Monday, July 19, 2010

Road to Nowhere

I rolled into Bryson City at about noon on Sunday, still a little shaken from the beating that I had taken on the Cherohala Skyway the day before.  My hosts for the evening, Jack and Raquel Moore, were happy to have me for as long as I wanted to stay, so I decided to take a rest day and spend two nights with them.

So today I tooled around by car with Raquel, and she gave me a tour of Bryson City--the downtown, her friends' bike shop, the used book store where she volunteers, Anthony's Pizza (where her foster son Jacob and I inhaled an 18" pie), and the train depot.  We also managed to squeeze in a hike to the top of Waterrock Bald (at 6280') and a stroll through the creepy tunnel at the end of the Road to Nowhere.

The Road to Nowhere is located in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Back in the 1940s, the government flooded a big chunk of land in Swain County in order to build a dam.  The problem was that the flooding eliminated a road that led to some cemeteries in the county.  They promised to build a road that would go around the new lake and provide access for the residents to visit their deceased family members' resting places, but after completing part of the road and a tunnel, the money ran out and the road was never completed.  Hence, the Road to Nowhere.

Raquel told me the story of the bitter legacy left behind by this incident, which was only recently "resolved" by a settlement to the surviving families.  As we walked through the 1200' pitch black tunnel, I couldn't help but think about the stranded graves and what great ghost stories could be written about their wrath, the dark forests, and the even darker tunnel...

But what I was also thinking about was how Raquel's tour of her town was only the latest in a series of tours I've been lucky enough to receive by the many people who have housed me during this trip.

In El Centro, California, Brian McNeece rode out with me the morning I left his house, and as we rode, he gave me an insider's tour of the city and the surrounding area--a tour that included stories about its history, agricultural roots, and recent earthquake damage.

In Wickenburg, Arizona, the Travis family took  me through the downtown so that I could see the talking statues and the fake rattlesnake that made a guy jump out into the street (he wasn't hurt--just mad).

In Prescott, Arizona, Dave Craig took me around the downtown, gave me a rundown of the city's interesting demographic makeup, and showed me the newest, most innovative building at Prescott College, where he teaches.

In Wichita, Kansas, John and Sharlene Sampson took me downtown to witness the "Ring of Fire" ceremony at the Keeper of the Plains, a magnificent structure at the junction of two rivers that commemorates the area's native American roots.

In Girard, Kansas, Bill Haddan took me up in a two-seater plane to show me the land in a way that most people never get to experience.

In Strafford, Missouri, Jan and Bill Montgomery took me on a "scandal tour" of the county, which included a stop along the road where the local veterinarian had an afternoon tryst with a married woman.

And in Clarksville, Tennessee, Lawson Mabry--whose family settled in Clarksville in the late 1700s--gave me a one-of-a-kind historical tour of the city and showed me some incredible historical documents from his own family record.

The title of this post is certainly intended to be ironic; if nothing else, this trip has shown me that the road always leads somewhere.  Along the way, I've been lucky enough to stay with able tour guides who have a deep and abiding love for the places where they live.  People for whom the word "home" carries real weight.  People who cared enough about their communities that they wanted to make sure I took part of them with me.

All of these individuals have made me think more deeply about my home.  If a traveller came to stay with me, what would I show him?  What part of where I live would I want him to carry out into the world as he continued on his way?


  1. With the end in sight, your writing is becoming more poignant, my friend. Maybe it's not the "end", but the beginning of a new journey?

    Sarah B

  2. Rocco,

    Thanks for dropping by and have a safe and adventurous rest of your journey!

    Jack and Raquel