Friday, September 19, 2014

Road Trip: Tennessee (Cross Country Road Trip Ep. 3)

The journey has taken our travelers down a large portion of America's eastern coast and deposited them in the fiery furnace that is Hotlanta. We pick up the trail again and join our travelers as they head to Tennessee. Missed part 2? Click here.

After loading up and bidding our hosts farewell, we got back on the road and aimed the TSX northward towards Tennessee and the city of Knoxville. Knowing nearly nothing about the city, aside from the fact that it was near the Great Smoky Mountains, we both looked forward to the visit, especially since it was an opportunity to see some friends we had not seen in a while. Since the stay would be short and our hosts were themselves returning from a road trip, we decided that we should take the opportunity to visit downtown Knoxville and relax a bit, possibly sneak in a massage before dinner.

Of course, things never go quite as planned. The combination of a bit of traffic and at least one detour as we were leaving Atlanta resulted in us being a touch behind schedule. As much as we tried to take advantage of the higher speed limits to make up for lost time, we were going to be getting into Knoxville a bit later than expected. It was not really any cause for concern, of course, since we had budgeted plenty of time. Then the low fuel light came on. Normally, this signals that there is approximately 2 gallons of fuel left in the tank and at our current rate of travel, we easily had plenty of range to make it into Knoxville and then gas up. 

As we arrived in Knoxville, the remaining range display on my dashboard went to zero, so fueling up was to be our first order of business. Unfortunately, it appears that top tier brands are not popular around downtown Knoxville because we struggled to locate one nearby and ended up having to drive a little ways to eventually find one. We followed Google Maps, thinking that the information would be relatively up to date, but the first option was a dud, dropping us at a sketchy-looking run-down location that clearly was not an active gas station. We changed course and found another option not two miles away. Rounding the corner, I could see the station off in the distance, just beyond the next set of stop lights. At precisely that moment, the engine voiced its displeasure with a cough. I nursed the car to the light, keeping it moving and trying to optimize the use of momentum, but the car was fighting back at this point. The light went green and I gently nursed it through, hoping that we had enough momentum to make the last 30 feet, but alas, no such luck. The TSX unceremoniously sputtered out as I attempted to turn into the gas station.

Stranded in front of a gas station with no way to get up the rather steeply sloped driveway, I cursed the misfortune and poor timing. However, with a bit of ingenuity and quick thinking, we were able to get just enough gas into the car to fire it up and pull into the station. Crisis averted and the TSX seemingly fine, we cruised back into downtown and parked with only a paltry half-hour left to explore. We decided that Market Square, a collection of shops, large and small, would be the best place to offer us a taste of what Knoxville had to offer before we needed to head back out to the suburbs. 

The after-work crowd was just starting to appear as we wandered through the rather eclectic collection of shops and restaurants. On one end of the square, a theater troupe was setting up and dressing on a temporary stage, preparing for a performance of Shakespeare. At the other end, street performers dazzled on-lookers with everything from BMX bike stunts to magic tricks. Unlike many large city public squares, this one was not packed to the gills with people and it felt almost serene walking through. While our time was short, Knoxville is rumored to have much more to offer, including many great restaurants. While it was a last minute addition to the itinerary, it is a place we might be interested finding an opportunity to explore further.

The following day, we awoke to find the ground still damp and the TSX covered in raindrops. The storms overnight had cleared the air and made the morning cooler, but dark clouds hung in the distance and periodically, the skies would open up for brief periods, dousing us with quick, but intense, showers. During a break in the rains, we loaded up the car, bid farewell to our friends, and set off for the first serious bit of westward driving we had done so far this trip. The road from Knoxville to Nashville was punctuated with brief periods of rain, dark clouds sitting off in the distance, ready to step in at any point and add to the wetness. However, the closer we drew to Nashville, the clearer the skies got and the brighter the sun.

By the time we reached Nashville in the early afternoon, it was hot and humid with no rain in site. We settled on lunch at Arnold's Country Kitchen, rated as one of the best restaurants in Nashville for its home-style southern cuisine. The line pretty much ran out the door, but moved quickly enough as we found ourselves at the counter and ordering not 10 minutes later. The selection of southern favorites, including chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, and hearty stews was paired with equally heavy sides like mac'n'cheese and fried green tomatoes, all to be washed down with a serving of sweet tea. While the atmosphere left much to be desired, the food was plentiful, flavorful, and satisfying.

Following lunch, we found ourselves with a bit of time to spare before we could check into our accommodations, so we hopped across the street to an antiques market. Essentially a massive warehouse, sitting by the active railroad tracks, and filled with all manners of eccentric curios, ancient oddities, and vintage wares. It was quite the feast for a treasure hunter as digging through the haphazardly curated collection revealed some ingenious future inspirations for decorating our home. We explored as much as time would allow, but found the idea of exploring shop intriguing enough that antiques would make an appearance again later on in the trip.

After settling into our accommodations, we prepped the bikes and headed into downtown Nashville to explore. Surprisingly, Nashville's Music City Bikeway proved pivotal to our enjoyment of the city, offering an easy to follow bike path that took us straight into the heart of downtown. Honkey-tonk bars and cowboy attire shops lined the street with the Country Music Hall of Fame framing the scene as the backdrop. Throngs of people jostled each other on the sidewalk while horse-drawn carriages and human-powered mobile taverns traversed the streets. We ducked into the Johnny Cash Museum, taking the tour and exploring the life and music of the country music legend, before strolling down Broadway to people watch. We wandered back to our bikes and then proceeded to spend the rest of the evening experiencing the city on two wheels.

The next morning, we set out to visit the Hermitage, birth place of Andrew Jackson. The mansion and surrounding grounds have been meticulously restored and the tour gave us an opportunity to learn a great deal about the era during which Jackson lived. In the mansion, they have gone to such great lengths to present an authentic look at Jackson's life that they have found exact replicas of the wallpaper used by Jackson in his home and even sealed the various bedrooms to preserve them in as pristine a state as they possibly could. The docents, all decked out in period attire, told grand stories of Jackson's time at the Hermitage and how his family would come to lose control of the property. It was an interesting way to end our time in Nashville, a city best known for its music scene, but offers so much more.