– Ranford, Virginia to Birmingham, Alabama –

Second-to-last day! We’re almost home. At this point we are like horses seeing the barn. We are ready to be home. It’s been a great trip, and we are still having fun today, but I bet tomorrow will be a bit of a slog, even with a stop of two for entertainment.

Today Mark, Ripley, and I went for a run along the river again. The river in Ranford was slow and wide, and it was incredibly dark when we first got out there this morning. The parking lot had a couple of lights, but the trail, which wound through the trees along the water, was almost totally dark, even with the almost full moon.

Getting ready to run in the dark

Still, we had fun. There was a dog park at the far end where we were turning around to run back to the car, so we stopped and let little Ripley have a nice run off of the leash. We haven’t found nearly as many dog parks on this trip as we did on the Alaska trip. It’s adorable watching her run around in giant circles around the entire park.

When we made it back, we showered and packed. Breakfast this morning was very large, larger than most other La Quinta Inns. They actually had a little hot food bar, with eggs, biscuits, hash browns, sausage gravy, sausages, and, I think, ham. I don’t remember the other meaty option, honestly. Mom and Dad had a particulaly good time at breakfast, they said. Dad only lamented the lack of grits.

Whole Foods lunch

We didn’t immediately see a nice gas station as we drove off, so we waited almost an hour to stop for gas and ice. We ended up at another nice Sheetz, where Mark bought his final flavored coca-cola of the trip. He’s had orange, vanilla, raspberry, and cherry. Cherry was the least weird, though I’d say the orange was second best. He made me try them all. He liked the raspberry better than the orange, but I thought it tasted like those popsicles that I had when I was a kid- orange dreamcicle.

For lunch, we stopped just outside Knoxville. Mark and I went over and had the hot buffet at Whole Foods, and Mom and Dad went next door the the Jimmy Johns. This was a particularly good Whole Foods hot bar. The spicy collard greens were quite tasty. We’ve been having a good food day so far.

Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Visitor Center

Our only interesting stop today was at Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, outside Chattanooga Tennessee. We technically stopped at the portion that’s in Georgia, next to the town of Fort Oglethorpe.

The park is a memorial for the Civil War, as you might have guessed. It is particularly focused on the Campaign for Chattanooga, and the Battle of Chickamauga. The Confederates won the battle for Chickamauga, then Union troops ended up taking Chattanooga later in 1863. The victory at Chatanooga was significant, and Chickamauga was the last significant victory for the Conferderacy during the war.

Fuller Gun Collection

The park was created in 1895, which is impressively early. You can sort of tell it wasn’t created for cars, but for walking or for horses, as some of the momuments don’t face the way you would expect, and are located in what seem like strange places. It’s interesting imagining people who actually lived through the Civil War visiting the park, as some surely must’ve.

We stopped at the visitor center, which has a cool collection of Civil War era guns. The entire collection was donated by one couple, Claud and Zenada Fuller. The collection consisted of over 5,000 weapons, but it was unclear to me if all of those were donated to the national park or not. Regardless, the park had quite a number of guns on display. Would you be surprised to know that many of them were made at Springfield Armory? Dad really got a kick out of the gun collection part, I think.

Wilder Tower

When we finished a the visitor center, we we took a tour through the Chickamauga portion of the park. The coolest monument is the Wilder Tower, or the Wilder Brigade Monument, where John Wilder’s “Lightning Brigade” fought.

The “Lightning Bridge” was a mounted infantry unit credited with preventing the Confederacy from flanking the Union troops at a bridge just prior to the battle at Chickamauga, as well as several other feats during the battle. John Wilder was a particularly interesting character, so if you’re interested, you should look him up. He took part in some pretty serious shenanigans during the war, but managed to survive, despite having been a prisoner of war.

From the top of the tower

Mark, Mom, Ripley, and I all walked up to Wilder tower. It’s over 80 feet tall, and you can actually climb to the top. It was almost 90 degrees, so all but Mark elected to stay on the ground. He practically sprinted to the top to get some photos. He came back pretty tired and hot, but with cool pictures, so I guess it worked out.

We stopped at several memorials and cabins in the park before finishing up with a final trip to the visitor center, where we switched drivers for the final push to Birmingham. It was still a little over two hours there, and Mark was tired, since he’d driven all morning.

Tiny Katy, Kristy, and Ripley from the top of Wilder Tower

The time changed not long after, when we crossed into Alabama. It was once again 4:00pm, instead of 5. We had been about to get dinner, but we saw better restaurants an hour up the road, so we decided to push on, since it wasn’t quite dinner time in the Central time zone.

Mark, Dad, and I had Panda Express for dinner. Dad had never had it before, and seemed to really enjoy it. There’s one in Gainesville, where he lives, so he was excited to have it again later on. Mark got to eat his in the back seat without being the driver, which is unusual for him, and he was happy to do it. I noticed it took him half as long to eat it, though he always eats it faster than me, even when he’s driving. He’s got skills.

Panda Express dinner

On the way on to Birmingham, we ran into terrible traffic again along the interstate. I’m getting tired of how bad the highways are up here. We finally made it to the hotel around 7pm or so. It’s another La Quinta, so we should have breakfast in the morning, unless it starts after we leave. We’ll be leaving around 6:30am, I bet. It is Sunday, after all.

More Traffic

Tomorrow is our last day. I’m a little sad, but I’m also excited to get back to my plants and the pool. I’m also really glad to be sleeping in my own bed tomorrow night. Ripley will be glad to see her yard, that’s for sure.

– Trip Total : ??? miles

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