It's a relief to be in the mountains again.
After nine months on the road, driving our RV into the Appalachian Mountains of Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina was a little like coming home. And it was a perfect antidote to the Gulf Coast of Florida -- where we struggled amid strip malls, traffic and ugly high-rises.
The only things that saved our Florida chapter were some very nice state parks and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. The rest of the coastline might be beautiful, but it's hard to tell with all the go-kart tracks and Long John Silver’s in the way.
We gladly turned northward into the Appalachians, elevating our spirits immediately.
First, we hit Georgia's Amicalola Falls State Park, the unofficial southern starting point of the 2,190-mile Appalachian Trail, where dozens of through-hikers were starting their trips northward.
Amicalola is a great park all on its own, with Georgia's highest waterfall (729 feet) and it offers excellent camping for RVers, a bargain at $35 for electric and water hookup.
Then it was on to Tennessee, where we feasted on one of those amazing surprises you occasionally run into on the road: Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Ham in Madisonville. This porkatorium has the best smoked meats you've ever eaten, and we filled up the fridge with bacon, ham and prosciutto.
We had seen beauty. We had eaten amazing pork products. Now it was time for a little Appalachian entertainment, courtesy of Dolly Parton. In Pigeon Forge, the singer's hometown, we stopped in at Dollywood.
Laugh if you want to, we don't care: Dollywood is fantastic.
Besides all things Dolly, it has some of the best roller coasters in the country. The Tennessee Tornado was incredible, and the world's fastest wooden roller coaster -- the Lightning Rod -- was even better.
And Dollywood has a bonus for RVers: The country singer's old tour bus is on display in the park. We eagerly checked out her opulent Class A, filled with mirrors because we were told Dolly is claustrophobic and doesn't like enclosed spaces. Her glammed-up bedroom in the back of the bus certainly wasn't tight by our standards.
From Dolly's playground, we headed into Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we found fantastic camping and hiking. America's most popular national park -- that's right, it draws more than 11 million visitors a year -- can be overrun in the summer, but springtime was quiet and beautiful.
Ever try "highpointing?" That's where you go to a state's highest elevation, and in the southern Appalachians, it's easy to do. We visited the highest points of South Carolina, Tennessee and North Carolina, along with our friend Ken Sands, a highpointing aficionado and former Spokane resident who now lives in Washington, D.C.
We concluded our Appalachian tour in Asheville, N.C., one of the coolest cities we've visited in our travels. Besides being one of the top beer towns in America, it has a wonderful food scene. We sampled the smoky Buxton Hall Barbecue and ate an amazing soft-shell crab po boy at Rhubarb.
Like the mountains around Spokane, the Appalachians recharged us with all recreational, cultural and culinary opportunities. We're recharged and ready for more.
This week's Going Mobile Question
Should we go into Eastern Canada? Now that we’ve made it to the East Coast, we're debating whether to travel all the way north into Quebec. We'd love to hear your recommendations, which we'll share in the next column. Send your responses to email@example.com.