The Carolinas & the Mid-Atlantic. Part 4: Back up to Philadelphia
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Eastern Tennessee & Philadelphia. (Map)

Summer 2011.


I never sleep well in the back of vehicles, so I was awake shortly after sunrise. I initially planned to see a string of the easternmost county courthouses in Tennessee today, but after punching 'Philadelphia' into my GPS, I realized that I was 10 hours away.

I still went west into the Blue Ridge mountains though, as my early start meant I had a few hours for detouring.

The road was straight enough that I wasn't slowing down to 20mph constantly, but it was still a winding road through foothills and National Forests. As I entered into Tennessee, Lee Greenwood's And I'm Proud To Be An American came on the radio; and I had to laugh as Lee sang, "to the hills of Tennessee", as I was stuck behind a truck, curving my way through the hills of Tennessee.

The only county courthouse I would have time for today was in Elizabethton.

I didn't spend a whole lot of time here, but it seemed to have a solid downtown of storefronts & alright buildings...

Although I'm not quite sure about a community which can't support a Drive-Thru Liquor Barn.

The only other thing I did in Elizabethton was gas up the rental. It was there that I was reminded I was in Tennessee when I talked to the thickly-accented gas attendant. (I was also reminded that I was in America, as he didn't really understand when I asked for the key to the washroom.)

He was a nice fellow though. I was left with a good impression of Elizabethton.

By this point, my GPS was saying that I would get to Philadelphia at 7pm - meaning I had 9 hours of driving ahead of me. I beelined it for the highway, laughing as I just happened to pass Bristol Motor Speedway along the way. Bristol is a pretty big deal in NASCAR, up there with Talladega or Indianapolis Motor Speedway (I think anyway; I don't pay much attention to NASCAR).

Continuing along Interstate 81, I noticed how close I would be to Mount Rogers - the highest point in Virginia. I couldn't remember the details of the hike, so I simply drove off the highway towards the peak. This was a pointless exercise though, as I didn't find the trail head, and also, I would later learn that it's a difficulty 4 highpoint which would have taken 2 or 3 hours. I should have stopped for this abandoned house instead (I can't complain too much, it was a pleasant, non-interstate drive through the backwoods of Virginia).

I kept going, passing the Shenandoah Mountains that I was so excited for, but which would have to wait for another trip. I also passed Roanoke, laughing because of the popularity of Wagon Wheel at the time (I had also seen signs for Johnson City back in Elizabethton). I left the interstate near the middle of Virginia, to take a picture of the World's Largest Rollerskate for my friend. The last stop was the AutoZone in Wilmington, Delaware. My hubcap was scratched up from something-or-other, so I needed to buy some gray paint. I applied it in a gas station parking lot closer to the Philly airport (since Wilmington had a few unsavoury looking characters creeping about).

I would drop off the rental around 8, happy that they don't inspect the car or care if you're a few minutes late (I got stuck in traffic in D.C.). I was concerned about the hub cap at the time, but nothing ever came of it.

I rode the bus back to the airport & climbed onto the Philadelphia SEPTA system. I would go to a large station where I was supposed to switch train cars, but apparently I got on the wrong one & ended up near Temple University. Thankfully a ticket attendant told me I was going the wrong way & I was soon enough standing on a platform near Temple waiting to go back. I don't consider myself a boob when it comes to understanding maps, but I was happy when I finally figured it out & made it to my desired destination at a far corner of Philadelphia near where we booked our motel. I lugged my 50lb luggage off the train car & started walking down the road, but both the road & the sidewalk were nightmares for my luggage (complete with its broken wheel). I eventually grew tired of walking and my GPS told me I still had a kilometer to go. I stopped at a hotel & asked them to call me a cab. That cab didn't show up in the 20 exhausted minutes I sat outside, so I eventually abandoned that plan & simply walked the last remaining distance to the motel. Arntz had told them that I would come early for a key so I could go in our room, but by the end of this fiasco, I only beat him & Pete to the motel by 30 or 40 minutes.

I had a couple of Yuenglings to relax after the stressful find-an-auto-shop, return-the-rental, navigate-a-new-trolley-system experience. Only a couple Yuenglings though, as we were to get a nice early start to cram as much as possible into our 1.5 Philly days. Especially with Pete, he didn't want to drive all the way down to Philadelphia, just to sit in a motel room & drink beer (I had no problems with this whatsoever. I love the early mornings.)

The next day, our first stop was a hospital. It looked small from the outside, but there were enough antiquated architectural features to make it interesting. Nearly every hallway ended with an impressive sun porch, and there was a great top-floor terrace, where we all sat down & relaxed.

