Archive for the ‘Tennessee’ Category

Seeing America at World’s Largest Yard Sale

October 5, 2010

This was first published Jan. 17, 2010, in my Boston Globe column “Where they Went.”  Now that the 2010 yard sale has passed, it’s time to make hotel reservations for 2011. Seriously. Do it now. Take it from the Dianes.

Diane Bouvier (left) and Diane Cormier at the giant yard sale

WHO: Diane Bouvier, 50, of Athol, Mass., and Diane Cormier, 51, of Ashburnham, Mass.

WHERE: Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio

WHEN: Four days in August

WHY: To tour part of The World’s Longest Yard Sale along 654 miles of US Highway 127 from Alabama to Ohio.

Diane Cormier tries out a really big lawn chair for sale in Ohio

THRILL-SEEKERS: “We both like going to country auctions and poking around in antique stores. It’s the thrill of the treasure hunt,’’ Bouvier said. The two nurses have been friends since working together at a Worcester hospital 15 years ago.

SHOPPING LIST: “You have to plan ahead to go,’’ she said of the event started by a man in Jamestown, Tenn., in 1987. “Diane figured out the amount of driving it would take each day and looked for the closest hotels. We booked them and the flights in April. We used the sale’s website to get little tips and a feel for what was going on.’’

TRASH TO TREASURES: “Sometimes, fields were set up on both sides with tons of tables, and the whole community was involved, and other times it was personal yard sales along the way,’’ Bouvier said. “There was a huge variety of stuff for sale. It ran the gamut from flea market to high-end dealers.’’

Diane Cormier with popular Southern game of Corn Hole in Kentucky

DOG DAYS: The friends set off from Nashville, cash in hand, in their rented box truck, heading for Crossville, the nearest town on Highway 127. “The traffic picked up heading there, but mostly it was totally spread out. There were license plates from all over.’’ They would typically get out of the car at least 10 times a day, and walked a lot during stops. “It was pretty hot. I liked that people put water out for dogs,’’ she said. “You could really tell that everyone was getting into it. Bargaining was expected, but it was all good-natured. Everyone was having fun.’’

CHECKED ITEMS: On the second day, in Kentucky, both women found things on their lists. “Diane was looking for an old fireplace mantle, the top and the sides. She was also looking for two old cowbells for her camp, and she found those, too. I got a lampshade for an antique lamp I’d been looking for.’’ They were happy with the prices, too.

FRIENDLY FOLKS: “I got a little taste of the culture there,’’ she said. “Southern hospitality holds true. One man pulled us out of the ditch we got the truck stuck in.’’ Other shoppers were friendly and chatty. “At the hotels at breakfast, everyone would ask, ‘Are you yard-salers?’ We met a lot of mothers and daughters.’’

NICEST NICKEL: Bouvier’s “best bargain’’ came on the final day. “For five cents I got a 6-inch ruler stamped with the name of a company – and Route 127. It was the perfect souvenir.’’


Big reward for little effort at Great Smokies

October 13, 2009
Buildings at Mountain Farm Museum

Buildings at Mountain Farm Museum

October is a peak season at Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most heavily visited national park in the country, with more than 9 million visitors a year. Despite all those people milling about, it’s still amazingly easy to get away from them. Some, of course, don’t leave their cars, and others don’t venture down trails. With only a few hours to spare, we did both, and were majorly rewarded for a minor effort.

Great Smokies 75th anniversary

Great Smokies' 75th anniversary

We started our afternoon at the park at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, two miles north of Cherokee. It being July Fourth weekend, the place was packed. After a tour of the fascinating outdoor Mountain Farm Museum, a collection of preserved historic log buildings gathered from throughout the Smoky Mountains, we were itching to take a walk, but didn’t want to drive for an hour to reach some of the more remote trailheads.

A ranger told us about the Kephart Prong Trail (a prong is a bend in the river), a four-mile roundtrip hike that crosses the Oconaluftee River six times. Perfect! Oddly, the trail isn’t marked from the road nor is it on the basic park maps, which probably contributed to the fact that we passed only a few other people during one of the park’s busiest weekends.

Tree pose on footbridge for beginners

Tree pose for beginners on footbridge

The trailhead is only seven miles beyond the visitor center. Look to the right for a small parking area on the right, and a footbridge, the first river crossing. The other river crossings were not really bridges but logs, some more secure than others, but all with a railing, so not too much balance was required. That’s a good thing, because no matter how many times I do an erect “tree” pose during yoga, get me on a log over water and I’m like jelly.

Bright red bee balms are found along the Kephart Prong Trail

Bright red bee balms are found along the Kephart Prong Trail

The wooded hike, mostly along the river, was just lovely, and I wish we could see it this month when the leaves start to change. The trail is an old road-bed, so the walk is quite easy, with only 800 feet of elevation gain, most of it on the way in. It’s an up-and-back, not a loop. Along the trail in the woods are a few remains of a former Civilian Conservation Corps camp, there from 1933-42. Turnaround is at a nice backcountry shelter. No one had set up there, so we stretched out on the platforms for a little contemplation of nature. Wessel was snoring in no time.

