Chattanooga, Tennessee

The Upchuck 50K trail run brought us to Chattanooga, Tennessee and we are really glad it did. I’m not sure if we would have been drawn to this southern city if it wasn’t for Debbie’s ultramarathon trail run, and that would have been a shame. Chattanooga is an outdoor “Mecca.” The city has a youthful vibrance that is hard to detect in New England. Maybe Burlington, Vermont has that feel. It sounds like a cliché, but like Asheville, North Carolina, Chattanooga could be viewed as a “Boulder (Colorado)  of the East.” Of course, after talking to some locals this past weekend, they think that this place is even better than Boulder.

We connected through Atlanta, Georgia, which is at the other end of the spectrum. Chattanooga was only a 20 minute flight on a Bombardier CRJ200, but as we flew over the rolling hills of North Georgia, we knew that we were in for a treat. The city is blessed with mountains (small ones), rivers, creeks, and a lot of rock.

The race was on the Cumberland Trail, which is only one of the many trail gems that this city boasts. Reportedly, you can access trails from all sides of the city. Wild Trails is the organization behind the trail running series that includes the Upchuck. Whether you enjoy hiking, climbing, trail running, mountain biking, or paddling, there is an active community for you. At the center of this is the Rock/Creek, a neat outdoor store that sponsors many of the local events. The city recently had a major outdoor festival called River Rocks, that drew folks from all parts. Outdoor Chattanooga is another organization involved with promoting the city’s outdoor culture.

On the running side, the Chattanooga Track Club sponsors several road running events. On Saturday, the same day as Upchuck, the roadies came out for the Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon and half marathon. We saw several people in town for the race. Chattanooga was the base, but the race was actually across the Georgia line at the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.

Chattanooga isn’t just a place for outdoor enthusiasts. There is a fair amount of culture. Of course, I came across much of it on a couple of easy runs through the city center and a morning walk with the family. The Hunter Museum of American Art has a stunning location on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River. We walked across the wooden John Ross Bridge, which gained us access to the north side of town. There was a lot to see on both sides of the river. Debbie took our kids to the Creative Discovery Museum and they had a blast. The children’s museum isn’t far from the Tennessee Aquarium, which gets good reviews. We didn’t have time to fit all of this stuff in, so the list of things to do on a return visit is long.

While Deb and the kids were at the children’s museum, I visited Lynskey Performance Design over near the airport. The Lynskey Family founded Litespeed, the venerable titanium bicycle maker. Since I was a Merlin Metalworks fan, I never got into Litespeed, but they made excellent bicycles. Litespeed was sold by the family, but the Lynskey’s got back into the bike business several years ago, and have once again built a top-notch company that focuses on titanium bicycle frames. I got a nice late afternoon tour of the simple factory from one of their sales managers. I always enjoy visiting family owned/managed manufacturing businesses.

Whenever we travel to a new city, we make it a point to find the best natural and vegan food options. We found a grocery store called Greenlife, but since its acquisition, it is really just a Whole Foods in disguise. The atmosphere was decidedly more hip than a typical Whole Foods and I even had a draught beer from a small bar inside the store. It was kind of cool. Last night, we ate at a simple little vegan restaurant called Sluggo’s North Vegetarian Cafe.

The portions were generous and the food quality was excellent. Debbie was happy that they put more emphasis on the food than the environs, but the joint could still use some TLC. There was a neat jukebox (with 45’s) that sat at one end of the single room. I had to explain that to my son. He thinks music just comes out of iPods and the occasional CD. The place has a strong tie-in with the music community and punk raged over the restaurant sound system.

One place we didn’t make it was the National Knife Museum, but maybe we will get there on a return visit. However, before we caught our flight home today, we visited the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum.  My son and I explored the gift shop and entrance way, which was filled with memorabilia, hooks, chains, and other assorted towing accessories. There was an odd tow truck or two and a very cool Model T. We didn’t have time to go deep into the building, but we pledged (to the nice man and woman manning the store) that we would return.

I’m sure there is a lot more to Chattanooga than we saw, but we still covered a lot of ground in less than three days.

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