Monday, April 11, 2011


“My Heroes have always been cowboys,
Still are it seems,
Sadly in search and one step
In back of themselves and their slow movin’ dreams.
Willie Nelson

The origin of the phrase that is the title here is unknown to me. It has replaced “saddle up” in the vocabulary at least for this week. It is what we are doing. A Marine friend--a former Marine, actually, but in their world they are a Marine forever—uses this expression all the time. It may be synonymous with the no longer politically correct “Man Up!” or it may, as Wikipedia has it, come from the rodeo, mainly among bull riders, who use it to mean get tough, or prepare to be.
Most men like to think they have a little cowboy in them. Generally they don’t, but they like the image. The mentality appeals to them because it gives the aura of independence, the lack of need for others, of finding their own way in the world, saying little except what may mean a lot. Most aren’t that way no matter how much they wish they were.
If you are little less fearful than others, never mind being alone, and have no idea what one’s real goals are in life until it’s too late to change them well, people like that are cowboys, too. Being a cowboy is a state of mind, not a vocation.

Yet I digress.

La Coachasita had a terrible winter, with a bad water pump, leaky roof, drain valves that refused to cooperate when replaced and other maladies. She is now well and says she is ready to Cowboy Up. She sits fully loaded with all but foodstuffs breathing heavily and figuratively pawing at the concrete driveway ready to do battle again.
The plan is to actually reach the Smoky Mountains this time rather than blow a transmission in Kansas, yet we know not what time and the road will bring. She is clearly aging and this may well be her last coast-to-coast trip. She wishes to reassess priorities when we return. Perhaps we will focus more on the Western States and British Columbia, taking more sedate journeys and staying in one place longer. She is tired of the longer trips across three time zones, tired of preparing for them, and neither of us is getting younger.
As long time readers know, these trips all have a theme. This one will be seeing many of the Civil War battlefields in the south that dot Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Virginia. We will go to Appomattox at the end of the eastward leg—perhaps someone will accept my sword in surrender. Davy Crockett’s Birthplace is also on the way and we will stop there simply because we can. The country is alive with Civil War re-enactments and doings this spring as the anniversary of Ft. Sumter draws near.
The Tennessee Smokies are a Double A franchise of the Chicago Cubs in the Southern League now after a 22-year affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays and brief two-year courtships by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Arizona Diamondbacks. AA Franchises have a habit of having working agreements with teams for short periods but are sometimes blessed with a long time tenant. I was last there in the Blue Jay era. They have built a new stadium which seats 8,000 in Sevierville which is cheek by jowl to the Smoky Mountain National Park. It is a storied franchise and a famous league (formerly known as the “Sally League” when it was A level baseball) having been in existence since 1896 when the tickets were 75 cents and a packed house of 3,000 came to Baldwin Park in Knoxville. I hope for a three game home stand. Some of the “boys of spring” will be there and I look forward to catching up on their progress.
Some of the other things missed the last time we passed through include a good deal of the Park with stunning waterfalls, the Vanderbilt Mansion near Lake Fontana, and the downright rural nature of the place. The Falls have wonderful names—Mouse Creek, Mingo, Juney Whank, Hen Wallow, and Grotto—are just a few.
The state line of North Carolina runs through the middle of the National Park. While it is the most visited National Park, it is also one of the youngest and the only one without an admission fee. As always, the reasons are peculiar. The no fee rule is so because the road that runs through the main “gap” in the mountains is U.S. 441, the Newfound Gap Road that was the main commerce route to the East Coast for Tennessee at the time it agreed to sell the land to the Federal Government. The deeding included the provision that “no toll or license fee shall ever be imposed” to use the road. While I-40 has long ago replaced the route, the legislature has never changed the provision. North Carolina transferred its section of the road by “abandonment” and no restriction was imposed. It is called a “Gap” because that low place between peaks in the South is called that instead of a “Pass” as in the West and a “Notch” in New England.
It is a “young” Park because it was created by President Franklin Roosevelt in when much of it was settled land. Unlike the many parks in Western States that were still on Government or vacant land, the land had to be purchased from states and private individuals to create the Park. Cades Cove, a farm community on top of the mountains was the community most opposed to the formation of the park. John W. Oliver fought to keep it out of the park well into the 1930’s. More about John later in the trip. The Baptist Congregation remained outraged enough to defy the Park Service by using the existing “Primitive” church in the farm community until well into the 1960’s.
It is another of those hauntingly beautiful places I recall from my trip through it ten years ago. Much of the beauty takes time to find behind the commercialism of the nearby communities. We have resolved to spend enough of it this trip before rolling north on the Blue Ridge Parkway and through the Shenandoah. The Western leg will likely be a northern one with maybe a little of Canada and old friends along the way.
We’d be pleased to have you with us, my faithful iron Lady and me. We have a new traveling companion. “Jim,” a Gnome who watches over us from the dashboard when we stop at night. He is also known as Santiago in deference to my traveling companion’s preference for things Spanish. He’s a cowboy. Never says much, just stands there with his hands in his pockets with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
So saddle up and come along, we’ll be glad for the company and will try to amuse, enlighten, or inform as we travel the back roads from here to there by way of the any excellent adventure we may find up arround the bend.

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