Nashville – small country nest or a second Las Vegas?

Our next destination: Nashville! Many have told us that this is a small town that you absolutely must have seen. Many country singers are “discovered” here, which makes up the charm of this city. In our mind it is a sleepy nest, with many small bars with country music and line dancing. And of course, Americans with cowboy hats and cowboy boots! So, let’s go there!

On the ride, I cannot help yelling at the crossing of the border: “Toto, I guess we are not in Kansas anymore!” So, this I can delete from my “bucket list”. A sign on the roadside with a carriage amuses us – who drives with a carriage on the highway? Until we see one shortly afterwards – ah, Missouri is probably also a state with many Amish. I find this culture super interesting, I would like to talk with an Amish family to understand how these people live. We are still going to drive through Pennsylvania, this is the state with the highest concentration of Amish, let’s see if I will meet there some informative Amish!

We drive through a small corner of Illinois. At the gas station, we see a couple who looks at our van with wide eyes – we are meanwhile used to it, for the conservative States it is after all an unusual sight – and then run to us enthusiastically when he sees the big Rotary sign. We draped the “superhero-cap” (see blog Rotary Club Derby) on our shelf. He is “outing” himself as a Rotarian and is happy to meet us. That was all we could say about Ilinois, because then we already cross the border to Kentucky.

The first thing that comes to mind is, “Where’s the next KFC?”. But now we want to go to downtown for a bit of relaxed country music. We approach the city, the traffic increases, the car lanes too. Mmh, it seems not to be a small town after all. We park and walk in a crowd in the city center. The city is a party town, countless bachelor parties, thousands of people, countless bars and lots of loud music. We are completely overwhelmed first. Let’s first eat and then check locations. We receive a recommendation from the service for a country bar, which should be popular with the locals. Wonderful. The band is really good, but …. too loud. At some point I heard: If the music is too loud, you are too old. Of course, that can not apply to us. I just think that was really too loud. So. We “flee” the loudness of the city and find a Walmart and enjoy the silence …

Mammoth Cave National Park – new equipment, insidious fish, a tick plague and the nonpoisonous poison ivy or: a total flop

Now that we already hiked some miles, we want to tackle the second half with some lighter luggage. We treat ourselves to new backpacks and a new tent. With each backpack we save 4 pounds weight: 20 bars of chocolate! Juhu! In a nearby national park we want to try out how it feels. The Mammoth Cave National Park is almost on the way, we take it! On the way we try out another fast food restaurant, which seems to be everywhere: Waffle House. I’m looking forward to many tasty, fluffy waffles. As I enter, I feel like I’m in a Hollywood movie. The typical booths, waitresses running around with coffee pots to refill the cups and a somewhat stale flair. To my disappointment you will find relatively few waffles, here you can eat everything. But there is waffle or double waffle. I’ll order the “double waffle”, I’m curious, what peculiarity that is. It’s nothing magical, it’s just two waffles. Thank God the service advises against it, I probably do not look like I could eat two. For that I take Choclate Chips as an additive, yamyam. What should I say, that was so sweet, that I really could not even eat one waffle. Big disappointment!

Again, you need a permit per night, the place we had chosen is already occupied and only available for tomorrow. But there is a small hike, 5,5 miles to a free spot. That sounds great! It is already 3 pm and to the parking lot we have to drive 50 minutes. But it is only a short walk, so let’s do it!. Great! For the second night we book a place right on a lake where you can fish. Perfect! On the way to the trail entrance the weather becomes more and more threatening. Surely it will not storm? Just when we reach the parking lot it starts to pour. Oh well … We play with the idea of ​​just starting to hike, as it, as the answer, pours even more violently. Ok, decided, we just stay here. Good, that we have everything we need in the van! We make ourselves comfortable and after some time it even stops to rain. Time to take a look around. We find a plant that according to an App is “Poison Ivy” . Mmh, we never saw it before, it is supposed to itch very badly. That now arouses the curiosity of Heiko. Is that really that bad? And before I know it, he has already smeared himself with the leaf, grins at me and says, it does not itch !!! While I figure out how to rush out of the forest to the nearest ambulance with the big van, Heiko enjoys to watch the rubbed area. To my relief and his perceptible disappointment, you can see nothing even after 15 minutes. Google explains that 15% of people do not respond to poison ivy at all. So either it was not a poison ivy or Heiko belongs to this group. What do you think, how Heiko wanted to find out which of the options is the right one? Right! He tried to convince me to rub highly poisonous plant parts on my skin, but not with me!! So, the curiosity remains unsatisfied and we devote ourselves to our evening work: sitting on camping chairs with tasty wine and watching fireflies. Totally peaceful!

