The Bourbon Trail

Last week, the Voyager witnessed birthday celebrations in Chicago, came up against The Fighting Irish and braved Motown. In week ten the journey follows the old Bourbon Trail from Jim Beam country to Jack Daniel’s before crossing the Great Plains for the final time.

Day 64 – Cincinnati, OH to Glasgow, KY

Cincinnati

We began week ten in the rather endearing city of Cincinnati, Ohio. The impressive homes of the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cincinnati Reds are sandwiched by the Ohio River and the scenic Smale Riverfront Park. Shu and I have been to many urban green spaces over the last ten weeks – I am not including Portland’s shambolic riverfront wasteland they call a park – and this one was the most pleasant by some considerable margin. In fact, the appearance of Cincinnati as a whole gave the impression that the people actually cared, extremely unusual for large American cities.

Cincinnati

Cincinnati

Following a pleasant morning in Ohio, we left the Great Lakes states and headed South, to Kentucky. I am fairly confident that the first two things – actually the only two things – anybody thinks of when they hear Kentucky is the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Fried Chicken. We decided to fulfil the stereotype by heading straight for Louisville, the home of Churchill Downs and the Derby.

Welcome To Kentucky

Churchill Downs

Not that horse racing stirrups my senses, but I was still rather disappointed that our foaling around in Cincinnati watching the Filly game meant we arrived five minutes after the track attendants had baled for the evening and the place had shut. However, although we did not stay furlong, I was manely disappointed with the fact that one of the richest sporting events in the world takes place in a poor, unstable area that clearly needs more resources than race horses.

Churchill Downs

I apologise unreservedly for that tacky paragraph. In the evening we continued on South until we joined the Bourbon Trail; a journey linking numerous distilleries in the area including Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Evan Williams, Bulleit Frontier & Jack Daniel’s.

Jim Beam Distillery

Jim Beam Distillery

In fact, there are actually more distilleries in Kentucky than schools. A point that, whilst not being completely true, does give you an idea of what most people do in the evenings. After our visit to the Jim Beam distillery we decided to join our fellow Glaswegians in their favourite pastime. Glasgow, Kentucky that is. Must be a sign.

Jim Beam Distillery

Jim Beam Distillery

Day 65 – Glasgow, KY to Shelbyville, TN

Mammoth Cave National Park

Unable to find a deep fried scotch egg anywhere, we moved on, malnourished, in search of Mammoth Cave National Park. Fully expecting to behold the fossilised remains of spectacular woolly mammoths, it was mildly disappointing that the Mammoth in Mammoth Cave only refers to its size.

IMG_9608

Mammoth Cave National Park

It is rather big though, the longest known cave system in world and, apparently, a lot more remains to be discovered. If you have not noticed already, Americans are obsessed with things being ranked as the largest, longest, ugliest, unluckiest, straightest or meatiest etc. I truly cannot wait to observe the World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet in Burlington, Vermont. Real thing.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

Before leaving Kentucky we had to fulfil its second stereotype by visiting the home of Colonel Sanders and his fried chicken. It actually tasted rather good, but probably no different than a KFC in Leighton Buzzard would. We continued along the trail and by nightfall we crossed into state number twenty-five and the half-way mark, Tennessee. Just another twenty-five wonderful states to go.

KFC In Kentucky

Day 66 – Shelbyville, TN to Memphis, TN

It was a mixed morning for us as we found the cheapest gas of the trip so far but then witnessed Wales’ cruel exit from the Rugby World Cup. Needing a drink to sooth the pain it was quite useful that we had camped within minutes of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Only upon our arrival did we realise that the tiny county in which the distillery is situated is dry; no liquor stores, bars or anywhere where we could buy an alcoholic beverage. Bizarre.

Jack Daniel's Distillery

Jack Daniel's Distillery

The distillery itself provided fascinating insight into the lengths that the sixteen-year-old, five-foot two-inch Jack Daniel went to starting his own whisky enterprise. Every bottle of JD is produced at this one site, producing an intoxicating aroma of whisky mash that surrounds the entire county and is probably the reason why the locals don’t need to buy any alcohol.

Jack Daniel's Distillery

Jack Daniel's Distillery

The entire town of Lynchburg lives off the distillery, primarily through the sale of curious JD merchandise including toilet seats made from old whisky barrels and goblets made from the ground bones of former JD employees. After finishing the tour, a four-hour dusk drive to Memphis await as we left the Bourbon Trail and joined the Blues Trail. American’s like a good trail too.

Lynchburg

Jack Daniel's Distillery

Day 67 – Memphis, TN to Mountain View, AR

Memphis

Memphis. The home of Elvis, rhythm and blues and delectable Southern food. We walked, with our feet ten feet off of Beale, through the historic part of town that was once home to most influential blues musicians in the country. Live music could be heard from virtually every café, restaurant and bar on the street as well as from the myriad of buskers stood outside them.

Memphis

Memphis

We paid a visit to the home of the Memphis Grizzlies of basketball fame, once the Vancouver Grizzlies, that were sold and taken away from our adopted Canadian home and shuffled here in 2001. I was rather surprised that they did not think to change the name of the team when they relocated given the distinct lack of bears in Tennessee, or indeed in the surrounding thousand miles.

Memphis Grizzlies

Short of selling one of my kidneys, Graceland was a little out of our price bracket so we took off our blue suede shoes and boarded our minivan in the middle of the pouring… Actually it wasn’t raining, it was quite a pleasant afternoon. We crossed the for the umpteenth time into Arkansas, unsure of what to expect.

