too, but all it did was impress me with its beauty and grace. Seeing just the tip of the state made me definitely long to see more of it and hopefully one day I’ll go back to fulfil that ambition.
Once I got out of Mississippi I sailed into Alabama. That was where I came across a Native American site that had been around since before Jesus was born. I need to brush up on that aspect of history, I’m fatally uninformed about America as it was before the arrival of explorers from Europe who claimed it as their own. Relatively, it’s easy to know very little when you consider the blip our lifetimes are against the scale of the Earth. I am undetectable on the scale if you laid it all out as a line.
I had to try Alabama’s famous barbecue style. Their meat of choice is chicken, which itself was disappointing, however really the sauce is what it’s famous for and when it comes to that it stands out. It really is a knock out sauce, which is not the barbecue tradition I’m used to. I’m more used to it being more about the method of cooking and everything that happens before it gets to your plate. It’s a great sauce that would go well with any well-cooked piece of meat (or vegetable). I was pretty surprised with how averagely the chicken was cooked and seasoned, nothing of note here. Not a great cut of meat, the cooking method not particularly strong or the technique. I mean, I went to the most famous place in the state for barbecue so I had higher expectations. I really should have bought some of the sauce to take home with me, but I got takeaway so didn’t get to try it until I was at my hotel.
That hotel was in Huntsville, Alabama, which was a good quality road-trip type of hotel. I like Holiday Inn Express and look for them whenever they’re at the right price. I tried to catch up with the journal but it’s difficult to keep up when you’re doing so much in the day, which then makes you tired in the evening. I’m only capable of one entry a day and I’m perpetually behind.
25th July 2016
Woke up and decided to have the pricey hotel breakfast as a means of convenience. At least they had some healthier options after all this food so far. I did my laundry and headed out late (again) towards the air and space museum. I didn’t have time to go inside, I just thought I’d get some pictures of the huge rocket.
There ended up being more than just the one I could see from the freeway and I have to say I was so impressed it’s completely different to see them in real life. They can go into space! I was looking around and you can do a bus tour of the NASA grounds too, but sadly it’s for US citizens only. I’m excluded. I left Huntsville realising the day was getting away from me and I made my way to Cloudland Canyon thinking I wouldn’t hike just drive around, take some easy photos and leave quickly.
Over in Georgia I drove into my second state park of the trip and was handed a map, this one was bigger. I spotted an easy looking 1 mile hike and thought ‘I can do that, it won’t take long’! The breath-taking landscape when I drove up to the car park convinced me I had to try it. It was all the way down to the bottom of the canyon which was easy walking down and the way back up looked doable, even if I could tell it would be a little bit tiring. Right at the bottom as I was taking in the surroundings, over head the thunder started rolling over the area. This meant I started at a strong pace trying to get back up before any rain would hit too hard but I was completely unsuccessful in getting up there before the storm. It hit when I was about halfway up and it hit HARD. I was under some shelter but feeling time conscious, so I decided to just brave it and walk back up and get completely drenched. I managed to get back to the car and drove to a nearby Wendy’s where I got changed into dry clothes in the bathroom, good thing I had a pool towel in my luggage for possible future water park trips to dry off with.Even though I’d (ambitiously) planned to hit Chattanooga for a little while too, I skipped those plans and headed straight for Knoxville instead.
Once I was there I got ready to check out downtown Knoxville as I was only there for the night. I was right next to the Sunsphere so only had to walk out of hotel to take some pictures close up before heading on. There was one place I knew I wanted to go in Knoxville, the Peter Kern Library, that’s a speakeasy type bar that looks like a library. It had expensive cocktails named after famous literary characters. The one I ordered, Rhett Butler, was worth it’s price tag. I lost track of time and when I left I realised places were already closed for food orders. I ordered some takeaway Dominos to my room and watched Legally Blonde while I waited. That finished out my short, but packed road trip. Tomorrow will be the start of the next phase, where I join up with others to tour theme parks and I’m sure they’ll be no more time for adding to this journal then.