I left home around 9:30 PM. I did not want to leave in the morning and arrive in the evening - showing up in the dark. This was one of my good decisions as I ended up getting lost even arriving in the daylight. When diaglo said it was in the back woods of Georgia, he was not kidding.
I started to fatigue early...much earlier than I expected. I also found myself missing my wife and kids very soon in the trip; usually not the case for me. I thought for sure I was going to have to stop early on the I-65 stretch of the trip.
If francisca had joined me, I could have turned it over to him just a bit of a stretch down the road. Alas...
I plugged the iPod into the car stereo and cranked some tunes and suddenly found myself waking up. Amazingly this blast of alertness lasted until just outside of Knoxville. The weather was gorgeous - clear night skies until I watched the sun peak over the tops of the mountains between Lexington and Knoxville.
I called the house about 6 AM Central, knowing that my wife and son would be awake preparing to get him out the door for school. Everyone was awake including my daughter (who usually gets an extra hour and a half to sleep) - seems I was missed already as well.
I finally hit the wall just the other side of Knoxville. I called my wife after finding and pulling into a rest area near Dandridge on I-40 and let her know I was going to sleep for a bit. It was not easy to get comfortable, but I was exhausted enough not to care. I fell asleep and stayed that way for about an hour and a half. When I woke up to the sounds of the landscapers doing their jobs, I could not fall back asleep. I figured it was just as well, shook the cobwebs out of my head - I was groggy! - and got back on the road.
This part of the trip starts tricky and gets worse. For a Flatlander like me, these mountains were interesting to say the least. For my twelve year old minivan with 120,000 miles, they were a challenge. But with perseverance and patience, I was soon in Clayton, GA - the nearest large town to the Devil's Mountain Hideaway. And here is where the fun began.
So, other than the names of the roads themselves being different than what appeared on the screen, my GPS did a pretty damn good job of getting me there. In fact, it got me right up to the very road on which the Devil's Retreat resides...kinda...
You see, I missed the part in the directions diaglo had sent that said after I turn left onto the first dirt track, I needed to bear right on the next dirt track. I exaggerate only slightly...the first "road" was paved for about 20 feet....
So on my initial venture into the final stages of the trip, I ended up at the very end of the first gravel track - after several hills that made my poor old Ford Windstar work well beyond her capabilities. Unfortunately, I had not found the given address, or anything close for that matter. This run up the hill and the subsequent twenty-point turn to get back out was on me, however, as I had not properly read the directions.
So I drove back out to the main road. I had to, because ten minutes down these back roads - roads that had barely enough room for two vehicles of any considerable size to pass each other - left me with absolutely no cell signal. I felt I should call my wife and let her know I was near my goal. I also wanted to look up the directions again to find where I had gone wrong.
Once my wife had been called and the mistake in mapping understood, I returned to the back roads and the gravel tracks. I followed the directions, as counter-intuitive as they might have been given the actual address, and found myself staring at three possible paths. One looked unfinished while the other two were nicely decorated - including names of the folks that did not remotely resemble diaglo. Of those last two, one even had black gates. None of the addresses were even close to the one given in directions - hundreds off and a different "street" name.
Back out to the main road. Without further clarification of the directions, I decided to call diaglo and find out what the hell was going on. When he answered, my first words were, "This was all an elaborate troll to see if you could get me to drive for 13 or 14 hours, right? This is all just a joke or prank and you guys are laughing your ass off right now?"
"Just come through the black gates," diaglo assured me. I was relieved that I was not 100 miles away from where I was supposed to be and that this was not, in fact, an elaborate hoax. Little was I to know the relief would be short lived.
Because, you see, after the black gates, the "road" - a one lane gravel affair of ill repute - began a climb that can only describe as, well, steep...steep as in I was not sure my old Ford would make it...steep and winding...around and up the mountain. But I had come this far and would not be deterred.
After a half mile climb that seemed to stretch for about 3 hours, Old Bessie and I reached the top. I parked the car and got out. Folks came out to greet me and immediately noticed I had trailed some fluid behind the car. I feared for the worst...Bessie had finally succumbed to her limitations after safely delivering me up the Devil's Mountain.
Loki, Strithe, biorph, Joe Blank, diaglo...all of them came out and greeted me and unpacked the back of my van in about 60 seconds - for which I remain grateful given that I had turned to worrying about that fluid. The trail was not made up of black liquid, but seemed t o be a bit lighter. There was no large pool. The trail began right at the top of the hill - in fact past the top and into the parking area for the cabin. It turned out to be reddish in color.
Luckily it did not appear that I had torn the oil pan off whilst climbing the mountain. Unfortunately, I did not know if I had a transmission left, and if not how I was even going to get the vehicle down the mountain to get repaired, much less 800 miles back home....