From Savannah, we head north through Augusta, western South Carolina, and then Ashville, North Carolina. The whole drive has been rainy, but as we go through the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Asheville, the clouds get darker and thicker. We are driving into a thunderstorm. It’s also sunset across the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’ve never see sky and clouds turn such an orangish pink color. It was as if the clouds stole the light of the sunset and pulled it into the thunderstorm. It was incredibly beautiful.
Finally, we make it into Asheville, and it is still pouring. Wanting to park right next to where we were eating took for ever, and Dad was getting super frustrated. But no one wanted to walk and get soaked. Dad wanted me to find a different restaurant, but I had already done a lot of research to pick out the one we were going to, so I was pretty set on going. Luckily, a parking spot finally opened up and we made it in just as the lightning started crashing over head.
So I was being stubborn about the restaurant because I knew it was going to be special. The Admiral, from the outside looks like you are going into the sketchiest old pool dive bar. It’s super square one story architecture that had red and orange diamonds painted on the walls. With it dark and stormy it made it even more divey. But you go inside to find a fantastic dark wood and warm restaurant and bar. Plus the food was fabulous! Never, judge a restaurant by its cover. We had butternut squash soup, fried gnocchi, and rib eye steak. Dad finally said that the dinner did make up for the search for parking. We then headed further northwest to camp at a Walmart in Waynesville outside of the Smoky Mountains.
It was still raining when we woke up in the morning. We’d read that there is fly fishing in the Smoky Mountains, so Dad was really only thinking about fishing and wanting to get up to the Mountains. However, we were driving the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway first. The Blue Ridge Mount scenic highway is the most famous scenic drive in the US. It is over 450 miles long from Virginia in the north down to the Great Smoky Mountains. I had planned to drive a 50 mile section that headed over to Asheville. However, as we get started Dad keeps wanting to head back on go to the Smokies. Even with the rain, the rolling ridges coated with deep rust orange and muted yellows were absolutely incredible. The drive was so beautiful. I did not want to turn around, but 30 miles in, I agreed.
We finally make it into Great Smoky National Park. Dad gets details on where the best fishing in the park is. He also learns they’ve just had a very unusual storm for this time of the year, and they’ve received 4 inches of rain over the last two days. It’s still raining and all the rivers are blown out. As we drive through the main road in the park, he quickly realizes fishing won’t be an option for him.
We drive down the main road through the park and the rivers are twice the size of normal. Everything is wet and at times we have to drive through the clouds without much visibility. The autumn colors are touching most of the deciduous trees with pines sprinkled throughout. We take on more scenic loop through the park to see the trees and the ridges. The rain is starting to lighten but everything is muddy, so we aren’t going to hike. Plus it was darn cold. So we head out of the park.
Originally, I had planned on going to Dollywood on this road trip. Unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out. If we had stayed so we could go to Dollywood the next day, the park was closed and I wasn’t going to stay for two nights. Plus, the rain wasn’t predicted to end until the weekend. So we continued into Tennessee.
Dinner was in Knoxville at KnoxMason. They had a super unique menu which is why I picked the place out. We had pork rinds, duck wings, mac and cheese, and banana pudding for desert. Everything was so tasty. Plus, they had a Tennessee Sazerac which was awesome.
We left Knoxville with hopes of making it to Chattanooga, but it was raining again and Dad was tired of driving. We stopped in the middle of nowhere to rest for the night (apologies to the people of nowhere, I know that’s not what you call it).
The morning we drive on into the middle of Tennessee to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg. I was never a fan of Jack, but Maria told me this was one of the best tours in the US. The property of the distillery is gorgeous. In the back is a large limestone cave where the spring water used to make Jack Daniels flows. They have the spring flowing throughout the property including into the buildings where the whiskey is made. We had a fantastic local guide, whose accent was so thick I didn’t understand half of what he was saying. Yet, that just added to the ambience of the tour.
One of the best moments of the tour was outside the cave, were we could already smell the breadiness of fermentation. A woman asked what the smell was, she was not a fan. Dad responded, “oh that’s us. We haven’t showered in a week.” The look of disgust across her face was priceless.
I developed my liking for whiskey long after I had tried Jack and had never given it another shot. I’m also not a fan of alcohol combined with brown cola, so there won’t be a jack and coke for me. However, after learning about the process of how Jack Daniels uses to make their whiskey, I was a fan of the story. I was also impressed that they only produce 1% waste on there entire business process. So I went for their best stuff, and got a liter of Single Barrel Jack Daniels. I still haven’t tried it yet, I might wait until I get home. So I can’t tell you what I thought.
Westward we headed, but honestly there is not a straight freeway from Knoxville or Chattanooga to Memphis, our next destination. We either had to head north towards Nashville to cut back over to Memphis or to head south through Birmingham, Alabama. The northern route was the shortest. But it was very difficult to get my Dad to understand there was no straight shot to Memphis, and that even though we weren’t going to Nashville we had to head 30 miles south of it to make it to Memphis.
Also, the drive to Memphis was more West than South, so the sun was nasty as it was setting. Again, we were in the middle of nowhere as I was looking for a place to stop for dinner so we could wait for the sun to go do. However, by the time we made it to the restaurant I was able to find, the sun had already set. Luckily, the great BBQ at Reggie’s made it worth stop, and gave our eyes a chance to recover.
We make it into Memphis and go to a fantastic beer bar, Flying Saucer, just outside the city. It has a huge selection of beers on top and even more by bottle. I try a local Octoberfest beer that was super tasty. The have the Giants and Cardinals game on tv at the bar; in the right is a St. Louis fan and on the left is a Giants fan – perfect company. I enjoy the beer and watch the game.
It’s getting late, so we head out. I twist Dad’s arm to drive down to Beale Street so I can see all the lights and crowds. There’s no parking and Dad is tired and grumpy so we don’t stop. We head out to the KOA which is across the Mississippi River in Arkansas. So sleeping one night in Arkansas counts as visiting even though we saw nothing :). The KOA was right on the freeway, so Dad was complaining about the noise. Sometimes I have to remind him not to whine and be grateful for the adventure we are on.
The next morning we drive over to Graceland. I understand the impact Elvis had on music and respect that contribution, but I am not a fan. I wanted to drive by to see how the lines are to see if I was motivated enough to check out Graceland. I’ve heard it’s a pretty amazing tour, but honestly there are other things I want to see so we continued on. Maybe if I spend a weekend in Memphis, I’ll take the time to visit Graceland.
We returned back to Beale Street to wander around. First stop was the Peabody Hotel to see the ducks swimming in the lobby fountain. Each day the ducks come down the elevator from the roof and hang out int the lobby, and then return to the roof at 5 pm. They roll out a red carpet to guide the ducks to the elevator. We definitely weren’t early enough to see the ducks coming down from the roof and weren’t going to stay until 5 pm to see them go back up. But swimming ducks in a fountain was good enough for me.
We then walked down to Beale Street to check out the shops and signs. It’s definitely a hot day, so staying in the shade is a priority. Music is already starting to drift out of the bars and a few street performers are setting up. Dad wanted to go into BB Kings Blues Bar for lunch, but I told him the best restaurant was across the street at the Blues Street Cafe. We had the baby back meal, and it was so yummy. That full rack of ribs did not last long.
We left the restaurant and then hit the road again. I could definitely see enjoying a Memphis weekend of great music at night and reading by the pool during the day. I do enjoy the blues, but my music heart lies south in New Orleans. So I didn’t feel like hanging out to wait until night to check out the music. Like Yoda said, continue on, we did.