After Florida, Jess and I had one goal in mind: Get North as fast as possible. With our average day over the past month being over 30°C, we were determined to get to cooler temperatures in a hurry because we were suffering from exhaustion and a lack of sleep every day. When we were sleeping in the van (which was almost every single night), we could only sleep when it was dark and the sun was down, and we had to wake up as soon as it had risen and the vehicle became a sauna. We were probably getting 4-6 hours of sleep each night but in Calgary we were getting 7-9, so this was not enough to function.
We zipped up through Georgia, South Carolina, and headed for Tennessee to the Great Smoky Mountains. Jess discovered the Great Smoky Mountains when she was looking up places with colder temperatures while we were in Florida. If you every get too hot, head for the mountains – the elevation provides cooler temperatures somehow, even though hot air rises…
When we got to the Great Smokies, Jess decided she wanted to go for a history lesson, so we headed to Cades Cove within the National Park. Cades Cove was a massive area that still had the homes of a very early community of settlers who lived in the forest. The homes were restored, of course, due to the wear and tear of time and nature.
One of the spookier sights was the church with a graveyard on the same plot. Some of the head stones were from recent years, showing that ancestors still want to be buried with the rest of their community of family and friends from all those years ago.
Something I’ll never forget about the Great Smoky Mountains, is that this is where Jess and I saw fireflies for the first time in both our lives. As the sun went down, little sparks started to flicker among the grass, shrubs, and trees. Jess thought her eyes were playing tricks on her, but as it got darker and the green of the vegetation slowly turned to black, those flickers stood out like little ant-sized street lamps. In a patch of grass, you could see as many as 10-20 of them flickering at once. It was a stunning sight that our iPhones could not capture in the dark, so we just watched them through our own capable eyes.
Another memorable, and unphotographed sight from Cades Cove was a young bear cub wanding through Cades Cove. Their is a self-guided loop road that many cars drive through and view the old resident homes and churches and right along the side of the road he was tottering along without a care in the world. You can imagine, this held up traffic down the one-way road for quite some time. That’s two separate bear sightings on this trip, boo-yah! But sadly, no moose sightings =(
We loved the Great Smokies, and another part of it that we loved was Gatlinburg. As you drive through, you come to an area with many shops and stores selling art, pottery, plants, and little knick knacks, and then as you go deeper into it, you start to see a ton of people, attractions galore, and restaurants, pubs, and hotels lining the streets. People flock to the streets to shop and dine as they please, at the luxury of being in the beautiful mountains. Oh wait, that’s like Banff back home in Alberta! We were astonished when we saw it because the last time we had experienced a place like this was when we were back in Alberta. Though we went through Yosemite and such, the only place that has a feeling to it just like this was in Banff. It was the American Banff. #AmericanBanff
From Gatlinburg we headed to Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. It was pretty okay. We were wanting to head up North so we blasted through Kentucky. I had a migraine that day, then we arrived at a campsite and they had one spot left – we were super lucky and super fatigued. After setting up our campsite at Kentucky River Campground and just about to set a match to our fire to get dinner started, some people came along and said that they reserved our site. I told them that was unlikely since the owner pointed at this exact spot and told me this was where we were camping. They continued disagreeing and had more friends drive up and join them against Jess and I. It was pretty awkward, and all Jess and I wanted was to relax and cook dinner, but we had to deal with these folks instead. To end the dispute, the people went and got the owners, and conveniently, the one who made the big mistake of double booking a site was nowhere to be found. Someone else came to the confrontation and said Jess and I had to move. I thought, huh, you guys said we were lucky because we got your last spot, now you are moving us to a new last spot?
The spot we were moved to was them just putting us on a campsite that people left their RV on and weren’t going to come back that night so we had half a site and paid for a full site. It sucked because we originally had a riverside campsite with privacy. Now, we were in corner of RVs on some grass with people drinking and partying around us all night. It was quite unfortunate, but also kind of funny that we had to pick every piece of wood, kindling, and paper we put in the fire out, and then reset it in another fire ring across the park. What an inconvenience!!! 🙂
From Kentucky (and no we did not eat KFC there, we forgot!), we headed to Cincinnati and just did a quick drive through. It was a pretty cool place and we just missed the Pride parade by an hour or so. In Chicago, we would later miss the Pride parade by a day, what the heck right?! Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Chicago were all massive, awesome cities that we actually felt safe in, surprisingly. We weren’t in the business of spending too much time in cities with our funds starting to thin out, like sliced tuna; carpaccio.
Somewhere along the way, we were in a small town with a White Castle. We have wanted to get stoned and go to a White Castle since forever. Well, basically since I started smoking weed because that’s what Harold and Kumar do in Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, and they love weed too.
As I recall, we were laying in the back of our van in a Walmart parking lot when we made the discovery of the White Castle. To prepare for our sought after meal, we blazed a ton.
As we walked to White Castle, we walked passed sooooo many police cars, of course, tripping me out like crazy. I had no knowledge of the current laws on marijuana possession/consumption in whatever state we were in because we stopped caring, but when you are high beside police in a foreign place, its never an easy situation. It ain’t even easy when you are at home and see police while you are high.
Anyways, we made it and no one got arrested. We got into White Castle and our eyes lit up like you would probably imagine. We ordered a bunch of their famous sliders and it took forever to decide which ones we wanted but we got it sorted. I got even more excited when I saw the customers in front of us walk out with a cardboard briefcase containing White Castle sliders in it. Those people sure know how to do dinner, I thought.
After we got our order, sat down, and mentally prepared for our first bites, we dug in. Much to my surprise, the food really was not that good. That’s actually an understatement – the food was terrible! Jess could barely eat any of hers. The hamburger meat was like liquid paste just sopping in your mouth. It was like I was suckin’ on a mop. It just kinda dissolved as it reacted with my saliva and became some sort of meaty pudding gunk chemistry experiment of a meal. Jess always said that Harvey’s burgers were bad because of the crumbly, odd texture. Welp, this was wayyyyyy worse. I am glad I never need to eat White Castle again for any reason, high or sober.
We headed to Chicago and we did this against my father’s wishes – he said I should not take Jessica to Detroit, New York, or Chicago. Sorry papa, we went.
Chicago was fantastic, other than all the bridge tolls to get into the city which were more than $10USD sometimes. It was a big, vibrant city with lots of waterways and green spaces. It came off as very touristy, which made it feel safe, and it was easy to get around. We couldn’t find a vietnamese sub anywhere though so it loses points for that. The architecture was great, the buildings were in good condition, and there was lots to do.
Oh yeah, if you ever search for an “Illinois” souvenir pin in Chicago, you will not find it. I think we went to seven gifts shops and none of them had one. One owner even said that we would only find them online, another person said it’s because Chicago is the only notable place in Illinois so why not just make “Chicago” pins, which is all that we found. Souvenir hunting is a good way to see a city, let me tell you.
I thought there was a chance I would have a blog entitled, “Shitcago” if Chicago was going to be a rough city, but it turns out it was fantastic. From there, we headed up to Rothbury, Michigan – the reason for this entire trip in the first place!
We had a couple camping nights in Indiana Dunes State Park before staying in a hotel the night prior to going to Electric Forest festival in Rothbury. The Park was cool, quiet, and green. We chilled and did literally nothing for two days and it was soooo needed. Even though we realized how nice it was to stay more than one night somewhere on this trip, we rarely did so. I think the reason is because if you aren’t moving forward, you feel like you’re wasting time, and that you’ll have to rush later. We timed everything pretty good and things always worked out.
Next time in Colin’s blog of wonder, Electric Forest!