Leaving Cataloochee

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

We went for the wildlife drive. It was very foggy, but the forecast was for a sunny day and the rest of the week was just afternoon showers. We saw the herd in the field. Some were lying down, some in the road, but all were fat and happy. We drove to the other end, a bit disappointed we haven’t seen any bears. There are also no deer. Ginger said the elk have driven the deer away. Still, there seems to be plenty of room for deer.

We turned around at the far end. The adjacent stream has gone down considerably, and looks like it would be fishable in a day or two. Through dense fog, we were surprised to see a single elk, because the herd was a half mile away. As we got closer, we could see it was big, with a huge rack. He was half again the size of the other bulls. He was eating fallen apples around a tree across the field. He bugled twice, the first time we heard that. Ginger would later tell us the big bulls stay on their own until time to mate.

At camp, we made pancakes for breakfast. I went over to offer some to Ginger, but she had eaten. She said she had to go to town. Her home town of Canton had historic flood levels. The Pigeon River had flooded several towns, and her mother was without water. I told her we might have to leave today, since our batteries were getting low. She said the road out was fine, but with all this rain, we should stay off the shoulders that might be soft. She said to stay in the middle of the road and make other drivers move over. I asked if she drank wine, and she said she did. I took her a bottle. She is simply the best! 

I went to the “phone booth” and called Greg at Autostar. He said he didn’t know when they could see me. His technician’s home was flooded. I thanked him for their help and paid only $100 for all their efforts. They have been very kind in these crazy times.

I went back to camp and we packed up our wet, soggy stuff. Putting the camp chairs in the truck, there were three yellow bugs on them – Yellow Sallies!

I had driven this road a number of times now. It is no doubt a bit scary, but I went slowly and honked at every blind turn. As we headed down the other side, a man stopped to tell me there was a big tractor/mower coming up the mountain a quarter mile back. “You won’t be able to pass him.”, he said. “Thank you. I’ll wait here.”

The “phone booth”

After waiting 30 minutes, Martha walked down the road to meet him. She texted me to come on, as he pulled into a driveway to wait, but I didn’t get the text. Walking back up the mountain, she yelled at me to come on. We passed him and waved happily.

The GPS took us north to Asheville. Martha had some views of the flooded Pigeon River, and it looked bad. After Asheville, we got on interstate 26, which was very nice, not too crowded, winding through the big mountains. By the time we got on 81 and passed Abingdon, I was getting a bit sleepy. Martha declined driving on a busy 81, so we looked for a place to stay the night, finally deciding on Raccoon Branch, a cute, little campground where we had stayed before.

I26 overlook
From I26 overlook

When we got there, Raccoon Branch was closed. We didn’t know where Grayson Highlands was, but we thought it was close, so we continued up the mountain. It wasn’t close. By the time we got to the state park, no one was at the gate. Driving to the campground, a ranger met us and said that campground was closed because they had no water. GEEZ! It made for a difficult place to turn around, but we made it.

Driving to the Equestrian Campground, I thought, we could have been past Roanoke by now. Thankfully there were lots of campsites. We chose #8, thankful to have a place. Martha took a shower for the first time not in the trailer. 

Grayson Highlands State Park picnic area
Grayson Highlands State Park

We enjoyed a quiet evening sitting by the fire playing some music, and discussing the trip. All I could think about was when I could go back to fish the Smokies. 

So how is the possessed truck you might ask. Thankfully, when driving, there are no problems. If I don’t lock the truck, there are no problems. Then I learned if I lock it with the key, there are no problems, so I removed the electric fob and removed the battery. When I get home, I will change the battery and see what happens. I am happy to not carry the bulky fob in my pocket anyway. If I lock the doors with the button inside, and then unlock with the key, the horn honks until I put the key in and turn it on. If I lock the door with the key, then unlock with the key, there is no honking. So I think it’s all the fob’s fault. Whether it just needs a new battery or not is soon to be determined. Whether is is possessed by the spirits of Cataloochee will be determined when I go back to fish. Right now I am just happy to be relieved of flashing lights, horn honking and very spooky doors rapidly locking and unlocking. And what the heck was that message about opening and then closing the driver’s side window??? As Willie commented, Gayle would have loved that kind of prank. I can hear her laughing to tears now.

