This article is part of the The Great American Reach Around series.
The previous installment of the Great American Reach Around began our slow, julep-sipping, sultry journey south from New England. Washington, D.C. was as country-fried as we got that time around. This time, prepare to get backwoods.
We will continue our journey south following the Appalachian Mountains. This immense mountain chain covers an area roughly the size of the United Kingdom and extends from New York down to the depths of Alabama. For the purposes of today's article we will concern ourselves with four states: Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia.
For Americans, Appalachia is a word with mostly negative connotations. The region has come to be associated with backwoods America. It conjures imagery of inbred yokels with bare feet and one eye twice as big as the other pursuing campers through dense forests that cling to the mountains. This stereotype of cannibalistic genetic freaks is probably unfair, but the generalization that large swaths of Appalachia are behind the times is grounded in reality.
Isolated towns and single-family dwellings sometimes have no running water and little communication or contact with the outside world. Poverty is endemic in the region. Economies that once relied on the dangerous trade of coal mining have dwindled as the supplies of easily mined coal have been exhausted. Mining activity now revolves around mountaintop mining, a grotesque method of coal extraction that literally removes the tops of mountains and leaves cratered mountains and valleys full of debris behind.
However, it is a mistake to think of Appalachia purely as the backwoods and to consider the people there to be drawling yokels. Nestled in among the mountains and foothills are some of America's most beautiful vacation spots and campgrounds and some of America's most historically important cities. Do you think a bunch of redneck morons worked in Oak Ridge refining fissile material for the world's first functioning atomic bomb?
Speaking of which, the recipient of Tennessee's finest isotopes happens to be the subject of the foreign portion of this week's Great American Reach Around. I am referring, of course, to the island nation of Japan. Eric "Rabid Child" Azevedo, elloliam, and Mike "Stoat Box" Paxman will be telling us all about the island of Shikoku, Niimi, and Tokyo respectively. I have asked them to keep the anime references to a minimum.
More on those goofs later. For now, we continue our episodic march to the sea in the great state of Kentucky.
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