Max is more than ready to get back to something familiar. I feel like he’s enjoying the trip. We’ve never been this far together. But strange places feel awkward, right? So, when I opened the back door and said, “Get up,” he got up in a hurry. Tongue hanging out. Tail wagging.
When I rolled out of Grayson, my intention was to take State Route 7 and to catch up to US Highway 23 somewhere close to Fallsburg. Mind you, I’m looking at my 1992 road atlas which has never let me down. By my estimation, I should get to US 23 around 10:00.
My two-lane highway was a wide and spacious road for a long time before it narrowed down to what you might call a narrow two-lane cow path. Somewhere just south of the Morgan County line. I found it difficult to know exactly where I was along the route because most of the little towns did not boast about their names. No city limit signs. If I was lucky, I might catch the name of a church or a store that included the name of the place.
The only name I kept in mind was Fallsburg. I knew when I got there that US 23 would be somewhere in close proximity. Turn right and head south.
Ten o’clock came and went. No sign of Fallsburg. By 10:45 I was thinking that my estimation must have been way off. I know I’m still on State Route 7. The highway signs are plentiful. By 11:00 I’m beginning to accept the fact that this leg of the trip may be more adventurous than planned.
There are five categories of roads one could travel across this country. The interstates are modern marvels of transportation ingenuity. The US highways are typically good roads, many of them have been transformed into divided four-lane super highways. Then there’s your State Routes, the condition of which depends heavily on the eagerness of state employees to maintain them. At number four is your local county roads. And at number 5 are the roads I would categorize as “other.”
I spent a lot of time today on category four and five roads through the hollows of eastern Kentucky. By the time I realized that I was way beyond getting back to US 23 as planned, I pulled into a convenience store, bought a Dr. Pepper and studied my map. I also gave Max a chance to get out and stretch, sniff, do his thing, wag the tail and get back in.
I don’t ever consider myself lost. It’s a male thing, I guess. I felt no panic. I knew that the sun was in the right place to indicate that I was generally headed south. Georgia is south of Kentucky as I learned it. So, I felt pretty confident of figuring out my next move. If I got too far east, I’d find Virginia and could bear to the right just a smidge. To the west and south there was a whole lot of Kentucky but eventually I would find Tennessee.
I studied a little road on the map that curled back on itself like a Christmas ribbon. I could see that this road appeared to wind generally in the direction of US 23. Just a couple miles south and I hung a left on County Road 122.
Narrow does not begin to describe this road. The guard rails are set right on top of the white line on one side. The rock outcrops on the other side are close enough to take your sideview mirror off. I am driving in a “Fallen Rock Zone.” You know the sign.
A little further down, my favorite sign, “One Lane, Missing Pavement.” I came around a curve and had to cross the center line to miss the cavernous hole on the side of the road. The guard rail had fallen away and down the embankment. Top speed was about 22 MPH.
Then I came to a steep section with a sign that read, “Use Caution, Narrow Passage.”
I’ve gotta say, it was a stunning drive. Bottom lands in the valleys with thick green fescue pastures. Freshly painted black tobacco barns and manicured lawns around tidy houses. There were a few doublewides. A few shanties that had seen better days. But the line this road traced through the hills of Appalachia was deep and memorable and it left me with a sense of awe about the day.
It also left me with a growl in my stomach. I came to a stop sign where 122 turn back north. I took the unnamed road to the south. At the bottom of the hill I saw a sign on the front of a building that read, “Fat Daddys”, food served hot. The neon OPEN sign was on, and I pulled in.
I was the only one in the restaurant. Black and white checkered tile. Booths against the wall. Tables and chairs down the middle. I stood at the counter for a moment, when a woman came through the swinging kitchen doors.
“What can I get for you today? You need to see the menu, Hon?”
She was maybe 40, jet black hair, high cheek bones. I wanted to ask her if anyone had ever told her that she could be Loretta Lynn’s twin. I mean it. The voice. The look. I wondered if we might be close to Butcher Holler.
I’m looking down the menu. “I gotta have the Fat Daddy Burger. Can’t pass on the signature item on the menu.”
“You want fries or onion rings to go with that?”
“Give me the onion rings. And a kids burger for my dog, please ma’am.”
“You take any seat and I’ll get this right up for you.”
When she came out to the table, she asked me, “Where you from?”
I guess it showed. “I’m from Pine Mountain, Georgia.”
“Lord, Honey, you really are off the beaten path.”
If she only knew.
“What’s the name of this town? I didn’t see a sign.”
“Well I don’t reckon I’d rightly call it a town. Ain’t nothing here but us, the Post Office and a filling station.”
“So what’s the name? I don’t have a clue where I am.”
“Bevensville,” she says. “How’s that burger?”
It took 8 napkins to eat that burger. Man was it good. It took about another 40 minutes to find US 23, including one 10 mile turn around because the bridge was out south of Bevensville. Four hours later, I rolled into Franklin, North Carolina and checked into my hotel.
As odd as my route was today, I think Max and I had a great time. He took it all in stride. He seems happy to be along. And we saw Kentucky like we’d never seen it before.
My cousin sent me a quote yesterday. I’m not going to remember it exactly. But it fits our day. Max wags his tail all the time. He makes me laugh, unexpectedly. And so, “it appears that his tail’s job is to synchronize all of my moods to the measure of his joy.”
Something, today, he did perfectly.