When we set off in Wilda this time around, we didn’t have a concrete plan about where we wanted to go. We originally wanted to head back to the west coast, but with only five weeks until Christmas we realized that may not be realistic in order to make it home for the holidays. Well, it would definitely be possible, but we didn’t want to kill ourselves driving non-stop. We did have one place in mind that we wanted to go regardless – Asheville. We’d both been there and loved it, and it gave us a target until we figured out what came next.
We got to Asheville on Saturday morning and spent most of the afternoon on the patio of The Funkatorium, a spin-off of Wicked Weed and Mike’s favorite brewery. They specialize in sour beers which we both like and we worked our way through most of the flight menu by the time Penn State finally won a game in 2020. Happy to avoid a winless football season, we bought a few beers to go and walked down the street to another brewery, Green Man, for more beer on the patio. We were both happy to have gotten back to warm enough weather where outdoor eating and drinking was an option. To cap off a pretty great day we walked across town to get ice cream for dinner at a place called French Broad Chocolates and spent the night in a trusty Cracker Barrel parking lot watching Christmas movies, which has basically become our nightly tradition.
We spent the next few days in Asheville enjoying biscuits from Biscuit Head (the first of many biscuits… more to come), shopping, watching sports, and catching up on showers at Planet Fitness. So far we’ve had great experiences at all the Planet Fitness locations we’ve stopped at with clean showers and plenty of social distance. While having our own shower in the van would be nice, it’s really not worth the space it would take up or the amount of fresh and gray water it would require. Plus, I’ve been known (Emily) to enjoy a very long, very hot shower. Sunday night we picked up snacks at Trader Joe’s and went back to the trusty Cracker Barrel parking lot for the night.
On Monday we unfortunately had some administrative stuff to take care off – health insurance. We both agree that we will never again take for-granted employee-covered health insurance. Buying your own health insurance is painful and expensive. After many phone calls and Googling, we’re 95% sure we have it sorted out. Shout out to anyone in HR who deals with this on a regular basis, you’re an angel.
We spent the afternoon walking around downtown Asheville, did some more Christmas shopping, and took advantage of another shower at Planet Fitness on our way out of town. Another chore we needed to take care of ASAP was finding a place to empty our gray water tank. Fortunately we don’t have a black water tank to take care of (toilet stuff), and just have a 10 gallon gray water tank (sink stuff). We stopped at a Camping World and signed up for a pretty cheap year-long membership that gets us free fresh water and dumping at any location in the country. Emptying the tank went smoothly, and we were both pumped that our plumbing set up was working great.
We continued south as it got dark towards a free parking spot we found just outside of Great Smokey Mountain National Park at a casino. As we got closer and started heading up into the mountains the temperature dropped and it started snowing. The further up into the mountains we went, the worse the weather got, and the more we started to question if we were going to make it. We hadn’t testing Wilda out in the snow, and driving up an unfamiliar, windy back road through the mountains in the snow at night didn’t seem like a good place to find out how she did. We aborted the mission and turned around to head back down the mountains to the closest town and Walmart. In a weird coincidence and reminder of how small the world is, we ended up at the same Walmart we had randomly parked at when driving Wilda back home from New Mexico a few months prior in the small town of Waynesville, North Carolina.
By the next day the snow had stopped and we took a new route around the mountains to try and get to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Everything except the road was covered in snow (so much for escaping winter). We had to turn around a few times at closed roads, which we later found out were closed due to snow/ice. When we finally made it to Gatlinburg it was freezing but sunny. Neither of us had been here before but we heard it was a cute little mountain town. After spending the day there, I’d say it’s somewhere between a cute little mountain town and a boardwalk at the Jersey shore with all kinds of kitschy arcade games and touristy shops. We took a ski lift up the mountain which had an amazing view of the now snow-capped Smokey Mountains, and walked across the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in North America (Gatlinburg, who knew). We thought about going for a hike in the park, but with sub-20 temperatures and the road closures we ran into earlier, we decided to pass. That night we started heading west and parked at a winery somewhere in rural Tennessee with pretty good wine and a really friendly great dane.
On Wednesday we made it to Nashville. Over the past few months of traveling this is one of the bigger cities we made it to, and like most of the other big cities you could feel the effects of Covid. Downtown, especially the bar and restaurant scene, was pretty empty. Fortunately we had good weather and spent a lot of time walking around outside. We checked out Vanderbilt’s campus, walked around the full size replica of The Parthenon in Centennial Park, and most importantly ate a lot of delicious comfort food. We ate Prince’s Hot Chicken and sampled as many biscuits as we could from restaurants around the city. We found free parking at Nissan stadium and walked across the pedestrian bridge to downtown which had a great view of the city skyline.
After two days of stuffing our faces with chicken and biscuits, we decided it was time to move on to the next phase of our food and beverage tour of the US, whiskey and bourbon…