26 March 2010

way, way out there.

Originally uploaded by Luna Soledad
Since I40 has been closed for many months due to a rock slide at the NC/TN border, I had to take the scenic US Highway 441 on my journey to Kentucky (the only other main road through the Blue Ridge Mountains). This isn't a bad drive at all if one has time to spare, in fact Highway 441 offers some of the most picturesque landscapes of any road I can think of as it crosses the Great Smokey Mountain National Park and meets the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just the drive alone through the Park and Parkway is an absolute revival.

(Please note: this photo is most certainly not an example of said picturesque landscape and was not taken along US Highway 441.)

Upon my return however, I found that 441 had also been closed off due to snow and ice. The advised alternative route lead back into Tennessee, through the edge of Kentucky, and back into NC via Virginia. HUH? --I was SO not doing that. I was certain there must be another eastbound route through the mountains and thus set out to find it.

The above photo was one of many delightful scenes along the unmarked, unnamed, winding one-lane mountainous path I took... So intrigued by this heaping mess no words can adequately describe, I had the overwhelming urge to take more pictures, though it was my fear of a) being shot, or b) being buried in an avalanche of hillbilly garbage that kept me in motion.

Of course, this scene (see photo) was a shocking exception to the tranquil countryside that I witnessed. There were many beautiful old barns and lush green fields (and snow), a few farms still in operation and some who had seen their better days, mountain creeks, magnificent cliff-top views, and excitingly low, unprotected shoulders. Occasionally I ran across a cozy log cabin with smoke billowing from it's chimney though whatever the home, they were each miles apart. I also happened upon a couple of quaint little communities that didn't exist on any map, but were charming all the same.

Those of you who know me well, must be thinking to yourselves, "You've got to be kidding me! This girl has NO sense of direction. How on Earth did she find her way through the rural mountain terrain when she can barely find the way out of her own bedroom in the mornings? How did she ever make it out alive?" Trust me, I've pondered my good fortune on this one too; though I did stop once and ask some flannel and camouflage clad bear-hunting locals for directions and then hoped like hell that they were telling me the truth and not setting me up unknowingly for a sequel of Deliverance. Turns out, they were just good ole mountain boys.

All in all, it was a grand adventure, and not such a bad one at that. It was almost just like being on a Survivor episode of Tennessee Backwoods Mountain Roads, minus the camera crew and prize money.

Having grown up in [CENSORED] County, I know a little something about country life way out in the boonies, though I recognize that there are lots of folks who have never experienced life beyond a city limit so I've developed a Top Ten list of ways to know when you're really way, way out there:
  1. The road on which you are traveling is either not paved, not painted, or both.
  2. The road is a one-laner, requiring you to shift into four-wheel drive to navigate through the mud and/or ditch when passing oncoming traffic.
  3. The road upon which you are traveling has no official name nor can be found on any map.
  4. It goes without saying that GPS navigators are useless dash ornaments.
  5. There are no road signs nor any other directional indicators (unless of course you were a boyscout and know which direction the sun rises, sets and about the moss on trees thing).
  6. There also are no posted speed limit signs though somehow there are extenuating factors that prevent you from putting the pedal to the medal (such as continuous sharp curves or free range strolling livestock).
  7. There are steep cliffs and dangerously low shoulders and no guard rails.
  8. You see more animals than evidence of people.
  9. You are more afraid of stopping to ask for directions than of driving around lost until you run out of gas and perish on the side of the road.
  10. And when at last you do get up the courage to ask for directions, they include such phrases as, "jus' keep on goin' 'til ya reach the black top road..."

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime."

...Mark Twain,
Innocents Abroad conclusion, 1869

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