Shortly after leaving Peachtree and following US 64 east, I came to US 441, the same highway I left in southern Georgia. Travel was so slow, and rides so sparse, I felt concerned, I may never get to the mountains. Here I decided to get back to my old friend and continue north on her. Heading up a hill, A Volkswagen Camper van pulled over for me. I was picked up by Jack and Jill. Well, really it was John and Jill. But, Jack suffices for John. Coincidentally they had left Gainesville, same time as me, and by staying on 441 kept up with me. They drove, I hitched. They had the same goal as I: we both wanted to travel slowly, stay on back roads and experience heartland America. They hoped to spend the summer in their camper traveling all the way to Alaska, which meant traveling in heartland Canada as well. I had hopes for heading out west, but that would have to wait until I visited my folks in Massachusetts.
Jack was a historian and filled us in on the significance of Cumberland Gap. Here three states met up--Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia hovered nearby. These folks traveled just as I liked. We stopped often and took in local lore. Distance we covered was not great but by the end of the day pulled into a camp site in Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. After setting up camp we headed over to join a game of volleyball. Here I received a portend of my coming adventure in Appalachia. At one point, the ball traveled away from us and headed over the edge of our field. I chased after it and headed down the embankment. Before I could stop the embankment turned into a cliff. I had a leap of about one story to a roadway below. Luckily, no traffic was on the road and I did not spill and kept upright. The ball was rolling away down the road.
Walking back after retrieving it, I had time to ponder the slogan, “Look before you leap.“ I could also be grateful, I had not broken my crown. I had not any fear about being on the road alone. I heard plenty of stories about pitfalls and tragedy that befell those on comparable journeys. I tried to maintain a positive attitude and believed I did not have to suffer like experiences. I also felt somewhat blessed as tonight’s leap displayed. Whether it be luck or some protecting spirit, I was able to return onto the court with our ball and resume recreation. In any case, I felt it wise to pay heed to the leaps one is about to take. This lesson would repeat several times in the next days. These mountains have a primal feel that gives the sense a misstep could be disastrous. But tonight, I again got to enjoy live bluegrass music and sleep in fresh mountain air.