Hurricane Fred

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Waking up early to a dripping rain. I made coffee and wrote up yesterday’s blog. Everything itched from the yellow jacket stings and my lip was still puffy. All-in-all it wasn’t too bad. I would wait until 8:00 to reconnect the truck batteries so I didn’t disturb Ginger. There were only two other campers and they were at the end of the camp. I guess everyone else knew it was to be a week of rain with a hurricane on top.

I walked over to Ginger’s to see if I could get a cell phone signal, but nothing. I had to check messages from Autostar Chevrolet to see what the solution was for my truck. Maybe I really need a priest. I pulled the horn fuse and connected the batteries. It’s getting easier now, but I don’t like working with batteries in the rain. I kept the hood as far down as I could to keep the rain out. I thought about putting a tarp over it, but dismissed it as too much trouble. 

As I went for a tool, the hood closed. Since I had tools in there, it didn’t close all the way, but I couldn’t reopen it. Possessed! The spirits are messing with me. I could barely get to the latch, but couldn’t open it, nor could I force it. Finally squeezing the hood onto my fingers, I could open it. Whew. I finished and double checked to make sure I hadn’t left any tools in there.

I gently knocked on Ginger’s door to see if she had cell service. “No”, she said, “but if you drive up the mountain, over the bridge, past the curves sign and past the reflectors, you will see a gravel pull-off where you can get cell service. We call it the ‘phone booth’”

The phone booth! I never saw the reflectors, but I saw that I instantly got four messages from Ed and Diego as I drove past it, but nothing from Autostar. I drove to the overlook, but no service, so I went back down, monitoring my phone as I went. I remembered two pull-offs, and I guessed it was the first one after the curves sign. Creeping past the second one, there was no signal. I pulled into the first one and had one bar, flashing two, then back to one. No message from Autostar. I tried to look up a phone number, but not enough cell service.

I went back down the mountain and turned right through the old farms and the Palmer family’s house with the breezeway in the middle. Those are cool, and I guess literally cool in the summertime. I didn’t see any elk or bears in the cherry or apple trees, so I drove down to the group campsite that sits in a nice field with tent sites along beautiful Cataloochee Creek. I envisioned fishing this shallow, fast-running stream, deciding it could be good with dry flies, maybe a Yellow Sally. I need a month of fishing here. With so much rain this week, it looks like I won’t get a chance this time.

As I parked the car, there was a camper fixing a hole that used to be his driver-side window on his van. He said he opened the door and the window just dropped down into the space in the door. He had put some kind of plastic over it and had taped it up. Ginger was quickly on the scene with a roll of duct tape. I have been in hundreds of campgrounds, almost all with campground hosts, and I have seen some good ones, but Ginger takes the cake.

I’m embarrassed to say I was a bit happy that the spirits were picking on someone other than me. Progressively, the rains came harder as Fred came over us. The truck weather app had a tornado warning for some county, but Ginger said that was in Georgia. She had called headquarters, and they said all we would get was heavy rain. 

The rains came heavy at mid-day. I kept checking the trailer for leaks. By late afternoon, the little trout stream was a raging river, up by three feet. We watched a weird movie Martha had downloaded on her iPad.

By late afternoon, we took the drive looking for wildlife. The elk herd was lying in a field. The big buck got up shaking off the rain. One would not want to be on the receiving end of those antlers. They look pretty sharp. It was a bit scary crossing two small, but very well-made bridges with the water rushing so hard underneath.

Ginger brought us a message from Autostar saying they wanted to do more testing, but didn’t know if they could do it tomorrow. Tomorrow is supposed to be a sunny day, but the trails will be a mess, and the streams won’t be fishable for a week. My batteries are getting low, so we will have to leave tomorrow. If we get some sun on the panels tomorrow we could make it another day. We didn’t seem to be in danger of the creek flooding the campground, as it would have to come up another 6 feet. It was already up 2 feet, but running out fast.

A little wine and some music on the new sound system, dinner and a good night’s sleep to the sound of rain on the Airstream.

Cataloochee Campground and The Possessed Truck

I got up wondering about the possessed truck. Martha and I read the owner’s manual about the alarm system. The only thing it said was to unlock the door and start the engine, but we did that last night. We did find out where the horn fuse was, so I pulled the fuse and reconnected the batteries. Nothing happened. Perhaps that solved the problem. 

