Friday, March 5, 2010

Notes from a Rebel Country

Oh the pressure. It has been so long since we updated the blog and so much has happened... Or at least, it seems like a long time ago. I'll give you the highlights from the South if you give me forgiveness for waiting so long to write.

When last we updated, we were on our way out of Chattanooga. We cut our time in Chattanooga short after suffering through freezing weather conditions, a drought of potential climbing partners, and an existential crisis when I realized I couldn't really call myself a climber if I only got on a wall once a month. But more interesting than that is the following story about our first night in Chattanooga:

We arrived in Chattanooga with hopes of camping and climbing. We headed to one of the most popular climbing areas to look for a campsite and find me a belay partner. After striking out on both accounts, we decided to spend the night in a hotel and reassess our plan. On our way back from the crag, we reached for our trusty Let's Go USA guidebook and reviewed the affordable hotel options in town. There were three not-all-that-cheap hostels and one motel called the King's Lodge. "Hmm, the King's Lodge?" I mused. "Sounds perfect for me! hahaha" The rooms were described as clean, with a good view overlooking downtown and best of all, priced from $30 and up. Paige called ahead and talked to the manager to find out if they were pet friendly (they were!) and reserved a room for us. She hung up and excitedly pronounced, "It sounds like a real family type place!" Internet, dog-friendly, and a family place-what more could we ask for? We plugged the address into the phone and headed on our merry way.

So about the King's Lodge being a family turns out its not. At all. It is a four story, multi-building, crumbling monstrosity, nestled into the projects of Chattanooga. Between the highway and the hotel (a scant 1/4 mile I might add) we saw no fewer than three police cars. In fact, we actually followed them because they were headed to the King's Lodge as well. Maybe they were all there because for the coffee in the lobby. Maybe they were there because of the not-so-scenic view of Chattanooga. Who knows? But judging by the looks of the place, I'd say they were probably there because something illegal was happening. Probably lots of somethings.

Being the seasoned road veterans we are though, we took it all in stride and headed into the lobby to talk to the front desk clerk. She ran through her schpiel about prices, rules, etc and then removed a key and a television remote from the slot labeled "204" from the row of cubbies behind her. She informed us that if we wanted to, we could go look at the room first and decide if we still wanted it. I asked her "is there something wrong with it?" She replied, "Let's just say I'm not giving you your money back if you decide you don't want it after you've paid." So we went to check out the room. We wandered the halls and balconies of the forty year old boarding house until we found room 204, directly across an alley from a large group of shouting teenagers. We looked around, unsure of what to expect. The room wasn't fancy, but it didn't have blood stains (like our motel in Oklahoma). Unsure of whether to pass on the room or try to make the most of it, we plodded back towards the lobby. While we stood just outside the clerk's line of sight and wondered what to do, another cop car drove up. This sealed the deal. We got the hell out of there, went to a bar on the opposite side of town, and after confirming with the bartender that it was no where near the King's Lodge, booked a motel room for $40 in a completely different part of town. King's Lodge my ass!

We camped/froze for the next two nights near the "Tennessee Wall" climbing area. You might remember this campsite from videos such as "Daddy Needs a New Pair of Pants" and "Emma helped."

Leaving Chattanooga, we headed east towards the Smoky Mountains. An unexpected road closure into the Smokies stranded us in the twin cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. The best way to describe these cities would be if all of the buffets in Las Vegas, Nevada got together with all of the sights and attractions in Branson, Missouri and had two children. Gatlinburg would be the more stuffy older child and Pigeon Forge would be the messy younger sibling. Gatlinburg would always be bragging about its fudge shops (even going to such extremes as occasionally spelling them "shoppes"), its homemade arts and crafts, its covered sidewalks and its tasteful signs. Pigeon Forge would spend all its time saying that it doesn't need those things because it has three Ripley's Believe it or Nots, a water park, and 37 go cart tracks. But really, the two wouldn't be as different as they wanted to believe. They would both still have a fondness in their heart for buffets. They would both still love a good, cheap motel. And they would both play the banjo. Which is why they would both still live so close to one another, despite the fact that they both agree "they are absolutely, nothing alike."

Anyways, we made it into the smokies the next morning and set up camp. After two days in the smoky mountains we both decided that the gentle elegance of the smokies isn't nearly as impressive as the grandeur of the country's western mountain ranges. Nevertheless, we went on some pleasant hikes, camped next to a friendly old couple, and had an all-around agreeable time.

We spent the next two nights wandering through a snow-covered Asheville, NC. True to form, we brought nine inches of snow to Asheville, NC which caused massive shutdowns throughout downtown and ruined our plans to see the art museum and eat all-you-can-east mussels at a fancy french restaurant. Fortunately we made the most of it. We were still able to find a pizza house/brewery that showed movies and we spent many hours rambling through the snow covered streets with Emma.

