I am not a traveller. My vacations for the last 6 years have consisted of me taking time off of work to work on my cars. This year was a little different.
My wife loves wildlife and wildlife photography. She regularly volunteers at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and goes to local wildlife refuges to take pictures whenever she can. While volunteering, she came across a flyer advertising a birding festival at the Cumberland Gap National Park in Kentucky. Oddly enough, I agreed to it – even though there was nothing obviously automotive going on at it. After a short discussion we agreed to drive my car over her X5. This proved to be a very wise decision.
My knowledge of any of the states without a coastline is very limited, however, I did know one thing: some of those states contain mountains and hills with roads that do not resemble drag strips. Our trip was taking us from our home in Florida, through Georgia, to Tennessee (for a brief stop at her Grandfather’s) and continuing on to the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. The drive to her Grandfather’s house was not very interesting, some elevation changes, but nothing twisty. It wasn’t until we got off the interstate and started getting towards the Cumberland Gap that things began to get fun.
Driving from the visitor’s center at the park, we wanted to head up to the observation area known as Pinnacle Point. The view from there is breath-taking, but the drive is what made it for me.
The only down side to it is getting stuck behind anyone who could not even do the speed limit. Fortunately, that only happened once to us. My wife and I had an entertaining conversation when a minivan was in front of us:
Lucy: What is that burning smell? Is that our brakes?
Me: Nope, it’s the minivan in front of us; I’d have to be using them to make them smoke.
While coming down Pinnacle Point on our second day, I snapped a few shots of the 330ci at one of the overlooks (even though the sun was not where I prefer):
Over the next few days, we travelled along the roads around the park and surrounding areas, making stops in most of the parks in Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and North Carolina. This photo sums up the driving experience for me:
You know what that sign means? Happiness ahead.
Our return trip was not going to be directly back to Florida. Lucy wanted to stop by the Smokey Mountain National Forest to see if we could snap a few shots of a bear or other woodland creatures. I also wanted to stop off in Helen, Georgia on the suggestion of some friends at work. This would prove to be an even more fruitful for me than driving through the Cumberland Gap National Park!
Our GPS directed us to take the following route:
This route took us through Foothills Parkway and down US129. This section of US129 is also known as the Tail of the Dragon. Within its 11 miles are over 300 turns with plenty of elevation change through the course! It is a widely known road among auto enthusiast and motorcyclist, and for good reason. It was the most fun I have ever had in a car. It made all the maintenance, the buggy sensors that constantly need replacing, and the fickle nature of a BMW worth it. The car handled excellently on the Dragon’s twisty roads. In several locations are photographers that will snap a few shots as you come around one of the turns. The following pictures are from US129photos.com:
Unfortunately, you cannot see her face in the pictures – that was priceless. My wife sat there gripping the seat and pushing herself into it, staying as upright as possible, fighting the back and forth of the road. We continued on to Helen, GA, enjoying more of the curvaceous roads of the area. A major accident on the way cut into our fun. A motorcycle was hit by a Jeep Cherokee, with the Cherokee flipping over on its side in the middle of the road. Fortunately, no one died, with the Cherokee passengers sustaining only scrapes and the biker receiving a broken leg. Once in Helen, we enjoyed an awesome soft pretzel and wurst at the Old Bavarian Inn, bought some candy for dessert and headed to my parents’ house on the other side of Atlanta.
The next two days were relaxing, if uneventful. The drive back to Florida was boring as it consisted entirely of travelling the interstates, especially in comparison to the excitement of those mountain roads. I never thought I would say this, but I would love to go back to Tennessee for my next vacation.