The first three posts in this series (Sassafras Mountain, Ebright Azimuth, and Charles Mound) were all looking at state highpoints that I have visited. Well, there's another type of point that I go to that not a lot of people think about: the tri-point. These are simply where the borders of three states come together. Everyone is familiar with the four corners in the American Southwest which comprise the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah. Four corners could be thought of as a bunch of overlapping tri-points. With the exception of Hawaii, all of the states have tri-points with other US states, Mexican states, or Canadian provinces.
This particular tri-point is deep in rural Appalachia, and not far from Mount Rogers, the highpoint of Virginia which we had just hiked earlier in the day. There wasn't much left of the day, but the descriptions I had of it showed there was a rugged dirt road leading right to it. I had taken my car (an all-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4) through some pretty gnarly spots so I wasn't too overly concerned about getting there. I got off the main road and through the village of Whitetop, Virginia, to where the dirt road started that led to the tri-point. It was a run-of-the-mill dirt road with houses and farms dotted along its winding path. (Side note: every road in Appalachia is winding.)
The directions I had mentioned a gate that I would be driving through and to ask permission to go any farther. I eventually did come to a gate (which was open) and stopped at the residence nearby to inquire about the tri-point. This is where I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore. As I rolled down the driveway of the rundown looking property, I saw two men working on a piece of farm equipment. I got out of the car and approached the two men (I left the car running just in case). Both men were covered in grease and looked like they hadn't showered in… a while. The older of the two men had a beard and not much in the way of teeth and did all of the talking. The other man, who did not look quite as old but still had white hair, stood silently to the side. His greasy arms hung at a slight angle away from his sides. He just looked at me with a blank expression through his thick horn-rimmed glasses and never uttered a word. I asked about the tri-point and it took a few tries to communicate what I was talking about. It was hard to understand what the man was saying. This went beyond the quaint Appalachian drawl that everybody is familiar with. This felt more akin to being in a foreign country and trying to communicate across a language barrier with one of the locals. I finally learned that I was about 3 miles from the tri-point. I'm surprised I didn't start hearing banjos.
I continued up the dirt road for about two more miles. That's when the condition of the dirt road started to rapidly deteriorate. The ruts became worse. I was in low gear moving at a crawl. I could not simply drive straight down the road. I had to weave from side to side following the contour of the ruts in an effort to not bottom out. I was doing well until, while trying to cross one of the ruts, I felt my car bottom out and my engine became tremendously loud. I knew right then that I had damaged my exhaust, most likely hitting one of the pipes coming off the manifold on a rock. I just sat there in dread for a few minutes hoping it wasn't as bad as I thought. Worst-case scenario was that I had sheared the manifold right off the engine block. I decided to try and continue on, and as I tried passing over the same rut I started spinning out. That was it. I wasn't going any farther in the car. In the following picture you can see where I left the car. Just off the passenger side you can see two dark patches in the dirt. This is where I spun out as I tried to cross the rut. The picture doesn't do justice to just how bad the road actually was. To go any farther I would've needed a proper off-road vehicle, such as a Jeep Wrangler or a Toyota FJ Cruiser.
Now I had to decide whether or not I should continue on at all. It would mean going on foot, but I didn't know exactly how close I was (or how far). I didn't have a good enough cell signal to really use the GPS on my phone. What did work, however, was that the map app on my phone was still registering my current location. I could see the dotted lines indicating the state borders and the dot indicating my current position, and that was it. I tried switching over to satellite view, which would've helped for figuring out landmarks, but I simply didn't have enough signal for it to work. If the standard map view was reading right, then I would be able to tell how far I was by how fast my dot was moving in relation to the borderlines. I decided to continue on foot. As the sun was getting close to setting, I really wanted to hustle to get to the tri-point. Shiri was with me but she said to go on ahead so I could start taking my pictures and she would catch up. I loaded up my gear and headed off. I kept a close eye on my cell phone and studied my movement as I made my way down the road. My dot was moving quite briskly so I knew I wasn't too far. I also noticed that the road got even worse as I went along, with the ruts becoming quite deep. As it turns out I was probably less than a half-mile from the tri-point.
After successfully getting to the tri-point and taking my pictures, we made our way back to the car and started back toward town. The closest city to stop and get repairs was Bristol, Tennessee. The city is famous for its NASCAR racetrack, so I knew there would be somewhere there that could take care of my car. However, there would be one last piece to the adventure before we would get there. As we rolled through the village of Damascus, Virginia, I saw a cop car and had a gut feeling they were going to notice me. Keep in mind I basically had no exhaust and my car sounded like a jet engine. Sure enough, it pulled out behind us and a few blocks later put on its flashing lights. The officer was actually pretty cool about it. I explained what happened to the car and that I was on my way to Bristol to get it fixed. He didn't give me a ticket and even gave me something saying that I had been pulled over for it once just in case I got pulled over again between there and Bristol.
After spending the night at a hotel in Bristol, the next morning I took it right to a Toyota dealership to get it fixed. After getting there early so I could be first in line and waiting for about an hour they told me that they would not be able the fix it without special ordering a part which would take a day or two to arrive. Spending a day or two in Bristol would have totally thrown my plans for the whole middle of the week out the window. The guy gave me some hope though by telling me that another garage that they work with often that does custom welding might be able to help. I took it there and within an hour they were able to fix it. And it only cost about $80. With my car once again purring like a kitten we hit the road again and headed for our next destination which would be Mount Mitchell, the high point of North Carolina.
Also of note was the discovery that Christmas trees are a major regional crop in the area. Starting soon after we left's Mount Rogers, we started to notice the fields of Christmas trees. Around where I live in central New York you'll see the occasional Christmas tree farm. So it wasn't that the site of a field of Christmas trees was strange, it was more the sheer scale of it. This was a major crop in this part of the country, Much like how you'd see cornfields driving through Iowa. It was just one of those funny things; you don't think of Christmas trees as being a crop, but there they were, field after field of them.
Other posts in this series: