Pedaling a Piece of Kentucky and Tennessee

A Weekend in the Land between the Lakes
  |  Gorp.com

Whoever named this place was a poet. Yes,"Land between the Lakes" can be seen as simply descriptive. Dam a couple rivers, create a couple lakes, and the higher land that lies between the two is exactly what the name describes. But only a person with a paltry soul could visit this exquisitely green hardwood jungle and not believe that love figured into the alliterative naming of it.

The engineers among you might most prefer the Barkley Dam, which choked off the Cumberland River, and the Kentucky Dam, which put the same larynx-lock on the Tennessee. But the rest of us will opt for the leafy, hilly land south of these massive concrete structures, where there's near-constant warbling in the forests and almost every road ends at or passes by a lovely creek, bay, or lake.

You'll find this roughly fifty-mile-long by five-mile-wide piece of ground straddling the Kentucky and Tennessee border, in the western end of each state, a four-hour-drive southeast of St. Louis, an hour's drive northwest of Nashville, a three-hour drive northeast of Memphis. If you happen to find yourself in Paducah, Kentucky, visiting the Museum of the American Quilter's Society (only those troglodytes who have never seen the beauty of an exquisite quilt up close will laugh), you're but twenty miles away.

I know what some of you pavement riders are thinking. "Fifty miles by five . . . heck, it will take me longer to drive there than to pedal it." Well, that may be true, if you take the gerbil-on-an-exercise-wheel approach. But look up from your bars and you'll find plenty worth slowing down to see, including some real history. Get oriented geographically first in order to understand the battles as they unfolded.

Take a close look at a Tennessee state map and you'll see the names (at the southern edge of LBL) of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson. Now, most of us will never have heard of these places, and fewer still would guess them to be significant battles of the War Between the States. But back in 1862, with the war less than a year old, two Union victories over river-guarding forts (Henry on the Tennessee, Donelson on the Cumberland) pierced the South's western defenses, opening it to attack by Northern armies. "The blow was most disastrous," muttered the Southern general Albert Sidney Johnston. This unfortunate soldier, whose own life ended a year later when he bled to death at Shiloh, and whose poor generalship had sent many a Southerner to the great beyond before him, at least understood what he'd lost when Fort Donelson fell.

LBL, which is, by the way, a "national recreation area of 170,000 acres of rolling hills and oak forests," is administered completely by the Tennessee Valley Authority.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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