Happy Thanksgiving! It’s the Fourth of July, folks. When America celebrates giving us Brits the boot and of course never looking back.
Regular readers, or those who have clicked the ‘The Overall Plan’ link above, will know that I had planned to be in Atlanta tonight. That was before I woke up this morning, not to the pitter-patter of light rain, but the relentless fusillade of very organised rain. So it comes to pass that I bring you these words from the fine city of Chattanooga, Tennessee.
This is how…
Not a particularly early start, not least as I didn’t feel the need to hit the road early. The Comfort Inn was everything I expected it to be, up to and including the group who returned to their rooms at 04:30 and felt the need to carry on the conversation on the walkway outside. It’s a party town and no-one’s at work tomorrow, so that the way it goes. The complimentary breakfast wasn’t too shabby, but I can’t say it was the greatest. A bit of toast and a muffin and I was ready for anything.
Rather than hit the Interstate immediately for my drive to Atlanta, I zig-zagged a bit around downtown Nashville, so I at least got an idea of what it’s like. Though most streets were deserted, there was activity around the river front, including some closed roads. Judging by the soaked people in running kit, I’m guessing there was an Independence Day “fun” run taking place.
Out onto I-24 heading east and the heavens opened again. I found myself driving at the 70mph speed limit, thanks to a truck right up my proverbial, unable to pass me as there was a big boys’ pickup towing a horse box alongside, making only slow progress past me, and – so I think, though I had no chance of actually seeing it – a car outside of him. In front was a wall of water which I knew contained other vehicles travelling at (I hoped) similar speeds, but if any of them chose to substantially reduce their speed, none of us would know it until we were joined in compressive union. In short, it was a suicidal situation and I wanted no further part of it. So, only a few miles out of Nashville I bailed and got off the Interstate.
I took advantage, in the first instance, by filling up – despite only being down to a quarter of a tank. Given the distance I’d covered yesterday that wasn’t bad, and I was even happier when it only cost me $38.11 to take it back to full. Rather than return to the Interstate, I noticed that Rt.41 pretty much parallels it. In fact, once I looked into it, Rt.41 goes all the way to Chattanooga – AND on to Atlanta. The ‘old road’ as it were. Sold.
The first ten to 15 miles were strip-mall lined, urbanised four lane highway, and even at one point I pulled over to let either traffic and/or the rain ease off a bit. Before too long, however, I was on “byway America”, and although still heavily raining, at least the traffic density had died down a bit. I still got the feeling I wasn’t the only one who had abandoned the Interstate for a more sedate pace of driving.
That’s really the story of the next five hours or so. Rt. 41, ever eastwards, through various towns, small and not so small, flirting occasionally with I-24. The rain eased off for a while around the town of Manchester. I wished I’d been quick enough to get a photo of the sign which said “Manchester City Limits”, but today of all days, I wasn’t about to turn round. I cursed a little as Rt.41 was closed due to the bridge over the Tennessee River being ‘out’ and I was forced to use I-24 again for a one junction hop. That was enough to confirm the wisdom of my earlier decision. Actually, when I saw the bridge which was being worked on, I think I was glad I hadn’t crossed it as it looked pretty rickety.
The town of Jasper provided my lunchtime sandwich and a coffee from a garage, and a patch of ground overlooking the aforementioned rickety bridge served as my (in car) picnic spot. From there, the road began to climb up into the hills which form a substantial ‘bluff’ this side of the river. (Indeed, a bit further on, they form “Look Out Mountain”). The tree lined road got a bit misty in places, only adding to the eeriness. Then, while ‘channel-hopping’ on the radio I hit upon a country station (there’s a lot of them in this area!) playing some ‘duelling banjos’ type music, well, that was it! Complete.
Around about this point I abandoned all hope of reaching Atlanta, though I think in the back of my mind, that decision had been made while still in Nashville. So instead, when I reached the outskirts of Chattanooga I fired up the iPhone and selected a hotel in downtown that wasn’t going to break the bank, but was going to be a ‘good’ hotel, worth holing-up for the afternoon in. The Marriott app duly came up with their ‘downtown’ establishment and I booked it there and then. (I’d also been a little concerned about cost and/or availability, especially of the ‘motel brands’ in & around Atlanta, with it being Independence Day).