The next morning, we go for a short hike to the lake. First test of the backpacks is very promising! To our disappointment, the place and the lake is not really nice. Also does not invite for camping. Nevertheless, we stay here for a while, let’s see if Heiko can catch some fish. While Heiko fishes, I’m “enjoying” my tick phobia. In this forest there is actually a tick plague and by noon I have already plucked 5 of the critters of me. Thank goodness they had not yet bitten. The National Park brochure even states that this area is known for Lyme disease and Mountain Spring Fever (whatever that is), well, more food for my phobia. Heiko only fish grass and then even loses a blinker. There is a lot of fish in the lake, you can see them everywhere, but they do not want to bite. I’m glad when Heiko gives up unnerved and also feels no desire to really camp here. We run back to the car and look for a campsite – enough nature for today! I find a campsite with lake for fishing outside the ticks danger area and after a shower, with the steak on the grill, we are happy again soon!

Lynchburg, Tennessee: The difference between Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey and a really tasty single barrel of Jack Daniels

Of course, we put the Jack Daniels distillery in our journey – when we are ever there … For me, Jack Daniels always has the association with headaches and cheap party drink, but I’m happy to convince myself of the opposite. And I will indeed! All Jack Daniels for worldwide consumption are made in this small distillery in Lynchburg. Tennessee is a dry state, paradoxical, considering that Jack Daniels is one of the most common whiskeys for the masses. It is a party drink, many people like to drink it as a mixed drink with coke.

We book a guided tour with tasting (that was clear) and off we go! Here are a few facts that will help you to be judged at the next conversation as a whiskey connoisseur ?

– The difference between Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey is the last act of filtering. Tennessee Whiskey is filtered by dripping through coal (This coal is made by Jack Daniels itself)

– The Jack Daniels barrel – made in-house – is used only once and then sold to other distilleries

– A “single barrel” is a whiskey made from a single barrel (strictly speaking, no single barrel tastes like the other, always unique) – the well-known Jack Daniels no. 7 is always mixed from several barrels to keep the taste the same

Well, I’ve learned something in any case and changed my slightly derogatory image of Jack Daniels during the subsequent tasting of 5 different whiskeys. Of course, we will buy a whiskey for our next hike! The guide assures us that everyone can still drive after the tasting, since they are small sips. Mmh, so I do not know if the police would agree. In any case, we use the next opportunity to stop and quickly eat something, so Heiko is really roadworthy again …

Great Smokey Mountains National Park – no bears, lots of forest, a bit too much rain and two very happy hikers

So, now is enough feasted and being lazy! On it goes to the Visitor Center of the “Great Smokey Mountains National Park”! Shortly before the goal we do not trust our eye. It looks like we are in the middle of an amusement park. We drive through a street, to the right and left of us all the attractions you would expect from an amusement park: car scooter, rollercoaster, ghost train … and things you’ve never seen before, such as an “upside down house”. Where are we here? The village is called “Pigeon Forge” and is actually a visitor magnet. Tourists from all over America drive for miles to make vacation here. Mmh, not our thing. We are looking for a campsite to prepare for our hike and land a “hit”. “Duvall in the Smokeys” turns out to be the most beautiful campground yet ( With much attention to detail this place is really something very special. It’s not like an impersonal campsite, but more like a western museum with little peculiarities. I can describe it badly, in any case, we felt very comfortable from the first moment. And right on the river, so that Heiko can try his fishing luck here again. I am very excited about this haunted little campground and can only recommend it to anyone. The owner couple is still very nice, is a bonus on top. And Heiko even caught a fish, so this is another bonus. However, it was so small, you almost can’t see it on the picture…

After all the Taco Bells, Wendys, Waffle houses and many more (at the beginning, our goal was to try all the fast food chains … you can absolutely forget it, there are too many), we are ready for a bit of nature! We are a bit nervous, if we are still able to walk seriously with luggage. It’ll work. First we need “Permits” for the park. We explain to the ranger that we would like to hike the Smokeys on the Appalachian Trail, all in all 75 miles (125 km). All right. When? We, well, as soon as possible. He looks at us briefly and then begins to laugh loudly. The permits are always given 30 days in advance, so spontaneously this is going to be very difficult. We look at him sadly, that works. He takes care of us and says he will try to make a miracle. Camping is not allowed on the trail, you have to use the “Shelter” – half-open cabins. After 30 minutes, many compromises and curses, we are proud owners of all permits. It is a super-short day with only 6 miles and a superlong with 19 miles and 1400 feet in altitude, but we can go!

