Back Roads of Tennessee – Riding My Way Through America

Slightly parched, tired and disappointed that I was stuck in a dry county for a couple days due to the bearing problem, I was ready for a beer. With this as a requirement, I’d hoped to walk somewhere for dinner. But in the adjacent vicinity, Sweetwater’s dining options were the usual fast food fair or, per the front desk girl at my motel, of questionable cleanliness. And a beer? Not so easy. So she pointed me up the road to a local BBQ place but it was too far to walk.

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What have the done with Budweiser? Maybe it’s been that way for years. But it has an awful if not coincidental look similar to a can of Coca-Cola. Can’t say I ever order a Bud, but given my three choices, I had no choice. You leave the country for a few years and an American Icon goes berserk.

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Two police cruisers dominated the small parking lot, while a family that would be candidates for before pictures in a Jenny Craig ad piled into a SUV each with a plastic doggy bag. I guess they’ll feed ya here. A bit dry and served with a BBQ sauce a tad sweet for my liking, I was also limited in my beer selection. But this didn’t dampen my spirit as I thought about my journey ahead.

While I’ve been back in the states for more than a month, I find myself with an insatiable itch. A beckoning call falls on eager ears. Gas prices are through the roof and every day brings more bad news about economic despair. Maybe I should’ve just rode around Iran through Georgia and making my way across the ‘stans and into Pakistan. But there’s no sense in dwelling on my decision. I was gone for more than three years. And while a few questionable nights in North Carolina and Tennessee can have a numbing effect on someone who just traveled 60,000 miles through 35 countries on 5 continents. Why am I complaining?

I sucked down the beer and inhaled the rest of my brisket and hit my pillow hard.

My ride to reacquaint myself with my homeland continued the next morning. The ride from Sweetwater to Nashville over route 68 then taking a slight detour onto 419 through Cumberland Mountain State Park before hopping on route 70 which took me all the way to the Music Row in the country music capital of the world.

Winding through the backroads and small highways, the rather noisy pipe on Doc competed with the thumping groove of J.J. Cale piping through my iPod. I traveled through Borggest Station and treated myself to views of the Tennessee River Valley and then onward to Watts Bar Dam and the nuclear powerpoint that share its name. Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of his New Deal, created the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to not only bring jobs to out of work Americans, but to bring electricity and an era of modernism to the rural south from Tennessee to Georgia and Alabama. In addressing congress in in the early 1930’s Roosevelt envisioned a government agency with the agility of a private enterprise. He said the TVA would be:

“a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.”

Today with 29 hydro electric power plants, the TVA also produces energy through nuclear and coal plants to deliver wholesale electricity to more than 8.5 million customers in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, North Carolina and Virginia — making it the largest power producing utility in the country. Beyond the power producing capacity, the Tenneesse Valley Authority offers a wide array of recreational activities for residents of the surrounding area.

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This is America! Big red barns!

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Cumberland Mountain State Park, Tennessee.

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Could this be Mayberry RFD?

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I love traveling these roads. Feels like home.

Venturing on everything seemed to be working for me. Doc purred along effortlessly, there were hardly any other vehicles on the road, and the long stretches between small townships and settlements provided a backdrop of red barns, glistening silos and the occasional boneyard offering a glimpse of the past.

Coming out of the Tennessee Valley I quickly climbed up to the Cumberland Plateau. With electricity, water and arable land part of the government’s plan was to further populate the area and in doing so granted Made my way to Crossville along the Cumberland Plateau, then to Cumberland Mountain State Park. At the cross roads I saw the homestead museum.

Once again I moved further from the roads more traveled and I slipped into a sublte but relaxing time warp where young boys walked the streets with fishing rods hoisted over the shoulders. I could’ve been in Mayberry, but I was cruising the Cumberland Plateau and heading to Nashville.

But the landscape wasn’t all rosy. Happy I was off the interstate and miles from the ugly blemish of big box retail and homogenized shopping centers, the roadsides were littered not with floating plastic bags as I came to despise in Africa or the ugly plastic water bottles now ubiquitously littering our entire world, but the pitiful display of bad retail. It’s as if the sexy five and dime and soda fountains of years gone by have been replaced by corrugated steel structures crammed with whatever couldn’t be sold elsewhere. I know I’m a bit harsh when discussing such things. But it’s as if the white elephants of years are dumped into a cesspool of retail junkyards littering what was once the beauty and original Americana. All for a lower price.

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Welcome To Nashville and Music Row!

And those greedy and tasteless companies who can’t come up with a better name than Dollar This, Dollar That, or Dollar Dollar. How many of these schlock outfits must use the world “dollar” in the title?

Fortunately by the time I noticed one of these retailers, I’m buzzing through and on a stretch of beautiful road — until the next one. Yes. They serve a market. And yes they have their fans and loyal customers. But no, they aren’t pretty.

I rolled into Nashville for the second time in my life. It’s a big frightening to see what they’ve done with The Grand Ole Opry and turned it into a shopping mall and resort. Thankfully, the original Opry, the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville is still fully operational and still headlining top acts.

I found a cheap motel on Music Row and made Nashville my home for a few days.

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