I put the horn fuse back in and we drove to the viewing area. We stopped at lovely Palmer Chapel Methodist Church. With the windows rolled down and the doors unlocked, the truck madness hasn’t happened. We drove up to the end of the field, but at 10:00 the elk were likely in the forest. 

We drove past the Beech Grove School and the Palmer house. I couldn’t help but think about these poor people living in such a paradise being driven from their land and homes. We are certainly happy to have such a wonderful National Park, but was a thriving community in the late 1800’s, shipping apples and other crops all over. Some stocked the streams with rainbow trout and rented cabins to fishermen. One of the concerns was timbering. There might not be any forest left if something wasn’t done.

We drove the other direction from the campground to find another house and beautiful barn along Cataloochee Creek. We continued across a bridge and up a gravel road toward Big Creek and Waterville. I wanted to see how tough this road was. All of these mountain, gravel roads are somewhat tough, but certainly drivable. I have seen many cars on these roads. A jeep would be nice, however.

Back at camp, we fixed lunch and sat for a bit, and then the truck went crazy again, horn honking, lights flashing and door locks going up and down – it’s possessed! Ginger came out with a sympathetic face, telling me there is a Chevrolet place in Waynesville. I had best go get this problem fixed, so I drove over the mountain and called Autostar Chevrolet in Waynesville, North Carolina to see if they could help. They had an opening at 2:00. It was 12:30, so I just drove to the dealership. I told serviceman, Greg, the problem, and he looked at me funny. He asked if I had put any aftermarket things on the truck like running board led lights, inside lights or other electronic devices. No, I hadn’t. I did tell him about the ditch we drove into while looking for bears, and God knows we have hit plenty of big bumps.

I went into the lounge to wait and go through 274 emails, which were almost all junk. I got a message from Sandra that her roof had blown off her trailer on Smith Mountain Lake by a tornado that only hit her trailer. Luckily, no one was there. Danis also left me a message that Dick’s surgery went well and he would be home by now.

After a couple of hours, I walked out front, where there is a beautiful view of the mountains. A young salesman came up to ask if he could help, and we chatted for a while. He apologized for not having much inventory of trucks, but there are just no chips. I walked around looking at used trucks similar to mine. They all looked the same, even the newer ones. I walked around the service bays and saw my truck on the lift, but I couldn’t see what they were doing.

By 4:30, I asked if they knew anything. The technician was in touch with GMC, the question being whether to replace the computer for $1,000. Geez! Greg said to take it home and he would text me tomorrow when they knew something. 

Going over the mountain is becoming familiar, yet still a bit dangerous if someone comes around these blind turns too fast. I honked at all of them. We had an early dinner, then went out for wildlife viewing. We watched the elk, some right beside the car. Two babies laying in the middle of the field were so cute, their heads sticking above the grass.

I got out to take a picture of the barn with the “smoke” on the mountain behind. I noticed something flying close to the grass, but didn’t pay much attention walking around them until they started stinging me. Small yellow jackets were all over me as I made my attempt at running up the road. Every time I thought I was free, another would sting. I kept moving up the road and they kept following. I started fighting back, swatting them, killing my share. One stung me on the lip, and one in the armpit under my shirt. Swat, swat, run. I called to Martha to bring the truck up. A couple got in the truck with me, so I jumped back out swatting away. Finally free, we drove to the end of the road and turned around.

I entertained the idea of taking a Benadryl, but thought I would be OK with a couple of Advil. We went into the trailer and started getting ready for bed when the truck’s alarms went off – horn honking, lights flashing and door locks going crazy. Ginger came over as Martha held the flashlight while I disconnected the batteries again. I apologized for the noise, but she dismissed it. I took the horn fuse out of the fuse box, but we could still hear the door locks. It’s so creepy, especially in the dark. Ginger said there are weird electronic things that happen here. Clocks change time, GPS doesn’t work right and there was something else I missed as I tried not to get shocked.

With the job done, I crawled into bed trying to think of some logical explanation. It doesn’t go off while we are driving, fortunately, and it doesn’t go off if the doors are unlocked. When started it this morning, there was a message to open the driver window and then close it!? What?, but I did it. I have done that twice now…..to no avail. I have looked for a emergency flasher fuse to pull, but can’t find one. It has been quiet for hours and not gone off, only to start it all over again. Two ways stop it – driving it or unhooking the batteries.

