Last time I covered some of the challenges people will face while setting up home in mountainous terrain. This time I want to look at some of the rewards and drawbacks of living here.
Before we were married, Marie was a life-long resident of St. Louis, Missouri. She grew up being able to walk to school, the library, and the neighborhood grocery store. Many of her relatives and most of her friends lived right in her neighborhood. When desired, her family could get in the car and drive a few minutes to find most anything their hearts desired. The gratification of going out for something and coming back home with it that day was a way of life.
During my youth, we lived mostly rural. Often in a community that was little more than a handful of homes, a post office and a grain elevator. A few times in a small town with a population of a few hundred, a bank, post office, maybe a couple of grocery stores (just to make it interesting) and a Woolworth's. Other times truly rural: out in the sticks. We moved a lot, and we preferred a little elbow room.
When Marie and I married, the wisest thing to do was for me to let go of my little rural rental house and move to the city to share a home with her. For a few years I became accustomed to the convenience of being able to buy lumber and supplies as needed for my woodworking because several specialty stores were just a few minutes of driving away.
How we came to move to the mountains is a story unto itself, but as we formulated that plan the biggest hurdle in Marie’s mind was going to be giving up the convenience of having all the trappings of life so close at hand. Her only real demand was that there would be a Wal-Mart within a reasonable distance … and that we have the fireplace she has always wanted.
Edwina Grocery perches on the bank of Sweetwater Creek
Our homeplace is on Piney Mountain and is within the community of Edwina. The term ‘community’ is used loosely here. Edwina boasts a country store: Edwina Grocery, and a small community center. which is a steel building with one large room, a kitchen and bathroom. It is used as a meeting place by the High Oaks Coon Club, and the Edwina Ruritans. It also serves as the local polling place at election time. There is also a Tennessee Department of Forestry building, a rock quarry, a cabinet shop, a guy that does heating and cooling work and a truck stop/convenience store out beside the interstate.
Grill 73, run by Valentina and Alex Ryzhkov
We also have Grill 73: a small American/Russian restaurant run by retired Romanian circus performers! And there is Farmer’s Daughter Nursery and Produce, which is just what it sounds like: the enterprising child of a local farmer. These are all strung out along Route 73, known locally as Edwina Road. There are perhaps a couple hundred homes and several farms tucked into the hills and hollers of Edwina.
From Piney Mountain, Newport can be reached by driving down the mountain roads to Route 73, a winding two-lane highway. Turn south to go to the interstate or turn north to go to Route 25/70, which becomes Broadway, the main drag through Newport. The interstate is a greater distance, but faster. The state highways are shorter but slower speeds. Either way it takes about 15 minutes to get into town. Newport does have a Wal-Mart.
We have the best of both worlds here. For things we need quickly, Newport – population around 33,000 – is big enough to meet most of our normal needs. For some of the less common needs, Knoxville, Tennesse, is an hour away by interstate in one direction, Asheville, North Carolina, an hour in the other direction. Morristown, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are in between and reached by state and county roads.
For things we can wait on for a few days, there is the internet. These days we can order most anything we want and have it in hand in a few days to a week.
We may not be able to walk to the library, but the freedom, privacy, and clean, clear air we enjoy so much out here away from all the traffic, exhaust fumes, noise and regulation of the city more than offset the inconvenience. Here, almost without exception, we can live as we please. We love the peace and quiet. The sunsets are fabulous, the views are breathtaking, and life itself is an adventure.
In the past we would take an annual vacation just to get away for a while. Since moving here, we have felt not need to get away, in fact when we must travel we are eager to get back.
There is a joke that goes around about how mountain folks must be sure to walk equal distances in each direction, or they end up with one leg shorter than the other. But it’s actually not far from the truth. Where we travel a lot we tend to dig-in or build up pathways to level the surface, but just walking around my property means climbing, descending or traversing steep slopes.
This is our “lawn” the forested parts of the property are steeper. I spend a good bit of my time walking to and fro on our property. Even just fetching the mail means walking 120 feet down the hill from my front porch to the road (that’s the easy part) then back up the 30-degree slope (that’s the hard part) in whatever weather we are experiencing.
The up side of this is that moving around the property to do my chores is a great workout. Think of the time and money I save by not needing to go to a gym!
Driving the roadways here is also a matter of acclimation. When we first arrived I was used to roads that were, by and large, straight. Maybe a sweeping curve here and there, but nothing that would take me by surprise.
When we began looking around this area for property, traveling even the main highways was a stressful task because they tend to be carved into mountain slopes, thus follow the contours of those mountains. Some are worse than others, but there aren’t any I can think of that are straight. Then there are the back roads.
Some of these are dirt roads and not wide enough to two vehicles to pass one another. Wide spots are placed where a recess in the mountain permits or a wide curve can be created. When two vehicles meet, one has to back up to the last wide spot and allow the other to pass. It is fortunate that mountain folk tend to be good natured.
Most back roads do not have guard rails. At first, the act of driving these narrow, winding ledges with precipitous drop-offs was no less than terrifying! On some, the turns are so sharp that even creeping along at 25 or 30 miles an hour made me carsick as we snaked through one tight, blind curve after another. But, after a while, one gets used to most anything. Now I no longer get sweaty palms driving these roads, in fact I rather enjoy it. Who needs a theme park: we have our own thrill rides!
We are fortunate that Piney Mountain Road is not only paved but wide enough for two vehicles to pass by one another … unless you meet the school bus.
Semi-trucks will not come up our road. At least not the 53-footers normally used by freight lines. I’ve seen a shorty up here once or twice, but for the most part the biggest truck to travel our road is Big Brown from UPS. Therefore, when I order a piece of equipment or other large item that will come by truck, I have to take our pick-up truck and go meet the semi at the truck stop to transfer the crate into our truck for the final leg home. That too is another form of adventure.
All proper mountain men need to have a pick-up truck, preferably four wheel drive. That is a rule here.
More next time.