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Tennessee

Happy New Year - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

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Happy New Year - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, no matter what and where you celebrated it. I was at home in Washington D.C. with my family, trying to catch my breath for a minute, fix some of my equipment and enjoy some holiday cheer. It is, of course, always a good opportunity to look back at the year gone by, and look ahead at the year to come.

A year ago, I was getting ready to set out for the second time on this trip. I had had a fascinating month in West Virginia at the end of 2017, learning about the wonderful history of the Mountain State and seeing some truly spectacular scenery. I had never taken such a deep, in-depth look at a state before, and I really connected with West Virginia on so many different levels. From deep in the heart of coal country to their wonderful state park system to the little big cities of Charleston, Huntington and Wheeling, West Virginia had so much to offer. On the other hand, it was December, so it was cold and the sun was going down at around 4:30 in the afternoon. These were probably not the best of conditions to try and learn the ins and outs of my new van and my new lifestyle, but then again I am a big supporter of a trial by fire. The challenges I faced in my first month of this journey were real, but I persevered as there was no way I was giving up...

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These Weeks on the Road - August 16th-September 6th

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These Weeks on the Road - August 16th-September 6th

Whew, I'm taking a deep breath. Sorry for the lack of content over the last few weeks. I've been out guiding a quick tour from New York to Miami for my old tour company. I had planned on getting a bunch of work done as I went, but running a tour is just always so all-consuming. Even with 12 years experience and being in a region I'm really comfortable and familiar with, there's just so much to do behind the scenes to keep a tour running smoothly and keep up with all the paperwork etc. And that's not even mentioning the 5,000+ miles I've driven in the last few weeks. It was awesome to be back in the driver's seat though, and it was a really good tour all around. But it's also good to be back on my own and back with my Shadow Catcher. 

I met my group in Newark on a rainy Sunday morning and we set off to historic Philadelphia. Despite the rain, they kept their spirits up as I gave them a quick tour through Independence National Historical Park, pointing out some of the more important buildings and recounting stories of our Founding Fathers and their lives. We stopped into Carpenter's Hall, site of the First Continental Congress and also in to see the Liberty Bell. From there we headed out for cheesesteaks at Reading Terminal Market and a quick run up the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphis Museum of Art before departing the City of Brotherly Love…

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Tennessee Music

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Tennessee Music

Tennessee is one of the country's most visited states for music lovers, and for good reason. From the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol to the one-time home of W.C. Handy in Memphis, Tennessee's musical tradition dates back to the very beginnings of recorded music and beyond. Cities like Memphis and Nashville have multiple options for great live music seven nights a week, and incredible museums like the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum provide plenty of information when you finally wake up. Tennessee is a great destination for any fan of American roots music, and will no doubt leave you tapping your feet and humming along. I'm going to break this post into East, Central and West Tennessee for easy reference. Also, be sure you check out my Spotify playlists for Tennessee…

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Tennessee Trails and Byways - An Amazing Tourism Project

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Tennessee Trails and Byways - An Amazing Tourism Project

The Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways project is one of the most comprehensive and far reaching statewide tourism initiatives I've ever encountered, and one of the best. The time and energy that must have been put into this project is staggering, but so are the results. Essentially, Tennessee has done all your off-the-beaten-path research for you, and all you have to do is follow the signs to your next adventure. The Trails and Byways program features 16 trails covering 5,225 miles of road and all 95 counties in the state. There are printed brochures for each trail and online resources as well. During my 5+ weeks in Tennessee, I found myself on several of these trails and found them to be a really great resource. It was an enormous undertaking by the state Department of Tourism, but I think other states could follow their lead in an effort to bring tourism dollars to smaller communities and lesser known areas of your state. 

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Tennessee Rib Trail

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Tennessee Rib Trail

If you are a fan of pork ribs like I am a fan of pork ribs, then Tennessee is one of the places you really have to go. Good Tennessee ribs get a dry rub of spices and are then slow smoked over a wood fire. Back in the 1950s in Memphis, Charlie Vergos combined his father's Greek spices with some New Orleans style cajun seasoning and turned scrap-meat into something altogether magical. Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous still sets the standard for ribs in Tennessee and is definitely one of my favorites. In my travels around Tennessee, I stopped into a few different rib-joint though and found some great spots around the state. While Rendezvous ribs still tops my list, some of these places gave them a run for their money… 

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Best Dive Bars of Tennessee

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Best Dive Bars of Tennessee

If I'm going out to have a drink and I'm not going to see live music, I try and seek out the best dive bars wherever I am. I have a nose for them and usually know a good one when I see it. I've been asked a few times what makes a good dive bar, and the truth is that the answer to that question would be different for everyone. For me, a dive bar is in no way synonymous with a dump. There are some really bad, unfriendly, filthy bars in this world - those I classify as "dumps". A dive bar to me is a friendly neighborhood bar, full of locals, where drinks are cheap and conversation flows. If these places are on Yelp or TripAdvisor at all, they probably don't have over 3.5 stars because they aren't what many people are looking for. They aren't fancy and most don't have expensive or expansive beer lists. The usual wine selection is "red or white?". There are probably neon signs on the walls, and oftentimes, for reasons I can't explain, Christmas lights. Somewhere on the wall is a photo of someone nobody remembers, but they were important enough to the patrons at some point in the past to put their photo up. The bartenders are generally friendly…

