I started the week as promised in Falls Creek Falls State Park. This really is a beautiful and well done state park. I enjoyed it so much I ended up staying two nights. There are some great trails to hike, some fun suspension bridges to cross, and of course some beautiful waterfalls. When I arrived, I got my campsite organized and then hiked from there over to the namesake Fall Creek Falls. It was, I believe, the third waterfall I've seen this month which claimed to be the highest waterfall east of the Mississippi. Well, the waterfall didn't claim that but the signage did. I've always been fascinated at how difficult it apparently is to measure a waterfall. Either way, it really doesn't matter. They've all been awesome in my book. Along the path, I saw more of one of my favorite flowers: Mountain Laurel. A lot of them are just starting to bud, and the buds look like little vanilla soft-serve cones with strawberry syrup. They make me happy every time.
With dark approaching, I headed back to camp and got a campfire going. I realized last week that I couldn't remember the last time I cooked a hot dog on a stick, so that was my plan for the evening. It was fun, but I should have gotten better hot dogs because they wouldn't stay on the stick long enough to get properly cooked. Life is too short to eat cheap hot dogs. As dark descended, I got a kick out of seeing the raccoons running around in the woods. I could spot their orange glowing eyes with my flashlight and just gave them a nod and a wave. They weren't going to bother me, and I wasn't going to bother them.
The next morning I slept in a bit, and then headed back over to Fall Creek Falls to hike down to the base. While I was on this my way down, a man on his way back up told me, in all seriousness, he wasn't sure if it was worth it. Of course, he looked like he was really struggling to get back up. It was a little steep, but it was only 1/3 of a mile. Even at a super slow pace, we're talking 20 minutes. And at the end you are in a beautiful valley surrounded by lush vegetation, staring up at a magnificent waterfall falling into a crystal clear pool. To me, that would have been worth a hike ten times as long. I don't mean to call him out because I know he wanted to go down and he wanted to enjoy it, but just wasn't in good enough shape to make it worth it to him. We've all got to stay as active as we can for as long as we can folks. When you're done reading this, get up and go for a walk.
The rest of the day I spent wandering around the park, checking out all of the amenities and some of the other beautiful waterfalls as I went. This park has everything from a golf course to a high ropes course to a swimming pool to a restaurant and snack bar. There are even cabins and a lodge there, although they are currently under renovation. I got some laundry done and did some writing for my podcast. It was a nice, quiet afternoon.
Before I left Dayton, I had picked up a big bucket of strawberries and some ripe Alabama peaches from the produce stand. I have to say, these were some of the best of either I've ever had. The strawberries were amazingly sweet and you had to bend over to eat the peaches because the juice exploded out of them when you bit into them. They weren't much to look at, but boy were they good. I kept thinking how we have become a society that puts so much weight on what something (or someone) looks like that we have all but forgotten that it's what's inside that counts. Beauty is only skin deep whether it's a person or a piece of fruit. Lessons on life from my fruit basket!
As dusk fell, I once again found myself by the campfire, listening to some great music on my iPod, popping strawberries in my mouth and drinking a few local Yee Haw beers. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the first firefly of the season come flying past. I love fireflies, and this one made me smile from ear to ear. My mind works a lot out here, and I am constantly planning and writing and editing and researching my trips and my stories, but it is great to feel myself able to stop and appreciate the little things. Whether it is the wildflowers or the fireflies or a really good peach, it is wonderful to have these little surprises pop up throughout my day. I think they've always been there, but I'm just reaching a point where my mind is a little more attuned to seeing them.
The next morning, I was up and out and on my way. I stopped in Sparta to get some work done and then stopped at Prater's Barbecue in Manchester for a decent half-rack. Full of ribs, I rolled down to Tullahoma, where I spent the whole weekend. I’ve been trying to get my first Tennessee podcast done, and Tullahoma was the place for that to happen. It’s funny, I realized that, almost by accident, some of the towns on this journey have become my temporary home. Producing a podcast takes an enormous amount of time and effort. I have estimated that it takes me between 40 and 50 hours to take one from zero to being published. It usually takes me somewhere between 3 and 5 hours to research a story, then another 2 to 3 to write it. Then I need to find a place to record it. Once it’s recorded, it needs to be edited and then the final project needs to be assembled, music added and summaries written up. I do a lot of the research on the road and onsite when I can, and try to get some of the writing done in the evenings, but at some point, I need to tuck in, buckle down and get it done. I try and find a small town with a Planet Fitness so I can use the gym and shower, a solid public library with long hours, a decent place to park and sleep and hopefully a few bars to go out to and relax a bit after a long day in the library. These are the towns I have spent the most time in on this trip, but not necessarily the ones I have gotten to know the best. They have all been remarkably important to this journey and I am very grateful for them.
