Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Off to the Smokies part I

Last summer some of my "doggy friends" planned a fall vacation in the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina. Several of them went last year and had a great time; they rented several cabins, took the dogs, and had a great week of hiking and sightseeing. My friends Kathy and Sharon had rented a three bedroom cabin and were encouraging me to come along; initially I didn't think I could get away. However, after thinking about it a while I decided that I hadn't had a vacation in several years; even the three and four day show weekends that I used to go to once or twice a year I had skipped lately as Andy got older. So I decided we deserved it and called and told Sharon that, barring any disasters, I would come along. It was about 15 minutes later that my work computer started making a siren noise, and that was the beginning of the great computer crash of 2009; but despite THAT disaster I decided to go anyway and we got the system up and running again in time.

The rest of the crew left on Sunday morning; I planned to work Monday and Tuesday and drive down Tuesday night. We only are open a couple of hours on Wednesday anyway so that left me with only two full days of work that we were closed (we usually close one Saturday a month on average anyway) and I could have five days of vacation (well, driving back the afternoon of the fifth day). I actually got away about 10 minutes early and was on the road with an ETA in Bryson City NC of 11 PM. I made great time and got through the mountains north of Knoxville before dark. Around 9 PM I got off I-40 at the Sevierville exit to get dinner; my original plan had been to take 40 all the way down to 74 and then go back west to Bryson City; it was longer than going through Gatlinburg but I had been told the traffic on the more direct route would be terrible. It sure LOOKED shorter on the map though, so I went back inside Wendy's and asked the cashier. She told me there was construction along the route, but at that time of night it should be fine. So I headed down 441 and got my first glimpse of Pigeon Forge and Gatlingburg. Interesting. Pirate ships, castles, and upside down building that looked kind of like the Parthenon....I definitely wasn't bored. I didn't hit a red light all the way through Gatlinburg and was making great time when suddenly the road narrowed, the trees closed in, and I was, apparently, in the Smokey Mountain National Park. What the girl at Wendy's had failed to tell me was that the end of the route turned into a narrow, windy road that went right up and over the mountains at their highest point. A narrow and windy enough road that, at one point, I passed gates that said "road closed for winter"- open, of course, at that point. Yikes. It was pitch black and I couldn't see more than six feet off the side of the road...not that there WAS anything six feet off the side of the road because, near as I could tell, it was a sheer drop off. No cars ahead of or behind me, only the occasional car passing, and no cell phone service. But it WAS more interesting than highway driving and we had no particular schedule to keep, so what the heck. I kept driving, it kept getting blacker and blacker, and the road kept getting steeper. Eventually I was going in and out of either mist, or clouds, and my average speed was probably 30 mph at best. I passed Clingman's Dome which I learned later was the highest point in the park; and let me tell you, though I couldn't see, I KNEW it was high because my ears were popping the whole time. As I started the descent on the opposite side, I felt like I was landing a plane- we went in and out of the clouds, ears popping, and I could hear that same cushiony silence outside the car that you hear when a plane lands. Weird. I was a happy to exit the park and find myself in Cherokee, a mere stone's throw from Bryson City AND my cell phone worked again. We arrived at the cabins just outside of Bryson City, down another steep, windy road at 11:30 with only one wrong turn.

HOWEVER, as I was unloading the car I kept noticing a burnt smell and eventually I noticed that my passenger side rear tire was nearly flat. Great. I think when I had missed that turn and pulled into a graveled area to turn around I must have picked up a nail. Someone was watching out for me though because I made it all the way to my destination before it went flat- if it had happened in the park I would have been in serious trouble.

The next morning I got up early to check out the status of my tire. Cory was ecstatic to see his buddy Baylin, Sharon's welsh springer, and Kathy's three poodles. We headed out to the parking area in front of the cabins and the dogs ran and ran to their hearts content. It's good to be free! However, the news on the tire was not so good. It was now totally flat. Ooops. (did I mention I was driving my dad's car, as I didn't trust the van to make it through the mountains?).

We walked down the road a little ways and Cory's day kept getting better. There was a small clearing; it normally was inhabited by the old fire engine above (I'm not sure why; bet you thought it was my car with the flat tire, didn't you?!) and a little log cabin that actually was originally someone's home years ago. However, it now also included weave poles, jumps, a tunnel, and a contact trainer. Waahoo! We played a little agility for a few minutes; it wasn't hot but the HUMIDITY was incredible. Then we headed a little further down the road and over a bridge to the two cabins where the rest of our friends were staying. At that point, Cory REALLY couldn't believe it- this was like Disneyland! All told we had eight people and 15 dogs (5 shelties, 3 border collies, 3 poodles, 2 GSD, a Brittany, and a Welsh Springer) in three cabins. Quite a crew!.

