Up bright and early, we eat our free hot breakfast at the Best Western Cedar Bluff Inn . Packed and ready, we meet Harry from Odyssey Airport Taxi in front of the hotel for the ride over to Smokey Mountain Harley-Davidson in Maryville. Oops – we discover that our motorcycle is actually across town at Knoxville Harley-Davidson on Lovell Road. No problem – by now we’re now old friends with Odyssey Airport Taxi, and Patrick comes by to shuttle us to the correct Harley dealer. I am once again forced to re-learn a travel lesson: confirm your itinerary carefully, and pay attention to the details. Luckily, my mistake hasn’t cost us much more than a few hours and an extra cab ride.
We finally arrive at Knoxville Harley-Davidson, to a warm greeting from Sean Hickey, Rental Manager. Sean has our paperwork ready, and we’re soon loading up our black 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide with gear. Robin immediately christens the bike “Melvis.” Melvis is a stock Ultra Classic, with just over 8500 miles on the clock. He’s in excellent shape, with a few tiny nicks and scuffs adding character. The only accessory I can spot is a set of highway pegs, which I know will come in handy on the longer rides.
Because we’ve lost a bit of time, I spend a few minutes studying the maps before we leave, and simplify our route to Nashville to a more direct path than originally planned. Luckily, there’s a scenic route via US 70 that leads directly from Knoxville to Nashville. We won’t have to ride the superslab I-40 to make our day, we’ll be able to stay on the back roads and see the real Tennessee.
Knoxville and Eastern Tennessee are in the Eastern Time Zone. Somewhere in the middle of the Cumberland Plateau, the Western half of the state switches over to the Central Time Zone, one hour earlier. Riding west, we gain an extra hour of riding time to reach Nashville in the daylight.
Tennessee’s landscape is ever changing, from rolling farmland to tree-covered hills to rocky promontories. Riding across the state is fascinating, because the roads change quickly from challenging curves to rigid straightaways, frequently and almost unpredictably. We cross the Tennessee River in Kingston, the first of many river crossings as we moved through the state. If we had more time, we would have dallied in Sparta and visited Burgess Falls State Park, the site of the tallest waterfall east of the Rockies – taller even than Niagara Falls. Next trip…
We arrive in Nashville at 4:30, after about five hours and 185 miles of riding. We check in to our room at the Best Western Music Row. We decide to walk downtown to find some food, as we didn’t stop for lunch between Knoxville and Nashville. We have only one goal: Barbeque. The Best Western Music Row is conveniently located within a mile of all of the downtown tourist attractions, including the Ryman Auditorium, the Ernest Tubb Record Store and the Nashville Convention Center.
We hoof it to Broadway and scout out the scene. After a quick stop to drool over the vintage instruments at world famous Gruhn Guitars , we settle on Jack’s Bar-B-Que (416 Broadway Nashville, Tennessee 37203), which turned out to be an amazingly good decision. Jack’s has been a Nashville mainstay since the 1970’s, and set a very high bar for barbeque on our trip. Robin has the smoked chicken, and I have the three meat combo plate (sausage, brisket and pulled pork). My mouth waters recounting the details. We pick up a slice of chess pie and a slice of fudge pie for dessert later, and head back to the Best Western.
Back at the hotel, we decide to check out Pick’s Nashville Lounge, the lobby bar. It used to be a semi-famous location called “The Hall of Fame Lounge” under previous ownership. Stacy Ries sings cover versions of country hits as we arrive. We chat with the new owners, Wade and Tina Johnson, about their plans for the room, which they hope to turn into a rival to crosstown Bluebird Lounge, a legendary home to songwriters and budding local talent. We enjoy a few acts in the bar’s open mike night before retiring for the evening, wishing Wade and Tina the greatest success in their Nashville dreams.
Next: Tennessee, Day Two: Nashville to Memphis