Day 7 – Tennessee, Virginia, to Kentucky

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This day was planned for relatively short and easy driving to reach our friends, Cathy and Harry Gunn, in Morehead, Kentucky. When I planned it on Google Maps the estimate was about 4 hours from Johnson City to Morehead via Big Stone Gap. At one time I even considered Big Stone Gap as our overnight stop but that might have been a stretch for the previous day and accommodation was not easy to find online so I opted instead for Johnson City. When I checked the GPS yesterday afternoon it initially wanted to send us west, north and then east to Morehead rather than by the more direct northerly route offered by Google Maps. I requested an alternative route and got one that seemed more like what I was expecting. Nevertheless the GPS estimated something more than 5 hours compared to the Google Maps estimate of around 4 hours. Usually they are comparable so we faced today with interest to see which might be closer to the mark.

We ran our usual morning schedule and were on the road at about 8:15 am with me at the wheel. We drove north-west and north through Kingsport, another of the cities linked with Johnson City and Bristol in the tri-cities regional group that shares an airport and a variety of businesses if the signs are to be believed. Not far beyond Kingsport we crossed the state line into the south-western corner of Virginia and passed through Gate City from where the road went west for some distance before turning north toward Big Stone Gap.

We pulled into Big Stone Gap for a look around, attracted by the name and the sign on the highway advertising a Coal Museum. We drove right through town without seeing a museum so we turned around and drove out. The museum would probably not have been open at that hour on Saturday in any case. Although we still had a half tank, we stopped for fuel on the way out to catch what seemed a good price.

Not far up the road we stopped for photos at Benge Gap overlook. We were able to look back over the valley and see low cloud in the smaller valleys under the overcast sky. The road ahead was shrouded in heavy mist but that quickly disappeared once we passed over the crest of the gap and headed down again. As we crossed the state line into Kentucky we pulled into Jenkins to change drivers and hoping to find coffee. What appeared to be the only cafe in town allowed us in the front door but then presented a sign to say that it was closed on Saturday. We retreated and Majella took the wheel toward Pikeville.

As we passed by Pikeville Majella declared that she was starving and thirsty. We pulled into a strip mall on our side of the highway but found nothing edible. We crossed the highway to another strip mall that was equally bare but were able to backtrack a hundred metres or so to where Majella had spotted a Family Dollar store where we picked up some snacks and drinks.

From Pikeville we continued north to Prestonsburg where we turned left and drove north-west to Salyersville where we turned right and headed mostly north through West Liberty and the Daniel Boone National Forest. We paused at West Liberty to eat a quick lunch before continuing to Morehead.

Cathy and Harry are living in a new estate which was unknown to our GPS when I tried to set it up before leaving home. I did find the address in Google Maps so I copied the coordinates from there and entered those in the GPS. That seemed to work. I missed the turn indicated by the GPS so took the next one into the same estate. Majella thought that she recognized Harry beside a car talking to some people in a drive way. It was not the right street so we continued around the corner to find that but it was Harry.

We spent some time catching up with Cathy and Harry about family and talking about their plans to visit Australia next year before they took us for a tour of the local area. Cathy is Dean of Education at Morehead State University and has a number of other responsibilities there. She has achieved some substantial changes in the 8 years she has been at Morehead despite the challenges of tightening budget in the economic downturn. We enjoyed the sculpture garden in front of her building and a tour of the 21st century classroom where students are able to practice new approaches to teaching with current technologies. Harry also works at the university and is responsible for risk management.

After the tour we returned to their home for a relaxed meal cooked by Harry. We enjoyed steak, chicken, tomato with bocconcini and basil, sweet potato, and squash washed down with beer and wine. We topped that off with some of the Scuppernong cider we bought in Cherokee and lots of good conversation. It was a wonderful evening.

Distance driven today was 380 km. It was not a huge day of driving or of touristic sight seeing. It was good to see familiar faces and to have the chance to catch up.