It was getting late in the afternoon, and we knew we had to hurry if we wanted to go on the tours of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The national park was packed with tourists, and many were from foreign countries. I never realized how big of a deal this park was. Most of the tours were already reserved by the time we got there, so we did some self-guided tours.
The photographs don’t really describe the scale at which these caves dwarf the average cave tour.
Thankfully we were not kicked out for excessive gas expulsion, unlike the Black Bean Burger in the Natural Bridge Cave.
That concluded our 2011 WVO Roadtrip. We spent the remaining evening and night driving all the way from Kentucky to Northern Wisconsin.
On our way to Mammoth Cave, we saw a sign for the birthplace of Honest Abe. Sounded like the perfect kind of place for a roadtrip, so we stopped off.
They have a rather large grounds for this park. It shows Lincoln’s humble beginnings. Kinda crazy to think this was where he grew up and became a president.
If you are ever bored in the United States of America, you can always find a Train Museum within 30 miles of your location. They are everywhere. And they are usually pretty cool.
We go to these museums all over the place. Probably my favorite is the Northern Nevada Train Museum, but this Kentucky one is pretty decent. It appears things have been significantly improved since our visit in 2011.
We decided to drive through the night from the New River Gorge Bridge to central Kentucky. It was already getting late when we left.
We crossed the border in the night, and stopped at the rest area.
Eventually after resting in the car for a few hours (it really sucks sleeping that car, because unlike the van, there is not place to lay down) we kept going to central Kentucky.
Near the end of the day, we try to visit sites that are open during typical business hours. It doesn’t make sense to go to museums that close at 5pm. So we stopped off at the MASSIVE New River Gorge Bridge. It’s quite the spectacle.
There is a trail that allows us to wander down into the New River Gorge. And lots of placards. Everyone loves placards.
After a day of driving in the West Virginia mountains, we were ready to get back on the Interstate. While it’s fun to take all those mountain roads, it’s really slow-going.
Time to cruise to Kentucky.
After a morning in Charlottesville visiting Montecello and the Virginia campus, we headed into the West Virginia mountains.
Holy balls. This place is amazing. Even on a rainy day, it was pretty nice.
We passed by the town and location of the Seneca Rocks. There are caverns to visit around here, but we were running out of time. Plus, considering the black bean burger farting debacle in the Natural Bridge Cavern system, I doubt anyone will let us back into any cave without a thorough butthole cleanse.
As the sun set in these smokey mountains, we saw windmills on the horizon near Buckhannon.
Onward to the New River Gorge.
We got into Charlottesville really late, and found a reasonable hotel in town. We wanted to visit this historical town because of its famous resident: Thomas Jefferson. He designed and built his mansion, Montecello, while being the best Founding Father. Also he engineered the University of Virginia as well.
They let you tour Tommy’s place. It’s a national historic site, and it’s super packed in the summer months. I wanted to see the Jeffersonian Bible, which is a version that he edited out all the miracles and spiritual stuff.
Both buildings are architectural masterpieces, which is a testament to Jefferson’s brilliance. It was so impressive that Glenn broke out his best Renaissance 5K Race T-Shirt to show his utmost respect.
After the meet up in Charleston, we headed north through Myrtle Beach. We didn’t really need to drive though this town because the straightest and fastest route to Charlottesville is the interstate. But we wanted to see the real south, not just some highway.
After cruising the strip on Myrtle Beach, we kept going north. We ate at a BBQ joint along the beach. The sauces are really different down in the South. Not my bag, but still tasty.
It started raining and it was getting dark. We pulled off to fill up the tank under a bank canopy.
Then the impossible happened. Glenn let Nick drive for a few hours.
We drove through the night and slept in the car until morning in Charleston SC. There, we met a colleague, Leon, to meet up and check out each other’s vehicles. We hung out for the whole day, and he toured us around the historic town of Charleston.
We went to the beach and we were noticeably pale. Hey, we are from Wisconsin, cut us some slack.
Naturally, we got into a scuffle and Nick won.
He truly is a glorious human being.
It was a real treat driving around the Smokey Mountains.
While researching the Appalachian Trail, everyone said we had to go to this restaurant on the trail. Even though we weren’t walking the trail, this particular grill was situated where car could reach it. Apparently, hippies hike this 1000-mile long trail, and when they get their smelly asses to Fontana, they eat here to reminisce about what life is like with civilization. I suspect a nicely cooked burger is favorable to another package of ramen noodles.
We drove to the Fontana Dam which is pretty impressive. There is a campground at the base of the dam, and it’s flooded with tourists in the hot humid summer. After a quick stop, we move over to the Fontana Grill.
