Johnson City, Tennessee

I have had the loveliest stay with Larry, Karin, and Karin’s sister Ta. For one thing, I was way overdue for some hygiene-related comforts. Hops is soooo glad to be here.

Hops on a couch. his happy place.

I spent a day with Larry, thrifting/antiquing/picking – he runs a few antique booths and does vintage clothing sales online. I was very firm about not buying anything – because I live in a van – but did end up dropping $4 on a jacket that fit me perfectly. Ah well. He also gave me a very nice driving tour of town, on a nasty day to do it any other way. I’m impressed with Johnson City overall. It checks many of my boxes: walkable/rideable; a little local culture in the form of art, theatre, bookstores; a little ethnic diversity; a university; local trails. Larry’s selling it.

Day two, we headed out for a pretty serious brewery/pub crawl, facilitated by much nicer weather.

On my way out of town, I walked the sculpture garden at Founder’s Park.

It was another beautiful day, and I was a little sorry to see Johnson City go. I wish I’d ridden some trails, and checked out some local theatre. Maybe next trip. But North Carolina was calling…

still crossing Tennessee

On a final full day’s drive across Tennessee, I’ve continued to enjoy the scenery very much. Also,

  • I sort of regret not stopping in Sparta, Tennessee because it looks like a neat little town. I should have stopped and walked around.
  • Spring City has a Hammer Time Fitness, a Blistered Chicken Saloon, and a road called Ideal Valley. Whoever is in charge of naming things in that town is doing a good job.
  • And in the town of Maryville, there is a West Coast Tattoo. Which makes me scratch my head.

I made a point of going to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where Cade’s Cove had been recommended to me. Thanks, Sharon! It was a really amazing drive.

But after a long day, it was soooo nice to come “home” to see my buddy Larry

and meet his lovely wife Karin.

Showers! Laundry! Friends, and Hops on a couch. Thanks, bud.

crossing Tennessee

I am overjoyed with the free camping in Tennessee! We found the most lovely site on the Natchez Trace Parkway, where we were able to park for free, use a flush toilet and a picnic table, and access the Natchez Trace hiking trail. It scarcely warmed up to freezing during the several days we spent here, though, so we spent almost all of it inside the van. Hops’s water bowl froze solid overnight, again. Brrrr.

But we got out for a lovely hike; I did about two miles, and Hops did at least double that, running back and forth as he does.

I think he took on the extra mileage to stay warm.

The next day we drove east again, with a little company

and the heater on full blast. We found another lovely free campsite! This one had no bathrooms, but a very nice view of Watts Bar Lake; it was even warm enough to sit outside for 30 minutes or so before we had to bundle back in. Brrrr.

In another day or two we have a proper host who may let us come indoors, and it’s about time.

Memphis

I left T.O. Fuller early in the morning without much observation, but it was a nice enough place. As an aside: I’ve been using three sources to find campsites/parking places. They are freecampsites.net, the Campendium app/website, and the iOverlander app. I’ve been writing reviews, fairly faithfully, on the first two sites. I figure I may as well give back. Not that anyone will care, surely, but my handle on those sites for reviews is foxylikeaturtle.

In Memphis I headed first to the Bass Pro Shop in the Pyramid, which used to be a basketball stadium, and was suggested as a possible spot for overnight parking, although I decided against it. I was told it was an oddity not to be missed, and I suppose that’s true, although my feelings are certainly mixed. I paid $10 (plus tax) to ride an elevator to the top of the thing: the tallest freestanding elevator in the country, we are told, and its walls are floor-to-ceiling glass. Fun fact: I am scared of heights. This was possibly the most horrifying experience I’ve ever paid $10 for. At the top there’s a bar/restaurant with amazing views, including observation decks you can walk on outside; these have GLASS FLOORS, you guys, and they CREAK underfoot. Definitely the most horrifying experience of my trip to date. I do it for you, though. Here’s a picture I took from up there of the Hernando de Soto Bridge across the Mississippi.

I also wandered around the interior of the Bass Pro Shop, which is a weird shrine to commercialism and a brand of outdoorsiness that I guess is not the one I was brought up in (although I could certainly have indulged in some of the gear). There’s a swamp in the middle. It has fish in it – bass, I assume? and some truly enormous ones I’m told are sturgeon. There are ducks – live ones – as well as live ALLIGATORS, you guys. In the middle of the store. Also taxidermied deer, elk, pigs, bears, more ducks, and who knows what. It’s… a scene. There is an “old timey” store selling fresh-made fudge, and a lodge, an archery and pistol range, a museum, and an aquarium, apparently, right in there too. Very strange.

And on to the other end of the spectrum: the real reason I’m in Memphis (which was out of my way, generally speaking) was to visit the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.

This was, what, my fourth major civil rights museum/memorial in the last week; and I confess there is a diminishing return. This experience is emotionally exhausting. And I say that with apologies, because I feel the weight of guilt for not having had to live any of the horrors that I’m reading about and viewing. But it’s the simple truth, that as I take in these atrocities – murders, criminal justice and other systemic failures, disrespect, mutilations, denials of basic rights – the parts of me that feel horror get worn out. And I feel less at the fourth visit than I did at the first.

Which is not to say I feel nothing.

I am feeling more and more familiar with some of the stories told in each of these museums: Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts; the Freedom Riders and the several places where they were most badly abused; lunch counter sit-ins; the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham. Slavery and Jim Crow. Partly because of my (shameful) exhaustion, and partly (in this case) because the place was mobbed by school groups, I moved quickly through those exhibits. I was glad to find some unique content, though. For one thing, the Memphis museum follows the civil rights movement out of the 1960s and into Black Power and the Black Panther Party.

I appreciated that. And, unsurprisingly, there was a focus here on the Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike, which is what MLK was in town for when he was killed. This was not a story I’d encountered at any of the Alabama museum sites, so I was glad to slow down and take it in.

And then there is the feature of this location: the restored and maintained rooms that MLK and his associates occupied on the fateful night of April 4, 1968.

I took several pictures because, I guess, it felt so big. It also felt like voyeurism. Is it okay that we are all peering into this room, with its unmade bed, cigarette butts in the ashtray and dirty dishes, half-drunk cup of coffee sitting there as if someone will return for it at any minute? (This is a reconstructed scene, of course.) I felt a little dirty and a lot guilty, but I looked.

Across the street, the museum’s second building occupies the boarding house where the shot that killed MLK “allegedly” (they still have to say this?!) came from. We get to see the view of the balcony that the shooter saw.

the shooter’s view

I am exhausted, you guys. It’s too much. And again with my guilt: I’m exhausted just by looking? Shame on us.

leaving Muscle Shoals

On my way out of town, just let me reflect on what I’ve missed. I drove by the Helen Keller birthplace, which of course was closed,

also perhaps headed for being underwater?

and that’s a shame, because I figure there’s lots to learn in there. I remember reading about Helen Keller when I was little and being moved. There’s always more to learn… Also in Muscle Shoals I missed a Frank Lloyd Wright house. I’ve yet to visit one, and I do have some interest, but there can just be so much to choose between. One of these days.

On my way out, I crossed a few state lines

on my way to Memphis, where I’m crashing for the night at T.O. Fuller State Park. I’m a bit weary of cities, and hope after this one I can find some forests on my way to the next friend I’m heading for: see you soon, Larry!