Two weeks in Tennessee is how I began RoadTour 2017. As usual, I left home with no plan. Well, I knew I was going to hit the Mississippi River and travel north and then follow the Ohio River into the top of West Virginia. After there, who knows??? Possibly Niagara Falls and Canada. I honestly didn’t think I’d be in Tennessee more than a couple days. Non-plans change!
I hadn’t been on the road more than an hour or two when I decided my first stop would be Lynchburg. I enjoyed the Jack Daniels distillery tour the first time I was there years ago, why not again? The first time was a day trip from my mountain home in Georgia so I didn’t spend much time in the town. Since I was riding a BMW K1200rs, I was able to cover a lot of ground in short order so a day trip was possible (140+mph that day). This time I was determined to stay and look a little closer.
Lynchburg has a small city park just off the town square that has RV hookups. It’s nothing fancy but one can walk to the distillery from there and being on the square all the quaint shops and restaurants are right there. It costs $20/night. I stayed two days and toured the distillery and spent time talking with some of the business owners there on the square. All the people I encountered were friendly. The distillery tours are no longer free. The basic “Dry county” tour is $14. Ha. I’ve learned to ask for senior discounts. I paid $11.20. They call it the “dry county tour” because you do not get to sample their whiskey. I figured that since I was going on the first tour of the day (0900), I could forgo the tasting at that time of the morning. The other tours include tasting at the end. Perhaps I should have waited until afternoon and enjoyed some of Jack’s creations.
Where to next I asked my self. I grabbed my handy iPhone and checked the AllStays Camp &RV app (my first and best resource for finding most things a traveler needs along the way). There! I’ll head to Land Between The Lakes up on the Tennessee-Kentucky line. It began to rain just after I broke camp and headed out so I took my time and drove carefully (slower than usual). By the way, I’ve begun to get the hang of using my new Garmin GPS. I can “shape” my route simply by touching spots on the map. This way I can avoid congested highways and towns.
But wait. . . . I took a second look when I stopped for fuel. I discovered Natchez Trace. Three campgrounds exist along the Natchez Trace Parkway. They are FREE. All nicely paved and reasonably level. While there are bathrooms and water, these campgrounds have no hookups. I decided to change course for the Meriwether Lewis campground. It is at the final resting place of the explorer of Lewis and Clark fame. It was a nice quite place and well shaded so I decided to stay awhile. Awhile became four days. The only drawback was that it was so shady that I couldn’t get very much sunlight for my solar panel. So after four days I decided I needed to move on and get my batteries charged.
Again, it began to rain as I departed. As I meandered northwest on Tennessee back roads I happened upon Loretta Lynn’s ranch. Well, I have a close friend (Ken Tate) who has, with fondness, relayed to me his experiences there at Loretta’s ranch. Would I ever come this way again? Heck, could I ever find it again? I decided that I’d be remiss if I didn’t check in and hang out a day or two.
Well, a day or two became four. I stayed Thursday through Sunday and I’m glad I did.
When I arrived it was raining and very few campers were there. I drove through, circled back and picked a spot. Only 3 or 4 other RVs were there in the “not full hookup” area. You see there are full hookups (includes water, electric and sewer connection) and then there are water and electric only and then there are primitive sites that simply offer ground to sleep (or park) on. I generally opt for the water and electric only. In this case, the ranch had a large bathhouse with hot water showers and toilets. Besides, they have a “dump station” where I can empty my holding tanks on the way out.
Once again, good fortune smiled upon me. This time in the form of good neighbors. Not long after I got set up, people began to arrive for the holiday festivities and concert. Yes, concert. There is a large open auditorium on the property (only a couple hundred yards from where I camped) and quite often Miss Loretta or her family and friends will play and sing in the evenings. Many holiday weekends have scheduled concerts. This was one of those weekends. It was Memorial Day weekend. However Loretta is recovering from a stroke so her band and family took the stage. More on that later.
