WILSON: Wanderlust 2020 tour part four: When to toss the coin

Since I didn’t know where I was going, I had no idea if I was on the right road. As day two of the tour continued, I wandered through Kentucky villages with names like Boxville (a crossroads with a single general store, specializing in liquor, guns and ammo) towns like Gracey (with a business district three times larger than Boxville, capable of satisfying all of my internal needs — convenience store, liquor store and Dairy Kreme ice cream shop) and the city of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, (a booming megalopolis with a Walmart Super Center that will blow your mullet back). Regardless of the size of the city, town or village, they all had one thing in common — a Baptist church (usually, more than one).

Nearing midday, I stumbled upon the most fortified stretch of border within the interior of these U.S. Fort Campbell is a U.S. Army installation, occupying more than 100 acres and sits astride the Kentucky/Tennessee state line. It is home to the 101st Airborne Division and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment — it (obviously) ain’t a place for lightweights! The men and women serving and training at Fort Campbell are some of the best of the best and as I drove past on Highway Alt-41, I quietly thanked each and every one for their service.

Continuing to meander through the rural, backwoods, mid-section of Tennessee, I came upon the crossroads intersection of whatever road I was traveling and US-70. At that intersection stood a sign indicating that stretch of US-70 is also Tennessee State Road 1. SR-1 is 539 miles long and is the first and longest highway (of any sort) in Tennessee. Created in 1915 as the Memphis to Bristol Highway, it travels diagonally from the Arkansas border near Memphis in the far southwest corner of the state, to Bristol in the far northeast corner of the state — with Nashville smack-dab in the middle.

I had already been to Nashville and Memphis, at that particular moment in history had no desire to visit any major urban landscapes, and preferred to interact with the fewest amount of people as possible (my form of anti-social distancing). However, the opportunity to experience the very first of anything is always going to trip my trigger. I did not need to flip my quarter to decide on traveling along a piece of history — but, I did use it to select which way to go. Nashville won the toss.

To be honest, I felt no inclination to follow SR-1 all the way to the end. Being able to travel its historic route for a short while was enough. I figured, sometime before hitting the hub-bub of Nashville, I would veer off and, again, ramble in a southerly direction. The only question was what sign would I be given? How would I know when it was time to make that turn? A dozen (or so) miles up the highway, a roadway marker popped up, letting me (and the world) know that Newsom’s Mill was a few miles down McCrory Lane — that was my sign.

Thus far in my journey, I had avoided urban chaos by cruising through quaint, rural, and incredibly small towns and villages. I had stopped to contemplate the meaning of life amongst the organized serenity of a veteran’s cemetery. My attitude about life had slowed down to the point where I barely drove the speed limit. However, the most uneventful event of the entire trip was stopping to see the limestone ruins of a gristmill built by Joseph Newsom in 1862. You had to really want to find Newsom’s Mill, because it was a long way from anything, and the only thing to do was doing nothing.

Returning to McCrory Lane, my quarter flip sent me to the left as I continued on a southerly trek. When the road ended at a “T” intersection at State Route 100, I was faced with another quarter-making, right or left, decision. Serendipity was with me.

This time I turned to the right, and immediately was met with the surprise of my life — the entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway. I have traveled the Blueridge Parkway connecting the Great Smokey Mountains with Shenandoah National Park, driven Skyline Drive along the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and knew the historical significance of the Natchez Trace. No coin toss was required — my path for the next 444 miles was already decided.

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