Day 8: August 28, 2010
Clinched: BRP
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In case anyone questioned my "almost unmarked" description, here is a picture of Root Bar #1 in the daylight. I did not see the sign last night and am guessing that it isn't lighted. Apparently they're counting on word of mouth.

The Blue Ridge Parkway's headquarters was just over a mile from where I reentered the Parkway. There is a very nice visitor center at the same location. The headquarters lies behind some trees over a foot bridge and isn't all that interesting looking even after crossing the bridge. The visitor center, however, is rather nice. A student conservation group was setting up photo displays under the two awnings when I was there.

The Moose Cafe is to Asheville as the Loveless is to Nashville. Both serve big freshly baked fluffy biscuits with really good stuff to put on them. At the Moose, it's chunky apple butter and your choice of a couple types of gravy. I had actually decided to have a "moosecake" but changed my mind at the last second and ordered a ham & cheese omelet. There are two Moose Cafe locations but this one that's about four miles from the BRP and half a furlong from I-40 is the only one I've been to. Their website claims the restaurant is "within 2 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway" but that seems to be in error. There is a nice freestanding Moose Cafe sign by the road but not a one on the building. As a result, cashiers are required to wear Moose Cafe tee shirts and back up to the window when not actually operating the register.

Motorcycles seemed extra plentiful today. In the first picture, although the Smokies are still quite a few miles away, there is a hint of the natural fog that gives them their name. In the second picture, two bikers set off to see what the other has seen. The third picture was taken from Waterrock Knob and shows a westbound rider on the Parkway below. If you need just one more Blue Ridge long view, there's one here that was taken from Richland Balsam Overlook; the highest point on the Parkway.

The finish was rather low key. There is no big "END" sign. The Parkway simply delivers you to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and US-441. I pulled over to take a break, open a can of cold tea, and savor the accomplishment. By chance, two horses grazed directly across the Oconaluftee River from where I stopped. They didn't seem too interested in sharing the moment with me but they were polite enough to not go running off while I was there.

The scenery had been spectacular and the weather almost perfect. I had driven every mile of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway with the top off of the car. I saw rain on the trip but never while on the parkways, Sprinkles did appear a time or two but they weren't enough to trigger closing the car and they were brief. The highest "on parkway" temperature had been 89 degrees Fahrenheit; The lowest 63. The 89 degrees had lasted maybe half an hour; The 63 degrees a few minutes. The typical temperature had been in the low to mid 70s. The mild temperatures were partly the result of frequently overcast skies and that meant sometimes less than ideal picture taking conditions. That's a trade off I was quite happy to make.

The Smokies and US-441 are very pretty but it was a warm August Saturday and they were also very crowded. It now occurred to me that it being Saturday was no doubt the reason motorcycles and seemed more numerous on the Parkway. US-441 splits at the north edge of the park to provide a Gatlinburg bypass. For some reason, I drove on through the town. I don't know whether I just forget or whether this tourist mecca really is growing at a frightening pace. I know there used to be some open space between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and it I think there was space between Pigeon Forge and Sevierville just a few years ago. Now the three towns form an unbroken strip of restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourist attractions with stacks of motel rooms behind them. I know the Titanic is new. It had its grand opening in April. As a public service, its website says "We strongly recommend that you purchase your tickets in advance as most days sell out very quickly!". There was lots of traffic but it wasn't Manhattan bad or Smokies-when-the-leaves-turn bad. I made it through and even saw just a little open space before Knoxville.

I stopped for the day at a familiar Super 8 off I-75 in Powell then stopped at the Powell Airplane on the way to dinner. I don't think much has been done sine my last visit but the deterioration has been checked.

Life can be so cruel and memory so slippery. I told everyone at Litton's Market, Restaurant & Bakery that I'd been trying to get back there for three years and when I spoke with Erik I told him he'd been my tour guide on that long ago date. But I soon discovered that it was Nick who had spent all that time with me and, when I checked my own website, I saw that my visit had been in January of 2009. Eighteen months, not three years, ago. That's the slippery memory part. The cruelty involved flounder.

Flounder stuffed with crab was the evening's special. That is something I would ordinarily order in an instant but I'd been looking forward to a Litton's 'burger for three years... errrr... eighteen months. I had been in Knoxville a couple of times since that first visit, Once, during their Fourth of July closure, I'd actually driven to the restaurant. Another time I was in town on a Sunday when the restaurant is always closed. So I told Heidi, my waitress, that it would be hamburger and not flounder for me. It was delicious. It can be tough to match long experienced anticipation but the Litton 'burger did it. It at least equaled the best I've ever had and the bun -- fresh from the Litton bakery -- was superb. I'll be back and I kind of hope that I'll find that the special is again stuffed flounder when I do. But if it's not, I'll manage somehow.

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