As I said good fortune and neighbors. One of those large horse trailers with living quarters pulled in next to me. Heck, within hours these horse trailers were all over the place along with horses, mules and wagons. A big trail ride was scheduled just a few days later and horses with riders were arriving. The fellow with the horse trailer next to me was none other than Larry Van Bailey. Who you ask? Well if you don’t know Larry Van, you are in the minority. I mean, everyone there knew him. Everyone! Loretta’s ranch manager and crew knew him. Loretta’s kin knew him. The wranglers knew him. Everyone knew and liked Larry.
Larry is one of those folks who likes to feed people when he’s staying in camp and it seems he took a liking to me enough to invite me to all his feasts while I was there. Larry’s family and friends pulled in all around us. They were all good fun people and they treated me like family. Larry has a well used smoker which he put to good use. He also has a propane burner and a cast iron pot. We enjoyed ribs Friday night. Saturday night was a fish fry. I know Larry’s secret recipe now. He fried up a mess of bream and crappie. Sunday he smoked a pork butt. His friends and family all put food on the tables as well. All of the food was delicious. Heck, I even went on a two mule covered wagon ride around the ranch (with beer). My stay at Loretta’s ranch will be a memory I’ll enjoy over and over. Now Ken Tate and I can swap stories about her ranch. Oh…. a heck of a storm came up about 30 minutes into the concert. The rain blew hard enough to soak folks standing in the center of the building and the concert was cancelled. Perhaps I’ll return for another concert one of these days.
Monday morning was Memorial Day. I headed out early. This time I had a plan. You see, Larry and several of his friends told me about a place up in the northwest corner of Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake. The top of it is in Kentucky. Not very far to the west of it are the levees of the Mississippi River. Since I wanted to hit the Mississippi and follow it to the confluence of it and the Ohio River I thought that Reelfoot Lake would be the perfect place to kick off my Ohio River odyssey. A Tennessee state park covers a lot of the area and it offers two campgrounds. One is just a few sites at the small airport on the north end. At the bottom (south) end of the lake is a fairly large campground with many water and electric sites. It is right on the shore. Some of the sites are on the water others are just off the water.
I know. It was a crapshoot at best. After all, it was the Memorial Day weekend, just one of the biggest outdoor holidays in the country. Every campground was full! I rolled the dice. Oops! When I arrived, the CAMPGROUND FULL sign was out. I parked, walked into the office and said “I’m a photographer and I was told this is a wonderful place to photograph wildlife” and I asked if there were any open sites. The lady said no, that they were full. I said that I hated to miss an opportunity to get some good photographs. I told her that I might just park outside and wait for someone to leave. I guess she took pity on me because with a knowing look she checked the computer and said there was one site. I said I’d take it for two days. Yay! Water and electric again. That afternoon I jumped on the motorbike and scouted the lake. They have a visitors center about two miles away where they rehabilitate injured wildlife. Several eagles and owls were in residence as well as some fish and snakes. A wooden boardwalk winds in and out of the huge cypress trees along the lake’s edge affording some wonderful views of wildlife and habitat as well as the lake. You can also book a boat tour for a reasonable price and they have guided walking tours. Except for the boat tours, there is no charge. Awesome!!!
Now I had a plan for the next morning. I set my alarm for 0400. When I awoke I made coffee and sat outside playing fetch with the dog while enjoying my fresh brew. About 0445 I jumped on the motorbike and headed toward the visitor center. Along the way I spied what looked like a good spot. It was still dark so this was yet another crapshoot. I grabbed my flashlight and camera gear and headed to the edge of the lake. YES! I was able to capture some nice shots and am looking forward to my return home where I can review them on a good quality screen and perhaps tweak them a bit if necessary. From there I went on to the visitors center but didn’t get any good photographs. The next day I went back a little later in the morning and shot a few more frames. I’ve one in mind to review later. Maybe it is a keeper.
By the way, the mass exodus on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning was insane. The campground went from full to ghost town just like that! I practically had the place to myself.
Wednesday morning was when I departed Tennessee. Golly, in two weeks in Tennessee I spent more than three times the number of nights hooked up to water and electric than I did in two months and ten thousand miles on RoadTour 2016 (Heartland Rewind). I hope I’m not spoiled.
I am however spoiled from the hospitality I received throughout Tennessee, most memorable will be at Loretta Lynn’s next door to Larry Bailey.