After leaving Hot Springs, AR, we headed north on the scenic State Route 7 to Russellville, AR and set up camp at Illinois Bayou Park. It had been raining all day, which we didn’t mind except that building a fire was kind of a pain. That night, we drank wine by the fire and spooked ourselves into thinking a bear was nearby. It went a little something like this: click here
Luckily, we weren’t eaten alive and made it safely through the night.
Waking up to rain again, water was seeping through all of the tent walls, especially at the zippers. In an effort to stay somewhat dry, we packed up camp and were on the road by 6am. Getting a head start on this day allowed us to cover a LOT of ground. Nothing too remarkable on the trail, mostly country roads through rural communities. Miles of wheat and grain fields.
For the first half of the day, most of the route was paved and we were a bit let down. Still, it’s nice to not be on a highway. About half way through the day, the road turned to dirt and the rain gave the trail that bright red and the trees a deep green we have been falling in love with since entering Arkansas. Getting closer to the Arkansas / Mississippi border, the trail took us along the top of a floodwall and then down into corn, rice and soybean fields. This low-lying land had been pounded with rain over the last few days and was sopping wet. We proceeded with caution.
Parts of the road were fairly muddy and many shallow water crossings were necessary. We were having a great time. Slowly, what began as a trail with water crossings turned into a waterway with islands of dry soil here and there. Click here
Each time we came to dry land, we would get out and walk the full length of the next flooded portion before driving the jeep in. It was pretty slow going, it was getting late, and dark clouds were starting to form overhead. We were miles deep into already flooded lowlands; who knew what more rain might generate. As we rounded the next bend we came to the longest deepest flood yet. The flooded stretch was about 100 yards long and probably around 2 and a half feet deep at it’s deepest. There was water rushing in from both sides and was bringing in topsoil from the surrounding fields. Brian walked into the thigh-deep water and, after concluding that it was safe enough to drive through, signaled to Carley that it was time to capture some footage.
Carley wasn’t exactly excited about walking 50 yards in her Teva’s into murky water filled with who-knows what kind of miscellaneous amphibians, (earlier in the day we had passed a dead alligator snapper the size of a trash can lid) but she did it anyway. Turns out, she had nothing to be afraid of and the resulting video is pretty cool. Check it: click here
We made it through, but what was next? The trail was muddy, flooded for miles and ultimately impassable. Instead of backtracking for miles, we found a few county roads heading north, toward the highway. With more rain in the forecast, we opted for a KOA in West Memphis, AR to hunker down for the night.
As soon as we pulled into our campsite, we immediately attempted to waterproof the rooftop tent. Brian spraying a waterproofing agent to the outside and Carley coating the seams with sealer from the inside. Dark clouds were moving in and the wind was starting to pick up, so Brian relocated the Jeep to a safer spot away from the tall old trees that lined the campground. We rolled out the side awning and quickly started dinner. Moments later, it began to rain again. We scrapped any side dish ideas and stood under our awning and laughed while we ate our chilidogs. The waterproofing didn’t have any effect, and rain seeped in through the entire tent and trickled in at the zippers and seams all through the night. Not exactly encouraging to us, considering we plan to be in MUCH more tropical climates where rain occurs daily. Our tent leaks. That’s a problem.
The next morning was fairly clear so we left the tent open to try to dry out while we did laundry and took advantage of some free wifi. This lasted only an hour or so before it began to drizzle. So we closed up the tent, broke down camp and headed to Memphis, TN to find breakfast. Great coffee and a delicious breakfast sandwich can be found at Republic Coffee Roasters just east of downtown. With our bellies full and coffee cups empty, we headed back out on the road!
After being forced off the TransAm Trail by flooded roads a day prior and sleeping through rain all night, we debated getting back on the trail or staying on the highway. “We can always turn around”, Brian assured. So we took a few back roads until we met up with the trail and got back on a few miles west of the Tennessee River.