Retreating from the snow, we hooked slightly south into the lowlands of North Carolina to try the whole camping and climbing thing again before we were to meet up with friends for the weekend in Raleigh. Still no climbing partners, but lots of hiking. I finally guilted Paige into belaying me a few times. On the upside, no more snow and a wide open campground.

Friday morning we finally made it to Raleigh and met up with our friend Sharon who was able to extend a work trip to spend the weekend with us. We hung out and had fun Friday night, but the real highlight of the weekend was Saturday night, when the University of North Carolina was scheduled to play Duke (or Dook as Matt insists I spell it), one of their biggest rivals. The three of us had plans to meet up with Matt (a friend Paige met when she worked in DC), hang out for the day, and watch the game that night. We had a wonderful day eating BBQ, exploring the UNC campus and seeing the surrounding neighborhood.

We spent the evening at a bar with several of Matt's UNC classmates and watched UNC get utterly trounced by Duke. At this point, it seemed like a good idea to go to a different bar to get a night cap before we call it an evening. So, Sharon, Paige, Matt, Susannah (Matt's girl-friend) and I headed to a nearby bar and order a round. Shortly after I return from the restroom, the guy sitting next to me (I don't know him...he's not with us) accosts me and asks me a very strange question. He looks very unhappy and asks me if I peed on his shoes. Confusedly I asked him, "What? Who are you? Where were your shoes?" He quite angrily informed me that when I was heading into the bathroom, he asked me not to pee on his shoes that he'd left next to the toilet. Naturally I have no recollection of this because if I had, I would not have gone into the restroom, but would have instead replied "WHAT!?!? Why did you leave your shoes in the men's room? a bar? a college town? midnight?" It was a very loud, very crowded bar, with lots of people going in and out of the restroom and I'm pretty sure I just didn't hear him. He told me that I gave him a blank "I hate you" stare and walked into the restroom. I think he misinterpreted my "I have to go to the bathroom" stare as an "I hate you" stare. Now, of course, being the mature, self controlled adult I am, I immediately diffused the situates in a calm and controlled manner...Or something like that. I never did find out how his shoes got so soaking wet or what they were doing not on his feet in the first place. In the end, we decided to leave the bar early because really, who wants to sit next to some guy that takes off his shoes and leaves them in the men's restroom.

Monday morning we headed north. Our plan was to drive about halfway to West Virginia, camp for the evening, and drive the other half of the way Tuesday. We managed to do this and even squeeze in a half day of climbing on the way at the New River Gorge. Right now we're bunked up at JL's house in Sutton West Virginia, stuffed from a feast of fried chicken, potatoes, pasta, beans and salad, about to hit the sack. We'll spend the rest of the week around here and head to DC for the weekend. I think that brings us about up to speed.

Oh, and for anyone interested in our upcoming itinerary, here's the latest scoop:

For a variety of reasons, Paige and I weren't sure how long this leg of our trip would last. During our first month on the road in California we came to realize that our stamina for life on the road might not be up to the six to nine month task we'd dreamed about. By the time we left Houston, we had tentative plans to tour the east coast for a month (or two if we were really grooving), return to Houston for a spell, and perhaps spend a few weeks in the mountains in late spring. Then we remembered we'll eventually be spending quite a bit of time in Houston and decided that perhaps instead of breaking in Houston, we'd break in Portland.

Well, things have indeed been grooving on the road. We do still want to break in Portland, but it might happen a tad later than we'd initially thought. This trip has shown us that more than traveling, spending time with the people we love is most important to us. It will probably be a long time before we have an opportunity to spend more than a mere long weekend with our friends in Portland and we'd be foolish not to take advantage of that. So with that being said, here is our projected itinerary for the next few weeks:

3/8-3/12: Hiking and climbing around the New River Gorge, staying with Courtney's family in Sutton, WV
3/12-3/19: Washington, DC
3/19-3/28: NYC
3/29-4/5: NYC->Boston, MA
4/5-4/9: Explore the far NE
4/9-4/11: Rochester, NY (let us know if that date doesn't work for you Mike)
4/12-4/19: Quick drive to stay with Paige's cousin in Indianapolis and climbing in Kentucky
4/19-4/25: Chicago, IL and Madison, WI
4/26-?: Twin Cities and Fargo ND

At that point we'll re-evaluate the motivation, budget and weather.

Pictures from the Smokies:


  1. The Smoky Mountains are beautiful! Thanks for the update....was getting blog withdrawals.... Have a great time in WVA. Tell all, The Katy Smyths said hello. Oh, and Zach, stay out of trouble in

  2. IT'S NO GOOD!!!!!

    I'll be in Worcester, MA racing some New England schools. Probably unlike pretty much everyone else you've visited I'm actually freer during the week. So the week before, the week after, and the weekend after are all good. Don't sweat; I'm not exactly a planner...