Our story begins far too early (3 a.m.) on the morning of June 8th, 2007. Why the hell are we up so god damned early when we have no “real” schedule to keep? Traffic!!! I hate traffic. Spanky hates traffic. We are trying to get to Atlanta and the logistics of said journey require a super early departure in order to properly coordinate total avoidance of the vehicular hysteria in both Tampa and Atlanta. I am glad to report a resounding success – we beat the traffic! Just barely – apparently Atlanta’s Friday afternoon mayhem starts to gear up just a wee bit after mid day. God bless all you commuters out there – I don’t know how you do it.
We last headed into Atlanta on April 1st. I distinctly remember pulling into the toll booth on 400. The toll collector had a blank look on her face, did not say hello, goodbye, thank you, nothing, and she moved pretty damn slow. I would have to guess she hates her job, maybe life in general, a miserable human being wallowing in a quagmire of wretched existence (strong – suffice to say she wasn’t a happy camper). This time, however, me and Spanks were presented with a smiley face, happy, friendly custodian of the tolls. She greeted us warmly, miss charged us, said, “Ah Shit”, apologized for “Cussing” (probably for Spanky’s sake), all the while smiling. We parted with a mutual, “Have a nice day!” and went about our business.
So why is it that some people just don’t get it? You can make another person’s day with a smile and a little bit of common courtesy. Don’t expect people to smile at you unless you smile at them. And………..it makes for a better day for your own self. Act happy and friendly long enough and you’ll end up being friendly and happy instead of being caught up in your crap. Why spend life as a purveyor of gloom and doom?
Me and the Spankster had a great weekend in Atlanta. Saturday afternoon, a bunch of guys and gals that I used to work with in Tampa (late 80’s through ’91) got together for a kick ass BBQ at my friend Tom’s casa. Spanky thoroughly enjoyed the event – he got petted constantly and he especially enjoyed feasting on substantially all the leftover burgers and chicken. It was a fine time, several of us had not seen one another in over ten years.
I start thinking (sometimes dangerous) that all these people have a reasonable measure of success in their lives. They are all professionals with excellent jobs, many of them have or are in the process of raising kids and putting them through universities, etc. Then there is me? What the hell am I doing? Traipsing around the countryside with my dog, popping up hear and there like a village idiot searching for a new village to inhabit. It’s food for thought, but the truth is…….I’m happy for there success but I would not trade my current gig with Spanky for, well let’s see, nope, anything.
On Sunday, the Spankster and I headed to Decatur, GA (an Atlanta suburb) to have a couple of cups of most excellent, brewed strong, black as tar, cups of French Roast with my ex wife, Helje. Her and Spanky got along famously. Actually we get along just fine today as well. She just moved into a new old house – a cottage type affair built in the 30’s. It’s a really quite charming. Great fenced in back yard for Spanky to sniff around and do other doggy stuff. Good luck with the new digs!
Sunday evening finds us with my buddy Matt, his wife Helen, their daughter Sara and last but not least their pooch Smudge. Smudge is a medium to large dog – some unheard of breed that I can never remember. The important thing is that Smudge and Spanks had a wonderonomous time running around the large backyard chasing a tennis ball till their tongues were ready to fall out of their snouts. And……..neither Smudge or Spanks seemed to mind being fed copious quantities of carne de cow during and after our meal.
Now for some summit stuff. The next state summit to sacrifice itself to Spanky’s paw prints is Black Mountain, Kentucky. As always, we needed a dog friendly place to stay for a few nights within spittin distance of our summit goal. We found a KOA in north east Tennessee (Bristol/Kingsport KOA) that is only about 60 miles from the peak.
Within minutes of our arrival at the KOA, I take Spankster for a walk, we run into a pair of dogs, a small white one and a small black one. The white dog is named Harley and…..you won’t believe it, coincidence of coincidences, the black one is named Spanky – what are the chances? You can imagine the ensuing confusion. Both Spankys playing together with both owners trying to get their attention saying, “Spanky come here.” Funny thing is that the other Spanky seemed to be listening to me while my Spanky paid more attention to Spanky #2’s master.
On Tuesday, June 12th, 2007, the boy and I set forth with the hope of putting yet another summit notch on the proverbial belt. Our plan of attack takes us from Tennessee, through a bit of western Virginia, into Kentucky roughly along the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail. Boone, the legendary frontiersman, explorer, and trapper blazed this trail through the virgin wilderness of the Appalachians in the late 1700’s. The trail served as the road west for many a settler. Boone headed west himself because (get this – we are talking about the 1700’s) it was getting too crowded back east. He is rumored to have said, “If I can stand in my front yard and see smoke from my neighbor’s chimney, it has become too crowded.”
We head up into the Appalachians, the scenery is just superb! It’s a cornucopia of hills, mountains, streams, rivers, rock faces and cliffs covered with dense hardwood forests extending to the horizon in all directions. But……….the Appalachians, which were formed many many moons ago, consist of folded and thrust faulted sedimentary and volcanic rocks. And…..within these folds of rock, sometimes exposed, sometimes not, lies coal, which means coal mining.
One of the mining methods, which is prevalent in the Black Mountain area is “mountain top removal.” It is just what it sounds like. It sucks to see the natural beauty, ripped apart, scarred and defoliated just so us humans can live more comfortably. I’m not going to get into some kind of “green peace, save the whale and the snail darter” bullshit. I’m just as guilty as the next guy of benefiting from coal generated power. But I must remember that there is always a cost for my comforts.
