Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Big Road Trip, Part 16: The Last Leg of the Journey

The last few days of our trip are a bit of a blur.  After the accident the previous day, we were anxious to get home, even though we had a lot of things still to see, and a fairly long way to go.  We hit the road early, heading north out of the Shreveport area.  Almost immediately, we were surrounded by a driving rain that stayed with us for most of the morning.  This wasn't a surprise to us:  we had experienced at least a little bit of rain every day of our trip.

We took brand new Interstate 49 north and very quickly crossed into Arkansas, another first-time state for us.  Soon we found the little town of Fouke, brought into the national limelight due to a cult-70s horror-documentary about a hairy, bipedal, Bigfoot-like creature that roamed the swamp around the area, called THE LEGEND OF BOGGY CREEK.  The B-movie was shown at drive-ins all over the country, and I remember going to see it with my parents and sister when I was a kid.  It scared me then, though I don't know why.  It's a terrible movie.

Anyway, the town gained notoriety whether it wanted it or not, and while it was a long time ago, and excitement has certainly died down, at least one little store continues to capitalize on its fame.  So, of course, we had to stop.  The Monster Mart has a great deal of merchandise and tacky souvenirs, as well as photo-ops with stuffed sasquatch statues.  We got a couple of t-shirts and stuff for Mom & Dad, then we were back on the road.



We were quickly back on the road and heading north.  It continued to rain for miles.  We finally drove out of it somewhere in the outskirts of Little Rock.  We lunched at a Cracker Barrel, of course, and continued on towards Memphis.  Our next stop was Graceland, Elvis Presley's famous home.


We entered Tennessee, then headed over to Graceland.  It was funny to see about 90% of the businesses named in some way to connect with Elvis and Graceland, which appears to be the major industry in the area.  We arrived at Graceland to a full parking lot, even though it was almost 4pm.  What we didn't know is that reservations for tours are mandatory.  There was nothing left for the day, and on top of that, the whole place shut down at 5pm.  Also, the house itself required a tram ride to a different location, so there was no way to check things out on your own.  There was, however, a very well-stocked gift shop, which allowed us to get a bunch of souvenirs, a restaurant/diner, and an ice cream shop.  We took a few pics, got some ice cream, and, though disappointed we wouldn't be seeing Elvis's home, decided to head into Memphis for dinner.


First, though, we took a detour and headed south to enter Mississippi for the first time.  While we weren't there more than ten minutes, it was kind of cool to know that we had now been to all of the Southern states.

We were hungry, so we headed to Beale Street, in Memphis.  It was a very colorful, touristy place, and had a great Blues vibe.  We couldn't decide on where to eat, so we compromised and ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe.  This was our ... Hard Rock, having eaten at the ones in Baltimore, DC, Boston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Gatlinburg, and Las Vegas.

After a very good meal, we walked around Beale Street and soaked in the atmosphere.  It was a really cool area of the city.  We left just as it was getting dark, and we headed north as far as we could before I was just too tired to continue.  We stopped at a hotel in the far southern suburbs of Nashville.



While we really wanted to do a few touristy things in Nashville, we continued to feel the tug of home, so, with rain coming down heavily, we skipped it completely (which is actually the second time we've done that, having traveled through the area several years ago and deciding to come back another time).  So we continued into Kentucky.  The weather quickly cleared out, and we soon stopped for lunch.  We decided on a place we had seen several times, but had never tried:  Rooster's.  It was much better than expected.


Following lunch, we traveled up to Mammoth Cave National Park.  It's a beautiful area, but, really, compared to some of the sites we had seen in Colorado and Arizona, it was hard to get too excited.  We stopped at the Visitor Center, and that's when we realized any tours of the caves required tickets and reservations, and we just didn't have that kind of time.  We were able to walk down to the opening of the cave, and we did, but that was it.


Since Kentucky is the Land of Lincoln, just like several other states, we visited one of the newer National Parks, Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park.  There are several units of this park, representing different stages of Lincoln's life, but we first went to the site of his log cabin birthplace.  It's guarded continuously inside a very ornate memorial.  Unfortunately, we arrived with only minutes to spare before they closed for the day.  About 20 minutes away is another unit of the park, Lincoln's boyhood home.  It, likewise, was closed, but I took a few pictures from the parking lot.  


Our GPS took us from there into some fairly remote areas of Kentucky, and we needed gas for our Jeep, so I started to get nervous.  As a cartographer and avid map-reader, I'm reluctant to give up total control of the navigation, even though I know how convenient a smartphone can be.  And I sometimes get lazy and don't look at the whole route, and trust the GPS to get me to my destination, which then makes me uncomfortable when I don't know exactly where I am.  I trust my instincts more than a computer.  In this moment, though, I let the computer do the heavy lifting, and I didn't exactly like the direction we were going.  We were on nothing but backroads.

Anyway, we were soon on the outskirts of Lexington, KY, and we found fuel and an old favorite for dinner:  Frisch's Big Boy.  We basically had breakfast for dinner, and the very young man who served us tried his darnedest to make sure we had a good experience when it was clear none of his co-workers were in the best of moods.  I got some coffee to go, and we were soon on the interstate again.

I had already made a reservation for the night, near Charleston, WV, but we had a long drive ahead of us that would take us into some late hours.  This was fine as long as the roads were relatively flat, but soon we hit more mountainous areas, and it was just us and the trucks sharing the highway.  With the memory of the accident from a few days before still very fresh in my mind, I started to get nervous again, and that made for some stressful driving.  The trucks were driving out-of-their-minds fast through the mountains, and I was having trouble maintaining the speed limit.  Then it started to rain again, and I found myself praying that He would keep us safe and my reflexes remained sharp.  I was so relieved when we reached our exit, which was literally on the side of a mountain.  It was late, and I was exhausted.  We found our hotel, checked in, and turned in immediately.


Knowing that this would be our last day on the road, we were anxious to get going, but we took our time, eating a decent breakfast.  Then we were ready to go.  We would be going through the mountains of West Virginia and western Maryland for much of the day, and it made the journey slower than we wanted, but I was still stressed with all of the trucks.  But we made decent time and soon found ourselves in our home state of Maryland.  This was very familiar territory the rest of the way, since I have been traveling on this stretch of highway since before I was born.  Dad grew up in nearby Uniontown, PA, about 30 minutes west of the PA-MD border along US 40, the National Road.  Interstate 68 is a very scenic highway through the mountains.

We made one more stop, at the same restaurant which was our first stop of this massive trip, at the Park N Dine, in Hancock, MD.  We each had the same meal we ate when we were here 17 days ago.  The rest of the trip went by very quickly, and we soon pulled up in front of our house.  We were HOME, and it felt good.  Final mileage was almost exactly as I planned.  I said 6000, and we ended up at 5912.8.

We said a little prayer thanking God for keeping us safe, healthy, and happy.  It was a fantastic trip.

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