I'm going to write this a little early this week as I am headed down to Bonnaroo Tuesday morning. I'll be there for almost the whole week, so I thought I would write this and then put away my computer and go enjoy the festival. I've spent this past week heading up the west side of Tennessee, through a lot of cute small towns and state parks, and finally making my way across the north and into Clarksville. It's been a pretty quiet week, but a good one for sure. It's really starting to heat up down here and while I am definitely looking forward to Bonnaroo, I'll be making a beeline north when it's over. While it hasn't been the most exciting week I've had, I've still been enjoying myself. Here are some of the things I got into this week on the road.
I left Bartlett when I finished writing last week and headed back north to Mason. I wanted to visit the original Gus's Fried Chicken there, but got there after they were closed for the night. If you ever find yourself in West Tennessee, you really must seek out a branch of Gus's. It is the best fried chicken I've ever had, but apparently it's not available after 7 at its flagship store! Somewhat disappointed, I headed across the way to Bozo's Hot Pit Bar B Q instead. Bozo's was awesome - it was like stepping back in time at least 40 years if not longer. It was an incredibly clean and homey kind of place with good food and good service. I just got some pork barbecue when I was there, but it was good and I enjoyed it. The whole place felt like a movie set though, right down to the other customers who were there.
From Bozo's I went to "downtown" Mason. In a town that small, it's hard to believe there was a downtown, but there definitely was. I stopped into an old country bar which I think was called the Log Cabin, but only because there was a sign on the wall as there wasn't one outside the building. Whatever it was, it was a cool dive bar with a pool table and cheap beer and everyone was really friendly. I only had a quick beer though as there was a big storm swirling around the area and I needed to keep myself sharp to drive in it.
When I left Mason, I ended up running into the storm full on about 10 minutes out of town. It was coming down in buckets and there was plenty of thunder and lightning as well. When I couldn't see the road very well anymore, I pulled into a church and waited it out. When it let up a bit, I moved further up the road to a gas station and again sat and waited for it to pass through. When I left the gas station, I ended up driving through a few flooded areas, where there was at least six inches of standing water, and I was grateful for high clearance. Finally I drove out of the storm and made my way on to Ripley for the night.
In the morning, I took a wander around the cute downtown area of Ripley and then headed down the road a little ways to Henning. There wasn't much to Henning anymore, but the main reason for my visit was there, and it was well worth seeing. Alex Haley spent much of his childhood in Henning, sitting on his grandmother's front porch and listening to his family talk about the old days and where their family came from. Armed with these old stories, Haley set out to research his family tree, which ultimately led him back to The Gambia in Africa. It was there, sitting with an old storyteller, that he was able to connect the dots which would eventually lead to the wonderful book Roots. Today, the house is restored and open for tours and there is an excellent museum there as well. It was really neat to see the house where it all started and learn about the part of his family that lived in those parts. The museum had a great video on the making of the mini-series Roots, and some really cool artifacts from Haley's life and family as well. The museum presented enough information to give you a good story without being overwhelmed. The people who were working there were really wonderful and informative as well.
Heading out from Henning, I made my way up to Dyersburg, where I got my Gus's fried chicken, and then headed west until I ran into the Mississippi River. I wasn't going to cross it, I just wanted to drive next to it for a minute. It is a river which fascinates me because of its importance in our history and in our economy even today, and it was cool to see it from a new vantage point. Once I had seen The River, I made my way up to Reelfoot Lake for the night. Reelfoot Lake is an interesting place which was formed in 1811-12 when massive earthquakes shook the region. The earthquakes were so violent that they actually caused the Mississippi to flow backwards for a while (or at least appear to). The water overflowed some areas and Reelfoot Lake was formed. It's a pretty lake with lots of Bald Cypress around and a big State Park as well.
I spent the night at the State Park there, and it was definitely great to be plugged in for a change. My rooftop air conditioner worked great and I had a nice cool night in my van. After a beautiful sunset, I got some writing done for my next podcast and cooked up a nice big dinner in my kitchen. It was a fun night out there on Reelfoot Lake.
Thursday I slept in since it was so cool in my van, and then cleaned and swept it out - a much easier task in the a/c. When I was satisfied, I headed down to Paris, Tennessee which also had a quaint and beautiful downtown area around their central courthouse. I went out to see their scaled down version of the Eiffel Tower, as I'm always up for such diversions, and then headed out of town.
I made my way out to the Land Between the Lakes, a National Recreation Area that lies on a huge peninsula between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Before the dams were built that created these lakes, this was still a peninsula between the Tennessee River and the Cumberland River. Those rivers were both strategically important during the Civil War and nearby were the sites of Forts Henry and Donelson. The battles that took place there in early 1862 were some of the first major victories for the Union and led to Ulysses S. Grant taking command of the Union Army. While Fort Henry is now underwater, I did get out to see Fort Donelson, which is run by the National Park Service. I also went on a short hike out near where Fort Henry was, but it was really hot and humid and buggy out there. I did see some cool frogs and turtles and got some exercise, but it's getting a little too warm for me to be out hiking. I camped at nearby Paris Landing State Park and once again it was great to be plugged in and air conditioned. I felt very spoiled for two nights, but don't want to make a habit of it.