Then I considered that it really was possessed, and I got a chill. I could picture a figure inside the truck, messing with me. Were they trying to make me leave? Did they put the yellow jackets on me? Did I have some ancestor who was in charge of making these 1,200 people leave their homes, their schools, land and way of life? Or did they want everyone to leave?

Cades Cove to Cataloochee

Sunday, August 15, 2021

I had read about the 11-mile road into Cataloochee Campground on the east side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a one-lane gravel road with tight turns down the mountain. Pulling a trailer wouldn’t be easy. As I hooked up, I saw our neighbor, who had been here for three days with no solar or generator. I asked how he managed, and he showed me his special batteries, and said it is just him and his wife, and they are frugal with their use. He was a Norwegian named Yens, and his wife is named Liv, “Like live and let live”, she said. He said he likes to fly fish, and now I was very interested. “Do you have any Yellow Sallies?”, he asked. “What’s a Yellow Sally?” I replied. He invited me over to sit under his awning, and pulled out his backpack filled with fly boxes. He gave me three Yellow Sally dry flies. When I declined, he said he has plenty and that he ties his own. Then he showed me his nymph version. Funny how you meet a guy like this on the last day when we have a long drive, but that’s the way it works sometimes. They were a very nice couple who would have been fun to spend some time with. Live said she sometimes goes with him. Other times she reads a book, but lately in these crazy times, she writes her grandchildren, discussing the importance of Christian values. With regret, I said I had best get going, thanked them and wished them well.

Yellow Sallies

I wondered if Martha would just say she wanted to go home. As we headed toward Townsend, I gave her the chance, asking if she was OK. “I’m OK. Are you OK?” So off we went, passing the turn to Townsend and onto the winding, narrow road to Sugarland. Fortunately, the traffic wasn’t as bad as yesterday. There is no cell phone service in the park, so no GPS. We were doing it the old fashioned way – using a paper map. 

At Sugarlands, we took 441 through Gatlinburg. It was busy, but I’m sure it can get a lot worse. The streets were crowded with tourists. There was a line around the block at a pancake house. We turned onto 321/73, The Great Smoky Byway. 45 minutes or so later, we came to a T in the road. We took a right to Waterville. Big mistake.

We were looking for a turn on Hollow Trail to get to I40. The road turned to gravel and wound through the mountains. It was not a good place to pull an Airstream with its tight turns and steep drop-offs. When we got to the turn, a big sign said, “Trucks and RV’s not allowed on this road. Your GPS is wrong!” 

A few miles up the road, there was another way, but it had the same sign. We slowly pressed on. On the truck’s GPS I could see I40 just a few miles away. I stopped to see if I could get the GPS to get us there. A car came behind us with two ladies in it. The driver asked, “Are you as lost as we are?” As Martha talked to the ladies, I was working on the GPS, noticing a motorcycle rider in a black suit turn onto a dirt road ahead of us. Not having much luck, I got out to see if the ladies had any ideas. They were from South Carolina, trying to get to 40 to get home.

The motorcycle rider in a black suit, riding a black bike came out of the woods, skidding to a halt next to me. I asked how we get to I40. He quickly lifted his helmet shield and said, “4 miles. When it turns to pavement, turn left”, and he sped off. OK, there is hope. 4 miles ahead we came to a crossroad. A sign pointed left to I40. Another pointed straight ahead to Cataloochee 16 miles. A voice inside said it couldn’t be worse than the road we had just driven. 

Some ladies were tending their horses and trailers in a field next to the road. I walked over, opening a gate and walking through the tall, wet grass. They glanced at each other nervously as I approached. One said, “Turn left and go to 40.” “Not straight?”, I asked. She almost smiled and said, “Go to 40.” 

We felt relieved as we got on I40 and into an incredibly different world of speeding traffic winding through the Smoky Mountains. We turned onto Cove Creek Road and finally saw a sign for Cataloochee Campground. It said, You need to have reservations. There is no cell service in the park.” The road in is rather famous for its hairpin turns on a one-lane gravel road. It couldn’t be worse than the roads we had spent the morning driving, and it was only 10 miles.

It is a tough road to drive with or without an Airstream, with blind hairpin turns. One car pulled way over so we could pass. He said, “Take care of that Airstream.” We went very slowly, passing maybe 10 cars, several going too fast. At a T in the road a sign pointed left to Cataloochee Campground. Straight ahead was Cosby 32 miles. We had been close to Cosby an hour ago.