Just as we’d heard, most (99%) of the trail throughout Tennessee is paved and, although we don’t prefer it, it’s better than the highway. Even though it was a gloomy day, our spirits were lifted and we were happy to be on the road again. Unfortunately, the rain had been quite a bit heavier in the areas east of Memphis. Roughly 10 miles in, where the trail used to be, there was now a lake. Defeated, we turned around and hit the highway.
Carley checked the weather report for the general area and saw that there was a tornado warning, a flash flood warning and a sever weather warning for every town within 50-60 miles. Since it was nearly 5pm, we pulled into Savannah, TN, grabbed a bottle of wine and booked a room at a very cheap hotel. That night the wind howled and the rain poured down in sheets and we were thankful to have walls and a roof.
In the morning, we grabbed a quick coffee and again headed away from the trail, north to Nashville!
We opted to stay in a small cabin at the Nashville KOA due to the fact that our tent and mattress were still soaked. It had been a few years since either of us had been to Nashville and we were kind of excited for a night out on the town known for live music. We were hoping to catch something good at the legendary “Station Inn” and we weren’t let down. Knowing that The Station Inn doesn’t do presale tickets, we arrived early to ensure a good seat. In line we met a great couple named Pat and Brian. Pat and Brian were unlikely country music fans from the UK who were in town for the CMA’s. The four of us grabbed some drinks and took spaces together at a table. Pat and Brian were so excited to experience a bona fide country music show and we were thrilled just to be there.
Having no idea what to expect, we patiently waited for the show to start. After a few minutes, the lights dimmed and an aging country showboat with a silvery-white pompadour sauntered onto the stage. They wasted no time. After a quick introduction, “I’m Dale Watson and these are the Loan Stars”, the band launched into the first song. Dale Watson, a true entertainer, had the whole crowd dancing in their seats and laughing hysterically. Hands down the best live show we’ve seen in well over a year.
After the show, we said goodbye to our new friends and headed back to the KOA. In the morning, we made the obligatory trip to the Loveless Café for some of their legendary biscuits and jelly. As usual, they did not disappoint.
The next morning, we headed south to pick up the trail once more. We had driven about 15 miles when we ran into the only other people we’ve seen that were also doing the TransAm Trail. Brian and Kevin were on adventure bikes (the proper way to take the trail, I suppose) and were walking said bikes across a shallow, but slippery, water crossing. We pulled off and chatted them up a bit, informing them of the areas where the trail was flooded and asking them about their trip thus far. We all grumbled about the abundance of pavement throughout the Tennessee portions of the trail and we assured them that it would get better once they entered into Arkansas. It was starting to rain, so we wished each other good luck and went our separate ways.
A few miles down the road, disaster struck. We missed a turn. No big deal, we miss turns all day long! But this time, it was different. Brian stopped and put the jeep in reverse to turn around, and nothing, no rearward movement. Shift to drive, same as reverse, nothing but higher RPMs. This isn’t looking good. Shift to park, park engages, reverse and drive then decide to work. Forward momentum resumes and we’re both relieved, although the alleviation would prove short lived. The Jeep is now refusing to shift from second gear - this is a problem.
Did a previous water crossing cause some internal damage? No, surely that can’t be it. We’re in a JEEP! These things are built to go through water, up to 30” of it according to official Jeep literature. Did we maybe slam it into Park before the Jeep was at a complete stop? Okay, that did happen, but just once, and there’s no way that a brand new transmission would falter after just one little hiccup. Still under warranty, we would have to take it to a Jeep dealership to have them figure it out. The closest dealership was more than 40 miles away. So we drove the 40 miles, in second gear, to Murfreesboro, TN.
Carley called to schedule an appointment with the service department and informed Kay, the incredibly nice service manager, that we were on a cross-country trip and begged her to try and work something out. They were booked for days, but Kay agreed to let us drop of the jeep that evening and they would look at it first thing in the morning. No guarantees, but it was something!
Fearing that we might void our warranty by exceeding the GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight rating), we went to a truck stop to use their giant scale so we could know exactly how heavy the Jeep is. We were nearly 600lbs over the recommended weight (we have since lightened the load). It was clear that we needed to unload a few things before heading to the dealership so we booked a room at the cheapest hotel we could find. Unfortunately, the only room they had left was a King Jacuzzi Suite! Not exactly in our budget, but it was on the ground floor and we didn’t have many options or much time.