Water flows down a millrace to the mill

Water flows down a millrace to the mill

On the way out of the park we stopped at Mingus Mill, a 1886 grist mill that uses a water-powered turbine to power all of the machinery in the building. The mill is operated daily from mid-March through mid-November, with a miller demonstrating how corn is ground into cornmeal, which was for sale there. In a break from tradition, the corn was shipped in from the Midwest. I can think of only one word to appropriately express my disappointment. Shucks.

Happy Fourth in photos

July 1, 2009

Most of America’s patriotic songs are about appreciating the wonders of our country, “from sea to shining sea.”  Wessel and I often travel over the July Fourth holiday, and usually to small towns. This year, we’re off to Waynesville, NC, in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains. Here’s a little photo homage to some Independence Days past, in cities large and small, at home and away. Where will you be this weekend?

Fireworks Boston

Boston Harbor in 2003, my last summer there, and Wessel's first and final

Uncle Sam in parade in Hingham, Mass.

Uncle Sam (really) at a parade in Hingham, Mass., 2003. Is he still around?

Wessel celebrates Fourth with socks

Dutch citizen Wessel practices his American patriotism

Celebratory glasses

Diane allows pal Alison Carpenter the honor of wearing her Fourth shades

Community band plays along banks of Ohio River in Paducah, Ky., 2007

Community band plays along banks of Ohio River in Paducah, Ky., 2007

Indepence Day yard props

Festive Independence Day decorations adorn a home in Wilmington, NC

The Skyway’s the limit

June 26, 2009

As I was driving west toward Asheville yesterday I was thinking how five years ago around this time Wessel and I drove the same route, and hours beyond, to reach the Cherohala Skyway for a killer bicycle ride. It’s a fantastic and little-known mountainous highway from North Carolina to Tennessee. We saw more bikers there, of the motorized kind, than we did cars. I’d love to go back, but we don’t do many repeats. Meanwhile, I can relive it with y’all here. Though I can’t say this was my most inspired piece of journalism, I hope it at least piques your interest in one of our favorite American destinations. By the way, Wessel is the mysterious friend in the story. We were married a few weeks after publication of the article.

Published October 3, 2004, Boston Globe

View on the curving Cherohala Skyway from the Spirit Ridge outlook on the North Carolina side of the Skyway

View on the curving Cherohala Skyway from the Spirit Ridge outlook on the North Carolina side of the Skyway

TELLICO PLAINS, Tenn. — If you’ve been around long enough, you might recall hearing about real-life wagon trains rolling from Tennessee over the mountains into North Carolina. Most years, starting in summer 1958, the caravans got national media coverage, including Life magazine one week. In 1960, the train contained 105 wood-spoke, steel-tire, authentic covered wagons and 776 horseback riders.

While these reenactments, which continue in a smaller, less-publicized, and more comfortable (rubber tires, cushioned seats) form, took on a life of their own, they were started as a way to draw attention to Tellico Plains, a small town (population 860) that went nowhere.

Billie Nell and Charles Hall in front of a collection of vintage telephones

Billie Nell and Charles Hall in front of a collection of vintage telephones

“We were a dead end,” said Charles Hall, former owner of the Tellico Telephone Co., then mayor for 30 years, and now curator of a private museum bearing his name. Hall and some fellow Kiwanis Club members came up with the wagon train idea as a publicity stunt to draw attention to what they perceived was a need for a roadway over the Unicoi Mountains in the southern Appalachians, connecting the hardscrabble towns of Tellico Plains and Robbinsville, N.C. (population 750).

In 1996, thirty-eight years and $100 million later, 37 miles of new road was completed, and it’s beautiful. The history of the Cherohala Skyway is a good story, but the true drama lies in the scenery.

Diane cycles the Skyway

Diane cycles the Skyway

The skyway got its name (pronounced chair-oh-HAH-la) from the forests it connects, Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee to Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. Some locals call it the Wagon Train Road, or simply Highway 165. (In North Carolina, it’s Highway 143.)

In 1962, Congress approved $6 million to build the roadway. Construction slowed nearly to a halt when conservationists stepped in. Some still wish the roadway had never been built. Still, a drive or hike or bike ride in this nearly pristine wilderness should turn anyone into a tree hugger, at least for the 90 minutes or so it takes to traverse in a car.

One of the things that makes the Cherohala special is the absence of big connecting roads. Mostly this is rugged, lonesome land, offering views, some above 5,000 feet, with no evidence of civilization.

Diane and mysterious friend later husband Wessel at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line

Diane and "friend," now husband, Wessel, at the N.C.-Tenn. state line

A friend and I stayed just off the skyway one weekend this summer. We love cycling on paved mountain roads, and knew we could get more than our fill here. Motorcyclists, who outnumbered auto drivers during our stay, are drawn to the Cherohala for the same reasons we were: the twists and turns, refreshingly light traffic, and stellar views. Not surprisingly, we saw only a handful of other bicyclists. With road grades upward of 9 percent and no shoulders, there are easier ways to see the sights.