Jun 10, 2012

Choo Choo

It’s to a point where I have to look at a map to remember my next blog. So far in this current van I have logged 9762kms as I sit in Big Lagoon State Park, Florida. It’s been tough to keep up with the posts and I often feel like it’s more of a journal than a “current” travel bloggers sort of blog. To be honest I could go buy a phone, pay the $60 a month and update the shit out of this thing…but I could also just update when I can and remember that there was a time when you didn’t have someone in turkey reading your stuff and you also didn’t have google map and you didn’t have access to world news to any great degree. When I think like that I don’t mind that I’m feeling 6 blogs behind on a good day. It’s growing exponentially with every mile that I run. I started thinking about that sort of stuff and am thinking about it more and more as I travel through this land built basically of war. You think of someone like Daniel Boone marching from Tennessee to Louisianna on foot…and then fighting a war. They wore wool jackets for god sake and here I am dying of heat exhaustion in flimsy summer shirts and shorts with fans and a/c blowing. It is flipping hot here though…more of that on the Big Lagoon post, when I get to it. 
 But hey…I am trying my best to document the significant stuff that I truly enjoy so here is a little choo choo train town called Chattanooga!! 

 Now like almost all area of the south…of the US, period, there is some serious significance found in this town. It was the sight of the famous Ross Landing, a savage blow to confederate forces. It has 22 miles of waterfront foot pathways, it has the longest pedestrian bridge, the steepest train, a beautiful aquarium…it’s a pretty neat town. 

 When I rolled in…and just for the record I seem to be drawn to the areas that others warn you to be careful in…so when I rolled in I just turn right after battling with traffic for a few minutes (I am starting to dread seeing skyscrapers on the horizon when I near a city…the traffic, while not aggressive or difficult…is just a pain in the ass) I found myself in the “seedy” part of downtown. Seedy as described by the guy at the hostel I parked in front of. 

 The hostel, one of the coolest buildings that I have seen in a while, is called the “Crash Pad”. I went in and talked to the young kid working the desk for a few minutes. Now, I didn’t get any of the information I know of the Crash Pad from the Crash Pad. I looked it all up online, ironic when I think of my opening paragraph. Oh well, what I did get from the Crash Pad was some directions around the city. Prior to arriving, while passing through “the scenic parts” as I like to call them…I found Greg’s Soul Food Shack…and I had to stop for a fried fish plate. 2 sides, baked beans, yes please and potato salad…don’t mind if I do!! I drove to a park I saw and sat on the step of some kind of fountain that wasn’t running to enjoy the grub. 

 It was hot…after the Smokey’s the heat has continued to rise with every southern mile. So when I pulled up at the Pad I found myself nestled in the shade…and there was a free community wifi…sweet!! Even though the kid at the desk said there was no overnighting I just thought…well it’s not like these cars have tags (the hostel visitors) and it seemed fairly off the beaten track…so I decided that where I parked was where I would stay for the night, or two. I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do in town and hadn’t done any planning either so the conversation at the hostel was super helpful. I was in the newly re-spirited “downtown”. Sort of like an Inglewood from back home in Calgary. There were a number of cool shops but just like the guy said…5 or 6 blocks in each direction was good, then bad and then it got good again towards the waterfront. I think it was only 2 or 3 blocks when I started walking away from the waterfront but as I walked back towards it I didn’t think it was that bad at all. I’d hate to see what the city looked like 10 yrs ago if this is how it looks now. Like all old US towns that were major hubs (this was a major rail hub at one point) it’s gone through its ups and downs. It has great weather going for it, in a really good demographic spot for tourism and hey…Tennessee smiles! It was actually the first town since Victoria that really had a cool fresh feeling to it that left an impression. 