Overall, it’s a good Bar and Grill. The burgers were cooked really well, and Glenn even ate a veggie burger. I don’t know why, because this is supposedly one of the highest rated burger joints in the country, but I don’t question his brilliance. He sits atop a fine line between madness and genius.
It was getting late, and we needed to head out to South Carolina.
The research town of Oak Ridge was established during World War II to safeguard the secrecy of the Manhattan Project. This site was the place where they refined the Uranium metals to use in the Hiroshima nuclear bomb. Also, they used this material to construct one of the first functioning nuclear reactors on the planet.
The tour starts at the National Laboratory center, and then you are shuttled around the grounds to the reactor building.
There is a lot of space between buildings, and we finally got to the main lot.
The reactor hasn’t been in production for decades, so it’s safe to enter without being irradiated. Not only that, but the building is a nuclear tourism museum, littered with placards and artifacts throughout the building. Just like this newspaper from the end of WWII.
They let you meander around the place as long as you want, because the shuttle goes back and forth from the center to the reactor every few dozen minutes. Glenn spent most of his time hitting on geriatric ladies.
The reactor room is really interesting. Much smaller than the Hanford Reactor in Washington state, but still very intricate and complex. All the electronics (what little there is) is archaic, directly from the 1940’s.
They even let us into the control room, which has ancient gauges and indicator lights. The electrical on this project must have been elaborate.
Overall, it was a great site to visit. This place, especially any Manhattan Project site, is a must-visit for anyone like us who is a major nuclear tourist.
We got to Knoxville late the previous night and found a hotel with an advertised rate of $40/night. Of course once we get to the place, they hike up the rate. We were exhausted and just didn’t care anymore, so we just got the place anyway. I’m getting kind of sick of these cheapo hotels. Glenn said that if we got to a hotel that doesn’t let us in the lobby, we aren’t renting from them any more.
The next morning, we had some time to kill, so we stopped at the Museum of Appalachia. Kind of fitting because we are driving the Appalachian Trail (AT).
It’s a surprisingly good museum, on par with the Western Expansion Museums of Saskatchewan. Maybe even better. They have a massive grounds with dozens of old timey buildings scattered all over the place.
They even had a band playing hillbilly music. We asked them to play the Reading Rainbow Theme, but none of them heard of it. We suspect it was due to their illiteracy.
One of the buildings had these particularly non-Appalachian signs for some kind of religious deal. Don’t know if this is some kind of Westboro Baptist type of thing, just kind of odd.
After meandering around with all the peacocks and sheep, we ate at their diner. That’s probably the best part of this museum. They had some old woman just cooking up some amazing food. Pulled pork, homemade baked beans, casseroles, and much more. I could have hung out at the diner for hours, but we had to keep moving on to Oak Ridge.
Sometimes, it’s a long drive on these WVO Roadtrips, and you gotta let loose to keep the insanity at bay.
So….. This is an uncomfortable post. Where to begin… First of all, we ate in Pennsylvania at this place that sold Black Bean Burgers. They were delicious. Then they sat in our bellies for a few hours while we drove down to the Natural Bridge of Virginia. Really spectacular.
We’ve been to other natural bridges, but none were as big as this monster.
After hiking on their natural bridge trails, we found out there is a “natural bridge cavern.” We love going on these cave tours so we jumped at the opportunity. The problem was, we had to rush over to the visitor’s center to get tickets and get to the gate asap. The last tour of the day was just about to leave, and if we missed it, we were SOL.
The cave was amazing.
We were in such a rush to make the cave tour, that we didn’t have time to hit the bathroom. That’s when we realized the Black Bean Burgers were a bad decision. They had percolated all day, and were ready to explode. For the vast majority of the tour, our stomachs were groaning and grumbling, until we had to release the pressure valve. I think we released more gas in that cavern than Auswitz.
After a few carpet bombs, Glenn exclaimed “Dude! Stop!”
Later, a child on the tour asked the guide if the cave always smelled like “toots.” The guide just glared at us.
We ended the tour with a sprint to the single toilet bathroom at the visitor’s center. Glenn soiled himself so bad, that he had to just dispose of his underwear.
Moral: Don’t eat Black Bean Burgers and go on a cave tour.
After the huge breakdown on the Fourth of July in Scranton, we had to make up some major miles.
Eventually Mr-I’m-Hungry needed a burger in his belly, so we got to stop at our first Fuddruckers Restaurant, or as Idiocracy (and now us) call it “Buttfuckers.”
Nothing special to report. Just another meal on a trip.
After driving all night from Vermont, we got into Scranton well before sunrise. It was foggy and we found a mall parking lot to crash out till the morning. We walked over to a Friendly’s restaurant to get some grub, and then we started to drive south on the highway.