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Bonnaroo and a Lifetime of First Times

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Bonnaroo and a Lifetime of First Times

Last week I went to my first Bonnaroo, a fact I repeated probably close to a hundred times over the course of the week I was there. It was, in fact, my first full weekend, camped out music festival period. I've been to Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale and plenty of smaller music festivals around the country, but they were all day-trips. This was different. I'll admit I was a little nervous about it as I knew I would be twice as old as most of the people in attendance, but I wasn't going to let that stop me. Better late than never, right? And actually it's those nerves that made it that much more exciting to be there. It turned out to be a really amazing experience and I'm really glad I went. As the weekend wore on though, the question changed from how many times I'd been to Bonnaroo to if I'm coming back next year. When my answer was "probably not", I got a lot of hurt and quizzical looks. Hadn't I had fun? I really did, I answered, but there are so many other things to do and places to explore. This may very well not be my last Bonnaroo. I'd love to go back to The Farm and do it again, but only if it fits into my schedule. You see, while Bonnaroo was a great experience, I've had lots of comparable experiences in my life and through them all, going back again was probably never as good as the first time. While I understand that for a lot of people it's hard to put yourself out there in front of a new bus over and over again, I'm here to argue that it's worth it. Even if you get run over now and again, it'll still be worth it You can only ever do anything for the first time once, and I plan to live out as many firsts as this world allows. 

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This Week on the Road - June 6th-15th

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This Week on the Road - June 6th-15th

It was certainly an interesting week out at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Since I was there all week, I don't have much else to write about today. It was both wonderful and strange to park my van for a week and just leave it there, but it didn't move an inch from when I arrived last Tuesday until I left "The Farm" the following Monday. When I did leave, it was hot and I was pretty tired and had already seen what I had come to see in Tennessee, so I pretty much made a beeline towards home. And that is where I am writing this from today - home sweet home, Washington D.C. Two things happened out in the world while I was tucked away in Manchester though, both of which brought out some pretty strong emotions. First, my Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup for the first time, which was long overdue and very well deserved, so congratulations to them. Sadly that same night we lost one of our own as Anthony Bourdain took his own life in France. I had met Tony once, and he seemed to be the same in person as he was on TV. His books and his shows had a deep impact, not just on me but on many. He changed the whole travel show genre by focusing on real people and real places - places I've been and places I'd like to go. Before Tony travel shows all seemed to be about 5 star resorts and palm trees and umbrella drinks - places I couldn't afford and didn't really want to go anyway. His shows were raw and gritty and real and game changing. They showed the world as it really is: challenging, sometimes ugly but full of good people, delicious and always beautiful. Thank you Tony for all your inspiration through the years, and I hope you're resting easy somewhere tonight. Those being said, this is how I spent this week on (or more accurately off) the road…

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This Week on the Road - May 31st-June 5th

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This Week on the Road - May 31st-June 5th

I'm going to write this a little early this week as I am headed down to Bonnaroo in the 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 really 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…

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Billy Tripp's Mindfield

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Billy Tripp's Mindfield

I have written about Billy Tripp's Mindfield in passing in a few other posts, but I don't think they really conveyed how striking it was and how much I saw in it. I also don't think I can necessarily describe the ways it affected me in words, so I thought I would do a pictorial post just on Mindfield and some of the smaller details of it. Billy Tripp started building Mindfield after his parents passed away in 1989. An artist and an incredibly skilled welder, Billy kept adding to it and it just went from there. As he healed, he built, and as he built, it grew, and as it grew, it took on a life of its own. Mindfield is now a destination, and people travel from all over the world to Brownsville, Tennessee to see it.

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The Road From Memphis To Nashville

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The Road From Memphis To Nashville

I have driven Highway 40 from Memphis to Nashville many times. In fact, when discussing the trip I'm currently on, I often reference this drive. I tell people that when I was working as a tour guide I always rushed between the two cities because there is SO much to do in each, but I always wondered what was happening in between. Now I have an answer to that question, and the answer is A LOT. If you have the time to spare, making a day of this journey is well worth it. Here are just some of the things you should definitely check out on the way, with stops in Jackson and Brownsville… 

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This Week on the Road - May 24th-30th

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This Week on the Road - May 24th-30th

It's been another great week on the road, this one spent in wonderful West Tennessee. It's been a hot week, as summer is moving in fast here in the south, but with it come the festivals and fun of the season. My week has been full of barbecue and music and really good people. West Tennessee is very distinct from the eastern part of the state, more resembling the Mississippi Delta which it is intimately connected to, than the rest of Tennessee. This region is flatter and poorer than the east of the state, but it is still full of wonderful stops and cool things to see. 

When I finally left Nashville, I headed down the Natchez Trace Parkway. The parkway roughly follows the old Natchez Trace, an ancient trail which leads from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville. In the days before the great paddle wheelers plied the Mississippi River, boats carrying cotton, hides and other goods made a one-way trip down to the major port of Natchez. The boatmen would then sell their boats, whole or for scrap and walk back up the Natchez Trace 400 miles or so back to Nashville and start all over again. It was interesting to duck off the Parkway and walk some of the historic trail and imagine myself back in those days doing the same.

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