We set out on Tuesday from Nashville and headed for the Great Smokies in eastern Tennessee. It was a 200 mile drive to Maryville that day, up and down the hills of Tennessee (but mostly up), and we worked that 2.25 L harder than we ever have. It wasn’t long after we set out that we realized the heater in the truck was no match for the weather. In attempt to get the coolant a bit warmer we closed up the radiator cover about 75% of the way (which we were conveniently transporting from Scott to Jeff in Maine). The cover didn’t seem to help at all so we trekked on in the cold, up into the mountains.
Just outside of Maryville we found ourselves on an extraordinarily long uphill drag. By this time it was dark and raining and we didn’t happen to notice the smoke pouring from underneath the hood. Almost to the top of hill the truck began to sputter and we just managed to roll to the crest in second gear and Drew had to stall the truck out because the engine was so hot. It seems that in our attempt at getting the heater core hot we boiled all the coolant out of the radiator. Luckily we were only two miles from the parking lot where we planned to stay the night. A quick re-fill with our half-frozen drinking water supply and we were back on the road. We got some antifreeze before going to bed don’t worry! It was nice to know the engine temperature warning light doesn’t work; something we’ve always wondered.
The next morning we entered the Great Smoky Mountains. Starting out on the Foothills Parkway, we got to see the Smokys for the first time. They looked very smokey… and majestic, and beautiful! We had recently learned that the main pass through the Smokys was closed due to a rockslide, and were disappointed to hear this, but made plans to take a few mountain roads across the northern part. We stayed at a campsite in Cades Cove, which is very quiet this time of year. The drive through the mountains to the campground was extremely enjoyable. The windy two lane road followed a shallow creek all the way, with a cliff face on the opposite side of the road. There were a lot of people along the road hiking the numerous trails or just enjoying the drive up the creek. We also drove an eleven mile loop through the Cades Cove valley, where we found some very happy/healthy wild life and some historic buildings such as log homes and structures built by early settlers. That night brought on our first snowfall of the winter!
Our plan for the next day was to make it to Asheville, by taking some roads of unknown quality through the northern part of the National Park. We set out early, following the beautiful, narrow road along the creek. We made a stop for gas in Gatlinburg, a pleasant but seemingly very touristy town just outside the park, and continued eastward! Finally finding ourselves at the highly anticipated and virtually unknown route 32, we indulged. The first sign we came across labeled steep slopes, hairpin turns, and pavement ending soon, just the signs we were looking for. Beginning our ascent, the road was actually extremely nice, but it was very steep and very windy. On one side of the road, a 50 ft drop down a thinly wooded slope with no guard rail, and on the other an equal slope uphill. After about 8 miles of winding up with mountain at 25 mph we came to a peak and began downhill, the road still paved and the GPS was forever begging us to turn around. There were a few homes scattered along the road, some looked abandoned but others were active residences and it made us think of the pictures Maria (in Beaufort SC!) had shown us of the people of the Smoky Mountains. As we wound down the mountain we decided that if we were to make it to Asheville before dark we would have to get back on a main road. The road turned to dirt about halfway down, and Old Yeller grew a smile. A few miles later after passing through a very tiny town (more like an intersection with a few buildings) we found an entrance to the interstate. It was a BIG change of pace, but we made it to Asheville in one piece!
We had made contact with an Asheville local through e-mail after we met his parents Joan and Nick at the Low Key Hideaway Tiki bar in Cedar Key Fl back in January. He gave us some suggestions of things to do/see in Asheville, such as a Bluegrass Jam night at Jack of the Wood pub and Green Man Brewery the night we arrived. Asheville is packed with great musicians and great breweries, and we made sure to enjoy both of them. We went to check out the music at Jack of the Wood which started out with a bluegrass band called “No Strings Attached” who played a great set, after which the jam began. The beauty of bluegrass music is how players can jam and improvise so well. It was as if they had been together for years, but most of them had never met each other before. By the end of the Jam there were two guitars, two mandolins, a fiddle, a banjo, and a bass crammed onto the tiny stage, all singing in harmony and handing solos back and forth. We also got a chance to put back a couple of Green Man ales, and a Crispin cider or two!
We decided to get a campsite the next day, and found one called Bear Creek, which made us think of the Bear Creek festival in Florida, although the weather there was quite the opposite. We spent the day wandering around downtown Asheville, checking out the various shops and sites, and looked into what music we could check out later that night. We decided to head back to the Jack of the Wood, since there was going to be more awesome music there and we were not let down! The first band, “Strung Like a Horse” was really great, and we really enjoyed their set. They had such a great mixture of musical talent, great vocals, comedy and a lot of energy on stage. We would classify them as… gypsy bluegrass. We’ll definitely be keeping up to tabs with their music online!
Asheville is a really neat town, and the Biltmore Village in the historical has a very European feel to it. We decided to drive up to Biltmore Estate to see if we could go inside and take a tour, but the tickets were just way too expensive. If you look it up online though the estate is absolutely stunning. After stopping by the Biltmore, we began our long journey home!
We are headed back to Canada now, braving the cold in our non-heated Rover and Boler! Check back to make sure we don’t freeze in the snow… just kidding!