Scranton is situated in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s very different than the landscape shots from the TV show The Office. As we were driving up a nearby pass, the Passat started shimmying really bad. We pulled over on the interstate to find that the bearing was totally shot.
We managed to limp it to a gas station parking lot to assess the damage:
It was catastrophic. We disassembled the rear assembly and things didn’t look good. Glenn managed to repack it with some spare grease he had in the car, but that would only get us maybe a few dozen miles.
We used the GPS to find an autoparts store near Wilkes Barre. It was a ten mile drive, and we decided to give it a shot. Glenn reassembled the bearing setup and put the tire back on. We drove for no more than a mile when the rear axle was smoking HUGE!
We pulled off in a ritzy housing district and managed to convince a neighbor to let us use their garden hose to fill a cube, so we can douse the rim as it gets too hot.
We continued our drive to the auto parts store, and I would exit the car every mile or so to pour cold water on the smoking rim. It was not a recommended way to cool that metal, but we were running out of options.
Finally, we got to the store, and luckily, there was a huge KMart parking lot nearby. We disassembled the hub again, and got everything pressed in at a neighboring shop.
After it was all fixed up, it was really too late to get back on the interstate. Remember, we hadn’t slept well the night before. It was the fourth of July, so we found a hotel nearby and bought a crapload of fireworks. We found an abandoned lot and decided light them off to relax after a stressful day.
We entered Vermont late in the night after crossing the border just before they closed. We got a hotel in St Albans and it rained throughout the night. In the chaos of unloading the van in the night, Glenn lost his key, so we had to burn an hour getting one made in town.
We drove to Johnson VT to visit a family recommended to us by a friend. He had an ongoing treehouse project. Then later that day, we drove to another house, where the family was working on a treehouse as well. There was a pattern. Apparently Vermont residents are big on treehouses.
Some of the places we visited were considered “farms,” even though we never saw any livestock or crops. Maybe since we come from Wisconsin, we expected a little more than a chicken and a few sheep to consider something a farm. Glenn infamously said, “Maybe I’ll retire at 41, move to Vermont, buy a sheep, grow mushrooms, and call it a ‘farm.'”
Later in the day, we stopped off at Yestermorrow Design Center in Vermont. This is an interesting place. The school is run by a bunch of environmentalists, so we are already on good footing driving a veggie car onto the grounds. Sadly, due to the summer semester, we didn’t get to see a lot of the architectural design work.
Onward to Scranton PA.
While cruising around Quebec and getting fat from constant poutine, we pulled over at a gas station to load up our veggie oil tank. We struck up a rare English conversation with a Quebecois. He discussed how he loved America and we talked about how we preferred Canada. He said, “At you guys get guns.”
We crossed the border in Detroit without any issues. Well, maybe the traffic was bad because it was around 2 or 3pm, but it could have been worse.
We drove across southern Ontario and saw all the picturesque farmland around there.
Then we entered the suburbs and city center of Toronto.
Before all of these WVO Roadtrips, we always research all the supposed best places to eat along our path. One of the places usually ranked in the top ten of burgers in the country is Miller’s Bar. It’s near Detroit in the town of Dearborn, and looks kind of like a timewarp from 1971.
The staff was really nice, and we got to meet the owner. We mentioned we were excited to try one of these nationally ranked burgers, and the owner really played up how good they were. Setting the bar high I guess.
Eventually the burgers arrived. Nothing really special, just a few burgers with typical toppings. It wasn’t seasoned particularly well. It was just like a burger you would make at home.
At the end of the meal, they had a really relaxed way to pay, which was different than most bars. But in the end, I wasn’t that impressed. For them and the critics to praise this place only bolstered our expectations, which fell very flat when we encountered the average food. What the food doesn’t win over, the staff makes up for. They were really amazing and friendly.
Yay! Kicking off the 2011 WVO Roadtrip with a unique departure from Wisconsin. This time, instead of driving to Thunder Bay, or the U.P., or through Chicago or to the south, we decided to take the SS Badger Ferry to Michigan. This ferry travels from Manitowoc Wisconsin to Ludington Michigan.
It takes about 6 or 7 hours to traverse Lake Michigan. Granted, we could have just driven around via Chicago in the same amount of time, but these trips are about making new experiences and why the hell not take a ferry.
We should send a huge thank you to SS Badger for complimentary tickets for this passage. They are a stand up crew. Also, this boat is one of the few left that still run on coal. At least that’s what we heard.
We took the overnight ride and found a place to sleep on the deck. It was kind of dewy and cold, but at least we weren’t driving. Eventually we got to Ludington in the morning, and the crew drove our overloaded veggie Passat off the ferry. The underside and license plate was mashed up, but it still ran.