So, that’s done, next problem: Will we get food and equipment for 6 days in our new backpacks? As always, the clusters are frighteningly large. Sharp eyes see on the pile the acquired whiskey, of course, the glass bottle will stay, too heavy … Any part that moves to the pile is critically tested for necessity, some things are taken away again. Miraculously, everything fits into the backpacks. Great!

Day 1: Fontana Dam – Mollys Ridge, 10 Miles, 2685′

We leave our car at the destination point and take a shuttle (“The Cabins in the Woods”) to the starting point. Craig drove many hikers on the Appalachian Trail (one of the three longest trails in America, AT for short) and many hikers visited his hostel, so he has a lot of stories to tell. The 2 hours pass by and we are at the beginning of the trail. So, let’s go!

We start and are right in the woods. The AT has the nickname “green tunnel” and after the first steps it is clear, from where it has it. The unfamiliar movement is fun and we are in good spirits when we start the long ascent. Finally outside again! The park has the largest black bear population in the US, so I’m nervous at every sound and expect to see a big bear in front of me on the way. But after some time, the running routine sets in and you forget where you are. Could be with us in the Black Forest. We come to a small view point, nice!

After all this inactivity, I notice my knee relatively quickly. Shoot! So that’s proof that athletic inaction is not good! I am determined to do sports exercises every day from now on if I do not hike! But now that does not help anymore, now I have to push through. As always the last miles are the hardest (no matter how short or long the day is) but finally we reach the shelter. We meet some AT-Hiker who will stay with us. So high up it gets pretty cool, so we decide to start a fire. Heiko drags a piece of rhododendron. Suddenly uncertainty arises. One of the hikers has heard that burning rhododendrons develops toxic smoke. Really. Mmh, uh. Google is questioned and has many answers. Some who say it is poisonous, others who say it is non-toxic. Well, in any case, Google is right … One of the hiker comes up with the idea of calling ​​”poison control”. And before I can say that you can just use the other wood around, he has people on the line. Crazy hiker. The lady is probably a bit confused because of this strange request, but after a short research, the information is given that so far there never occurred a case of poisoning by rhododendron. Alright, now we know that too.

The first time we hang our food and all smelling objects on the designated bear cables and then go to sleep in the half-open shelter. Mmh, food is safe from bears, but what about us?

Day 2: Mollys Ridge – Spence Field, 5 miles, countless ups and downs

No bear far and wide through the night. We stay a long time in bed. Due to the permits, today we have a mini-day ahead of us. As we doze, two others see a bear at the waterhole. UII! Heiko is jealous, he would also like to see one. I’m very happy, I’m still unsure if I really want to see one. Mmh, we will not be able to influence it anyway, so no point in worrying.

After a nice breakfast and a second coffee we start walking. Again forest, very rarely one has a view, usually one is simply in the forest. We have a good time, there are flowering shrubs that interrupt the green and are pretty to look at. Of course we are also a little spoiled with fantastic views on the TA. But I wonder why you want to run 2000 miles in the forest, because the TA seems to me to be more rewarding. With the Smokeys we are supposed to walk through one of the strenouses and most beautiful stages of the Appalachian Trail. Aha. In any case, we enjoy the movement. It is also nice to be hungry again! (I admit that you have to be a little bit crazy to see that as a “plus”).

One of the AT hikers – they should give him the trail name “Chaos” had forgotten his bag of clothes. We are so nice and carry it with us with the aim to bring it at least to the nearest shelter. We would never have expected that we would actually catch up with him, but we meet him at our destination. We left two hours after him, but it seems we are not quite out of practice and have a reasonable speed. He is happy and we have done our good deed for the day!