Once parked in the hotel lot, directly across from our room, we unbolted and unpacked everything that would come loose. The king sized suite (smaller than you would think) quickly filled up with all of our gear. There’s no doubt that we looked absolutely bizarre to anyone who might have been watching.
As soon as we were finished moving everything into the room, Brian drove the jeep up the road to the dealership. Before Carley even had time to flip through the cable channels, he was back. Mysteriously, the jeep was driving fine again. No issues at all. So we called Kay at the service dept. and asked her what she thought we should do. Since there were no codes or lights coming up in the dash and it seemed to be driving normally, Kay said that there wasn’t much they would be able to do. Completely baffled, we chalked it up to a computer glitch that righted itself when we turned the Jeep off and then back on again. Ugh, computers!
That evening we drove around Murfreesboro for a couple of hours to make sure that the Jeep was, in fact, okay. Once we were both satisfied with it’s performance, we stopped in a bar, had a few beers and talked about our plan for the next day. We decided to abandon the trail and take the highway to Asheville, NC. A pretty nice end to an awful day.
In the morning, we put all of our gear back in/on the jeep and hit the road. Eastern Tennessee is unbelievable and the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina is just as scenic as any of the back roads we had been on over the past couple weeks.
We booked a campsite at the local KOA and headed into the city for some dinner and, of course, drinks! Asheville is littered with breweries and we were pretty excited to kick back and enjoy a stress free day. We had dinner at Mellow Mushroom and then a few post-dinner drinks at Jack of the Wood. In a small park at the center of town, there was a drum circle forming and it wasn’t long before everyone within earshot began to wander over to dance, bang a drum or just watch. It seemed like the happiest place on earth.
We strolled around town for a while and stopped every couple of blocks to check out the street performers. There was such a great vibe in that town that we momentarily thought about staying put…for good. But the road was still calling, so we grabbed a bottle of wine and headed back to the campground to for some much needed relaxation.
We woke up early the next day (in our still wet tent) and hit the road. The soundtrack for the day - Jeremy Pinnell’s “OH/KY”; perfectly suited for the beautiful drive back to our homeland: Kentucky. The first place we ever camped together was at the Red River Gorge, at the top of Indian Staircase. Well, it’s not possible to drive the jeep up to the staircase, but we stopped at the gorge to camp and spend our last night on the road near a place that was special to us.
In the morning, we hiked up to the top of the Natural Bridge. It is absolutely breathtaking. There is something about the landscape in southeastern Kentucky that is enchanting and mysterious. The dense green forest, moss growing on the walls of rock and the narrow creeks that cut through the sandstone all work together to form one of the most beautiful places on earth. The Red River Gorge is one of those places that you must visit if you're in the area.
We stood in silence for a few moments, taking it in. Once we climbed back down the mountain, we both sighed as the first leg of our trip, the "shake down", was over. This would be our last stop before heading to our hometown of Covington KY, just a few hours up the road. Although apprehensive to leave our newfound 'home on the road', we were excited to spend time with friends and family. So we hopped in the Jeep and headed home.
It has been 3 weeks since we returned to Kentucky. The plan was to stick around for a few weeks, take care of a few Jeep issues and visit with friends and family. Things haven't exactly gone according to plan.
Here's a quick rundown of events:
- Transmission control module officially pooped out - Jeep in the shop for 10 days to get it replaced
- Brian got Lyme Disease from a tick bite he sustained in Arkansas
- Carley wrecked her motorcycle and got blood poisoning as a result (She’s totally fine, by the way. As is the bike)
- Had to purchase a whole new tent (a James Baroud) since our last one (the Top Bunk) wasn't holding up to the elements. Special shout out to Jason at Performance Rovers in North Carolina, thank you very much!
One more week and we're back on the road for the second leg of the trip. First, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then...Canada for the TCAT!! Check back in a couple weeks for updates. Until then,
Turtles helped across the road: 29 and counting