Monday, March 26, 2012

Alabama Trip: Day 1 Recap

First, a little background on what this road trip was all about, and why we took it. (Yeah, I've gone through this before, but I like having self-contained posts.)

In March 2008, we spent the weekend driving around Nebraska. We had a great time, even though Nebraska doesn't really have a reputation as a vacation destination. But the thing is, most people haven't been to the real Nebraska; they've only driven by on I-80, which of course can be very boring. If the Nebraska trip taught us anything, it's that you can find interesting things almost anywhere, and that perhaps we should take some time to "stop and smell the roses" in some of these states that we only ever drive through on the freeways. New Jersey and Alabama are two states that I've never really "visited" or done anything in except zoom past on the freeways. Both were considered as potential weekend road trip destinations last weekend, but we ultimately chose Alabama based on the weather forecast. (That decision worked out great, by the way. Absolutely no regrets.)

So, on Friday, we drove down to Alabama, on Saturday we spent the day touring Alabama, and on Sunday we drove back from Alabama. And it didn't hit me until after I started tabulating statistics and such that, perhaps, this was kind of crazy. We drove 1,500 miles in three days. With an 8-month old! (Well, almost 8 months.)

We shouldn't make a habit of this, but once in a while, I think this is okay. We are trying to raise a "road trip baby", after all, so regular road tripping is a must...but at the same time, she's at an age where she needs to roll around and try to crawl and stuff, rather than spend most of a three-day stretch in a car seat. So, this may not have been the best time for such a road trip. But all the while she was very, very well behaved...except when we tried to get her to go to sleep in the hotel. (Maybe we should have just kept driving! In all seriousness, though, I imagine that trying to sleep in unfamiliar territory is hard on an infant.)

So, here's where we went and all:

View Larger Map

This is too much to cover in one post, so I'll just tackle the first day for now (up through point E).

Point B: Gate City, VA. Why Gate City? Two reasons: 1) Counties! My first visit to Scott County, VA. 2) Interstates! I had never driven the northernmost 8 miles of I-26 in Tennessee (north/west of I-81), and this side trip allowed me to check that off my list and declare I-26 "complete". Getting to Gate City along US-58/421 through the mountains was a nice diversion from the interstate, too, so this wasn't just about dumb road geek stats.

"Wait a second. You drove to Alabama by way of Virginia? Why?" Because! We don't like taking the same roads both ways. You know that. I certainly didn't want to take I-85 there and back. Booooring.

Point C: Chattanooga, TN. This was the first time I had been to Chattanooga in any capacity since, I think, 1994. I didn't remember a thing about it, or that there's a giant mountain overlooking the city named "Lookout Mountain" there, either. (Now I know where the local minor league baseball team, the Chattanooga Lookouts, gets their name.) This was the best picture of Lookout Mountain we could get, with I-24 passing by at the base of the mountain:

We arrived in Chattanooga in the late afternoon, which wasn't the best timing. Turns out that Chattanooga at rush hour can be pretty brutal. Who knew? Must be that Atlanta influence. (Or the fact that I-24, the only freeway through town, doesn't have enough capacity.)

Fun road geek fact about I-24 in Tennessee: I think it's the only major interstate in the country that leaves, and then re-enters, a state. (I-86 in New York sort of does, but not enough to really matter.) Mile markers and exit numbers normally reset at a state line, but what do they do if you're only temporarily leaving a state? In this case, where I-24 spends four miles in Georgia before re-entering Tennessee, the exit numbers do not reset - Georgia's exits use Tennessee-based exit numbers. But the Georgia section does have separate mile markers (0 through 4). I assume that Tennessee's mile markers include the Georgia section, so that mile markers 166 through 170 (or whatever the numbers are) are basically skipped altogether; that way, the exit numbers and mile markers (in Tennessee) are in sync.

One more note about Tennessee. I saw lots of these gas stations:

Weigel's looks kind of nice from a distance, and there are a lot of them. Is this the Sheetz of Tennessee, perhaps? ... No, not quite. Sheetz, this is not. (Is anything?) And, no, they did not have a diaper changing table in the bathroom at this particular location in Loudon, TN. So, this is just another chain of gas stations. Nothing special, really.

Point D: Trenton, GA. Holy crap is that a Guthrie's???

Guthrie's is a chicken joint that serves, in my opinion, excellent chicken fingers. I made it a point to stop at the Tallahassee location (which is where I discovered Guthrie's) when we drove through in December 2010. Guthrie's is based in Alabama and has several Alabama locations, but this seemed like a pretty obscure place for one. It was a complete, not to mention pleasant, surprise! Yeah, we stopped.

Trenton is actually a pretty obscure place in general. It's in Georgia, but the fastest way to get there from anywhere is probably via either Alabama or Tennessee, because it's surrounded by mountains on either side. In any case, we really liked what we saw of it. And not only do they have a Guthrie's, they have an Ingles, too! (And a BI-LO. It is a very un-Georgia like place.)

Amber expected the mountains up here and in northeastern Alabama to be pretty pathetic, but she was surprised. These are legitimate. (Well, by Appalachian standards.) And is Alabama a place you think of when you think mountains? Of course not. I bet there are a lot of nice places to go up here. But, we were on a schedule, of course.

Point E: Attalla, AL (near Gadsden). This is where we stopped Friday night. We've learned on prior road trips that when traveling with Marla, we should plan on getting to our hotel between 6 and 7 PM, certainly no later than 7. (Eastern Time, that is. Even though Alabama is in the Central Time Zone, we did not adjust our clocks or timing, because we knew we'd be giving that hour right back on Sunday. No need to make things more complicated than they need to be.) Marla had been sitting in the car most of the day, so we wanted to at least give her a chance to roll around a bit before trying to put her to bed.

The original plan was to drive I-59 all the way to Birmingham on Friday and thus "clinch" the entire interstate, but the clock ran out on us. Oh well. No big deal. The Gate City side trip was a higher priority anyway.

Tomorrow: Alabama itself.

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