Soon the road became paved. It even had a double yellow line in the middle! Finally, at 3:30 we turned into the campground. A sign said to stop and register. A lady sat at a table under a tarp smiling. I got out more to stretch my legs than anything. Ginger told us all about the campground with a smile on her face, happily saying there is a hand drier in the bathroom, telling Martha she could wash and dry her hair there.

“Are you going to fish?”, she asked me. “Yes”, I replied. She gave me a map with all the streams in the area, along with a brochure with fishing regulations. She showed us all the hiking trails, marking them on the map. She gave us a brochure with the local history. I asked if one could catch fish in these streams, and she replied, “If you’re good.”

We took her advice and went the wrong way around the pretty campground loop to get to site #1 (of 26 sites on Cataloochee Creek). It would have been impossible to get in from the other direction. We got settled and I walked across the dirt loop road to look at the stream. I don’t know how many beautiful trout streams are in this park, but this was another. The sun was shining and we were happy to finally be here. 

One of the big attractions here are the elk. 20 years ago 50 elk were brought from the west and released. We drove up the road to see what was here. Crossing a couple of narrow bridges, we came to a huge field on the right, maybe a mile long and 250 yards across. 30 elk were grazing their way down the valley – big, fat, happy elk. Maybe 10-12 cars were enjoying the view. On the left side of the road was a small, mountain stream, about the size of Rip Rap.

We parked at the end and walked up a trail past a very nice horse camp. I was sizing up the trout stream when it started to rain. As it came down harder, we turned around, heading for the truck. Martha asked for the keys and jogged down the trail. I can’t do that, but we hadn’t gone that far. 

Back at camp, the trouble began. I was sitting in the trailer, sipping a glass of wine, when I noticed the truck’s emergency flashers blinking. I went out, unlocked the truck, started it, pushed the emergency button on and off, got out and locked the truck. Soon it did it again, but this time with the horn honking. I did my thing again, wondering if there was something I had tripped to start this.

It wasn’t long before it started again. This time with the doors rapidly locking and unlocking. The damned thing was possessed! Not knowing what else to do, I disconnected the two batteries, which is not a simple task on this truck.

I kept wondering what on earth would cause such a thing.

Work Day

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Karen went for a 6 mile run up Anthony Creek Trail while the kids had fun cooking pancakes, pouring batter in letters for their names, then adding caramel M&M’s on top. Of course they couldn’t turn them over very well, but they had fun with the project and readily ate them. Karen needed to get back at a decent time, so they packed up for their 4.5 hour trip home. I have been trying to kiss Melissa on the forehead for a week while she squeals, kicks, pushes and calls me “Crazy Dude”. I was taken by surprise when she jumped up in my arms with a big hug I will forever remember. It was a great week with the kids, one that will be hard to top.

We took the trailer to the Loop parking lot, which was busy on a Saturday. I blocked one lane of traffic while I parked it and unhooked. The batteries are at 35%, and we needed a good day’s charge so we can stay 5 days in Cataloochee.

Then we went to town to do laundry, fill up gas, get a fuse for the jack, grocery shop and fill a propane tank. We were too efficient. Everything was right there in one lot – the laundry, Ace Hardware, a propane refill, and even an excellent car wash that could fit any size RV. 

We started four washers. Then I went to Ace for the fuse, but they still didn’t have it. Fortunately, the 25 amp I bought a few days ago was working fine. I got some more firewood and filled the propane tank. The people in this Ace Hardware are really nice and helpful. They also own the propane station. 

A lady named Melissa, at the laundry told us places to go, showed us pictures of wildlife in her yard, and videos taken by a doorbell camera, of bears, turkeys, wild boar and a bobcat. She was a cool, big lady and very nice. She told us to go to Tennessee Sally’s Craft Store, where we would find local arts and crafts. Angels come in all shapes and forms.

We went to Tennessee Sally’s, and it must have been Sally who greeted us. It’s nice, little store with lots of interesting things. Martha bought a solar Mason Jar painted with a bear and trees to remind us of the Smokies. I bought a photography book with pictures of Cades Cove to send to the kids.

