With no phone, internet, and spotty cell service we loaded the van up with plenty of clothes and as much of the frozen and refrigerated food as we could fit into our coolers and pointed the van north towards the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Somewhere up there we reasoned we would be able to find an area that had not been damaged and had a cabin or a room we could stay in until the worst passed.
Tornado damage became dramatically apparent as we entered Guntersville. A lumber yard's worth of pine trees were toppled along the highway. Many of the power and phone polls along the causeway were either snapped off, leaning, or completely submerged in the lake. We were diverted in route to Scottsboro by fallen power lines and the work being down to restore them.
We made a quick stop on our way through Grant near the Kate Duncan Smith DAR School to admire the view.
A young groundhog was hiding in the grass just below the overlook.
As we continued out of Alabama and up into Tennessee it was nearly impossible to travel more than ten minutes without seeing some sign of Wednesday's storms- be it a few limbs on the ground or a tree knocked over with roots exposed. I used the app on my phone to scan for Wi-Fi networks as some indication if an area had power. With the exception of the hospital in Arab, Alabama, the first community with power was about an hour and a half later in Stevenson and the power-free zone quickly resumed after only a few intersections.
Some time later we passed a sign pointing to Reliance, TN. Oddly enough, my father-in-law had been on his way here when the storms came through but stopped short in Cleveland (another hard-hit area).
Cell reception had greatly improved by this point and we were able to secure a cabin at not one, but two locations. Our first choice did not have electricity but we would continue on with that in mind and an alternate location if needed.
With a little time to kill before we had to check in we turned the van around and drove alongside the Hiawassee River to Reliance. The day had warmed up enough for a swim so we pulled over near a trail and splashed around a little. Some of us splashed around more than others.
We made a new friend in the river!
Our new friend encouraged us to drive across to the Webb Brothers Texaco. Webb Brothers is a general store in the traditional sense. It's part Post Office, bait shop, gas station, raft rental and grocery. We picked up some drinks and enjoyed them out back next to the river.
A local man that had to be in his eighties (but drove a sleek little sports bike with his wife perched on the back) suggested we drive down to the dam a few miles along the river. “It's a little twisty... but you'll be alright,” he told us as he lit his cigar. While he talked a bald eagle was hovering and diving in the river behind him.
We discovered that the trip to the dam was more about the trip than the actual dam, but it was a worthwhile diversion.