One side-effect of this decision was that, as things stood, I would bypass the state of Georgia all together. To remedy this, I took a brief detour toward the township of Flintstone, ensuring I covered about five miles of ground in Georgia.
Back in Chattanooga (only then realising I’d crossed in to Eastern time zone – Tennessee is a ‘split’ state in that respect), I parked up in the hotel garage with 158 miles for the day. I spent what remained of the afternoon pottering about in the room, including a FaceTime chat with Kay. I also spent the time booking my hotel in Boston, deciding to splash-out on the very well placed Marriott at Long Wharf. If nothing else, it lessens the transfer distance to & from the airport!
By early evening, not only had it stopped raining, but it had brightened up and started to dry out. The local news channel, however, made clear this was only going to be a temporary respite, so when I eventually ventured out, I made sure I had my fleece with me. As it turned out, during the first part of the evening, with 78 degrees, it was something of an incumbrenace.
Unlike Nashville, and several other cities, for that matter, the ‘core’ entertainment area was quite obvious and I walked along Broad Street down to the river front. Again, I’d taken the precaution of Googling ‘craft beer Chattanooga’ and whilst the first choice was too far out, a suitable candidate on Broad Street presented itself. I passed ‘it’ by initially, heading on down, past the aquarium, to the river front. This was quite a sight as the rain had raised the water level noticeably already. It was also where everyone in Chattanooga had chosen to congregate with their families for Independence Day, or so it seemed.
I also noticed ATT&T Ballpark, with the Chattanooga Lookouts just beginning their game against Jacksonville. It is one of my ‘want-to-do’ items to see a minor league baseball game on this trip, and even though it was already into the first inning, I did consider it. In the end, the call of good beer and some dinner won out. It turns out the Lookouts were ahead 2-0 when the game was called in the sixth inning – due to rain…
So, I went back to the Big River Grille and Brewing Works. It was very busy, but I was able to get a seat in the ‘self seating’ area near the bar. Beers sampled, all brewed on the premises and all in 16oz (0.8/imp pt.) servings; House Brand IPA 6.0%, Iron Horse Stout 5.7%, Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale 5.2% and Seven States Pilsner 5.0%. This all washed down a “2 a.m. burger”. (yes, yes, you’re not the only one to comment about the “Beer & Burger” theme of this trip – it’s just me, right?). All good.
While I was in the Big River, one of the the televisions over the bar had ESPN on. They were showing today’s “Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest” from Coney Island, New York, under the banner ‘Major League Eating’! Whilst on the one hand that’s a concept I’m prepared to get behind, and it was good to see Coney Island back to its best (it was just beginning to recover from Hurricane Sandy when Kay and I visited there in March), I’m still not convinced this is something I really want to watch – especially not while nursing a brew, bellied-up to a bar.
By the time I returned outside, the rain had come back with a vengeance, as predicted. Though still very warm, making getting soaked to the skin not as uncomfortable as it might otherwise had been, it nevertheless seemed a long walk back to the hotel. It was only as I approached the Marriott that it occurred to me that the sensible thing would have been to return to the bar and drink more beer. Though I think if the criteria for leaving the bar was the rain stopping, I’d be on my tenth pint by now.
So yet again, I find myself in the room with the heating turned up to its maximum to dry my jeans. The Fourth of July fireworks from New York are currently bursting on the television screen – Happy Birthday America (though I’m not entirely sure that’s an historically accurate statement?). Most of the fireworks and festivities in this area have been postponed until the weekend according to the tv & radio. Certainly, as I look out across the city from my 14th floor window, nothing is happening here. Apart, that is, from still more rain, of course.
Tomorrow’s journey is 315 miles the direct route or 350 miles by the quickest (i.e. Interstate) route. Either way, that’s nearly six hours of driving. In other words, not least as I’d prefer to go the slower, prettier, way, I need not only an early start, but good weather would be good too. I’ll tell you how I got on, tomorrow night.