It was a good, productive, efficient day. where we got a lot of stuff done with good teamwork. We loaded groceries in the hot trailer parked in the parking lot. Checking the solar, we had gotten to 56%, not enough to make it five days in Cataloochee, so I suggested we go for a hike. We might not be at 100%, but maybe 75. Martha wanted to get out of the heat and go back to the campground. We hooked up, blocking traffic in one lane as people poured in for the Loop Drive on a Saturday afternoon.

People run their phones and iPads down to 0% all the time, but then they buy a new $1,000 phone before the battery wears out. As Lou told us after he installed the solar system, “The batteries are happiest between 20 and 80%.” These are lithium batteries, not lead acid. It’s pretty amazing we have been able to stay in Cades Cove with five people in the trailer for a week in a shaded site that got little sun.

At the campground, we packed up for the move to Cataloochee Campground tomorrow, and we had a full load with all the cooking stuff, bikes, firewood, cameras, tents and sleeping bags. Then Martha went to the Institute to hike to a waterfall someone had told her about. I was ready for a glass of wine.

I sat and listened to some music, first Elke Brook, then Andrew Lloyd Webber. I couldn’t connect Bluetooth from outside the trailer, so I put some earphones on and turned it up.

Abrams Falls and Tubing Little River

Friday, August 13, 2021

We took the morning Loop Drive, which is always fun. After breakfast the plan was to hike to Abrams Falls, about a 5-mile hike, then tube Little River in the afternoon. The Airstream’s vitals were getting low, so I opted out to go dump the tanks, fill up with fresh water and see if I could find a sunny spot to get some solar power. We have been here for six days with no hookups with two kids and now three adults, all charging iPads, phones, watches and a computer. We are getting solar each day, but it is minimal, since we are in the shade.

I hooked up, went to the dump station, which is a good one, then went over to the Loop parking lot, the only open, sunny area I have seen, except for in town. I was afraid there wouldn’t be enough room to turn around, but pulling over onto the grass, I was able to easily make the turn. I parked at the end of the lot, which wasn’t terribly busy in the middle of the day. Ahhh, 304 Watts of solar. It was hot in the sun, so I opened a window and turned the fans on.

I shook out the rugs and vacuumed the floors. I recently bought a Tineco battery-operated stick vacuum. I have been thinking about it for a long time, but finally did it after reading Consumer Reports, and I am quite happy with it. Sweeping isn’t difficult in an Airstream, but you can’t get into all the nooks and crannies. 

I straightened up a bit, then downloaded pictures from the cameras. Josh has been using the camera with the telephoto lens and has really had fun with it. It’s a big, heavy lens and tough to handle, but once he learned to rest it on a window or door, he got better with it. He got some very good pictures along with a number of unfocused ones, but that’s part of the learning curve. He has a good eye for it.

At 12:30, I thought I should bet back. Another four hours and I would have been fully charged, but I thought I should go. I parked the trailer and put everything back – bikes, drying racks, the stove and all the hanging, wet clothes. 

The group got back at 2:30. They had a good hike and a swim at the base of the falls. After a bit of a rest, we drove into town to tube Little River again. The water had dropped a couple of inches since Monday, making it more difficult to negotiate the rocks and rapids. There are three or four fun rapids on this section. The tubes are very sturdy, bouncing off rocks with ease. We had to lift our buts many times to avoid getting banged by slightly submerged rocks. It’s a fun, little trip that took us 2 hours. The kids went for ice cream at Burger Master.

Abrams Falls

It rained like crazy coming up the mountain. Of course I had decided to air out my tent, pulling out the sheet, sleeping bag and air mattress. Now they would all be wet and a mess. As we crossed the mountain and descended into Cades cove, the rains stopped. Martha had not gone for the tube ride, but wanted to chill after the hike. She had put my things back into the tent😊

We cooked potatoes and onions in the cast iron skillet and chicken strips on the griddle, along with cucumbers, tomatoes and green peppers. Karen had brought bunt cake for an early celebration of Martha’s birthday.

We have had a great trip with the kids. With rain predicted every day, it hasn’t bothered us. We have had great weather. It’s always good to be in the mountains in August. We’ve had some great hikes, tubing and wildlife drives through Cades Cove Loop Trail. These mountains are gorgeous. I love the “smoke” in the Smoky Mountains, and we have seen some picture-perfect trout streams. On the hike yesterday we saw two fishermen coming back down the mountain. They said they caught one fish, but knew they were fishing behind someone else. Brook trout are like that. Once someone has been through, they become very wary. You could spend all summer fishing in here. The park is huge, and there is a lot of back country to hike in, complete with shelters and campsites. What a treasure!

