After seeing Cumberland Island and the Okefenokee Swamp, Harrison and I loaded up our truck and headed north to Savannah. We spent a day exploring the city, which was filled with lovely old historical buildings. Whilst walking past a Catholic church, we decided to look inside and were lucky to arrive in time for a tour from an interesting old man. He spoke with a heavy Boston accent but had lived in Savannah most of his life and had grown up in New Jersey… Anyway, despite the confusing accent, he gave an excellent history of the church and the history of Catholics in Georgia.
We strolled through the historic district to the waterfront, where we saw all the tourist tat and big riverboats steaming along the muddy water. We stopped off in some bars and restaurants, explored the ridiculous souvenir shops, and then sat in several of the nice leafy parks to avoid the heat of the day.
After Savannah, we visited Charlestown. Here, we stayed in a nice little Airbnb in the centre of town. Charlestown is a beautiful city filled with big houses. It really doesn’t feel like a city as there are no tall buildings that I could see. By American standards at least, it seemed rather old. There were horse-drawn carriages pulling groups of tourists around the streets and ghost-seeking tour groups at night.
It was staggeringly hot during the day, but we explored as best we could. In the evenings we sampled expensive cocktails and expensive seafood. Everything in Charlestown was ferociously expensive.
I found a little market that sold things that seemed to be at that odd cultural intersection of hippie and hillbilly. There were lots of t-shirts proclaiming the benefits of mindfulness and gun ownership.
From Charlestown, we drove to Asheville, North Carolina. This was my eighth state visited on this trip (or ninth if you count an accidental detour into Indiana). Asheville was a weird place. In the heart of the South, it was a bastion of progressive values. Everyone in the city seemed to be a hippie or hipster. There was craft beer and avocado toast everywhere, and everyone was gender fluid and walked about barefoot… I wondered what the rednecks in the surrounding counties made of it. At one bar, we encountered a big sign outside that proclaimed no confederate flags or redneck values were allowed inside.
It was in Asheville that I enjoyed probably the best beer of my life at the Zillicoah Beer Company. This is a bar and brewery set in an old barn-like building with a grassy area next to a river. You can just sit by the river with your beer and feel a million miles from the city. Oddly, in North Carolina, you cannot hold more than one open container and so it’s a massive pain to get a round of drinks from the bar to the river banks… It seems that every state in America has “that one embarrassing alcohol law.” In South Carolina, we couldn’t buy whisky after 7pm.
Next, we drove through the mountains. I had hardly realized how flat the trip had been before Asheville. Now we were going over the Appalachians. We hit several thunderstorms with rain so hard you could barely see and traffic just slowed to a crawl. The scenery was beautiful and we stopped several times to take pictures. We drove through Gattlinberg and Pigeon Forge, which were both just horrendous – the very opposite of Asheville. Harrison said that they are the opposite end of the spectrum – the woke and the unwoke.
Back in Tennessee, we visited Knoxville and made a dart for the Sunsphere. It was a Simpsons-inspired pilgrimage. There was an old episode in which Bart and some friends took a road trip to Knoxville and found the Sunsphere filled with wigs.
We explored Knoxville but there wasn’t much to see except for bars. We drank many beers in the university district and then went to our hotel, where I drank a half bottle of whisky. For some reason, we went out again and drank a great many more whiskies. Needless to say, the morning brought great misery. I could barely get myself into the vehicle and sat in agony as we drove south to Chattanooga, where Harrison knew of a swimming hole in the mountains. It sounded like a good idea the previous day, but with a horrendous hangover, it was an arduous journey. We had to pull over once on the highway and even by the time we were in the middle of the mountains some hours later, I was still feeling worse for wear.
The swimming hole itself was beautiful and the water was stunningly cold, which helped a little. But after an hour I was still struggling with the hangover and was possibly the only person who didn’t jump off the cliffs into the water. I felt it doing so might cause me to shatter into millions of little pieces.
Soon, our road trip was over. We had more time left in Tennesse, though, which we spent divided between Nashville and a farm some three hours west of there. In Nashville, we ate hot chicken a Hattie B’s and drank yet more whisky and beer in the honky-tonks. We also saw Tenacious D put on a fantastic concert at the Ascend Amphitheatre.
At the farm, we relaxed amidst the trees on a hundred solitary acres and enjoyed swimming at another nearby swimming hole. Finally, we returned to Nashville for the Tomato Festival, which is a strange and small arts event in East Nashville. It was absurdly hot, though, so we retired to a bar and spent most of the day drinking.
It had been a great month exploring the southern United States, with much good food and drink had, as well as many places visited. The time came, though, to hop on a plane back to New York, and from there another long journey to Phuket, Thailand. In total, it was about 45 hours of relentless, exhausting travel. Ah well… It was a good summer, and it was great to be back in the US once again.