 So I decided on day one that I would walk to the riverfront, check things out along the way, grab some grub and come back to crash out. Well the walk was much further than I thought it would be, by the time I got back home I had logged about 10 miles and my big toe on my right foot was so sore because it was sticking to my sandal (sweat is sticky damn it!!). I worked a job once for my dad where you had to put a little Velcro dot onto a booklet and the adhesive on the Velcro would stick just a little every time you pulled it off your thumb. There was no way to avoid it as you had to peel it off backing and you had to do it as quick as possible. So after a couple of hours you’d have a spot on your thumb that was so tender but numb at the same time and it took weeks for it to return to normal. I’m writing this in florida some days later and the toe…still feels weird. 

Anyway the waterfront is spectacular. They have done such a cool thing integrating the aquarium into the massive public space there. I checked out the Southern Belle river boat and was saddened to see that it wasn’t a paddle wheeler.  Originally thought I would take in the sunset cruise but then my budget conscious mind and my disappointment in no paddlewheel took over and I cancelled that thought.
 Anyway getting back to the van could have been much simpler because they have this great free electric shuttle bus service downtown. Like Calgary has the free c-train and other cities have their own way to promote downtown tourism. But the busses are cool, run every 5 minutes…and are air-conditioned (I found that out on day two when the heat beat me). 

 After having a great sleep feeling nice and safe in the shelter of the Crash Pad I headed out early, walking again (this time with shoes on) and headed for the museum…and somewhere to have some breakfast. Breakfast was horrible at a local spot that I didn’t even see its name…I just steered in, got some eggs on toast and bacon…eggs were overcooked and the toast was undercooked…but it was 2.50 and I wasn’t going to bitch. 

 So onto the aquarium…which really could handle its own post it was so cool. Americas, (not sure about the world) largest fresh water aquarium display showing the natural stages of the local water systems. From the otters swimming up top and that water draining into the trout display, and that going into another display and another and another…very innovative and cool to be able to walk the path of the ecosystem. It all starts out in sort of an unassuming fashion, you’re surrounded by screaming kids and parents who are ready to dunk them into the otter tank…then as you pass through the exhibit the kids slowly get quieter as things get cooler…by the time you are done the freshwater building the kids are not only worn out because it’s a seriously long walk around that building but also because their little brains have just seen a water system dissected and put in front of them. They also have a cool display on lakes where they have re-created all these lake habitats from around the world with their native fish. From Africa to Russia and back it’s got a lot of fish in it!! 

 Once you get done gawking at the marvel of the freshwater system you move outside into the blazing heat, grab a snowcone if you are smart and head into the saltwater tank. Wow…wow wow. Both set ups are fabulous. The saltwater main tank is built so that the sea systems have their own natural sections but are all connected, just like the ocean. The sharks swim where they needs to, the sea turtle makes his laps, you descend a spiral walk around and check out different pockets of sea life from coral to little pockets of fish and so on. The aquarium tankis in the center of the building and on the outside are other displays. They have a rocking jellyfish display (I love jellyfish) and all throughout you know they hit their mark when a kid squeals…”look at that (insert awesome subject matter here)”. Kids aren’t dumb and if you don’t squeal a little when you see a giant (GIANT) sea turtle swim the glass in front of you with its majestic underbelly and angelic flippers…you’ve been working too hard at being a tight ass.

 After the show I headed for a walk around the waterfront (different direction than last night) and had a great time talking to houseboaters, who for free can pull up to the public dock and get power and water while they take in the downtown park. Took lots and lots of pictures and then headed back for the long walk home. On my way I was shocked to see a section of downtown shut down and hundreds of bikers parked up and down the street. One guy just stood up and came over to say hi, I asked if I was interrupting a club thing and he explained that every Friday the city blocks off a few intersections, they open a public performance theater that you can jam in, retailers arrive with their carts and stands…so these bikers come from all over, pull up, have some pops, listen to some tunes and then at midnight they open it all up again to traffic and the parties over. It was nifty…but it was also raining like hell out and I had no umbrella or jacket so I stayed for a bit, had a hot dog and since the band hadn’t started yet I moved on. Oh yeah it was after because I took in an imax movie “The last reef”. It was a combo deal with the aquarium ticket. First movie I have been to in maybe 5 years or longer I think. It was good…but that 3d shit is lame. 

