After a spending half a day wandering the streets of Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg or whatever stupid town Dollywood is in, we rocketed southward, crossing the northwest corner of Georgia on our way to Alabama.
Somewhere between Tennessee and Alabama, while I was pushing 90 to pass some other traffic, the plastic brush guard under the car’s engine dislodged itself with a resounding noise and I watched it tumble down the road in my rearview mirror. One corner had been damaged in the previous week’s bridge accident, and apparently it caught on the pavement and ripped the entire thing free. Luckily, it’s not crucial to the car’s operation and its sudden dislodging didn’t cause any accidents, so we continued on our way.
We were aiming for a campsite in Talladega National Forest, near the small town of Anniston (no relation to Jennifer, I was sad to learn). The forest shares a border with the Fort McClellan Military Reservation. For some reason, the computer had us driving through the reservation to get to the forest.
This would have worked fine, except that someone had apparently changed the names of all the roads in the reservation since the map was last updated. It also didn’t help that the place was completely deserted. There were buildings, streets, parking lots, traffic lights, all the trappings of a populated area except for actual people. It was creepy.
It became even creepier when, in the course of driving around, we spotted huge billowing clouds of smoke in the distance, apparently emanating from the very forest we were trying to reach. Finally, having encountered nothing but dead ends, mislabeled roads, and empty buildings, and faced with the prospect of camping in a forest fire, we decided to turn back and get the hell out of there.
On our way out, we drove past a fenced off building with a bunch of people sitting outside around picnic tables. They turned and looked at us as we passed. The creep factor rose to unprecedented levels. Mounted on the fence was a shiny new sign with the words “Homeland Security Department” in big letters, and some other stuff that I can’t remember now. We left. Quick.
I don’t know what we stumbled upon exactly, but it was probably the weirdest thing that happened on the entire trip.
Finally, after the sun had set and we still hadn’t managed to find a campsite, I sprang for a hotel room in Gadsden. We showered, ate, and slept, looking forward to getting the hell out of Alabama in the morning.
Worst. Highways. Ever. Some of the worst drivers, too. At one point, while driving through Jackson in heavy traffic, the freeway narrowed to two tiny lanes with concrete barriers on each side and no shoulders. I was in the left lane, with semi trucks in front of, beside, and behind me. To make matters worse, some highway engineer from hell had torn big nasty grooves into the lane every few feet. Whenever my tires hit these grooves, the car lunged for the concrete barrier. And by some fucked up logic, traffic was flowing at about 80 miles per hour, which meant the truck behind me was mere feet from my bumper, trying to push me to go faster.
Normally, I’m not a nervous driver, even in hairy situations, but with everything including the actual road itself trying to kill me, my nerves were wearing thin. Luckily, we came through in one piece.
I’m never going back to Mississippi, though. Not that I ever wanted to go there in the first place.
Ugh. Just ugh. Roads almost as bad as Mississippi. Drivers who had apparently only recently escaped from drug rehabilitation centers. All I could think about at this point was Texas, where the roads are good, the drivers mostly courteous, and the beds at Grandma’s house soft and warm.
Crossing the border from Louisiana to Texas was like crossing some kind of transdimensional gateway. Almost instantly, the roads became wider and smoother. I found that my blinkers had developed the incredible ability to create holes in traffic, whereas in (for example) every other fucking state in the country, they only seemed to make it impossible for me to change lanes.
Finally, after something like thirteen hours on the road, we arrived at my grandparents’ ranch near Somerville, Texas. We were early, so they were surprised to see us, but Grandma still somehow managed to have a fresh pie just coming out of the oven. She cooked us all hamburgers and poured us big tall glasses of iced tea. We decided we were too tired to fully enjoy the pies she had made, so we put those off until morning.
After a long and restful sleep, each of us in our own room with our own beds for the first time on the entire trip, we awoke to a breakfast of scrambled eggs, cinnamon rolls, sausage, and orange juice. Then we ate our first slices of pie.
Grandma made three pies: Green Grape, Sour Cream Berry, and Pecan. The grapes, berries, and pecans were all fresh and grown right there on the ranch. The pies were delicious, especially the green grape. It had a consistency similar to apple pie, only made with small, slightly sour wild grapes. I’ve decided it’s my new favorite pie.
Afterward, we spent the day exploring the ranch, swimming, and eating more pie. It was definitely the highlight of the trip. We saw fire ants, a scorpion, and an unidentified snake, and Loren was afraid of all of them. It was great.
Stay tuned for the next installment, Pie Trip II: Grandma’s House to Portland, in which our heroes lose one of their number in Tucson, get lost (twice!) in the Arizona desert, and attempt to attain flight in the windy, Mars-like terrain of Fossil Falls, California.