Wrong way to the Volunteer State

Published Oct. 3, 2014
I remember seeing the sign for Interstate 69, but it didn’t register because I was looking for the name “Western Kentucky Parkway.” In blissful ignorance I drove, listening to Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s “The End of Dieting,” until I saw the sign spanning the expressway welcoming us to Tennessee. “How did we end up in Tennessee?” I asked in surprise.
We had departed Paducah the morning of Sept. 17 a bit discouraged. A heel spur made it hard for me to walk, and our “campground” was a gravel field next to a busy highway and much too close to an interstate. After two nights of suffering through the continuous sound of trucks roaring by on I-24 and a chain-smoking camping neighbor we decided to call it quits and head home early, canceling plans to visit friends and family on the weekend. As we drove I began pondering ideas for the days at home, feeling our trip was jinxed. But missing the highway home rescued our vacation.
We pulled in at the Tennessee welcome center, and I studied the map to determine how we had ended up in the wrong state. The expressway I thought we were on is I-69 in the western end of the state and the parkway from Lexington to U.S. 41. We had started on I-24 intending to take the parkway, but missing the eastbound route left us traveling southeast on I-24 until we left Kentucky. We gathered some information in the welcome center just for fun but began considering a trip to Chattanooga, and the woman behind the counter told us it would take three hours to reach that city, getting us around Nashville well before rush hour, so in five minutes we decided to continue southeast.
We found a campground north of Chattanooga at Harrison Bay State Park, a TVA park along the banks of the flooded Tennessee River. Our campsite was all the Paducah place was not: quiet, wooded and scenic, with a lakefront setting. One morning a family of mallards spent a long time in the water by our sites, and about the only sound was the occasional fishing boat.
Next day we rode the Incline Railway to the top of Lookout Mountain, part of the Civil War battle of Chickamauga and Chattanooga, a site I’ve wanted to visit since learning about it in the early 1970s. The views were all they had been touted to be for the last four decades. After lunch at a local restaurant in downtown Chattanooga, we toured the nationally renowned Tennessee Aquarium and saw the 3-D IMAX film, finishing our day downtown with supper at Whole Foods across the river, where we stopped to buy goods for the campsite.
Most important was our visit next day to Uncle Ray, Aunt Ellen and cousin Gail in Marietta, Georgia. I hadn’t seen them since 2000, and I declared that I could not be that close and not see them. We spent almost as much time driving as visiting, but it was worth it, and besides my family I saw photos of ancestors from the late 1800s and early 1900s. We headed north at the end of the week to my wife’s friends place in northern Kentucky, and next day we met a niece and nephew for lunch in Columbus, wanting to see my niece because she and her husband are moving to North Carolina later this month.
Thank goodness for missing that exit. Had I paid attention and taken that ramp I would still feel our trip had been jinxed, and I would not have seen family members. That was worth all that extra driving.

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