My neighbor and I drove to Kodak the other day, it’s about 45 minutes away near the new connection they are building to the interstate. Mountain Motorsports sits on ‘Adventure Drive’ right next to a winery and a lot where you can tour log cabins. Sadie bought two Honda Rancher ATV’s from there, but after the green one got stolen, the red one works overtime hauling hay and water and wire and the mower. A few weeks ago, I made the drive to drop it off to get it serviced – I used it one time before it overheated and quit on me. We finally had an afternoon with enough time to load it on the trailer and drive our rattling Explorer through Porterfield Gap and down Boyd’s Creek. Reagan was wearing running shorts and a Dollywood shirt, her hair escaping from all sides of her bun, and I was sporting my rubber boots, shorts and tank top. We make quite a pair in the pristine showroom, which offers motorcycles, ATV’s and jet-skis that are worth more than the engine parts on our Explorer. A guy who must have been a personal trainer in another life came to collect our ATV, but Reagan and I had to manually push it off the trailer. We sat in rocking chairs overlooking the interstate and the model log cabins while we waited, preferring the humidity outside to the brand new vehicles inside.
A yellow McDonald’s sign arches across the interstate, and my stomach growles. I don’t remember what time it was, but it was well after lunch and I decided we needed an ice cream for our work so far. Personal Trainer came back and told us it would be a while to determine what’s wrong with the ATV, insinuating behind his sporty sunglasses that we should probably leave. I told Reagan it was because we were making the spotless, clean ATV’s look bad with all our mud and sweat. So we got back in the rattling Ford and pulled the empty trailer across the new bridge, dodging orange barrels and various construction workers. I pulled up to the window and ordered 2 cheeseburgers, fried, and an ice cream cone. The guy behind the window shouted the total over the rattling of the Explorer, but I didn’t feel too out of place there – I’m sure he has seen worse vehicles than ours.
I take a wide right to leave McDonalds when Reagan informs me that they forgot my fries. I pull into the turning lane and stop. Is it worth turning around for a $.99 fry? We’re already here, but we do need to get back to the farm. The Explorer rattles and shutters into an idle while I decide. My ice cream cone drips down onto my hand, and I definitely need the fries. I turn around and pull into 3 parking spaces, taking the bag of burgers and my sticky receipt inside. The girl behind the register is showing her friend her new nails, while the boyfriend leans against the counter. His pants have either fallen down or have been perfectly place to show off his red plaid boxers – no wonder the guy behind the window didn’t bat an eye at our get-up. When the girl behind the counter manages to pull herself away from comparing nails, I show her my receipt and she hands me a bag of fries that is smaller than my hand. Still worth it? I walk out licking my ice cream cone, and I can hear the Explorer idle before I even reach the glass doors.
We navigate back through the construction zone and turn onto Boyd’s Creek, I roll down the windows to smell the freshly cut grass and the wind dries the sweat from our faces.. The traffic dies down and we drive through rolling green fields dotted with cows or hay. Tennessee is beautiful, it is picturesque velvet green that disguises the dirt and mud and the sweeping hills hide single and double-wide trailers. There are old barns surrounded by fields of flowers, holding centuries of dust and equipment, old tractor machinery that is too old and to heavy to move. The sloping mountains disguise abandoned tires and twisted pieces of metal. The farmers that sweat and toil their lands fight a constant battle against rocks, vines and trees. You carve out your place in the world and sweat over trees that grow and fall in all the wrong places. It is hard to get grass to grow in the pastures, and hard to remove the grass that has grown in the garden. We clear and haul and burn the things that don’t take root where we want them. Tennessee is like the river, flowing around rocks and chipping away at the banks.
There are generations of farmers that have worked this land before me, at the end of the day it claims what it wants to. I love the struggle, the battle of give and take, the sweat and the mud tracked outside and in. The road winds deeper into the mountains, away from construction and interstates. I lick the ice cream off my hand and swallow the last bite of sugar cone. Reagan passes me my cheeseburger, I rest one hand on the top of the steering wheel and open the yellow wrapper with the other. My tiny bag of fries are long gone, but I am ready for the cheesy, ketchup-y nastiness that makes up McDonald’s signature sandwich. I bite into a fish sandwich smothered in mayonnaise and promptly spit the contents back into the bag. Reagan has already finished her normal cheeseburger, which I can only imagine must have been amazing. I think of the girl behind the counter who was so worried about her nails, and consider turning around to drive back and show her my receipt again. We are already closer to home than the interstate now, I realize I have lost the battle with today. We turn onto Porterfield Gap, driving alongside the creek that leads to our farm.I unwrap the rest of the sandwich and throw it out the window, and I can hear Reagan laugh about the rattle of the engine.