After meeting up with the rest of the group, I headed back to our cabin to wait for AAA to change my tire (and to unload all the junk in the trunk so we could GET to the tire). The plan had been to go rafting that day; I was a little leery of how I would manage with my bad knees (especially getting in and out) so when AAA still hadn't arrived and it was time to go, I sent the rest of the group on and elected to relax at the cabin with Cory for the day.

Here's our cabin with a nice front porch along the front. And below is the creek that runs right in front- you could actually sit on the porch and fish, probably, if you wanted to. There is a fire pit between them and a little deck with a hot tub. The pictures aren't the best because our entire trip was very overcast alternating with pouring rain; because we were both down in a valley AND had trees totally blocking out most of the sky, the lighting was not very good for photos. And sadly, I didn't see a single bird the whole trip, though I did hear a pileated woodpecker several times. I would have thought the place would be teeming with birds. I'm sure if I'd left my binoculars at home it would have been.

Here's our porch which worked perfectly for a "buffer zone" before the house when the dogs were wet and muddy. Unfortunately, before the group left for the rafting trip we found out the gate did NOT latch securely. How did we find this? When we came back to the cabin Cory was a bit muddy and I left him on the porch to dry while I went in to put a sheet over the bedspread and get a book; I planned to sit on the porch with him and wait for AAA. When I came out less than 5 minutes later...no Cory. I wasn't TOO worried as I figured he had just headed straight back up the road either to the agility field or to see who would play with him at the other cabins....but when I retraced our steps, everyone had gone inside and Cory was nowhere to be seen. I was getting a little panicky but I figured he MUST have followed me back in and gotten shut in the bedroom- he wasn't one to go running off in the woods, he would go looking for people. So back to the cabin for a quick search and still, no Cory. Ok, NOW I was panicked. He was dragging a six foot lead on a choke collar and if he had gone into the woods he was sure to get tangled and stuck. I started back down the road calling and calling and then, thank God, I heard him bark. A few minutes later I could see him coming down the road with Sharon. He had indeed, apparently, headed up to the other cabins but when no one was outside to play with him he just kept going up the road where, surely, someone ELSE he knew would be just around the corner- that seemed to be how things worked around here! He went back a private drive (frighteningly close to the main road and WAY farther from our cabin that I ever thought he would have gone) where he found the owner, a permanent resident, on his porch. The man told me later Cory gave him quite a start as he had owned three shelties and when he first looked up he thought it was his first dog who had been dead for years. He called him and Cory being Cory (he is NOT one of those shelties who would have to be caught with a live trap!) he launched himself straight at him wiggling and kissing. I think we were lucky he was willing to give him back! Trust Cory to find a sheltie person! We found a bungee cord to secure the gate for the rest of the week and headed back with a BIG sigh of relief!

"Gosh mom, I was just trying to be neighborly"!
On Thursday six of our group took a train ride on the Smokey Mountain Railroad. It was a good time; you could ride in the "indoor" cars or in the open cars, which we opted for as they had a much better view. The train went through the mountains, around Fontana Lake (which apparently is a manmade lake which was created when a dam was built; a number of people were apparently forced off their land and the land was flooded- remember the scene in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou"?). We ended up parallelling the river where the rafting expedition had occurred the day before- the Tuckaseegee I think (although I couldn't quite understand the train conductor and in my head I kept calling it the Suckapeepee!). When we got to the end of the line, we dropped off a group who were rafting that day, then the train made a stop at the outfitters store where there was a restaurant. Most people got off to eat there, but we decided to be different (as well as lazy and safe, as it kept raining off and on and it was quite a walk down the tracks to the store). We ate in the train's dining car. I was quite disappointed when I wanted to reinact the scene from "White Christmas" and NO ONE else had seen it- for crying out loud, I'm the youngest one there! It was interesting although the food was pretty mediocre.

Our group- Sharon, Maryann S, Kathy, Maryann C, and Erica.

This looks like a shot the Brady Bunch would have done!

This cabin was built in 1866 by five brothers who all served in the civil war; only one came home. (although in thinking about it, the timing seems suspect to me- didn't the civil war start in 1863? If they were all serving who had time to build a house? At any rate, it made a good story).

Views of Fontana Lake. I was really disappointed in my photo ops this trip; the lighting was terrible generally and my technical abilities to capture the mist and cloud formations were nonexistant. I need to take a photography class!

This is why they call them the Smokies!

Rafters on the Tuckaseegee. Or Suckapeepee. Or whatever.

Sharon made a new friend at the model train mueseum after the trip. I'm not sure his intentions are honorable, though
Stay tuned for part two, our last half of the trip spent at the Blue Ridge Agility Club trials. And keep Erica's sister Chris in your thoughts and prayers. She was to have gone on the trip with us, but has gotten some tough health news that kept her home.

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