Black Mountain, KY actually sits on Penn, VA Coal Mining Co property. The mining company is nice enough to allow hikers to the summit but requests a signed waiver of liability in exchange for the privilege (I complied and mailed in the waiver). Anyhow, there is actually a narrow, one lane road that leads to within a few hundred yards of the summit. Spanks felt like a nice hike – hell it was a gorgeous day. We parked the old Dodge on the road side, and took off to hike up the last approximately 1.6 miles.
The summit road/trail is through dense forest so there are barely any panoramic views to be had along the way. Within about a quarter mile of the summit we pass a huge FAA radar dome (used for FAA regional ATC). Rather unsightly but it’s got to go somewhere if we want to jet around the world. We finally make it to the summit, 4,145 ft at around noon. As has been the case with a few other highpoints, the summit is littered with antennae (radio, tv, whatever). Gotta remember, this is private property and they are free to rent the space.
Unfortunately, there is no view from the top either. Black Mountain’s summit is another fairly rounded mountain top. The dense foliage blocks any potential view of surrounding mountains or valleys. Fortunately the USGS summit marker is off in the woods, on top of some rocks, in a shady little clearing. Spanks and I sat on the rocks, drank some water, and enjoyed the quiet solitude of the forest for a while and then started our trek back to the truck.
On the way off the summit, we ran into a bunch of tree guy/logger types who where clearing the right of way for the lines running up to the mountain top antennae – they were sitting down on the edge of the woods having lunch. I can just imagine what these guys were thinking. These are a bunch of chain sawing, tree climbing, sweaty, dirty, hard working southern boys wearing t-shirts, jeans, and logging boots. They see me in hiking shorts, hiking boots, wearing a back pack, and with this little white dog. I just know they are thinking, dumb ass yankee city boy!
Actually they were nice to me and Spanky. Spanky, of course, said hello to all of them with his usual Spanky enthusiasm. One of em asks me (and it took me 3 times to understand his southern drawl), “Is that your bear dog?” They proceeded to tell me that there are a lot of black bear up there. “I just saw tracks in the mud over yonder” another one added. I was also informed that the woods were chock full of rattlers and copperheads. I know that there are bears and snakes in the woods but I think these boys were playing with us just a little. In any case, they were nice friendly working dudes, we enjoyed our little chat and moved on.
On our way to Black Mountain I noticed a sign for “Natural Tunnel State Park.” What’s this, I wonder – I said to myself. Had to find out. On our way home we stopped. What a great find. Turns out that this is the only place in the world that a railroad track has been laid through a natural tunnel/cavern. The VA State Park people have built a fenced in catwalk that provides awesome views from high above the tunnel.
Spanky and I head up the trail to the catwalk with no idea of what to expect. All of the sudden we are on the edge of nowhere! I don’t know about you but when I suddenly get to the edge of something way the hell up in the air, I get a little bit of funny feeling in my stomach. It’s a stupendous view. The catwalk goes right up to edge of a canyon, several hundred feet deep, the canyon ends in a cliff face and there is a big old natural cavern opening at the bottom with what looks like a miniature set of railroad tracks coming out (you gotta look at the pics).
The gods were with us once again. Just as we got to the overlook, I hear the rumblings of a train. The noise was echoing off the tunnel and canyon walls. The intensity of the sound steadily grew until we saw the train’s headlight emerge from the pitch black of the cavern. I started imagining some kind of ghost train for lost souls ascending from the depths of Hades. It really did not sound of this world.
The natural tunnel is 850 feet long. It was formed over a million years ago by acid bearing groundwater percolating up through crevices and slowly dissolving the surrounding dolomite and limestone bedrock. It is locally proclaimed as the eighth natural wonder of the world, but……there are many such local proclamations. If you ever happen to be in extreme south west Virginia, it is absolutely worth stopping and taking a look see.
A few miles down the road from the tunnel, in Scott County, VA, we stumbled on what I deem to be “real find.” Only in this part of the country could you find a place called “Lazy Time Pickin Parlor.” I could not pass without stopping. Out front there’s a bunch of older gentlemen sitting on chairs, talking, and spittin tobacco juice into cups. I stopped, chatted for a while, they asked where I was from, I explained what me and Spanks are up to, they think I’m crazy but wished us good luck nevertheless, they informed me that I really needed to go to the back room and check it out.
The front room is a vintage and new guitar store. The back room is a real, honest to goodness, pickin parlor. Bunch of people sittin in and pickin and a playin in front of a fireplace. Lots of comfortable seating around for folks to sit and listen. The current pickers consisted of an acoustic guitar, a banjo, a fiddle, an electric bass, and good old electric Telecaster. Just as I walked in they started up playin some of the finest blue grass I ever heard. I listened for a while and snapped a couple of pics – could of stayed there all day. I had to get back to the truck, it was a hot day and I didn’t want Spanster to cook. I politely said thanks and goodbye to the fellas out front and on our way we went.
More stories to come your way soon.
Thanks as always!
Me and Spanky Under The Observation Tower
The Tower (not fit for climbing)
USGS Summit Marker
View From The Summit Approach Hike
Mining Away A Mountain
Left Side - Natural, Right Side - Mining
Mountain Tops Gone!
Train Emerges From The Natural Tunnel
Closer View Of The Tunnel
The Lazy Time Pickin Parlor
Pickin In The Parlor