I type this in my motel room on the outskirts of Charlotte, the penultimate stop on this long journey, with a flight up to Boston tomorrow morning. Today has seen me cover 350 miles, almost all in a generally easterly direction, and most of them sort of as I planned. I did find myself on this appropriately named road – which was rather beautiful, it has to be said…
Let me tell you all about it…
As planned, I was out and on the road pretty early – not long after 07:30. A bit of a mix up on the navigation front (resulting in a lane change which I very nearly paid dearly for) meant that I left Chattanooga in completely the opposite direction than I’d initially planned. This took me onto I-24, which I’d intended to avoid as the radio said it was closed due to a fatal crash with traffic diverted into the city. As it happened, I must have joined the Interstate past the blockage, as I had no issues with congestion.
It was drier this morning, so it wasn’t the weather which drove me off the Interstate as was the case coming out of Austin. This time it was a conscious choice, finding Rt.11 which parallels I-75 as far as Cleveland, TN. Actually, Rt.11 joins the Interstate for part of the way, but I was able to find the ‘old road’ and follow that. I managed to get a little lost in Cleveland, getting a closer look at the manufacturing facility of the Whirlpool Corporation that I planned. Fairly soon, however, I was eastbound on US Rt. 64 – Old Copper Road.
At the town of Ocoee, the road starts to climb up the valley of the same name, which the Tennessee Valley Authority, an electricity generation entity, has dammed in several places – generally adding to its scenic charm. It is also home to the US equivalent of Holme Pierrepont, although whereas the latter’s whitewater rapids are very artificial, here they are (mainly) natural. The fact that it was a 1996 Olympic venue is proudly advertised.
Progress was good, so by 09:00 I’d covered 70 miles and was entering North Carolina. Continuing on Rt. 64, through a series of National Forests, State Parks and Recreational Areas. I wouldn’t be so crass as to say they all blended into one, but, certainly for the first 50 miles or so crossing through this ‘highland’ area, it was just a bit ‘sameish’. An overlook in the Nantahala National Forest was quite special though. To the far, far north of here lie the Smokey Mountains, and its easy to see why they are so named…
East of Franklin, it’s a different scene again. Much narrower and twistier, the road has a 35mph limit (and a ban on trucks). The truth is it’s hard to get above 20mph most of the time and trucks would just get stuck… If nothing else, behind the car occupants drinking in the scenery.
At the peak of this road, the charming town of Highlands, with Cashiers a little further along, are veritable tourist hotspots. Conscious of how far ahead the pin I’d stuck in the map was, I decided to push-on, though not without calling at a wayside garage for coffee and a treat.
At Cashiers, my plan was to drop south, over the state line into South Carolina and loop back through. I was a few miles along when I came across a matrix sign advising that the road was closed at the state line. It didn’t say why, but I wonder if all the rain and the evidence of some flooding I’d seen played a part. I retraced my steps a little, continuing east back to Rt.64 and into to Brevard, another interesting looking town, where I tried again, south on Rt. 276 instead.
Better luck this time, and another scenic highway…
Southwards from here, the descent was a real ‘driving road’ sweeping down through an area called Caesar’s Head State Park. Dozens of motorcycles were heading uphill, enjoying the ride no doubt. At the bottom, passing through another town called Cleveland, I marked my visit to South Carolina by filling up at a place called Landrum. Actually, $30 took me from quarter full to a bit over three quarters full.
Zig-zagging back north and east, I eventually got onto US Rt. 74, which in this area is an Interstate in all but name (and number!). I made good progress as far as Shelby, where the road becomes a ‘strip-mall’ type four lane highway (and I stopped for a McPee) before resuming its former status on the other side. Then another forced detour: Around the town of Kings Mountain, a ‘tractor-trailer’ had overturned blocking the road, the resulting closure forcing me onto I-85. A combination of misreading the map (the peril of solo navigating) and trying to be clever, I found myself on the opposite carriageway going back past the wreck heading west. Oh Flip!
This was fairly easily rectified by looping north through the appropriately industrial town of Bessemer City. This coincided with the first of several cloud-bursts during the late afternoon and evening. Another sheet of water, and I was only driving at 30mph.
Back on track and into the town of Gastonia, just 15 miles or so west of Charlotte. Another cloud burst, so I took the opportunity to investigate a large Target and invest in a new, extra large suitcase. I ended up paying more than I’d have liked, but I’m hoping it’s a good ‘un (‘Swiss Gear’ like the other two bags I’m carrying, so I now have matching luggage!). By a complete coincidence, there was a Starbucks adjoining this Target, so I availed myself of their WiFi to plan my next step – oh, and have a coffee.
The plan that emerged was to go cheap ‘n cheerful tonight, so I set a course for the America’s Best Value Inn & Suites near the airport. At $58, including tax the rate is ok, but it is actually more of a motel, with the car parked outside the room. I’ll give you the overall verdict on the decision tomorrow, but already I can say it is a LONG way from the ABVI I stayed at and enjoyed so much in McCall.
Once checked-in and the new bag partly packed, I used the free WiFi to check-in for my flight tomorrow. Again, I’ve had to pay for my checked bag, and it’s going to be interesting getting it under 50lbs. The flight is at 11:25, so it’ll be a leisurely start, filling up and dropping off the car.
That done, I headed back out toward Charlotte for a look round. The evening rush was progressing, though generally headed in the opposite direction. My arrival in the downtown area coincided with another downpour, so I decided not to linger, looping out the other side and back to the hotel.
There’s a Cracker Barrel and a garage across the road, so I pulled onto the forecourt of the latter to investigate what beers they sold. As I got out of the car, I was panhandled by two young, largish looking fellows. Inside the garage, their beer was all domestic & bland, so I didn’t buy anything. Returning to the car, I was again asked for money, and when I said no, they persisted – “c’mon, you must have something, man”. Although it was only a verbal exchange, it still wasn’t a pleasant experience, especially not with them being directly across the road from the hotel.
I returned the car to outside the room and walked back across to the Cracker Barrel, hoping the two wastrels wouldn’t see me again. I had roast beef … with all the fixin’s, washed down with coffee. Whilst the meal was cheap enough, it was a proportionally small serving, and entirely forgettable. Plus, it was accompanied by pushy ‘service’ which seemed geared entirely to getting customers in and out as quickly as possible.
All in all, I think I’ll be glad to get to Boston… and another step closer to home.