Sometimes you gotta rung what ya brung.

Well, I’m safely ensconced back at my mama’s place in jersey. I kept the truck, as I realized both the value of having a badass truck with Missouri plates in the middle of Southern nowhere, and also I’d miscalculated the mileage. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. Lastly, that sumbitch can take the Smoky Mountains like nothing else I’ve ever driven. I’ve affectionately dubbed it “Truckie” in honor of dear pal Kara Kulpa’s sadly departed Toyota SR5 of the same name, which gave us many a good ride on our ’05 tour until it was no more…I digress.

Anyhow, my Chevy truck is badass and I am gonna miss it.  I think the highlight of this leg of my summer journeys is probably yesterday, when we all pulled out to Asheville in a great lil’ convoy (again), stopping at Pigeon River for excellent barbecue (finally!) and gasoline. Jon hooked up with his pals in the Rainbow Family while me and Harley, a social justice student working at the Dandridge, TN, Highlander Center, flipped out my tailgate and done et, watching the sky…and then saw a Ford Ranger rolling through a wicked mudopuddle across the street. “Hey Harley,” I said. “Wanna go muddin?”

“Hell, yeah!” was the rejoinder.  So we secured our sandwiches and dropped the truck into 4 wheel drive, and whipped through that big ol’ puddle a couple of times, laughing the whole time. Then we got back in our convoy and back on the highway as the sun went down and the moon rose in front of us, ascending to the cloudline–as in, we were IN a cloud. On the highway. It was terribly cool. I will have pics when I get them developed (ah, analog).

Our show in Asheville was quite a thrill. Betty, the owner of the bar, absolutely loved it and kept bringing us Pabst all night..we brought in a group of locals we poached from the bar across the street and they started dancing wildly. Completely lost track of time and finished up around 2…which meant I didn’t hit the highway back towards the north til 3 in the AM. But valiant ever, I dropped the hammer and began rolling at a good pace.

My decision to keep the truck was further validated by its performance in the sheeting rain I hit 20 miles down the road, for close to two hours, through gorges and elevations of up to 3750 feet in the Smokies.  That truck held the road like a rattlesnake on your ankle.

Chevy builds great trucks. Not a rattle, shake or shimmy, and it has a heavy-duty tranny with a cheater on the torque converter…seems all you got to do is drop it into tow/haul mode and it turns off all of the “economy” shit all these ersatz ranch owners might want. The trick that I learned is that tow-haul mode  turns off the “5th” gear, the artificial overdrive; drop that puppy down into 3rd and it puts it right in the sweet spot of the torque curve, perfect for the mountains. Plus I set it to auto-select 4×4 mode, sort of an all-wheel drive setting, so it only comes on when needed (fulltime 4×4 mode is truly only needed for off-road or snow), and it’s got a great traction control setting. I never felt out of control, despite the road almost washing out. I want one!! Ummm..Chevy, are you listening? There’s a nomadic musician who could use your help. And I’m sure you would love the publicity, with that whole owned-by-the-government thing eating you up like that….

I stopped only once while the rain was hitting, at a scenic overlook with a little cupola/gazebo/some foreign-y word. Stopped there for a spell and watched the rain under the roof of said structure…it sure was scenic, but I couldn’t see what we were really overlooking.

I drove on through the night, entering Virginia before dawn. I took another rest at the border, then rolled through til Wytheville…I was getting tired and the sun was coming up, and all of the rest stops were full of folks heading back from the big Nascar race at Bristol, TN. So I pulled off there about 6:15, mainly because it was the first stop with a Waffle House I saw,  found a cozy lil spot in between a motel’s retaining wall and a shuttered Mexican restaurant, scrawled a note that said “rest stop was full and had to take a break so I can drive safely” in case any cops wanted to knock on my window, stretched myself out on the split bench seat, and got in two solid hours of shuteye.

I groggily got up, pulled the blanket off my face and the sun shot through me like a dart. Shook my head out, swung my legs down, and (sorry, Mom) found a forgotten half-beer from the night before that either I or one of the other lunatics must have left in the car while loading out. I shrugged, said, “What the hell,” and gunned the warm, slightly flat brew to bite that dog. It was perfect.

Headed up the hill and around a bend, and into the Waffle House, where I repeated my prior night’s menu, sans grits. The coffee kicked in slowly but surely, and I began heading back north.

The travels were thankfully quite uneventful, managed to grab some great radio along the way courtesy of WXPN in Philly. All of the Nascar folks by this time were in full force on the roads…it was like following one great gypsy caravan. (It’s good I left when I did because I heard on the radio later that out of Bristol the highway north was shut down with race fan traffic.) Everytime I stopped I saw the same faces, cars, clothes, kids…it was pretty cool.  I made one small error coming through Pennsy– I took 76 instead of 78– so wound up about 20 miles to the south of where I should have been. But being resourceful, I checked my Rand McNally atlas, got off the interstate, and took old roads east and north, through New Hope, PA into Lambertville, NJ, deftly avoiding a toll, and soon wound up at a great old farm. Bought some muskmelon and peaches, and took a few pictures of their old barn and the sun playing with the clouds and sky in many colors and shadows.

Listened to Crosby-Nash’s “Wind on the Water ” twice on the last hour back north. Pulled into the homeplace and breathed it in.  The garden looks good.

Shit. I still have to pack for Austin and just looked at the time.  I’ma cut this now. More tomorrow…from Texas!

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