Monteagle Mountain Memories

Sometimes I forget to stop.  I drive and drive and drive, “just to the next rest stop….” Often pushing it to the gas tank limit.

Not so easy to do now with the Toy Hauler.  It appears I need to pull off for gas every 150 miles or so.  I’m getting roughly 8 miles to the gallon, as everyone predicted.  OUCH!!! But, when I recall those $80 per night hotel stays I shelled out when I couldn’t find a place to camp, I think it all works out.  Now I have my own, dog friendly space at all times. 

I don’t want to stop until I get to Tennessee.  It’s just as well that I’m continuing my journey in the middle of the night.  I don’t think I want to see what’s over the side of this railing as I tug straight up this highway.  My next destination is about 4 hours away.  Maybe I can make it the whole way with one stop?

Indeed, I stop once to fill up before continuing straight up the hill, going from elevation of 2 to 2500 in less than 24 hours is a big difference!  Just up ahead is my exit into Monteagle, and there is my destination  truck stop!  I am tired from a huge day of driving and visiting.  It’s 1:00 am.  I slowly pull into the truck stop.  How do I get back there with all the other trucks?  Dazed, confused, tired, and out of brain power, I drive in and out of the frontside, around and around, trying to figure out where to park.  I see where the truckers are parking, but how do they get in and out?  I spy a small van that appears to be leaving from back there so I drive over to that lane and enter.

OH NO! This is not the way back there! 

It’s the WENDY’S DRIVE THRU! 

SHIT! 

But it’s too late!  I am in too deep!  I try to take the sharp curve that is so typical of drive thrus’, but end up with my driver side trailer on top of the curbing, pulling up about 6 foot of nice lawn and dragging it with me.  Thank the gods there isn’t an overhanging bar across this drive thru or things would really get ugly.  I pull the rest of the way through and out of there, feel the BUMP of finally dropping the sod strip, and bolt away and out of the parking lot.

I am so embarrassed.  At least it’s the middle of the night and no one saw me.  Of course, except for the cameras they probably have out there.  Oh, geeze.  I am so embarrassed!  Clearly I need some sleep, and getting into the trucker parking is apparently rocket science tonight.  I drive down the road a couple hundred feet and see an open area behind some vacant buildings.  Let’s try this.

Well, hell, this is all dirt and not exactly flat, or solid, and I am tugging through 4-wheel country in the pitch dark, and all of the sudden there is a big hole up ahead that I just barely miss with the trailer…..

ARGHHHH!  Where can I freaking park???

I maneuver out of that mud pit and pull into the gas station next to my coveted trucker parking place and get out to ask the guy working there if I can park there for a few hours.  OH MY it’s cold!  It’s COLD out!  Seriously?  It’s like 30 something!  The guy says it’s perfectly fine to park there, so I do.  After a cup of hot chocolate, with a heavy, grateful sigh, me and the family curl up for a few hours of rest before dawn.

Bonfires. Apple Pie.  Long chats about places and ideas. Shared love of travel and the outdoors.  Lyn and Ted had been friends and business acquaintances for years before ever being drawn together as a couple.  Their genuine care and respect for each other is the stuff that lasts a lifetime.  It shapes who they are as people.  It’s what drew me to them immediately as well.  I am thrilled to be able to meet up with them now.  After a good rest, I am up and pacing around in the cold and wind, preparing to give them a call from the Monteagle truck stop!

“Hay girl!”  Lyn’s chipper greeting is like music to my ears! “Ya’all made it okay?  Ya’all in town yet? We can be there in ‘bout an hour, hon, and we’ve got a special day in store for you!”

I spend the next hour figuring out how to get into the truck stop parking area.  The entrance was in front of my face the whole time…I had driven past it at least a dozen times last night, not realizing that’s what it was. I pull into a spot, let the dogs out and wait for Lyn and Ted to arrive. They pull up, and I describe my adventure the night before.  Ted takes a walk over to the scene of the incident, and comes back smirking.  It could have been worse.  He gives the trailer a once over to ensure everything is intact, and then moves me to a better parking spot for the duration.  I jump into their chariot, and we are off to the back country of Tennessee.

