The accents and humidity are becoming thicker. Words are becoming both shorter and more drawn out. Odd stares have led me to believe my vegetarian habits are becoming less common. We are approaching the South.
Today’s trek began at our cousin’s home in Louisville, Kentucky and ended at a $60 Days Inn in Knoxville, Tennessee. We stepped foot in three states today – the third on a drive through Cumberland Gap National Historic Park at the juncture where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia meet. At one point, we straddled the state line between Kentucky and Tennessee while overlooking the Appalachian Mountain region in Virginia. I never imagined Kentucky to stretch so far east. In fact, our road trip through the Midwest has kept us on east coast time most of the journey so far.
We hit many of the hotspots in Louisville, including the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, Steamboat Belle along the Riverwalk and Churchill Downs, an establishment that left me nearly speechless just from staring at its impressive size from the parking lot.
I spent most of the day unconsciously singing the lyrics of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” as the term Louisville Slugger had no other significant role in my life before today.
All-brick homes fill most neighborhoods in Louisville and, to maintain a polished look, most garage door entrances rest in the back of houses instead of the front. These small, but unique, characteristics add much to Louisville’s charm, and we found ourselves snapping photos of even the most residential areas before heading east toward Lexington.
While an eastward journey led us away from our ultimate destination of New Orleans, Eastern Kentucky offers some recommended sight-seeing opportunities we didn’t want to pass up. We ventured down Old Frankfort Pike near Lexington, a byway with landscapes that match almost perfectly to my previous ideas of what Kentucky would look like. White picket fences line the roadside and, behind them, horses graze in large, bright green pastures that stretch farther than the eye can see. Gorgeous homes rest somewhere within each of the fenced-in areas, many filled with former Derby winners.
Daniel Boone National Forest runs down a large part of Eastern Kentucky so, to my surprise, densely packed trees overtook the views along most of I-75 South. We even made a quick stop-off in a town called Berea, known most commonly for its local artisans, potters, painters, weavers and furniture makers. While we did not find the small town of 10,000 worth a stay, craft festivals and summer fairs may be a reason to return someday.
Besides the scenery, our largest bit of entertainment has been observing the local folk along our journey. After living in more health-concious and image-driven cities like Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles, Dan and I have been continuously amazed by the food selections and overall appearance of most individuals we’ve encountered.
Chain restaurants overtake small towns, and any local cuisine we’ve found consists of places like “Captain D’s Seafood,” a tiny shack-like joint plopped in Southeastern Kentucky. It serves both fried shrimp and “BBQ,” according to the sign out front. Few people appear in shape, and many – if not, most – are overweight to a point of obesity. I have seen a greater population of chin straps and mustaches than ever before, and the attire, even in the larger cities, has been…shall we say, not “urban.” The diversity even just within the United States continues to amaze us.
We just finished an Applebee’s dinner in Knoxville and, like every other gas station, restaurant and small town we’ve passed through, we felt like outsiders just sitting in the restaurant. I cannot tell if it’s my brother’s long California locks or my H&M tank tops and Old Navy khaki shorts, but something about us makes the locals stare. Even so, they have all been incredibly kind so far, and their Southern accents only seem to add hospitality to their uniquely warm personalities.