My First Road Trip
The trip began with food, as most trips should. We foraged in the supermarket for items that could pack well, feed four and have some taste. Other essentials were procured. The pile beside the 1998 Jeep Cherokee was decidedly excessive. No one balked. Items were weighed- would I need it, could I leave it, does anyone have one we could share? The roof box was our savior. Two tents, four chairs, four sleeping bags and pads, a cooler, a canopy, stove, several tarps, 3 very well packed backpacks. We also had 12 pairs of shoes.
Two atlas’s mapped our journey and the gas tank fueled it. 15 hours on various highways, 2 hours on secondary roads. We stopped to buy the 13th pair of shoes. We feasted on salami hummus cheese wraps besides a mostly deserted miniature theme park.
As we drove through Pigeon Forge, better known as home to Dollywood, our anticipation grew, although there is the slight possibility it wasn’t anticipation, but more of a “let us out of the Jeep PLEASE”. An information center provided us with a map and a plan. Elkmont would become home for the next day or so. The last stop provided some wine and some very overdue ice.
We chose a campsite and read warnings of bears. Don’t leave food out, don’t dump used water, don’t leave toothpaste out, and keep all food in your trunk, under a blanket, because bears can recognize food packaging through the tinted windows, and will get into your car for some Little Debbie snack cakes.
Tuesday started slow. We emerged bleary eyed from the tents and boiled water for tea and oatmeal. We decided we liked the neighborhood, aside from the small boys next door who hit each other with large sticks. We reserved the campsite for the night, and planned our first assault on the Smokies. A short hike to get oriented, see the sights and begin the great quest for the largest population of salamanders in the world! The trails weren’t marked well, we made a few circles. We procured a new trail map, although we have NO clue where the first one went, maybe the bears???
It ended up being about 5/6 miles and we had lunch on a lovely moss covered rock. No salamanders yet, but we did see some flittery little blue mothes/butterflies that appear to be attracted to blue things. One hitched a ride on my bandana for a little while. Our return to B-11 was refreshing, and we enjoyed some snacks and reading. Things slowed down as we settled into vacation mode.
We have thus far met three groups headed towards Bonnaroo, all have been 20something, drinking and smoking. I am noticing a trend! We courageously ventured into Gatlinburg for some supplies. What a scary overdeveloped mini-place. It reminded me of Niagara Falls. We quickly retreated “home” this time armed with Boones and Beer. We had a lovely dinner, smores and some guitar playing by the fire…
Wednesday began later than it should have. With Clingman’s Dome on the agenda, and a few other short hikes, an early start was called for, and not answered. Bacon and eggs were people fuel. This morning, like all the rest so far, we have liberally applied our new perfume- Off with Deet. Amy and I washed our hair in the bug filled sinks of the women’s bathroom, with cold water. It was refreshing and horrifying at the same time.
The rest of Wednesday was spent in an assault on Grotto Falls. A soggy dripping wet ass assault on Grotto Falls. We spied our first (last and only) salamander in the park. It was about an inch long, and absolutely adorable. We also saw a black rat snake, and gave it the right of way it so deserved on the green trail. We were a little confused by the mile markers on the map, and what we thought was going to be a 2 mile “get warmed up for the Dome” hike was really closer to 7 or 8 miles. Due to our saturation point, we hitched a ride in the back for the Ford F150 with a couple of honeymooners back to the bottom of a hill (the car was at the top). There was a brief attempt to drive up to the summit of Clingman's Dome, but someone failed to navigate the windy roads, and we were not allowed up to top. We did get to see some Ambulances driving pretty fast on the aforementioned windy roads! We washed ourselves with babywipes and decided that we needed margarita’s and headed into town to a Mexican restaurant with one of the most cheerful nice waiters I have ever met.
The night was spent around the fire swigging on two jugs of wine and strumming guitars. After several wobbly trips to the bathrooms, and some just behind the rocks, we all went to sleep a deep cabernet sauvignon slumber.
Day 5 began with deep cleansing of all of us in preparation for the dirty concert. Brunch was prepared and our home at B-11 Elkmont was dismantled. We drove once again through sketchy Gatlinburg and towards the Forbidden Caverns. After a short wait, and what seemed to be a wild goose chase with roadside signs, we descended into the cavern.
The Forbidden Caverns were quite odd. We were not allowed to touch anything, and were admonished for running our (ahem, Gene’s) fingers along the rock formations. Several questions went unanswered by a seemingly untrained tour guide. She appeared to have no true knowledge of her work place, and not a care for political correctness. She explained that Indians and Moonshiners used the caves, mostly because it was a constant 58 degrees inside. The tour guide had a penchant for naming rocks after common things they resembled. More then a few times, she regaled the group with a variation of the following phrase; “ See that rock over there that looks like a corn husk? *shines flashlight on rock that looks like a rock*, we call it the corn husk rock”. My imagination was offended by the lack of correct nomenclature for these beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
After making our way out of the caverns and off putting gift shop, we got in the Jeep with a quest. A quest to find Chick-Fil-A, a man with two first names, and Bonnaroo. All were successful, but it was definitely the journey, and not the destination that comprise the next piece of this travelogue.