After a so so nights sleep and weeks of debating routes and destinations and picturing dreamscapes I got up and shoved off with my car packed for a journey west. It was very hard saying goodbye to Katherine, Nibbles and Lacy. Not seeing them for a month or more is really going to be hard, but the circumstances of my life left an open window to fulfill a longtime dream of driving cross country (well most of it). In my dream though, I did not have to drive accross TN, KY, IN, IL, MO and Iowa.
Day 1. I crossed NC from Durham to Asheville and on to Knoxville, TN. TN was a complete downpour followed by fog. Smokey Mountains couldn't be a more fitting name for that part of TN. It was not enjoyable at all. The rain followed me through all of S. KY, which had to be among the most boring drives I have ever taken. I took some renamed parkway (my map is out of date, but thankfully it's no longer a toll road according to my incorrect atlas) all the way accross the state to cave city to sleep over for my first stop Mammoth Cave. Why? Its a national park, its got 367mi or caves which is a stunning number and I was there a month before I was born, so it was time to return and actually see it. Cave City was nothing special. Dilapidated podunk town. Kinda like the rest of KY I saw. My hotel (econo lodge) was a dump and few things worked as advertised, including the wifi, microwave and hot water (I was going to microwave some water so I could shave with hot water instead of 80 degree warm tap). It was a bed though...overpriced however.
Mamoth cave was a short jaunt, though signs for the biggest attraction in the entire state were sparse. In fact, Signs were sparce everywhere. I missed no less than 4 turns in KY and got lost a few times, only to take slightly longer routes. By am I could not leave KY soon enough. I almost skipped the caves, but since it was the plan and I went on all these backroads to get there and stayed in an overpiced fleabag, I was going to tough it out and hope for the best. There were alot of choices for tours. Some exceeding 6 hrs. The self guided was not an option today, so I took the short basic tour for 75min, only my group ended up being longer because shortly after entering the cave some girl with a tour group started freaking out and our ranger guide had to take her back to the entrance. This pissed off a few of us. It wasn't like there weren't plenty of warnings. I am not sure of what exactly happend, but I heard it had something to do with the lights...there were few lights. Must be something epileptic? They even had an ambulance show up as we exited the tour. Seriously, how pathetic. Our replacement guide was fantastic. He knew alot and had a great presentation. That made it worth the extra 15 min wait. There was part of me wanting to see more and explore, but I wanted to get on the road and get much further West. There were all kinds of other competing caves in the town, each competing with some other type of scenery. It was most interesting to hear that sharks teeth had been found inside the layers of the cave walls and that KY used to be 10 deg north of the equator and in a shallow sea. He also explained how they were formed with calcium carbonate eating away the limestone..makes me worry about the insane amts of soda I drink doing the same to my teeth (and that soda has 1000 times the concentration) Yikes!.
The tourists got on my nerves. I really started feeling like an outside in KY. I just had to get out of this state now. I missed another turn and ended up on a different back road...I am sure it looked exactly the same, but took me a few miles out of the way and finally got me back on to a major highway after an hr or so and following a pickup that I could not get around...go figure. Actually that was the first road where I encounted "traffic" problems. Overall they have overcapacity on their highways and roads vs. other places. I found myself asking why these parkways were even built. Maybe for the Walmart Dist center I passed. It is the future I-66 corridoor it says too. I passed through Owensboro..missed another turn...that must have been the 5th or 6th one. I forgot about that one. This reminded me of that douche John from Real World NY (the original...and the country singer dude). This seemed like a metropolis compared to the rest of KY I saw. They even had White Castle, so I had to stop for a sack. Hit the spot. Finally a positive surprise. It was at least another 40 min from there til I hit Indiana, which was nothing special (Evansville) and on to IL, which was pretty boring...all farmland. A few hrs later I was in sight of St. Louis. It was an exciting sight actually. Buildings and the arch could be seen from 20 miles out I think. It was like the first real civilization in 24 hrs. I had to backtrack due to traffic on the bridge at rush hour and ballgame traffic, but made it down to the riverside to check out the arch. It was very impressive in person. I never thought it was very exciting in photos, until I saw a documentary on Discovery about its construction and elevator. I took the ride up and bought my Americas Park Pass for $80...I was under the impression that would get me up the elevator but it only got me a $3 discount. Girl lied to me at the desk. It was a scary rickety ride up in a tiny little bubble that was supposed to fit 5 people sitting down. I had to laugh at the fat people trying to get in and out of the 4.5' door. No way 5 fatties could fit in one of those. It seemed to go up slower than coming down, but maybe the fatties were all on one side?
But I digress. IT was a cool view from the top. However the photos won't be wonderful due to the small windows that were scratched and smudged up from all the bratty screaming kids. I left quickly, because too many fat annoying tourists and sreaching kids in one little room 630 feet off the ground was too much. I mean how much weight can this arch support? Na, luckily it wasn't super crowded (dinner time, hmmm) and I didn't have to wait for the elevators. That could have been really claustraphobic if the elevators were full. Only 4 went up on my trip thankfully. Overall, St. Louis looked like a nice town. Pretty clean, beautiful clear day, lots of history for sure. I could have spent a day looking around and sampling the cuisine, but that was not part of the plan. Spend as little as possible and get to the Rockies and take in the Mountain air and dramatic scenery and hopefully take some memorable images. Camp as much as possible when weather allows and use up the Ultra huge peanut butter Katherine bought me. It would have been cool to see the Cards/Rockies game tonight too and see Pujohls..huh huh. I have to laugh everytime I say Poo Holes!
I hit the highway for a few more miles and stayed in another fleabag...but hey free wireless. Its a Patel (not hotel, motel). Funky smell in here, but you get used to it. I saw some amazing tornado footage on TV a short while ago from WY and NE. Guess its a good thing I waited to leave for a few days. Lots of storms up in the breadbasket now. Hopefully, I can make it up to/near The Black Hills, Rushmore, Crazy Horse tomorrow. Then on to WY, MT, via Beartooth Highway to Yellowstone. Then down to Salt lake City, Bryce, Zion, North Rim, Monument Valley, Arches, Rocky Mt. Nat park and if time/driving allow I would like to see some of NM, but thats a long way off. I hope I am not being overly ambitious. This cross country part is draining so far, but I love to see new places and I am sure I will catch a second wind once I hit the real West and mountains. Coming home will be tougher doing the midwest/Southeastern states again. Off to bed. I am exhausted.