There was a bunch of healthy-community nonsense going on around the hospital (a rummage sale, a kid's soccer game), but thankfully no one paid us much attention. It was more funny than anything, to scurry past them & into an open window.

The group of us drove back into downtown Philly. It was great to be able to relax in the back of Moxx's Grand Marquis & take in all of the surroundings. We went through interesting neighbourhoods of row houses & neighbourhoods with older homes upon rolling hills. Philly is a giant city & I was happy with every extra portion I was allotted.

Our afternoon plans involved adult drinks & meeting up with some Philly people. We relaxed on a rooftop & even had some hip hop for our soundtrack, as one of the local residents had an incredibly loud stereo system, blaring Fat Joe & Lil' Wayne clear as day.

It was a humid, sweat-inducing day, and I was focused on taking it easy on the high percentage malt liquor I purchased. It didn't matter though, as within an hour we were already making plans to move along!

I was presented with two options, either to go to this overgrown cemetery, or to an old coal trestle along the Delaware (think giant concrete pillars). Even though I had just met some new Philly people & they seemed awesome, I REALLY wanted to see this cemetery.

Figuring that we'd be back in a couple of hours, I went along with the same morning group to Mount Moriah Cemetery.

If you're wondering why I went to an abandoned cemetery instead of hanging out with new people who I seemed to be getting along with, you need to realize that I've wanted to see this cemetery for a long time. This isn't any ordinary, 20 headstone, abandoned cemetery - this is Mt. Moriah: one of Philly's most prodigious cemeteries, home to thousands of headstones (including impressive Masonic obelisks), all upon 380 acres of land. To put that into perspective, Belle Isle is 982 acres, so Mt. Moriah is about 2/5ths the size of the large island of Belle Isle.

We didn't make it very far though. After taking our time by the rundown, ornate gatehouse, we were only at the cemetery for about 45 minutes. The problem being that once we started into the Masonic section, we noticed a couple of angry pit bulls tied up off in the weeds - we didn't much feel like discovering what they were protecting, or having their owners finding us exploring.

Leaving Moriah, we decided we needed food before going to meet with the others & I made a really dumb mistake here: since no one in the car was from Philly, I was in charge of navigating & pointed the GPS towards a listed restaurant which seemed to have a satisfactory name. The mistake here was that I underestimated Philadelphia's size. We drove for about 10 or 20 minutes to get to this restaurant - and then we needed to go back to the motel afterwards - which ended up being a 50 minute drive from this restaurant. By the time we had our slow meal and drove back to the motel, well, everyone had already left the coal trestle pillars!

The added insult to injury was that the restaurant was alright, but if I would have picked a random one downtown, the service would have been faster, we wouldn't have had to go back to the motel, and we would have ate at a far more remarkable location!

It was a giant, all-around fail on my part.

Back at the motel, Laurie, Moxx & I didn't feel like calling it a night quite yet, although the Philly people had went home. We sat outside our ratty motel for a bit, even chatting with some locals, but nothing ever came of it.

Well I should correct myself & say Arntz's/Pete's/my motel, because the room they showed to Laurie/Moxx/Deer was rundown enough to make them go down the road to the Red Roof Inn!

Us three guys had no complaints with ours!

Come Sunday morning, we said goodbye to the Neshaminy Inn & we were on the highway quickly.

None of the Philly people would join us this day - not surprisingly - as I'm sure they've all tired of this place from coming here multiple times.

I gave Pete & Deer a good scare when I was in a building ahead of them and had my tripod set up to take a timed picture - they walked into the building and only saw the red light, then started to take off, thinking it was an alarm.

Of course, the reason this place is so popular is because they tested bomber engines.

The entire campus of buildings was cool enough, but when we came to the room with these two engine cells? It was a game of Frogger as we all tried to avoid each other in an all-too-small of room.

By the end of that engine facility explore we had a bit of time to get some Italian ice cream, but then everyone needed to return home. I had looked up a train station to get dropped off at and West Trenton's stop just happened to have an awesome old Reading Railroad structure!

It felt very much like an old-time movie to get dropped off at a deserted & quintessential-looking train station; so even though I could have been waiting up to an hour, I was happy to sit and wait.

The train ended up coming in 8 minutes.

I stared out of my train window at the rivers & industry that passed. I was sad that my vacation was ending, but I still enjoyed seeing all of the land which the train passed through.

I had a short stopover in Toronto before returning home.


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