Trip to USA : Full on Tourist Mode Part 1

After our night chilling back at base, I awoke with a slightly thick head thanks to the previous evening’s alcohol consumption. Rhonda had risen early to take Jayna to Knoxville airport for her flight home early that morning.

@sk43, @sircork, @catherine813 and I took a ride out to have a look at our surroundings. We ended up at a beautiful spot from which we could see Gatlinburg nestled between the surrounding mountains.

The weather closed in and it began to rain, but seeing the clouds rolling over the tops of the distant mountains was very cool.

Naturally, the vista was a great excuse to use panorama mode on my phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. Click for full screen.

Of course, being the tourist, I had to have a photo of me taken with the mountain backdrop.

Hunger set in so we made our way back into town and met up with Rhonda. Having no idea where we would eat, we rumbled down the main drag until we spotted a Texas Roadhouse. Steak sounded good.

It certainly sounded more appetizing than this joint…

We had a fine lunch, so fine that I ate entirely too much. Unfortunately, because Rhonda had been running around like a mad woman, organizing everything, driving hundreds of miles to wrangle us all into one place, she was feeling the strain of the week’s events, on top of her usual health issues. She ducked out of the rest of the day’s events and returned to the motel for a lie down to recuperate.

Her husband Scott – @sk43 – took charge and became my tour guide. We discussed the many differences and subtleties of American and English ways and culture. Together with Catherine and Sircork, we hit Gatlinburg’s main street and wandered among the other visiting tourists.

Seeing a Harley on display, I did my tourist thing and posed for a photo. The lady behind the counter didn’t seem all too happy. I resisted going into Ben and Jerry’s: we have the brand in the UK but this was the first store I had seen.

We stumbled across some cute side streets housing interesting little shops. This one was called ‘The Village’ and tried to resemble a little English village. I felt at home when I found the telephone box.

We slowly made our way to our ultimate destination, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, crossing the river along the way.

In front of the entrance was a sculpture of a bald eagle, entirely made from scrap metal.

Although the sign proclaimed that it had been constructed from recycled scrap from cars, most recognizable parts were from motorcycles.

Nonetheless, it was very cool, especially up close.

We seemed to have timed our arrival to perfection as another rain shower threatened to soak us. Tickets purchased, we made our way inside the aquarium.

Trip to USA : Chilling Back at Base

After our bear encounters, we returned to the not-at-all-overly-touristy and chintzy Gatlinburg where supplies for an evening meal were acquired.

Back at the cabin @jayna and @trishlarimer took over kitchen duties while the rest of us drank, chatted and drank some more.

@catherine813 took herself off to the nearby creek to do some drawing.

As the light faded I first thought I was having a neurological episode, seeing flashing lights. I quickly realized however that they were fireflies. I took a video of them and sent it to my daughter, who is 6. She loves fairies and she was delighted when I showed her that I had seen some.


Abercrombie however, did not appear amused.

@abigale, @sircork, @rhondak, @sk43, @jonknight and @catherine813
@instructor2121 and @enginewitty in deep discussion

Jayna and Trish had rustled up quite the meal, which was washed down with much alcohol. Above the cabin was an area with a firepit and @sircork went off to buy some firewood and kindling.

While he built a Jenga tower @catherine813 ably assisted by using the torch on her phone. The fire was quickly blazing.

@jonknight had gotten some t-shirts printed to commemorate this meetup and we, therefore, decided that the @noblewitness team should wear them for a group photo. Unfortunately we a had a few failed attempts.

Ok guys, we’re not in sync yet
Oh. Dear. God. No.
Team @noblewitness. @gmuxx, @anarcho-andrei, @rhondak and @sircork

As the evening wore on, Enginewitty and Abi left, followed by Rhonda and Scott. Jayna was leaving for home early the next day and Rhonda was to drive her over to Knoxville airport to catch her flight back. It was so great to meet @jayna, she is a blast, a very funny and intelligent lady.

I drank and watched the fire slowly die out with Corky and we chatted until around 3 am, long after everyone else had turned in for the night.



Trip to USA : There be Bears

Following The Writers’ Block meeting on the morning, and lunch at the Golden Corral, we headed out of town to Codes Cove in the Smokey Mountains National Park. With the intention of getting to know my @noblewitness partner @sircork better, I traveled in his car with canine company provided by Thor and Rayray. Everyone else jumped in @rhonda’s rental car.