Friday I made my way into Clarksville, stopping on the way into town at the Smith-Trahern Mansion for a quick tour. Built on old tobacco money, this mansion overlooks the Cumberland River. It passed through many hands over the years falling into disrepair and being restored again. Now it is owned and run by the city, and volunteers offer tours of the mansion for the bargain basement price of two dollars. It really is a beautiful house inside and out, and they have done a great job with the restoration they've done. Apparently it is used as a venue for weddings and parties and they also have a big Christmas party there every year. I really enjoyed my tour of the mansion and you can't beat the price tag.
From there, I headed over to the library to get some writing done, and then made my way out to the Clarksville Speedway for the Friday Night Drag Races. This was an awesome event and a lot of fun in my opinion. It was $10 to get in, but you could BYOB which balances out real fast in my book. Once you're through the gate you just find a spot and watch the races. A lot of people had their tailgates backed right up to the track. The cars racing on Friday ran the spectrum from a late thirties roadster to some serious seventies muscle cars to more modern models. Running head to head on a quarter mile straight track, it doesn't get much more exciting. I planned on being there for an hour or so and was there for three. It is great to see places like this still exist where people can work hard tweaking their cars all week and then come out on the weekend and literally blow off some steam. After the races, I stopped for a quick beer at Tipper's Neighborhood Bar which, despite being connected to a gas station, was actually a pretty cool place.
Saturday I was happy to be back in the gym, and then spent most of the day working in the library trying to get caught up and make some headway on my next podcast. Afterwards I wandered down to Liberty Park to see the hot air balloon "glow" (when they are fired up and appear lit up like light bulbs). Although it was still pretty warm out, it was nice to sit and write and watch the balloons first inflate and then glow. As dark descended, I made my way downtown for a burger and a beer at Blackhorse Pub and Brewery. My Washington Capitals are hanging strong in the Stanley Cup Finals and it was nice to see a win. From there I went for a couple of beers at the humorously named Poor Man's Country Club, a great dive bar just outside of town.
Sunday I was up early to hit the gym before church. This week I visited The Liberty Church, a predominantly African American Baptist congregation here in Clarksville. They are led by a young pastor names Terrence James Chandler-Harrison whom everyone just refers to as "Pastor T". Everyone was very welcoming when I arrived and I got quite a few hugs on the way in and on the way out. The scripture for the day came from the Book of Nehemiah and I was impressed at the depths to which Pastor T went in pursuit of interpreting just a few verses. He went so deep, in fact, I wasn't sure he was going to be able to come out again. But he did, with intensity and incredible passion, and brought it around and finished strong. There was beautiful music throughout, and I really enjoyed the service and the people. The service lasted a little over two hours which everyone assured me was longer than usual, but I didn't mind. Many thanks to The Liberty Church for welcoming a stranger to your service.
From there, came the joy of laundry. It actually was a fairly painless hour this time around - the one good thing about all of this heat is that I haven't been wearing jeans or sweatshirts or anything that takes a long time to dry. I ate my lunch while the wash was going and called home while it was in the dryer and walked out with a basket of clean clothes. I went back to the library to cool down and do some more research and then had some shopping to do for the upcoming week at Bonnaroo. I wanted to be sure I have plenty of food and water and supplies and, of course, beer. I also picked up a cool sunshade which I am looking forward to trying out. It took longer to shop than I expected, but I was trying to figure out some meals that will keep for a few days without refrigeration. I will pick up fresh fruit and stuff for the first few days on my way there, no need for it to sit in my van for two days before I even get there.
After shopping, I stopped for a beer at The Getaway Lounge and another at Wize Guys, two biker bars in town, before calling it a day. It was blissfully cool last night and I slept really well. As soon as I hit "publish" on this, I'm heading back to Nashville for some final preparations and then tomorrow morning I am headed to the festival.
So this upcoming week will be spent mostly at Bonnaroo in Manchester. I'll be working a few shifts to clean up the place in order to earn my keep, but should have plenty of time to enjoy the festival as well. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing Trombone Shorty, Old Crow Medicine Show and Sturghill Simpson, and also to discovering some new bands while I'm there. I've never been to a full weekend music festival before, and I'm really interested to see how it goes. When the gates close behind me, I'm heading back towards Knoxville, then on to Johnson City and on out of Tennessee. I'm headed home to see my dad in West Virginia and then my mom in D.C. where I'll be making my plans for the summer. I will definitely be off to the north in pursuit of cooler nights. Ohio and Michigan are topping my list right now, hopefully dropping into Kentucky as summer gives way to autumn, but as always nothing is set in stone. When next we come together, I hope to have lots of fun tales from Bonnaroo to share with you. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be out doing something for the first time this coming week. I think you should also find something to do this week that you've always wanted to do but have never had the time or money or opportunity to make happen before, and make it happen. Be sure you let me know what it was and how it went in the comments below. Until next time then, stay cool and hydrated and get out and try something new.