That's one submerged and dead iPhone. These things are part of the adventure...right? I could have done without it less than a week into an eight week trip! A quick Google on the (dry) iPad found a phone repair shop in Chattanooga, 30 minutes from my hotel. The assistants prognosis was good-ish. He'd seen worse. Much worse and made them come to life again. Two hours later it turned out his confidence was misplaced. Next stop Nashville to find the Apple store. The SatNav indicated it was only an hour and half away. What I hadn't spotted was that I'd be travelling west to Nashville across a time-zone so it was in fact 2.5 hours away! The staff at the Apple store were great and pointed out their new part exchange scheme for a dead iPhone that knocked $300 off the price of a new iPhone. After a full day of hanging around and the hustle and traffic of the Nashville suburbs, I couldn't wait to leave the city. I headed south to rejoin the TAT and stayed the night in Shelbyville. The motel receptionist was curious to know where in the UK I was from. I normally go for 'the north of England' "So near Huddersfield then?" was his response. He was impressed I was only 30 minutes from Huddersfield and then proceeded to tell what was wrong with Huddersfield and the UK in general. "It's the Poles and the Romanian's. They're all lazy. And they all steal. It's no longer the country it used to be."
'Have you been to Huddersfield?' I asked. "Errr no." He thought for a moment. "I did once go to Oklahoma..."
The TAT route wound its way through more Tennessee back roads and occasional gravel County Roads through the forests. There was more tarmac on this section that the notes in the TAT route apologised for with 'but there is no other way through this area'. Dipping into Alabama I came across my first gas station that didn't sell diesel. Had I wanted ammo, a very large hunting knife, a bong for inhaling weed that cleverly combined a gimp/gas mask, stay hard pills and porn ('please ask to see our full range'), this gas station had it all. Diesel though? No chance. Bizarrely, the weed smoking accessory range seems to be a staple part of your southern gas-station inventory.
The TAT passes close by the Jack Daniels distillery so I paid and a visit and took one of the tours including sampler/taster session. Interesting fact. The Jack Daniels Distillery is located in a dry county but gets around selling its produce by selling you the bottle and giving you the contents for free. That and the fact that it's the biggest selling US whiskey in the world so can probably get away with bending the county's liquor laws ever so slightly. The security guard at JD is impressed by the Defender and yells 'badass truck' as I enter the car-park and as I lock the truck, another guy asks for a picture. 'I'm a Jeep guy but I aint never seen one of those in the flesh before.'
After crossing a couple of creek crossings with worn out bridges I came across my first real obstacle in the shape of a bridge that really was 'out'. Forum and blog advice was to ignore any Bridge Out/Road Closed signs as this usually meant 'Not for grandma and her Buick'. In this case, short of building a Dukes of Hazard style ramp, there was no option but to turn around and find another route to join back onto the TAT. It wouldn't be the last time.
Camp tonight is within the grounds of a Baptist chapel next to a river crossing whose crystal clear waters would I'm guessing would double up as the 'baptising pond'. At one point in the evening, a pick-up truck pulls up. Two young women exit the truck. One carrying photography gear. The other in a white wedding dress. They proceed to take snaps for what I assume is some bridal dress shoot or maybe a pre-wedding set of pics? Then the props come out of the back of the truck. There's a camouflage cap. Then a rifle. And then the classic bride with compound bow shot. And then the bow in one hand and rifle in the other shot. Redneck Tinder profile shots maybe?
Outside of the National Forest areas, campsites have been hard to come by and I've resorted to wild camping where I find somewhere suitable and out of the way. Laid in the pop top sweating it occurred to me that no sane person would go camping in this heat anyway. The area isn't an 'outdoor' destination, like for example Colorado is, so I guess has no need to cater to campers, other than the internal combustion engined RV variety.
The next evening is spent in a motel. It has the bonus of an outdoor pool to cool off after a long sweaty days driving. My new phone goes nowhere near the pool.
The next couple of days I'd already pencilled in for some sightseeing in Memphis. Being something of a music 'geek' Memphis has always been on my bucket list, specifically Sam Phillips' Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Howling Wolf and BB King would all make their first recordings. Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston released in 1951 is often cited as the very first rock 'n' roll record. It too was recorded at Sun and with such an infamous alumni all getting their starts here it is widely accepted as the birthplace of rock 'n' roll. I could bang on here but I won't. All I'll say is it was brilliant. If you're in anyway interested in the early history of rock music then it's something you really must do.
No trip to Memphis would be complete without a trip to Graceland. Home of Elvis Presley and family. Oh and his every present gang of hangers on, coined the Memphis Mafia. It's way smaller than you'd imagine and quite restrained by today's superstar standards and I felt had something of a faded glory to it. The pair of aircraft exhibits could definitely do with a buff! Unless you're the full on Elvis nut (I'm not) you will feel Elvis'ed out by the end of the experience.
Beale Street, the home of the Blues wasn't so great. Benidorm with the blues is how I'd describe it. Every local I chatted to seemed almost apologetic for Beale Street. Sure, you'll hear blues music but it comes with a side order of cheesy neon, buckets of lager for $5, naff souvenir shops, drunken hen parties and a reassuring but not so reassuring HEAVY Police presence that is hardly the chilled out sound of the Mississippi Delta you might be expecting. Beale Street was once the no-go area of town to white people. Now it's the new heart and soul of downtown 'party' Memphis but within just a handful of blocks you can see that Memphis remains a tired and crumbling city. It currently ranks fourth in the Top Ten most violent US cities. I declined the three offers of drugs I had on Beale Street.
An hour and 20 minutes south of Memphis I picked up the TAT again and hit the dirt roads of Mississippi. After a couple of days off driving it felt good to be back on the gravel. The trails turn to a mix of red gravel and hard packed dirt. The only people I see all day are a couple of dirt bikers doing the TAT the unconventional west to east route. We stop for a chat and exchange diversions and bridge out notes. One of the riders advises me not to camp in Mississippi. Anywhere... He gives me a tip on a Casino 60 miles further up the trail that has rooms for $45 and cheap food and beer. 'You'll be okay once you get to Arkansas. There's more camping there, and you'll be safe.' he tells me. 'Then it's just the bears you'll have to watch out for. We saw one stood up in front of us on the trail yesterday. He was way bigger than you!'
Last time I measured myself I was 6' 5"... Not small. But as it turns out - smaller than a bear.