Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Another 457 miles: Destination Unknown

I planned to be on the far side of the Volunteer State by this time today but I'm still in the Old Dominion.  I am close to the Tennessee border however.  One wrong turn led to another and I spent the first three hours of the day running an 80 mile circle out of my way and accidentally back again.  Good scenery though and quite the adventure.

First, let's get the statistics out of the way:  I left Lexington, VA with a clean odometer and my first fill up was in Fincastle at 90 miles.  I purchased 1.57 gallons for $4.26 ($2.69/gal).  My next replenishment was after 86 miles for 1.45 gallons at $4.02 ($2.75/gal) in the town of Eagle Rock.  Yes, Eagle Rock is the next town over from Fincastle and no, it isn't eighty miles away.  One wrong turn led to another and they all led me back to start.  It was better after that.  Stop Number Three was in Fairlawn after 89 miles for 1.07 gallons for a total of $3.01 ($2.79/gal).  My final stop before I pulled into the campground was in Abingdon after 102 miles; I bought 1.59 gallons for $4.48 ($2.80/gal).

I spent some time in Jefferson National Forest today and I've seen enough trees up close to satisfy my appetite for that for quite a while.  There were very few fellow travelers on the road which suited me fine.  The roads were very twisty, uphill and downhill.  In motorcycle parlance these are called 'twisties' and navigating a good twisty road on a bike with all the leaning and counterbalancing and letting inertia pull you through a curve can be exhilarating.  I had my share of those roads today, the kind of roads the bike glides along in ethereal zen good karma, but the National Forest Roads weren't this kind.  They were exercises in gear shifting and throttle control.  Up and down, up and down on switchback roads.  It was more tiresome than relaxing, especially the steep grades with a perpendicular drop off at the shoulder's edge.

I spent a lot of time up in the mountains in my pursuit of back roads.  It's a different world up there.  It's pretty to be sure and farmland still.  The farms are smaller and a bit more humble than the Virginia bottomland I passed through yesterday.  Everywhere you look there are more mountains in the distance.  Maybe that makes up for the lack of anything else.  While I am a misanthrope, I enjoy being around other people, meeting in public, hobnobbing...there's none of that on the mountaintops.  What towns there are, were small in their heyday, now half the storefronts are empty and those are the bustling ones, the county seats that have a courthouse to ensure a little business.

A sign said: "Newport 25 miles."  I took that as a good sign that it was important enough to direct me to it.  I wondered why a town so high above sea level would be called Newport, but who am I to judge?  When I finally pulled into city limits at the 25mph speed limit, I was greeted by four commercial buildings, the youngest of which was built in the 20s.  One was occupied by an HVAC technician, the others had soaped up windows.

Running low on gasoline and not having seen a gas station in about 60 miles, I headed back toward the valley.  Route 11 isn't marked on my map but it's the Lee Highway, named after the General, no doubt.  I figured out it runs parallel to the interstate.  It was probably the main thoroughfare before the interstate was built.  Unlike the interstate, it forms the main street of every town it passes through.  I've seen a lot of old Main Streets this afternoon.

I'm in Historic Abingdon, close to Tennessee.  I plan to be passing through Knoxville before noon, but I learned today that forecasting where I'll be, the way I travel, is an inexact science.  The ultimate destination is New Orleans, the intermediate destinations are unknown.

A lot doesn't happen in the mountains and that's not just my impression.  Virginia is buggy with historical markers and Civil War Trails.  Not so much up on the mountaintops.  No doubt the Blue and the Gray didn't want to climb as well as fight, but it doesn't seem many people of note or historical occurrences were hatched on top of the mountains I visited.  Life goes on.

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