 Anyway I also visited the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Chicamauga Battelfield Park, Lookout Mountain rail…all of which was very cool. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for those.
 But in the morning before I went to Lookout Mountain there was this guy named Lester that came over to talk with me. He was admiring the van and then we got to talking about his life and mine. He was a really cool and personable guy and he used a word “propinquity” to describe our conversation.  When I looked it up…it was. He is unfortunately stricken by inoperable cancer and he knows that at some point soon, or later, it will take him. He seemed very accepting of it and the reality is if someone tells you that you have terminal cancer, well you’d best start living life the way you want instead of trying to solve/fix/fiddle with the things that are taking up your precious time. But we talked about life and I was  honoured to have him share some life advice, his life past and to have his respect for taking the time in my life to take this trip…because I can. I was listening to the radio while coming through Wisconsin and it was a lady who was replaying a conversation with the famous Irish poet John Odonahue. And in one particular passage, which sounded so much better because of his accent (I am listening to it in my head as I type), he says (close to but not exact) “when was the last time you had a conversation with someone, not just an exchange of pleasantries but a conversation in which you found yourself telling someone about something that you really didn’t realize or grasp yourself until just now. A true exchange of ideas and information that is real and meaningful and wonderful”.  Thought about that when I was talking to Lester because that is exactly what was happening. Here was this 71 yr old man sharing his life with me, we had never met before yet we were as comfortable with each other as long-time friends. 

 We exchanged contact info and I thanked him for sharing. I will probably never see him again and I wish him well. I certainly hope that he follows through on his plan to not get further treatment, go and be as happy as he can and enjoy the moments that he has instead of worrying about the moments he has lost. I know that sounds awful on one hand but on the other…I don’t like how we treat the elderly when they get sick. I don’t like the idea of suffering, of endless treatments in order to slow down the process of passing. Maybe when I get there I will change my mind when I get to that point but for now I’d rather we had the euthanasia choice. 

 He did share something that was particularly relevant to me and that was the simple concept that no one is guaranteed to get the woman they want. In Lester’s case he is going into this alone, his women either passed away or married someone else. As I was listening to him share those details a little ball welled up in my throat…and for real it is something that I have to look in the mirror and accept…it’s true. As much as I love women, children, and the idea of a lifelong commitment…I may never get any of those. So even though I struggle with that concept I am accepting of it as something that may come to pass.

 Put your tissues away…I’m on a road trip here and am allowed to ponder life from time to time…where to next…rockets damn it…home of the Rocket!!!


There is a town before Chattanooga that has one thing going for it...it is the home of Little Debbie baked delights...and that is it!

downtown Chattanooga art

what? an arcade? I had to go drop .25 on 18 WHEELER!!

At some point this turns into a fountain...it would be nice when on

nott sure why I took this shot...


love graffiti... "Never go over what you can't burn"

it's a really old city and has seen it's share of change

I have never heard of camp bacon...but it sure does sound awesome!!!

cool old van

the Crash Pad hostel where I stayed (in the parking lot)

one of the beefiest trucks I have ever seen

right in the heart of the city lays a full service electric bus service...and the research center

Chattanooga hosts the worlds only Tow Museum dedicated to the years of tow truck service that have been found throughout the US. I didn't visit it...but thought it was neat that such a museum even existed

all true...yum

They celebrate native history in a way we don't back home

It always helps to keep your eyes open for something funky...

The aquarium

more cool art

MLK said something famous about Lookout mountain but at the moment I am typing I forget what it was...who can find the quote?

The Aquarium - Salt Water section

fabulous moth

jellyfish tank

============================  FreshWater =================================

the snapper!!!

trying to give you an idea of the structure.


 LookOut  Mountain - Point Park (chicamauga)

straight down...straight up. 72degrees at the top...now that's steep!!

Point Park - accosting a local for a picture

from the cannon. Once the men were able to get under the angle...it was all over the the confederates on the hilltop

down we go....


 It was a great visit and a very cool city...definitely one I'd like to come back to and spend more time in!!

 Huntsville here I come!!

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