Joe and I have been working constantly. So, one Monday very recently we decided to take a break, before we shifted from tired to fried. Bryn, a wonderful traveler, would come too, of course. We’d set aside nearly five days that would begin Wednesday afternoon.
Well, why not?
We could hike and bike in and around the Smokies, and explore two towns at the edge of this national park, named Pigeon Forge (pop. 6,000) and Sevierville (pop. 16,000), which housed Dollywood. (Sevierville is Dolly Parton’s hometown.) We’d heard about this theme park for ages, but had never checked it out. I love her movies; ‘Nine to Five,’ and ‘Straight Talk.’ The lady’s easy one-line observations always trigger laughing fits! So, a theme park with her name on the billboard promised a decent, fun-filled experience. (We probably wouldn’t see more than a smidgen of Pigeon, ‘cause this was a scouting trip.)
Gatlinburg (pop. 4,000), the gateway to the Smoky Mountains, would be interesting as well.
I packed just enough to fill my backpack (we never over pack, remembering K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid), grabbed Bryn’s food bowl, bed and leash, and when I finished seeding the ratty front lawn at Sunnybank House on Wednesday, Bryn and I scrammed. Three hours later I turned into the driveway of our little brick farmhouse in Saginaw and transferred our stuff to Joe’s ‘95 GMC van. Then we lashed both our bikes to the back and took off. The transfer took ten minutes.
It was 4 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon.
At 9 p.m. we arrived at the La Quinta Inn, fed and walked our doggie, and fell into sleep. Thursday, after a leisurely wakeup, Bryniewalk, coffee and bacon, we carried on south on I-75. At around 3 p.m., after 6 hours on the road (battling sheets of pounding rain for two of those hours, which slowed us down) we found ourselves part way up the Smoky Mountains, smack in the middle of Pigeon Forge. Our GPS guided us straight to its La Quinta Inn, just a block from the main strip. After a nice constitutional behind the hotel we left Bryn in our room to eat her dinner. (A seasoned traveler, she’s always fine with this arrangement, knowing we’d be back.) Across the tree-lined street was Happy Harry’s Crab House, perfect for a glass of merlot and some nibblets, brought to us by hometown folks who spoke with a rich southern drawl.
Pigeon Forge suited us just fine. Everyone- from the hotel’s cleaning lady (“Wheh ya’ll from?”) to the waiter- (“What ken ah git ya’ll?”) was so friendly! It wasn’t phony baloney, where people smile, but not with their eyes.
Maybe it’s just me, but knit brows and ‘Constant Consternation Syndrome’ were not evident down here.
After coffee in our hotel’s little breakfast area we trotted outside to our bikes, hitched Bryn to the superbly designed Bike Tow Leash, and pedaled away from human structures. It was just after sunup, 58 degrees. We had the countryside to ourselves in perfect biking weather. Not a soul was about.
By golly, after just two minutes’ ride down a back road we heard flowing water, which lured us to a beautiful asphalt trail that followed the Little Pigeon River’s route. Long grassed meadows and thick forest with hilly banks offered semi-hidden access to the river at different points. We walked our bikes down one steep, rough break that opened out to a bright meadow that ran along the stream, which was strewn with huge boulders. Rushing mountain-cold water mingled with the infant sun’s shower of white and gold light. Ducks and geese waded the riverbank or cruised in the current in family groups while honking out migratory gossip.
Bryn splashed through the pebble-y shallows scooping up cool water drinks and flinging half-drowned sticks into the air, and dashed up and down the long grass meadow for the pleasure of it, while we poked around.
This early, with no humans anywhere, Bryn was released to run alongside us as we biked along. Ah, she loved the freedom!
The entire morning was taken up exploring the area’s endless beauty, peace, and isolation. What a gift for tired minds!
We returned to the hotel just after noon, renewed. After Bryn was fed and settled Joe and I trotted over to the Crab House again to try its yummy, affordable dishes.
Everything was delicious.