Tullahoma filled all of those requirements and then some. I have been through before, but usually just on my way to or from the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, right down the road. It always seemed like a nice town and like a place I could spend a couple of days in, and it certainly was. The library and staff there were wonderful and the gym was convenient and friendly. I could park at the Walmart just up the street and get a quiet night’s sleep. There were also two really nice bars in town, London’s and Daddy Billy’s. Both had good and reasonably priced food and beer and the people working at both were really friendly and accommodating. It was a good weekend in Tullahoma and I am very grateful to the people there.
Before I left, I also headed out to the Cascade Hollow Distillery just outside of town. Cascade Hollow was known, until only recently, as the George Dickel Distillery. After doing a lot of research, they decided to use the historic name of the distillery, though they continue to produce Dickel whiskey. I hopped on a tour of the distillery, which was really good and personal. I liked that they did so much by hand there, “the old fashioned way”. My guide made the point of saying it wasn’t because they had to, it was because they wanted to; in true southern fashion, it was done the way it’s always been done. The tour ended at their beautiful tasting room where we got to sample four of their different whiskeys. Our guide walked us through each one and I really enjoyed the process. It was a nice tour through a great old distillery with an interesting history. Well worth a visit. I even decided to write an post about it and how it similar and different to my experiences at Jack Daniel's. You can read it HERE.
Unfortunately, I had some issues, once again, with my brakes. I had just had my front brakes done a few weeks ago and they said my rear brakes were fine. Apparently this was not 100% accurate, as they had some serious issues. Because I was headed west anyway, I dropped down to Huntsville, Alabama to get it taken care of. The gentleman who took care of it brought me out several times into the garage to both explain to me what was going on and show me what he was talking about. He also seemed to understand the value of a dollar and the work that goes into making one. It is always nice to work with someone like that and even though I wasn’t happy about dropping more money into something that I thought was sorted, you can’t play around with your brakes. Hopefully we’ll be able to roll for a while without any more problems. My van is 20 years old, and while it’s only got 130,000 miles on it and the engine is really strong even going up and down some of these big hills, it is going to take some work over the next few years. I think the last owners loved it and took good care of it, but I don’t think they necessarily maintained it very well. But an afternoon of work and we were back on the road and at the end of the day, that’s what really matters. I know I’ll be safe for a while, and I really liked the guys who worked on my van. If you’re ever in need of a mechanic in Huntsville, Alabama, the Brakes For Less guys over on University Drive are highly recommended. They also gave me a really good price, so I left them with a 12 pack of very cold Budweiser for them to enjoy at the end of the day.
Back on the road and feeling much better about my brakes, I headed back to Tennessee. As it was late in the day, I made a beeline for Nashville. I've spent a lot of time in Nashville over the last few years, so I didn't really need to go downtown. I stopped and had a couple of cold beers at Bobby's Idle Hour and then headed on to bed.
Today, after finishing up with this, I need to go find some music for my latest podcast. It's all done except for the music which hasn't been a problem in any other state. Not for lack of trying, I really haven't seen much good music at all since coming to Tennessee, and you guys know I seek it out. I know there is more in the western part of the state where I am headed, but I need to go find some this afternoon. There is plenty in Nashville. I also think it's a wonderful excuse to go have a beer in the afternoon. So with that, I am off into the city.
Have a wonderful week out there, wherever you are. I'm in Nashville for the next couple of days and then I will start my exploration of West Tennessee. I will make my way down through Franklin and Jackson to Memphis, and then start working my way up the mighty Mississippi. I'm not sure where I'll be in this time next week, but I'll meet you right here in this space! Thanks for reading and I'll catch you next week.