What’s a trip to the mountains without a folklore story to take back?  While Ted plays chauffer, Lyn tells me about the Sewanee Domain, and the Angels that watch over the people of the community.  As we pass through the gates into the University she opens the window to release her Angel back into the Domain.  What?  Well when they left to come meet me, they picked up an Angel to ride with and protect them while they were away. Now that they’re back in, they can let the Angel go.

Okay….

Sewanee Tennessee, and the Domain of the University Of The South, founded in 1857.  What a beautiful and historic 13,000 acre mountain top college campus and community.  This place would be positively amazing in the fall!  Since it’s almost Easter weekend, there is not a lot happening on the campus, but we are able to witness part of The Way of the Cross Ceremony.  The streets are flooded with people walking to All Saints Chapel, with a half dozen leading the pack, carrying a giant cross.  This college is entrenched in Religion and Theology.  All Saints itself is a masterpiece of gothic beauty and structure.  Stained glass adorns every window— a work in progress for 46 years.  The glass used throughout the building came from the Wippell Studios in Exeter England.  The Shapard Tower is where the 56 bell Leonidas Polk Memorial Carillon is found. The bells, with a combined total weight of 23 tons, were caste in Haute Savoie France sometime in the 1950’s.  They remain some of the finest bells in the country today.  We tour the community business area, the campus, and visit  Bridal Veil Falls, and The Cross to Morgans Steep.  Although I’ve seen all the Indiana Jones movies, I am not brave enough to walk the narrow, natural stone bridge over the mountainside, nor is Lyn.  We admire breathtaking views from the top while Ted explores the bottom ground. 

Picking up some Angels as we drive out of the Domain, our next stop is to see the area where the last of the Coke Ovens are found.  Not being the biggest history buff, I have to ask;

“What is a coke oven?”

And then I see them.  They look like half moon holes in the side of the mountain. Holes big enough for several people to crawl into and sleep.  But they were constructed to serve as ovens, used to turn coal into coke for the iron and steel foundries of Chattaooga back in the late 1800s.  There are rows of them scattered along the roadside as we drive through a beautiful, remote, wooded park with a lake.  It’s all starting to add up. The mountains, the Cumberland Plateau, Dolly Parton and “The Coal Miners Daughter” and all of that history and industry is all right here. But mining operations have been dormant for half a century now, and the coke ovens just sit here, in this quiet park, with their ominous look as weeds encroach and start to devour them into the hillside.  If I was homeless, I’d set up camp in one of these coke ovens, for sure!  They are so intriguing.  I want to go explore the hills for more of them.  But we are on the grand tour mission, and need to keep moving, and that’s okay.

Next, stop, the town of Coalmont.

“Let me live in a house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.”

Is inscribed on a memorial to Lyns cousin, Sam Creighton.  This amazing man of Coalmont, Tennessee is somewhat of a local legend.  He ran the local store, and brought passion, commerce and service to his friends and neighbors his entire life.  Every time Sam said “I been studyin’ bout this…”, he would surely bring to life another great idea that would enhance the community and make it better for everyone.  A legacy and tribute to Lyn’s family, his recent passing remains fresh in her heart.  I am honored she is sharing these memories with me.

Her home is a stone throw from the store.  We stop there, and relax and talk about life and family after our road warrior day of touring the countryside.  We help Ted fuss with their RV to get it set up in the yard ‘just right’ for short term storage. Somehow, it’s gotten to be after 7:00 pm, so it’s back to Monteagle for dinner at Mi Casa, followed by drinks at my truck stop palace.  It’s hard to believe we’ve spent the entire day together.  As they drive off I realize it’s almost midnight!  I tend to the dogs, then curl up for another restful night in my wonderful home on wheels.

The morning brings Lyn and Ted knocking on my door, ready to go have breakfast.  They introduce me to the Monteagle Diner, a local hot spot famous for their home cooked entrees.  Hours fly by like minutes as we chat about hunting, tour guiding, property value, politics, community, and what we have to do in the next few weeks and months.   Their next trip will be to Ireland in less than 30 days!

Sadly, I must be on my way again. We hug goodbye and promise to get together again soon, at least by next winter in Florida.  They deliver me back to my rig and disappear into the Monteagle Mountains.  I take the dogs out for a good walk around the parking lot, look around the truck stop one last time, then pull out onto the ramp, continuing up the highway, destination Peru, Indiana.

No further pieces of sod were harmed during my exit.

 

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