Crossing the Mississippi

Going from point A to point B should be a straight forward line easy to follow. Not always! Crossing the Mississippi at Cairo (Kay-ro), Illinois proved to be my most difficult venture. A trestle bridge connects Missouri with Illinois. After about ¼ mile in Illinois, I was across the Ohio River also and dumped into Kentucky. I could see below me the junction of the two rivers with a large triangle of land which I thought would make be a great campground. I went back and forth on the bridge several times but couldn’t figure out how to get down there. Fort Defiance of Civil War fame stands above this point. The entrance to the Fort and its lookout was also a challenge, but once I got there, I could look down and figure out how to get to the campground below.

All that effort was not worth it. This point of land looked like it might have been a campground once upon a time, but now it was totally overgrown and not a person in site. This was lowland which periodically floods. I quickly realized that this would be a very unsafe place to camp. That was confirmed when I got into downtown Cairo. This was the most depressed city I had ever seen. All the buildings were shells of what they once were. It was totally bombed out with only 2 bars operating. Charles Dickins once said of Cairo that it was “a grave uncheered by any gleam of promise”. Cairo had some of the cheapest real estate prices in the United States. It would be ripe for development.

Getting out of Dodge was easy now; I headed northeast in Illinois to the town of Metropolis. Friends in Oregon had put me onto this not-to-be-missed town. What does the town name bring to mind? Yes, Superman. In 1972, DC Comics declared Metropolis, IL  the official home of Superman and he stands proudly15-feet tall in the center of town. Okay, but what about Lois Lane. Well, she only get a 9-foot tall statue a couple of blocks away. I cry foul, though the visit to her was worth it.

From Illinois, I traveled into Kentucky and drove through the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. Forty miles long, this Recreation Area covers 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands, and open lands on a peninsula between two lakes in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. I was surprised to see this heavily wooded stretch of land as I had had no experience with Kentucky. Also along the way was one nursery after another on both sides of the road. I wondered how all of these survived near one another. An Oregon friend who had had a connection with plants told me these nurseries supplied America’s drug and convenience stores with the plants they sold.

Traversing Tennessee, I found the interesting little town of Tellico Plains. This town in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is the entrance to the Cherohala Skyway, a route through the Cherokee National Forest ending in Robinson, Tennessee. Motorcyclists congregate at Tellico Plains to ride this curvy, hilly, and very scenic route. I stayed one night in a motorcycle encampment, a series of small hostel-like buildings. The manager told me someone with a car was a rare occurrence at this encampment. It turned out to be a great place to stay.

One of my attractions to this foothill community was that it had a used bookstore. I had packed a few boxes of books for this trip, hoping to find a bookstore where I could sell them. Pathetically, I never encountered a bookstore until I got to Tellico Plains (I had avoided the large cities where there undoubtedly were bookstores). I left the books over night for the owner to assess. He may have bought a few – I don’t remember – so I ended up donating the remainder to the local library.

The next day, I headed up a mountain to a woodsy area named Coker Flats. I stayed there a couple of days. This was my kind of community, except there was nothing there but a Post Office and a restaurant/convenience store down the road. This dream of living in the woods was not one I could make into a reality here. I pushed on to North Carolina.

I visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most-visited national park in the US. I slept one night in my truck and moved on to drive the Blue ridge Parkway in the morning. I was expecting to see the fall colors. This proved to be a big mistake, as the fog was so thick at that time of day, I couldn’t see but a foot ahead of me. I had to give up and return to the entrance of the Parkway. That was a big disappointment. I had no choice but to push on south into Georgia, where I ended up staying for 11-1/2 years.

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