Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Break in the Smokies

I knew I had to get away this Spring break and go camping, I've had several reminders lately that life is too short and you have to get out and live and enjoy as much as you can! This was my goal, do something that would make me insanely happy and let me really enjoy my break! I had trouble figuring out where I could go. The weather was looking ok, a little chilly, but not cold, but most campgrounds were closed until late in the week. I remembered that Cades Cove campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park was open year round and I checked the forecast for the park, it was going to be 70 and sunny all week! It was going to be a long drive and I was going to have to take the whole week to go, rather than a quick 2 nighter, but it sounded like a good plan. And, it seemed just crazy enough to fit with my "life is too short" theme!

I spent Sunday getting the RV ready and gathering my gear and then got up early this morning and headed out. I left at 7:15 and arrived in Seiverville at 3:30! Excllent! No issues at all on 81! Almost as soon as I hit the Tennessee border the clouds were breaking up and the sun was coming out, soon it was clear and 75*! I knew the long drive was worth it!

The one problem with The Smokies is Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville - over about 20 miles you can trace the evolution of tacky tourist traps. And where there are tourist traps, there are tourists. And traffic. Lots of traffic. About 4 years ago we came here at Christmas and stayed in a cabin in Wears Valley and learned some ways around the worst of it, so I was able to avoid the worst of the traffic.

I knew there was a cut through that would bring me from Wears Valley Rd right to Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, I remembered it was a bit twisty and turny but it put me closer to my first choice of campground, Elkmont. When I turned on the road there was a sign : "vehicles over 22ft prohibited at park boundary." Hmmmm...I'm 24's only 2ft, should be ok. I kept driving. It was very twisty & turny & narrow & tight and there was no guardrail, but I made it! I was almost to the picnic area when a Ranger passed me going the other way! He looked like he was in hot pursuit of something else and didn't stop me. Then I came to the bridge. The narrow, wooden bridge. The bridge had a sign: no motorhomes. Well, that's ok, I'm not driving a motorhome, I'm driving a van. Over I went. I kept glancing in the mirror for that Ranger, but he never showed up!

I headed down Little River Road toward Elkmont campground. Little River Road is a beautiful drive. It's also nerve wracking. The road is a narrow 2 lanes, no shoulder, rushing creek/River on one side, sheer rock cliffs on the other. And lots of turns. And twists. It was kinda fun!

When I got to Elkmont I discovered that they were full. My only other option was to go out to Cades Cove. 19 more miles of Little River Road, back the way I'd already come. And, what if they were full too? Then what? I was 25 miles from Gatlinburg, and it was getting late. My plan was to "stealth" camp in a trailhead parking lot if I had to. If I was questioned I would explain the situation to the Ranger and offer to pay a campground fee.

I was getting quite cranky and frustrated when I encountered a "bear jam" just a few miles from the campground. There were prob 30 cars, everyone out in the road, no one letting anyone by. Finally a ranger came up and was sorting things out. I never saw the bear, but I good picture of the traffic! LOL!

Finally I made it to Cades Cove! There weren't many sites left but I scored c39, which I liked because that's how old I am! And it's even mostly level. After a quick dinner I decided to ride my bike around the campground. That turned into me riding my bike around the Cades Cove loop road!

The loop road is an 11 mile scenic drive. It's one way and bikes are allowed. It was already almost 7 but the sun looked high in the sky and I decided I probably had enough time. It was a lovely ride! The loop road goes through the valley and past old settlements from before the park was established. There are mountains all around and the setting sun made it even nicer! There weren't a ton of cars, and I was the only biker. I did the whole loop and was back well before dark! There were a lot of hills, most of which kicked my out of shape, haven't ridden my bike since August butt! I am proud to say that I didn't get off and walk! The one thing that annoyed me is that the road is very narrow and the cars wouldn't pass me unless I pulled over and stopped. This was especially annoying on the hills when I was huffing it up with a car breathing down my back. In many cases though the passenger in the car had encouraging words for me when they passed me so that was nice! :-)

When I got back to the campground I met my neighbors, they are from Cincinnati and she teaches 4th grade! Very nice people! We chatted for awhile until it was good and dark then retreated to our campers!


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