Crossing The Mississippi

The Natural State sounded amiable but if we had learnt anything it was not to take state monikers too seriously. However, on our first foray into the state we beheld farms, lush meadows, golden forests and many, many tractors. Put Wales in the Deep South and you get Arkansas. Barring the 2 a.m. wake up call we got from two Arkansans play fighting with foam batons right next to the Voyager we slept quite… naturally. Ardderchog.

First Glimpse Of Arkansas

Day 68 – Mountain View, AR to Springfield, MO

For the first time on the whole journey we truly felt like strangers in a foreign land. The people of Arkansas are extremely friendly and forthcoming, if just a tad slow. I very much doubt that the locals of Mountain View had ever seen a Canadian license plate, at least that is what their stares suggested, whilst passers-by commented on places they had heard of in Canada or famous Canadian people they had read about in the newspaper.

Mountain View

Every conversation took an inordinate amount of time given the slower speed of speech of all Arkansan. In fact, the people walk, drive and insult northern city-slickers a lot slower as well. Just a short drive from Tennessee and we were in a completely different country.

Arkansas

Arkansas

We headed to the only spot on our map of Arkansas that had a green dot symbolising a National Forest or Park, Blanchard Springs and Caverns. This was a great misnomer as all of the state we saw could have been classified as a National Park. This was how we imagined Colorado to look like, although it appeared as though Arkansas had no climbers, runners, canoeists, cyclists or tourists here at all, just us. We were in a region known as the Ozarks, and this region, thankfully, continued North into state number twenty-seven, Missouri.

Arkansas

Arkansas

We arrived in Springfield just in time to find a sports bar and watch, but not hear, the Philadelphia Eagles play on Monday Night Football. This was because the Kansas City Royals – improbably from Missouri, not Kansas – were, from what I could gather, playing a rather important baseball game that required full volume and every television screen bar one. Six dollar pitchers of lager made up for this inconvenience.

Welcome To Missouri

Day 69 – Springfield, MO to Baxter Springs, KS

After a brief stop of at the World’s Largest Fork, we went in search of the Mother Road for the final time. Having completed the end of the road first, the start second, it was now time to finish the road in the middle. If that makes any sense, I will be pleasantly surprised. So we ditched the sat nav, left the Interstate behind and prepared for two days relying on good old fashioned road signs and a rather rusty sense of direction.

World's Largest Fork

World's Largest Fork

We headed in the traditional Westerly direction towards the Kansas state line eagerly stopping at each and every Route 66 ‘memorable marker’ or ‘roadside attraction’, of which there were many, some more memorable than others. Having started the day with thirty-five-foot cutlery we would take some impressing.

Route 66 In Missouri

Route 66 In Missouri

Route 66 only runs through the state of Kansas for thirteen miles – less than one percent of its total length – but they make the most of this short stretch by transforming every metre into a shrine. The old trucks of Galena provided the inspiration for the film animation Cars whilst the unique Rainbow Curve Bridge is the last of its kind on the entire route.

Route 66 In Kansas

Galena

Upon crossing the bridge, and viewing the infamous painted white Route 66 symbol once more, I got the same feeling I had when we first stumbled across the road for the first time in the Mojave Desert. A certain contentment and realisation that, at that moment, there was nowhere else in the world I would prefer to be. So much so that we decided to camp alongside the bridge, picture the hopeful early travellers who made the same crossing and savour our privileged situation.

Galena

Rainbow Curve Bridge

Day 70 – Baxter Springs, KS to Chandler, OK

Rainbow Curve Bridge

The glinting morning sun somehow crept through our industrial blackout curtains to wake us up this morn, but not matter, we were in a somewhat agreeable spot. Before starting our day proper we drove into the nearest town to see if we could locate breakfast at a typical Route 66 diner. Baxter Springs, although small, had several, and following what was without doubt the World’s Greasiest Chips, we were on our way.

Baxter Springs

Welcome To Oklahoma

It was not long before we departed the state with the shortest section of Route 66 and entered the state with the longest, Oklahoma. We drove through several iconic route towns: Miami, Afton, Vinita, Catoosa, Claremore; each with their own bizarre museum or attraction. We happened upon an un-signposted Route 66 sidewalk ribbon road in Miami, were kindly shown a remarkable private classic car collection in Afton and then came Big Blue.

Route 66 Ribbon Road

Afton

Big Blue is one of the most iconic landmarks in Oklahoma, and it has all the qualities of a classic Route 66 attraction. Large, pointless and now run-down it remains an indicator of a once thriving roadside community that now struggles to exist. The roll-out of the Interstate in the 1950’s made driving a lot safer and quicker but it wiped out many towns and took some of the soul out of those that survived.

Blue Whale, Catoosa

“Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” (Kuralt, 1967)

We followed the old route into Tulsa and encountered another large oddity. This time it was the World’s Tallest Freestanding Statue, and quite a sight it was too. Although, now we are in hurricane country, I would not fancy my chances standing next to it during a storm. Out of Tulsa, we were able to find small sections of the original road which was now disused and derelict and often led to bushes and/or dead-ends. Oh what I would give to go back to 1926 and start all over again.

Golden Driller, Tulsa

Route 66 Dead-End

Next week the Voyager says goodbye to Oklahoma and the Mother Road before entering the Wild West and The Gulf of Meccico.

Galena

Total kilometres: 17,939

J

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