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.
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.