Monday, June 14, 2010

The Great American Road Trip Part V:
La Follette, TN

After leaving the Fox Den, we headed East to La Follette, TN, where Brad's great-aunt and uncle and a whole host of cousins live. The drive was a short one, only about 3 hours, and should have been relatively uneventful. HA!  Leave it to the Parker Pack to make an adventure out of something so simple!

Before leaving the Foxes house, we decided to update our GPS.  Then we packed up and hit the road. Jason gave us directions for a new road that wasn't even fully open or on the maps yet, that took us around a bunch of small towns and stoplights, and then we counted on our GPS to guide us in the rest of the way. When we got close to La Follette, the GPS indicated that we should take a road that would lead us straight into town. We exited and followed the GPS's directions.

But once we were on the road, it suddenly changed from blacktop to gravel--we rounded a curve and bam! no more pavement. We continued on and the road went back to pavement. But then it turned into a dirt road. Well, being a girl who grew up in rural Oklahoma, where the roads are still dirt to this day, a dirt road didn't automatically scare me off. The road was okay and besides, the GPS showed we only had about 2 miles left of this road before we turned onto the main highway that led to La Follette. But the road got worse, and worse, and before we knew it, we were straddling 2-3 foot deep ruts and washes, creeping at a 5-miles-an-hour pace and praying that the road didn't just end right there on the mountain. The road became quite a challenge, but it was too narrow to turn around safely, so we kept going, taking our time, talking out the proposed path through the ruts and potholes at every turn.

At one point, when we crested the mountain, there was a tense moment--I had to blindly crest the mountain and cram on the brakes before heading downhill, since I couldn't see if the road even continued on down the other side. We rounded a curve and found a fallen tree lying across the road at one point, which meant we had to get out and move it. Luckily, the tree was still green and flexible and Brad could bend back the branches enough for me to squeeze the van by. I had to get out and move rocks at one point and Brad spent more time out of the car directing me through the ruts than in it, riding. We came upon a group of hunters along the road, and boy were they laughing when I rolled down my window and said, "Can you believe my GPS sent me down this road?!" One of the old guys explained that the road we were on was the main road between 2 major cities--in the 1890's!! I inquired as to whether we would be able to make it through to the the highway and they assured me that if I had made it this far in our minivan, I would be able to make it the remainder of the distance. They also assured us that we weren't the first minivan or car they had seen on that road--in fact, just a couple of weeks before, a Dodge Caravan had wandered down that road, thanks to the directions of a GPS. I imagine those hunters had a few laughs at our expense, though--those crazy city people, in their plush minivan with 2 kids, out on a road that is now used as a 4-wheel-drive track.

The funniest part of the whole adventure, though, was the running commentary coming from the backseat.  Brad and I were calmly discussing the route, we were communicating in a way that would make any marriage therapist proud, working together to decide how to proceed and helping each other out. (No, really, I'm serious!!) But with every comment or discussion, Aiden would freak out in the backseat. "Oh my goodness! Oh my Lord! Oh no! What, Mama?! What is it?! Are we going to die? Are we going to crash? Are we stuck? Oh, Lord...." He was such a Nervous Nellie, he was driving Brad and I nuts. "Mama, I don't like this road. I want to go home. Mama, I'm scared. My knees are shaking."  No matter how many times we assured him that we were fine, that we just had to take our time and be careful, that we had a full tank of gas, cell phones, the roads were dry and hard and we were being very careful, that this was an adventure, not something to be afraid of...no matter what we said, he just freaked out. When we finally got to Aunt Shirl's house and Aiden set his little feet on solid ground, I thought he was going to jump out and dance a jig.

The really ironic part? This road, which the GPS put us on to cut over the mountain, instead of taking the main highway around it, ADDED an hour of travel time to our route! But this adventures wasn't for naught--along the way, we found the local "makeout point" that is dubbed "The Rock" by the local kids. It is a giant boulder, spray painted and covered with graffiti, but the view beyond it was amazing, overlooking the entire valley and town of La Follette. When I saw the beautiful view beyond the rock, I stopped the car and insisted we all get out and enjoy the vista. The way I figured it, we'd worked darn hard to get there, and we certainly weren't passing that way again, so we better stop and enjoy the view!

When we arrived at Aunt Shirl and Uncle Cecil's house, with smoldering brakes and a few extra gray hairs, we shared the story of our defective GPS and the resulting adventure with them, and they laughed. A lot. And then told all of the other relatives. Who also laughed. A lot. But I can't really blame them, can I? It is an amusing tale--ending up on a dune buggy trail that was once a wagon route across the mountain in a mini-van with 2 kids in tow, all thanks to some idiot at Garmin who is probably laughing maniacally, thinking of how he's sending poor souls off on a crazy adventure.

The road. This was the widest and mildest portion of the road, ironically. 
The rest of the drive, we were too stressed out to think of taking a picture!

That's me, laying on the rock and checking out the amazing view.

After that, we had a great, albeit uneventful, visit with family. Brad's great aunt and uncle, along with a whole slew of cousins, welcomed us and fed us and spoiled us all. They insisted I sleep in every day, they wouldn't let me help with the dishes, they indulged Aiden at every turn and I don't think Aubrey's feet touched the ground the whole time. We had a wonderful time catching up with everyone, and Aiden delighted in playing with his cousins, whom he was too young to appreciate when we used to visit during his first year of life. We laughed and talked and swam and ate and and laughed and ate some more.  Aiden cried when it was time to leave, wanting to stay longer to play with his new-found best bud, Jacob, but after promises of return visits and invitations for his cousins to fly out and visit us, we coaxed him into the car to head west toward Memphis. It was a great visit, much shorter than we would have liked, but we hope to make it an annual trek.

Aiden and Jacob. The two were inseparable. 
And despite quite an age difference, they had a wonderful time together.
(Thanks to Jake being such a sweet, considerate guy!)

Aunt Shirl and Uncle Cecil after a day of hanging with the kids. 
They both zonked out as soon as their behinds hit the chair. I think we wore them out a little!

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