Then, an afternoon nap beckoned. We rose a couple of hours later to stroll up and down the busy, really long main avenue. There were too many hotels and restaurants to count. And jeez, Louise, what amazing structures! We gawked at castle-like buildings complete with ‘medieval’ towers that lined the thoroughfare. One huge, white-pillared monster (which reminded me vaguely of Scarlett’s mansion in Gone With The Wind) had been constructed upside down, with its roof on the ground, which made the whole thing cockeyed. Amazing! It was landscaped with tall, upside down pine trees, whose roots reached for the sky. !!
Other fantastic structures promised that intriguing things happened inside them- a magician’s super show, a huge house of mirrors and other delights, ghostly hotel guests, buildings that featured come-to-life stories from the Bible, rooms full of family-oriented pinball machines, not to mention huge ‘barnatecture’ buildings hosting downhome country shows with cowboys and horses, great country music and acrobats, with Dolly’s name and picture out front. Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner Attraction is perennially popular. (But, as we dine once at midday, this offering would be wasted on us.)
A massive sky wheel, imported from Myrtle Beach, made lazy circles in the sky, allowing riders to see over mountaintops as well as enjoy the million colored town lights far below. This immense wheel looked much bigger than the London Eye.
The weather was so beautiful, though, that we couldn’t imagine spending the afternoon indoors. Just looking around, though, was great fun! (One fantasy castle had swords that pierced the stone facade, and enormous blue worms that wound around its tower...)
I had two goals.
1. I wanted to rent a GoCar and roar around the big, wide course as fast as possible. Its low chassis guaranteed a thrilling experience. Joe opted to stay behind to catch me rocketing by with his phone camera. Oh, Boy! For $14 I could travel the snaky track twice. So, I belted up and took off with the pedal-to-the-metal. He captured some decent pictures!
2. I wanted to repel gravity. There was a place on the main drag that featured a huge wind tunnel for curious folks to experience zero gravity. (A jet full of astronauts would fly straight up, then fall precipitously straight down for about 15-30 seconds. They’d float around in the cabin, not bound by gravity, for those few precious seconds. I always thought that was a COOL thing!)
But, alas, number two had to wait ‘til next time...because-
While I was maneuvering my hotdog car back into its berth, Joe’s phone radar informed him that rough weather was about 12 hours away. Hurricane Nate would usher in wind and lots of rain. Navigating down the narrow mountain road in our big van through such intense rain made us uneasy.
So, always flexible, we changed the plan. We’d bike around Pigeon Forge and Sevierville for the rest of Friday’s fine afternoon, then collect Bryn from the hotel and drive the 8 curvy miles to Gatlinburg to check it out that evening. (She loved padding around with us, sightseeing, but delighted in sights and scents much closer to the ground, like rubbish bins and fire hydrants.)
Then, after doing one more morning mountain bike trail trip with Bryn starting early Saturday morning we ate our midday meal in Pigeon Forge and drove back to Ohio (escaping the rain) to stay at the same La Quinta Inn. We carried on to Saginaw on Sunday, arriving mid-afternoon. (Gas was cheap, by the way. $2.21/gal.)
Here’s the thing: Tennessee’s easy to drive to, especially if the journey’s broken up. So we’ll go back before too long.
Here’s another example of what’s possible there: Imagine zip line cable travel from one mountain top to another, where a person can dip-zip down to survey- and whiz past- gorgeous pristine valleys, lovely streams, and even fly over huge virgin forests. It’s a two-hour experience. (It’s a two-hour rush!) I have no idea what such a thing might cost, but the concept sounds marvelous. For me, it’s a way to see the Smokies from high above, without hiking hundreds of miles, or/and bumping into bears.
Hmmm. We’d have to climb up to mountaintops to reach each connecting zip line cable, wouldn’t we? -which must have been strung using a helicopter. Wow.
But the highest mountain doesn’t exceed about 3500 feet, which isn’t that bad...
Anyway, it’s a great motivator to keep fit.
I’ll keep ya’ll posted!