In late August, three men set out on an ambitious journey to walk across the state of Tennessee.
The trio of longtime friends—Michael Meredith, Tim Duggan and Matt Cottam—hopes to capture the essence of the state by documenting on film their travels through Tennessee’s back roads and mountains.
Once the trek is completed—sometime in late November—the editing process will begin for a feature-length documentary. They hope to enter the film into various regional festivals beginning in 2015.
The final stop will be the extreme upper northeastern portion of the state, a town called Mountain City.
Last week, the men hiked into Bradley County and spent the night in Chattanooga with friends. They seemed in good spirits, despite daily 15- to 20-mile hikes.
With the journey moving into the final stretch, Cottam was overwhelmed by the generosity of the people they’ve met along the way.
"I can’t believe the types of people we’ve not only gotten to meet, but to become close to," he said. ".... It seems like we spent a lot of time with them, but we’ve only spent a night or two."
Meredith said the original expectation was to document the physical journey, but the footage has been more focused on the interesting characters they’ve met along the way.
"My expectation going in was to do something about the unique spots for food, places and culture," he said. "But then, we met all these eccentric people ... and normal people, too. Now, the film is about people who call themselves Tennesseans and how we stumble upon them under these crazy circumstances."
And crazy circumstances happen often.
They’ve had the cops called on them for trespassing; been invited to sleep in City Hall; and thwarted attacks of mosquitoes, fire ants and locusts. They even got to meet Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who also walked the state of Tennessee as a part of a successful gubernatorial run in 1979.
Duggan was able to live out a lifelong dream of killing a chicken.
"Right before we started, I told the guys I wanted to kill a chicken," he said. "I’ve never killed an animal for food before."
Early on in the walk, the men met a farmer who had several roosters that he offered up for slaughter.
"The guy told us, ‘I have nine roosters out back, and I only want to have one,’" Duggan said.
They used a rifle to kill several of the roosters and then chopped their heads off. Afterward, they boiled them in a cauldron and de-feathered them.
"It was awesome," Duggan said. "The family wanted to can the meat, preserve them and put them away to eat later."
When they aren’t killing birds on a farm, the men are soaking in the fall splendor.
"Tennessee is outstanding," Meredith said. "I never knew Tennessee had the kind of beauty we’ve experienced."
He continued: "At first, West Tennessee is really flat. It’s soybean field after soybean field. But then you get up onto the Highland Rim, then the Natchez Trace and toward the Cumberland Plateau. We hit Sewanee, and just the richness of the ecosystems here is incredible."
The weather will be the biggest hurdle for the men in the weeks ahead. Temperatures routinely drop into the mid-40s; and instead of snow, cold rain could make the rest of the trip hazardous.
"The mountains are going to be more uphill," Cottam said. "But the weather is the main issue. With cold weather and rain, there’s a lot of risk for hyperthermia, and we might have to hold up for a week somewhere if it gets bad."
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