We laze and read on our forced rest day. The knee is appreciating the rest! The sun is shining, the clearing is beautiful and apart from birds and the sound of the wind everything is calm. We like that! In the evening, three more hikers arrive. One of them has the trail name “the Jesus”. Trail names are acquired on long trails – especially in the United States it is common. He is named after the movie “The Big Lebowski”. And he lives up to his name and the movie. Anyone who does not understand this hint – don’t worry, you did not miss much;)

We spend a nice evening with nice, a bit crazy, people. When hanging up the food bag it happens, the cables tangle and I almost was hit by a food bag. For the others it looked like the scene from a comic, I pull on the cable and from above a bag falls down. Thank goodness it is different than in the comic and the bag does not “ram” me into the ground but lands next to me. Phew !!

Day 3: Spence Field – Silers Bold, 11,3 miles, countless ups and downs

After a leisurely breakfast we start walking. We see a turkey but again no bear. Pity! Now I would like to see one too! We hike and enjoy every step until we are suddenly at our “lunch”. Ui, that was fast! Despite knee pain, we have a good pace! The moment we enter the shelter it starts to pour! Wow, good timing! The Jesus is also in the hut and we decide to wait until it stops raining. A little nap helps us to bridge the time.

During a short rain break, we decide to continue. The fog pulls out of the forest, it’s creating a nice atmosphere. After a short time it starts to rain again. Well, at least we put the new rainwear to test.

We arrive at our destination and it stops raining, great.

We enjoy the evening with chocolate and whiskey, you should cultivate habits. Mmh, the Jack Daniles is really tasty. With the whiskey we can better ignore our Shelter comrade. A Russian scholar, we tap on mathematics. He is certainly nice, but he shines “I’m a nerd” from every pore. He has a hat on, I can tell you I do not know where to buy such an ugly thing and who pays money for it. It is a kind of swimming cap, which fits tightly and also covers the ears. And, no matter what interesting things he tells, I am always distracted by this headgear. The fact that his habit of eye contact instantly lapses into a lengthy monologue leaves us 100% focused on our delicious whiskey. Do not lift your head, no eye contact!!

Day 4:  Silers Bold – Kephart, 19 Miles, 2300′ altitude change

By focusing on the whiskey, we become courageous! We decide to be rebels the next day! You are thinking: The two and rebels? HAHAHAHA! But, we have decided to go the straight way on the AT and not, as our permits say hike the detour to the kephart shelter.  To the Kephart Shelter are 4 miles, and a descent of 1800 feet more, which we have to climb up the next day. In addition to the many meters of altitude on the day anyway, not something we are eager for. After no Shelter was full so far and we have never seen a ranger, we want to risk it.

Alex and Heiko: The rebels (in my mind the “Batman” melody is playing in the background!)

That’s why we take it slow in the morning, is not as hard day as feared! That’s good, my knee is more difficult for me than I like. Despite the rain-wet shoes and socks, we are happy and look forward to the day. It always rains a bit, but that’s not bad and makes the mood in the forest somehow better. Suddenly we see a boar piglet. Ohhh how cute! It sees us and crashes into the bushes. Mmh, how was that again? Mama Boar + boar piglet+ Hiker= DANGER !!

We wait a while to give “Mum” the opportunity to join her offspring. Would be stupid if we come between the two. A ranger once gave us the well-intentioned advice that you would best run uphill when encountering an aggressive boar, as the boars can not run uphill so fast. Great trick! I do not run very fast uphill either.

But there is no aggressive wild boar and we keep walking. Just to panic shortly afterwards as we hear a loud grunt. But the boar is not directly in front of us, but a piece in the forest. Nevertheless, we pass very quickly …

We hike, like every day here in the Smokeys, there are almost no straight pieces but either uphill or downhill. My heart almost stops as a rabbit, sitting on the path under the grass, hops away from my descending foot. The constant ups and downs take their toll, so we are happy to reach our lunch destination. There we are delighted by a little squirrel that jumps cheekily like “Oscar”. Ok, halftime, poof, somehow exhausting today! Good that we do not have the long way!

And then it happens. We meet a ranger. Seriously? Really??? If we ever want to be rebels, we meet the “sheriff” on the way to the “crime”. That is impossible. Menno !! He wants to see our permit, of course. We ask him if the shelter is really full on the way or if it has a place for us. He denies and informs us that we have to sleep in the reserved shelter. Oh no !! Our rebel spirit has been suffocated! Of course we do not dare anymore. Shoot! That means 4 more miles and 1800 feet descent extra. Menno ….