Hike Little River Trail, Cucumber Gap

We went on the Loop Drive in the morning, now the fifth time we’ve done it. We saw lots of turkeys early, but the highlight was finding a “bear jam” with a ranger present. There was a mother and three babies in a wild black cherry tree….all on one branch!

We relaxed and hung out, waiting for Karen to come at 12:30. She brought us lunch, and the kids told stories of the trip. They were so excited to see her! After a little nap, we drove to hike the Little River Trail loop through Cucumber Gap. The Little River is a beautiful stream with big pools. We saw two fishermen coming down the trail. I asked how they did. They had only caught one, probably because they were fishing behind someone else.

Little River
Little River

I was a little unsure after turning onto Cucumber Gap as it looked like it was going the wrong way. After awhile two ladies came down the trail. After some conversation, we determined we were going the right way. Martha stayed and talked with them as we walked on. One’s husband had been at the JAG School at UVA, and they had lived on Carter’s Mountain.

Josh was telling stories and talking about school that starts next week all the way down the mountain. I was behind them and Melissa and Martha 100 yards back. Suddenly, there was a large cracking noise. Looking up, we saw a tree fall to the ground with a big crash on our right. Scared us to death, but fortunately we were not in its way.

We got back a bit late, and the kids wanted to take Karen on the loop drive. Martha said she would stay and get dinner ready – campfire stew. What a show we had. Our best spotter is Melissa, especially standing out the sunroof. There were turkeys near the barn; then a coyote trotting through a field. Then Melissa spotted two bears in a big tree to our right. I handed the camera with a big, heavy lens to Josh in the back seat, first setting it to automatic and adjusting the iso. He did a fabulous job and loved every minute. Thinking that was all we would see, and talking about how lucky we were, we rounded a corner and were stopped by a husband and wife in the street. A mother bear and three babies were in the woods. I parked the truck and everyone got out. They appeared right in front of us in the field. Josh was shooting while a man was talking to the mother bear, guiding her to a hole in a wire fence. As she made it to the opening, I ordered everyone back in the truck. Josh stood on the console and out the skylight, still shooting pictures. All four bears walked right in front of the truck, up the side of it and crossed the road into the forest. We were breathless. Those little babies were soooo cute! What a night we had. Back at camp, we told Martha all the stories.

Melissa Quotes:

Getting up from the hammock, I asked where she was going. “Gone to Nebraska’, she said.

Eating her second piece of bacon while the eggs were cooking, I said, “Don’t fill up on bacon.” She replied, “You can’t fill up on bacon. Everyone knows that. It’s a commonly known fact.”

She kept calling me “Crazy Dude” as I tried to kiss her on the forehead while she kicked, pushed and screamed.

Biking Cades Cove Loop

Wednesday, August 11. 2021

At 7:00 everyone was still sleeping, so I went up to the picnic area thinking I would try fishing Anthony Creek for an hour. As I put my rod together, two guys in their 60’s parked next to me and got their hiking gear out. I asked if they were going for a big hike and one replied, “Well big enough for us.” Thunder rolled close by and it started to rain. Off they went saying they hoped it wouldn’t be a big rain. I wished them well. The rain came harder, so I put the rod back in the case. I was rather unprepared for rain, as the whole thing was a spur of the moment idea.

It is Wednesday, the day the Cades Cove Loop is closed to cars and open to bikes. The parking lot was filled, but experienced bikers parked in the picnic area, which was quiet. Rain or no rain, they were going.

Our crew was slow to get up, probably tired from our long hike yesterday. It was 8:30 by the time the kids got up. Martha and I fried bacon and made pancakes. The kids enjoy being involved in the cooking, but it does get a bit messy, although we agree it’s worth it for the experience.

By 10:30 we were ready to bike and the rains had cleared. Martha loaded some snacks and filled the water bottles. Off we went, riding through the horse barn parking lot. A ranger warned us it was slick after the rain. I did not want to take another fall after breaking four ribs last year. We have driven the loop four times now, looking for wildlife. In the horse pasture we saw four turkeys. 

8 year-old Melissa rides a little bike with only one gear, and she does an incredible job with it, but there are some pretty good hills on this 11-mile ride, and she walked most of them. Josh, riding his mother’s bike, proved to be a much better rider since we last rode together a year ago. He has been riding with his friends in the neighborhood. Last year he couldn’t keep up. This year I couldn’t keep up with him.

