US Road Trip Epilog: 22nd June 2005

Woken up by the sound of motorbikes revving as they head off for today's festivities. Or maybe just for a cruise through the mountains, I don't know. Once back in the car we head out of town on Interstate 40 for a bit before dropping off down Highway 66 (no, not that one) towards Pigeon Forge. More progress this morning as not only is Alex holding the map the right way up but sometimes he remembers which state we're in.

Highway 66 starts off as one big traffic jam and doesn't get an awful lot better. I was expecting Pigeon Forge to be quite small but it is in fact mile upon mile of motels, tacky amusements, restaurants and gift shops. The place is huge - much bigger than the map suggested.

One reason to come to Pigeon Forge is, of course, to go to Dollywood. We pay the $6 to get into the car park but driving through reveals just how packed the place is. The queue from the car park for the shuttle to the entrance looks like it'll take at least half an hour, followed by then queueing to get in again before you get anywhere near queues for the rides. One quick emergency meeting of the Road Trip Management Committeee later - me and Alex both saying "Let's get out of here" at roughly the same time - and we're off towards the exit. It would've been nice to have seen Dollywood but it isn't worth that sort of grief.

Gatlinburg, south of Pigeon Forge. It's on a smaller scale and maybe slightly less tacky, but all these things are relative. If your idea of humour is a bearded guy in a dress playing fiddle then the Comedy Barn, somewhere around here, will be right up your street. It sounds funny, but you just know it wouldn't be.

On Highway 441 south of Gatlinburg the traffic thins, the strip development disappears, and we're driving in the cool air through woodland. This is much more like it, and both car and passengers are glad to be out of the traffic. we then take a left on to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway
The Blue Ridge Parkway.

This piece of road, which is actually almost 470 miles long in total, twists and turns through lovely countryside with the odd stunning view off to one side or the other. It's very odd as there are very few road warning signs - except for the occasional 360+° corner, and I'm not kidding - so you're left to work it out for yourself. The 45 MPH speed limit should provide a clue. There are quite a few tunnels through the rock, as well, just to keep you on your toes.

Riviera at 6000 ft.
Riviera at 6000 ft. The Great Smoky Mountains lived up to their name on all counts.

The long climbs and sweeping dips take their toll on the car, with the brakes the first to really complain. There's a pronounced juddering when they're hot and, though I try to adjust my driving to suit, sometimes it does feel like I'm torturing the old girl. With only drum brakes all round - albeit big ones - and a total weight with both of us and luggage on board probably approaching 5000 lbs that shouldn't really be a surprise.

Leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway and joining the Interstates into Asheville is a bit of a relief all round, especially when a combination of map reading skills, guesswork and luck takes us straight to the Days Inn in the downtown area. The motel itself is fairly grotty, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the city, but it'll do.

Bar in Asheville
A bar in Asheville. With the car recovering in the motel car park, driver and navigator attempt to drink the town dry in record time.

It's soon obvious that, despite the initial impression given by the motel, Asheville is actually a great place. After downing a few beers we were looking for somewhere typically American to eat, only to be faced with restaurants serving food from just about everywhere else in the world. To see two Englishmen eating Thai food and drinking Thai beer out on the sidewalk, whilst listening to the Steve Miller Band, in North Carolina may not really be that odd. To think we left the restaurant and walked down the street to see Morris Dancers performing and you can see it's getting a touch surreal. We ended up standing outside a pub called the Green Man spotting all the European cars in the traffic, drinking a local organic beer called ESB.

US Road Trip Epilog: 23rd June 2005 >