When we come to the crossroad, again hesitation. My knee has developed into a constant pain, but now we have to go through! At 6 pm we reach the shelter. At least we are alone! And actually, the shelter is really beautiful, located by a stream and wonderfully lonely. The most beautiful shelter so far! We really deserved that! First relax and ignore that tomorrow we have to ascend the additional altitude again!

And then we get another reward! It is the time when, at certain heights, the fireflies “synchronize”. They flash together, then 8 seconds complete darkness until they shine together again. In the beginning there are individual, then more and more and finally hundreds together. An incredible spectacle! The fireflies have decided to perform this piece right in front of our shelter. So we lie, wrapped in our sleeping bags, cozy and dry and admire this priceless spectacle! Great!! The descent has been worth it!

After the show it starts to rain and we enjoy – warm and dry – the sound of the rain on the roof!

Day 5:  Kephart – Tricolour, 15 miles, long way uphill

We are not quite as happy as it still rains in the morning. Menno. We treat ourselves to two coffee – again we are already short on coffee. How come that we cant seem to learn that one should not save weight on coffee?!?! Even after the second coffee it is still raining. Helps nothing, let’s go. Shoes and socks are still wet anyway.

In the rain we fight our way up the 1800 feet ascent. And above, it suddenly stops raining. Soo beautiful! I mean, of course you’re still wet, shoes and socks, of course, so that the water in the shoe spills, but you can take off the hood and has again unrestricted view. The forest comes to life. It is just peaceful and alive at the same time. After some time we reach our destination for the lunch break. Again we are lucky and the rain becomes stormy the moment we have a roof over our heads.

Then the rain stops altogether and the sun comes out a bit. We enjoy this piece of trail and reach our destination before the rain starts again. Great! Warm and dry in the sleeping bag our Treat: Whiskey and Chocolate, what more could you want!

Day 6:  Tricolour – Big Creek Parking , 16 miles, 4000 Feet downhill

The shelter was relatively full, so there is a lot of chaos in the morning. We stay and let the people vacate first. Unbelievable how slow and disorganized some people are. At some point we can not stand it anymore and get ready. It does not rain, the sun is even slightly spiky. Great!

We enjoy our coffee and let everyone pull. Two women forget a sack, which causes Heiko for a short morning sprint. Just caught, wonderful! But now lets go.

Today we go out of the trail, after 5 nights we are looking forward very much to the shower. So we have a relatively quick walk and wonder why we can not catch the two women. Funny, they did not look that fast. Mmh, probably the impression was wrong. The spiky sun and the previous rain make the colors even more intense. Everything smells fresh and it’s a wonderful way. After 2 hours, we overtake a hiker, who left at least 1h before us. He did not see the two women either, oh, they probably went the wrong way. Well, that only happens once …

We enjoy beautiful views – finally. Shortly before noon, we overtake two other hikers, two young boys in their twenties, very motivated and fit, who hike the entire trail. You can tell on their faces that they find it strange to be overtaken by us. They strive to keep up and arrive the lunch break spot just after us.

But we move on quickly, the shower is calling! We move on, it’s really a simple way, always downhill. The further you get down, the more mosquitoes you will find. But, you can escape the little dung-birds from a certain speed, which we naturally do. It’s fun to see the miles flying by. The backpacks are super light without the food, you hardly feel it. After just under 7 hours we reach our van. Just when it starts to rain, yeah. On to the shower!

With these 75 miles in the Smokeys we have now passed the 1000 miles mark! And not only that! My Rotary Club Stuttgart Wildpark and we are very proud that we have now funded the second well for Haiti! 30,000 US dollars have been collected, many thanks to all supporters! And, the timing is perfect! In early July, we will be able to visit both communities in Haiti. The first one has almost half a year of experience with the well. Time enough to ask what has changed for the people there and to see if the girls can go to school now. Because education is what will help people in Haiti in the long term!

Thanks to the good timing, we will be guests at the inauguration of the second well. And you, as a blog reader, are almost live with it! Heiko will give everything to make a nice little video where you can see people celebrating the well – and your generosity!

The third stop is planned (you never know for sure whether planning will be a reality in Haiti) to visit the community that will benefit from the next well. Perfect motivation for us to keep going. Of course we still need your support!

Here’s a little article in the last Rotary Magazine – sorry, it is in german:

Rotary Magazin 06/19