Mile after mile of wonderful views trundled by as we slowly began our climb up the mountains through thick forests and past rivers and creeks.

As we entered the National Park we made a stop to stretch our legs next to a field full of beautiful horses.

Seeing the clouds in the distance made us worry about a change in the weather, but we were lucky. Of course, I played the tourist and took every opportunity to snap as many photos as I could.

@Rhondak introduces Abercrombie to a horse. @Catherine813 provides what looks like Rhonda’s third arm.

Doggo says nono

Click me

Me, @rhondak, @sircork, @jayna, @sk43, @enginewitty, and @catherine813

As we got back on the road, I kept an eye out for wildlife in the fields and the forests.

Suddenly, I spotted a dark shape in a field off to our left. Yes, I have the pleasure of rubbing it in with @sircork that, although I had only been in the US a few days, I saw a wild bear before himself, even though he has lived there most of his life. Yes, I will probably mention this every time we speak.

It’s hard to tell from this shot, but slightly off center is a black blob. My phone has 2X optical zoom, which came in handy.

Click to see full-screen bear.

Some of us were not quite tall enough to see the bear, which was sat picking berries from off bushes.



We set off once more, seeing wild turkeys and catching glimpses of deer. Suddenly, @sk43 hit the brakes in front of us and almost dived out of the car as he spotted this fellow walking along a bank to the left of us.

To our surprise, the bear decided to cross the road behind our vehicles.

Technically we were had all committed a felony as the signs around the National Park insist that visitors should not be within 50 feet of the wildlife. As he decided to cross the road, we decided to blame the bear, should a park ranger come along.

Once the bear had disappeared into the bushes we set off again and stopped off for comfort breaks, and to do a little souvenir shopping.

Free samples of moonshine were offered as we entered, but I bought a stuffed toy bear for my grandson instead. His bear is now called Hank – because why not – and he has to take him to bed every night.

Around the area, we found some olde worlde buildings. Old in terms of American history, teenagers when compared to the age of some UK buildings I have lived in. It was here that I spotted a wild Witty.

Trip to USA : Down to Business

Left to right: @jonknight, @instructor2121, @anarcho-andrei, @rhondak and @sircork

The purpose of the trip and the culmination of all the effort put into this endeavor arrived the next morning at 9 am local time to accommodate a live stream of the meeting to as many @thewritersblock members as was possible. We gathered around the lounge of the cabin, armed with an arsenal of digital devices, as @instructor2121 laid out what he and his team had to offer, and let me tell you, the more we heard the more we got excited.

Left to right@ @ladymaharet, @trishlarimer, @anarcho-andrei, @jonknight, @instructor2121’s legs and @sircork

@sircork had traveled over to Gatlinburg in more of a social capacity, as well as to meet the remainder of the @noblewitness team, namely me as he had already met Rhonda and Andrei before. It soon became apparent however that he has an uncanny ability – usually using metaphors and stories of ‘that one time at band camp’ – to render technical ideas understandable to the layman and to see angles that may not have occurred to us.

@rhondak, @jonknight, @anarcho-andrei, @instructor2121 and @sircork

There will be an official announcement on the future direction of @thewritersblock in the coming week, but suffice it to say that @instructor2121 and his team will be building a new front end for Steem, for @thewritersblock and to our specifications with features not available on Steemit. The major difference is that the front page will only show quality posts – no trending tab here to buy a top spot for. The major benefit is to attract readers put off with the mess and the daily drama on Steemit, people who want to easily find good writing. Have you tried to search for fiction on Steemit? Good luck.

Andrei, showing us how long he wants to grow his beard (?)

But wait, there’s more. As invested as we are in the written word, this new frontend will also feature top content from other creatives such as artists and musicians, a place to showcase to very best of the best.  As I said earlier, more information will be released in the near future, but we at @thewritersblock are very excited for what is to come.

As the morning’s business wrapped up, I finally got to meet @enginewitty. He is a super cool and very funny guy. He brought along a friend called Abi – @abigale, a Steem member who hopes to return to posting on the platform soon. 

Famished from our early morning rise, most of us made our way to the Golden Corral for something to eat.