Martha and Melissa

I stopped to take pictures along the way. The beauty is striking even after driving it four times. Josh and I waited for the girls many times. Martha told me not to ride ahead. Josh wanted to go, and I wanted to ride with him, but that made for a lot of waiting. We stopped at the farm with the cherry trees, and sure enough the same bear was back in the tree, although a different one. A nice ranger named Mark, told us the cherry trees are full of berries this year, but the bears do a lot of damage, breaking limbs to get to the fruit, so the tree may not produce the next year. Maybe it’s a natural pruning job. A bear in a tree draws a big crowd, but the bear seemed unaffected. I was amazed at the way this big animal walked out on limbs with ease, then up to the next one, pulling branches with one paw to get to the fruit. 

We explored the old house, outbuildings and barn before getting back on the road. Josh and I, way ahead of the girls, stopped at the next farm to explore the house and barn. Then back on the road, up a big hill, we decided to wait for the girls again. They didn’t come, so I rode back quite a ways, but didn’t find them. Either they had passed us at the farm, or someone was hurt. Martha’s warning loomed in my head, “ Don’t ride ahead. Stay with the group.” When I rode back, bikers warned me of a car coming. What?! I managed to get off the road as a ranger car passed me. Could they be in that car? There is no cell phone reception in the park. We should have taken radios.

Josh and I decided they passed us, so we sped ahead. Finally back at camp, we found them sitting at the picnic table smiling. Whew! We went back down to the Visitors Center and got ice cream. It was 4:00 and we were all sweaty. With no showers and no hookups in the park, we have had to be innovative to stay here a week. 

Josh, Melissa and I drove down to Little River at the bridge where there is a popular swimming hole. This would be our bath for the day, while Martha took a bucket bath. The water was cold, but felt great once we got in…….except Miss Melissa didn’t get all the way in. It was just too cold for her.

We drove the 9 miles back to camp and made Tacos for dinner with everyone participating. It was a good day, and everyone enjoyed the Loop bike ride. 

Smores after a long day

Hike Mt. Le Conte to the Bluffs

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

We had a rather lazy morning. I downloaded pictures from two cameras and the phone to the computer and wrote up the last couple of days. We were all tired from a very active day yesterday, and the kids didn’t get up until almost 8:00. They had a big breakfast of cereal, fruit, sausage and eggs, and then Josh had a yogurt.

Melissa loves the hammock, and is in it swinging high every chance she gets. Amazingly flexible. Who else could sit in a hammock with their feet resting on the edge of the hammock to each side of her, legs stretched out in a super split? Then she is holding onto her toes, smiling!

Our event of the day was to hike Mt. LeConte to the bluffs, about half way to the top, about 2.3 miles up. We had reviewed some of the hiking possibilities, and this was the one chosen. It is an hour drive from the campground on the River Road that follows Little River, the one we tubed yesterday. This is a picture-perfect trout stream. A river is bigger than a stream, so in trout stream terms, this is a big one with lots of big boulders and lots of big pools. We saw some people fishing it, but not so many. With so many people visiting the park, the traffic was busy on a very narrow two-lane road that curves many times following the river up the mountain. I honked at several people who crossed the yellow line. 

Poor Melissa gets car sick, and this is not a good road for people who get car sick. She was a little wobbly by the time we got to the trailhead. Cars filled the parking lot and lined both sides of the road in both directions. We finally found a spot a half mile from the trailhead. Several people were fishing a beautiful pool below us. Getting down the steep bank must have been interesting. Getting back up would be a real challenge.

It’s a beautiful hike up Mt. LeConte, following a very pretty trout stream. The Bluffs are a huge rock overhang with water dripping over the edge. This could be a big waterfall after a heavy rain. A lady said I should continue a quarter mile further to “The Fields” for a spectacular view. While Martha and the kids ate lunch, I hiked ahead. The climb is more steep as you go higher, and I never found “The Fields”, so I headed back. The walk down wasn’t so bad, but still a long walk. Everyone was tired by the time we drove an hour to get back to camp.

It was a good night to make pizza in the new oven, and it was a big hit, letting Josh and Melissa make their own. It was a good pizza and a fun way to let everyone participate.

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