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Friday, July 29, 2016

MOUNTAINS & RACETRACKS


From the Outer Banks of North Carolina we cut west, crossing lots of flat marshy areas. There are signs up for bears, and we ask the locals if they see any, when we stop to buy blueberries. They assure us that they do see them regularly. Next stop is the town of Raleigh (yes Tim & Kylie we were near your home and you weren’t there!!!) to visit the State Capitol. Don’t know how many of these we have visited, but they are always great. Park right outside & pop in to nosy around. Of course by the time we leave it is rush hour & the urban sprawl goes on for miles as there are quite a few Universities here. It starts to rain, but we have a spot in the forest in mind for tonight, so we head there. Fortunately it proves Ok – flat, quiet & out of the way.

As we continue across country, following little back roads, John suddenly asks if Charlotte is nearby. I say “Yes it is; only we need to change direction & head south”. So that is what we do. Guess what’s at Charlotte? Yes, another huge NASCAR track – and very impressive it is too. We do the racetrack tour – I have never driven along a 22deg camber before. Ok when driving at 130 kph but rather interesting when the driver stops!

Anyway more miles to do. We have some friends to pop in and visit in Waynesville before we head in to the forest again for the night. It is a parking spot beside the river. We are just having a cup of tea at 10pm when a police car rolls in. “What are you doing” (duh…staying overnight!”) We explain very politely. He says we can’t stay as it is for fisherman to access the river. We don’t point out the obvious that there are no fishermen here & the park is pretty big. Perhaps we should say we are fishing! Anyway when we say we will leave first thing in the morning, he says Oh that’s Ok, I’ll just say you are parking!

Our forestry spot is right on the edge of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is our destination. But first we head south to visit The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – we do know it will be very busy at this time of year, but we are too close to miss it. Head along the Parkway stopping to do a few walks & chat to more people who stop to look at GR2. She is definitely a tourist attraction here. Even been on TV apparently! Then on to do the scenic drive through Smoky. Lots of cars & lots of people at the popular spots. Well we thought there was a lot, but when we reach touristy Gatlinburg the place is swarming. We can’t wait to leave. Sadly the rest of Smoky will have to be another visit. We have crossed back in to Tennessee, but before long we are back in Nth Carolina heading back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Again at 3pm we run in to torrential rain – we did yesterday as well. Evenings are long here so we do a few more miles before heading off the Parkway to find a great dispersed camp spot beside a river. Can even have a fire – awesome.

Carry on the Parkway stopping to walk to some unexciting waterfalls. We are starting to get a bit weary of this scenic drive. It is so sterile with a narrow, winding strip of tarseal, mowed grass edges, overhanging trees and views of misty mountains. And it goes on for miles & miles!! Time for a conference. Decide to turn off and pop down to visit Grandfather Mountain someone recommended. At $20ea to be able to walk a swing bridge, with countless others, we give it a miss. Head towards Bluff City & Bristol in Virginia. John says we won’t bother looking at the racetrack here, but I say – “there it is, we should go in!”  Yet another massive track. No tours, but a guy who stops to say Hi opens it up so we can go inside – Thank you! Then we stay & use their Wifi – bonus. Another night in the forest.

We are now heading into West Virginia (yes that means another no. plate to add to our burgeoning collection).  Have never heard anything about this state, but it is full of mountains, forests, mighty gorges & rivers. First stop is the Welcome Centre for a map & info. There has been massive flooding 10 days ago, so they suggest avoiding the centre of the state. So we plan a route through the back roads to meander through Bluestone National State Park & New River Gorge National Park. Drive some lovely little back roads, winding our way through to Blue River, then on to New River. Very little traffic, lots of little towns showing signs of neglect & rivers full of muddy water. The riverside town of Hinton is gorgeous. Lots of old homes, but many decaying. As we near the gorge we see signs of old mining. This area was in full coal production mode years ago.

Finally we find the tourists at the massive iron bridge at Canyon Rim. Check out the many viewpoints before heading on to the main roads and on to Charleston – the state capitol. Again we stop and wander through the Capitol Building leaving again during rush hour. Finally out of West Virginia and in to Kentucky & the Daniel Boone National Forest. John has found some free camping in the forest. There are some great spots beside a river, most are full because it is Friday night, so we squeeze in to the last one.

We pick the scenic route through Daniel Boone Forest planning to stop and see the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. What is this Resort part!! Must be because there is a chairlift up to the arch. I opt for the easy ride, saying it will save us time. Anyway it is kind of fun. Lots of walks at the top to view the arch, walk over the arch and walk under the arch.

Finally back to main roads and on to the horse capital of USA – Lexington in Kentucky. Many gorgeous horse studs - all glistening green & manicured. After all this is the home of The Kentucky Derby.  Then again another Capitol Building, in the red brick town of Frankfurt. No interior explore today as it is Saturday afternoon.

Decide it is time we visit the highly recommended Cracker Barrel for a late lunch/early dinner. Yum – good southern cooking. Finally on to Louisville – a rather large city – only stop here is cheap diesel found on Gasbuddy. We are continually amazed at how diesel prices can vary, even within the same tow. Anything from $1.99 to $2.59 per gallon. Across the huge bridge to Indiana and back on to back roads. There is supposed to be a free camp spot here, but we can’t find it so end up on an old slip road beside the river.

As is often the case we find more camp spots the next morning, but the bonus is finding the tiny town of Storey with its cute & very eclectic pub & having time to stop & explore. This wouldn’t have been the case if we had passed it last night while hunting for a campspot. Continue through Hoosier National Forest to return to the main road. We are heading to Bloomington & on to Indianapolis to see the famous racetrack - affectionately known as “The Brick Yard”. At this track we can drive right in to the centre.  We can’t do a track tour today, as wanna be racers are paying to go out on the track with drivers. But John has a good look at the Hall of Fame (I opt out again)

Back on the motorway we cross in to Michigan. Traffic a bit crazy as Chicago isn’t all that far away. Finally we head to a casino for the night.  Tomorrow we will continue exploring Michigan.

Catch y’all soon now!

Michigan surprises us….

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