@catherine813, @jayna, me, @sircork with murderous intent, @abigale, @enginewitty, @rhondak and her husband @sk43 taking the photo

A buffet-style restaurant, there was much strange food on offer. I picked the least alien and had my fill. Over lunch we delved more into our direction as a community.

Trip to USA : County Lines, Cars and Tazewell

Before traveling to the States, Rhonda had asked Jayna and I if we wanted to visit her dog rescue in Tazewell. Of course, we both jumped at the chance to see for ourselves the conditions under which Rhonda operates @tarc, and perhaps there was a chance we could meet Glory, the infamous raccoon. As I was quickly learning, any trip to anywhere in the US involves many hours of driving but we had stops along the way, such as in Bristol.

The main street literally straddles the state line, Virginia on the left, Tennessee on the right.It appeared that a gathering of classic cars was due to descend on the town and a few were already waiting in the parking lot we had pulled into.

I had flashbacks to Grease as I marveled at this beautiful vehicle.

They just don’t make them like this anymore.

Also on show was this example of a classic Chevy truck.

It seemed that everywhere I looked modern Dodge Chargers, Mustangs and other muscle cars were in no short supply, along with entire fleets of Harley Davidsons. Although we have some in the UK, they are a rare treat and always draw a crowd. Here, they were commonplace.

Rhonda took great pains trying to indoctrinate me into the Southern culture. I picked up a little of the lingo – thanks in large part to her husband Scott – and as we journeyed she made sure that country songs were playing on the radio. Bristol is also known as the birthplace of country music and although we couldn’t investigate further, signs were everywhere.

Time was getting on so we jumped back into the rental car and trekked towards Tazewell County. Every stretch of highway presented a new photo opportunity.

Mountains framed every shot and dense forests covered them all. I half expected a T-Rex to come striding out from between the trees. Yes, of course, we have trees and forests in the UK, but these were thicker and denser than I have experienced before.

As we entered Tazewell County, affluent properties slowly gave way to the ‘hillbilly hell’ I have often heard @rhondak speak about.

We saw dogs chained up in less than ideal situations, a dog on a roof, and many people sat on their porches as an air of menace permeated the street. I feel certain that if we had stopped there would have been a confrontation, if not a shooting.

Eventually, we made our way to Tarc, the destination for many donations from Steem. We were warned that the house was a ‘fixer upper’ but that the land it came with was the main motivation for its purchase. I don’t think we were quite prepared to see the conditions under which Rhonda – despite her health conditions – works tirelessly for the welfare of dogs in the local area.

Rhonda explained that even were she to have the funding to completely renovate the property, just getting someone to come out and give her a quote on something as simple as burying a sewer line was nigh on impossible: nobody in the local area wants the work.

As we pulled up a cacophony of dog barks filled the valley. Tarc currently houses over fifty dogs, all excited to hear the return of Rhonda. Eventually, they settled enough for Rhonda and @catherine813 – an awesome volunteer for Tarc – to bring some of the dogs out for us to walk around the property.

Once we returned to the house, Rhonda went to see if the infamous Glory was accepting visitors. She came out to inform us that we were likely to be shredded, but nonetheless, we slowly entered the house to at least catch a glimpse of the wily raccoon.

You have to remember that this is a wild animal. Rhonda rescued her when her mother was killed and released Glory when she was big enough to fend for herself. Despite that, Glory keeps breaking into the house, causing damage such as the hole seen in the photo above. When alone, Glory can be the sweetest thing, curling up on Rhonda’s lap or around her neck. However, with the smell of strangers in the house, she was quite prepared to bite Rhonda. This is the closest I got to Queen Glory.

After experiencing the conditions under which Tarc operates, I have an entirely new level of respect for the great work that Rhonda and her volunteers such as Catherine and her mum do. Know that every single dollar donated to this worthy cause is focused 100% on the welfare of the animals.

Later that evening we were due to visit a local restaurant, with its own brewery, for a bite to eat and a drink or three. Although its website claimed it shut at 11 pm, as we arrived at 10 pm we were informed that the kitchen had been closed for an hour. Despite claims to be working towards attracting tourists, Tazewell County has a long way to go before I can recommend anyone visit the area. Instead, we went to the main street where Rhonda took photos of the visiting tourists outside the courthouse.

We ended up visiting one of the few places still open for business, a Sonic drive-in. The burger was ok, but not as nice as I imagined the restaurant and craft beer to be.