Monday, September 18, 2006

Look Rock Campground, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee

Vincent Yannayon, owner of Powdermill Hill Country Crafts. At one time, he manufactured furniture in an adjacent barn, but since decided to "downsize", let the crew go and focused on this curious store, which he can run by himself.


Elk River Coffee Company in Fayetteville, Tennessee

I've parked my tail in this little refuge, enjoying some coffee, listening to 1940s tunes and even the news (courtesy of XM Radio). (Funny, I had 1940s songs going through my head this morning – maybe I was picking up the same radio waves?) I'm all plugged in, charging both the computer and the camera, connected with wi-fi.

But the computer connection is too slow, and it's failing. I've been trying to keep ahead of a weather front that caught me this morning in a heavy downpour. So, I'll be leaving...

Powderhill Mill Country Crafts, Lawrenceburg, Tennessee

East of Lawrenceburg ("Home of Davy Crockett"), I came upon Powdermill Hill Country Crafts, a curious gift shop. It took three or four passes before I convinced myself to stop in. There I met a sweet fellow, Vincent Yannayon. Easy-going, laid back. “Things run at a different pace in California,” he said. His girlfriend is from there. The shop reminded me of a hill country Vidler’s, but with a much quirkier collection of…well, just about anything. Vincent used to manufacture furniture in an adjacent barn, but decided to “downsize” and let all the employees go. "I can run this place by myself.” I bought a few little items, including a bottle of Vincent's "Fire Roasted Habanero Hot Sauce."

Inside Powdermill Hill's gift shop


8:45 p.m. I'm my tent at this campground on the edge of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

No sooner had I erected the tent, when the rain started pouring down. A little lightning and thunder close by made it exciting. Cooked up some rice and beans (“Zatarain’s”– “A New Orleans Favorite since 1889”) I was having the hardest time just getting matches to work. That’s a problem.

$14.00 for this camp. $17.50 at David Crockett last night – a lot for a slab o’ concrete!


This afternoon, I jumped on the interstates briefly to get around Chattanooga. I-24 to I-75 north. After avoiding them across much of the country, what a rat race the interstates now seem. They’re really designed for trucking, for commerce. This metropolitan area has at least four Cracker Barrels! Very tempting.

I sense that business, and the economy is fairly good for Tennessee (as things go these days.) Several major plants were along my route today including Tyson, Frito-Lay and Nissan.

What is it about fireworks in this region? I passed at least two enormous warehouses: "Tennessee-Alabama Fireworks".

Crossed into Georgia momentarily. Does that count? It’s one state I haven’t really visited. I could go south from Deal’s Gap about 50 miles and touch South Carolina too. That would leave Delaware and North Dakota as the last states to visit! ("Touching states" isn't really the point, is it.)

Following the suggestion of a couple I met at the campground this morning, I approached Deal's Gap (home of the infamous "Tail of the Dragon") via the Cherohala Skyway from Tellico Plains to U.S. 129 on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It's a wonderful drive, the broad and perfectly-paved skyway reaching 5,000 feet as it meanders over the Unicoi Mountains. Clouds and intermittent showers detracted a bit from the experience. Descending the eastern slopes, I passed the new Cherohala Motorcycle Resort, where forest was being slashed and burned, apparently for additional cabins.

The frontier spirit endures, as forests are slashed and burned at the Cherohala Motorcycle Resort, near Tellico Plains, Tennessee

At U.S. 129, I headed west, but it sure didn’t seem like any “Tail of the Dragon”. ("The Dragon" is famous for its "318 curves in 11 miles".) I reversed direction and soon came upon the Wheeler's 129 Performance motorcycle shop and stopped in to ask directions. They said "The Dragon" was indeed to the west, about 15 miles. Two riders chatted with me, one a woman having her Aprilia fitted with "new rubber" (she teaches at track days, she said) and a fellow riding a Harley Heritage Softail. He had questions about the GS. He hates the Harley. Says at 80 it feels like it’s going to blow up. According to Harley, they’re not made to cruise that fast. All about looks and sound, he guesses.

Went west on 129, past the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort with its gathering of motorcyclists, and then I found "it". It's an amazing stretch of road. Near-perfect pavement, but THOSE CURVES! It was humbling to have to work the turns and know that a better rider could probably go through (at least) twice as fast. The posted speed limit is 30, but does anyone comply?

Trucks are advised to find an alternate route. I’d hate to meet one here. It’s a dangerous road. Going into many curves, I found myself braking hard, evidence of my initial misjudgment. My rear tread is shot, so I shouldn’t be doing anything extreme, but the competitor in me wants to push it to the limit, "just for fun".

Came down out of the mountains and realized I’ll need gas before going back over, and I MUST go back! Began thinking about a taking a room at a motel for the night. Turned onto the Foothills Parkway toward Maryville, about thirty miles away. Stumbled onto this campground, which I hadn't even noticed on the map. Besides the host (who is in a trailer), I think I’m the only one crazy enough to be camping tonight.

After the rice and beans, I made a small cup of strong coffee (first time on the road – draping a coffee filter over cup and pouring water through.) Not a brilliant idea. I couldn’t sleep!

(Muggy in this tent, all sealed up as it is. I hope the weather clears later so I can open things up! It would be cool enough with some ventilation.)

2:00 AM.

Still awake. Watched the stars come out, then showers again as a cloud engulfed this mountaintop.

Fourteen days, fourteen different camps. Doesn’t lend itself to quiet reflection and introspection. Too busy attending to the daily drill of routine tasks. But this evening I reflected on my nine years at Robert Mondavi Winery. With some sadness, I noted that during that time, with the exception of one brief long-distance romance, I was never really involved in a relationship. My life was so wrapped up in the work, the professional ethics of my position, and the fact that virtually every woman I interacted with was either a co-worker or connected with a supplier, and thus "off-limits" from an ethical standpoint.

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