Jun 1, 2012

Pickette to Smokemont and some things in between (warning...huge amount of photos)

 After three nights in Pickett (free wood as well so I got my campfire on in a big way) I headed towards Chattanooga…but when I got to Crossville I sat at this diner looking at my map and feeling a little lost. 

 I am a seriously long way from home…and I had a pang of missing my fam, missing having a lady (or ladies to flirt with and be around), missing my cat…and it felt for a bit…missing the point. What was I doing? Was I learning anything? Where would I end up? Where is my safety net? All the things that I have thought before but at that moment they all seemed to be calling for an answer. I didn’t have one…where will I end up? Good questions all of them…no answers came from the internal combustion love of the Dodge so after mulling about in a mental haze for an hour or so I double checked my finances, double checked all the fluids on the van…slapped myself in the face and reminded me that all that shit will be answered when you set roots wherever you decide and to enjoy the moment…one moment at a time. It really was the catch phrase “It’s the journey not the destination” that I had to make my mantra again since the mind does wild things when left to itself. 

 The drive from Crossville to Sweetwater removed all negative thoughts in my mind, the sun was shining, my belly was full and I really have much less to worry about than I was thinking of. It’s only money is the phrase that comes to mind at that point…you can always make more, you will always loose some and it will never be your friend in the end.

After spending an amazing time in driving the dragons tail and coming up on the west side of the Smokey’s my senses were attacked by brutal commercialization of the local landscape. Entering into Pigon Forge is like driving into the old downtown strip in Vegas at 60mph. All I knew was that I was headed for Gatlinburg at the opening of the Smokey’s (Tennessee side). Rounding the first corner and seeing endless go-kart tracks, roller coasters, bumper boats, river tubing, indoor skydiving and a zillion other things just made a pit in my stomach. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool. My heart always skips a beat when I see one and I wish I could drive every go-kart track in the country just for kicks…but this was just too much. I did however need to stop…
 So an old moonshiners exhibit it was….*10 minutes of not seeing anything of any worth…..oh what’s that? Moonshine jelly…I’ll bite*
 And I was out….I didn’t even stop in Gatlinburg…the crowd there was just too much. If I was a civil war buff I wouldn’t have missed it. That town has some serious history in it…but then again almost every place down south so far has had some serious history. That’s what happens with a few hundred years of war under your belt. You will see quite a bit of civil war stuff coming but I’m not tracking the sites down…they are just on my way.
 And bam…once out of Gatlinburg you shake the hideous sickness of modernization. The quiet forest begins to shelter you from the outside world and you begin a trek into Davey Crockett country. I was there for camping, straight out, I had done plenty of driving, the van was running hard for some reason and I was up for a break.
 So I turned towards Elkmont, the first campsite in the park and found a little piece of heaven. I found a site right on the river (Abrams), it had some wood still in the ring and the sun was shining! I set up camp, went and registered and started up some dinner.
 I ended up doing two things in Elkmont…hiking and reading but unfortunately one never led to the other as I always forgot my book back at camp. The park is hands down one of the nicest parks I have ever been in. The scenery is so stunning it really can’t be described. I certainly could have used one of the half million dollar cameras I see people carrying. The panoramic skyline was too much for my camera to handle. Back in my campsite I had a rock that jutted out towards the river and like Tom Sawyer I sat there with my legs dangling to the sides, hat cocked to block the sun and just relaxing.
 I was hoping to get some fishing in but the river is fast and I am not a fly fisherman so I just enjoyed watching others and enjoyed it even more when they left the area. It really was quite though and if you ever get there in May…you won’t be disappointed with the crowds.
 On day two I met a great guy named Larry who gave me all sorts of park info. He’s been a local visitor (just lives in Knoxville) for many many years. He said he camps 60 days a year there….that is awesome!
 Anyway he turned me onto Old Elktown. Elktown was originally a mining camp and up until soe time in the 80’s all these buildings you see were still used as holiday shacks. They had the appalahin club which was a sswanky place and people came from Knoxville to escape the city life. When the contract ran out the gov’t said you’ve got to go. That lasted for many years and then someone, whoever, won the argument for them to stay and be rebuilt for historical purposes. Pretty nifty and I would have loved to have seen it back in its day.
 He also suggested Cade’s Cove. Actually he said “you can’t come to the smokeys without going to cades”. He’s been right about everything he said so far so I headed there the next day. Campsite…it was no elkmont, but still nice enough. Nicer though was the 11 mile scenic loop that takes you through the Cove. It’s really a pasture area tucked into the mountains. A true gem of a spot.
 Well off the back came the scooter and I proceeded to do two laps just because. Well really the logic was, first loop was busy with lots of people on it, and second loop was right at sunset just before they close the loop…way less people. It get dark there real quick due to the way the Cove sits inside the mountains.
 It’s gorgeous…again breathless scenery, some wildlife…good times.
 I stayed at the cove for 2 nights and then headed south. South brings you to the Tennessee North Carolina State line….and this guy who along with his companion there are hiking the entire Appalachin trail from its starting point in Georgia to its completion in Maine. At the point of this picture…there I a sign off to the left that says Maine – 1970miles…are you flipping kidding me? From april 15 to oct 15. Wow…many many many props for doing such a thing!!!
 Oh yeah before I forget...Cade’s cove wood supplier…you sir need to be replaced. Worst wood ever…hardest damn fire to keep going ever. I’ve never had a fire hot enough to cook on one minute and then you turn around and have to grab your fan of choice and for the rest of the night, fan it every 5 minutes. Rant out
 Then Clingmans Dome…it was pretty cool. On a clear day you can see so far and they have this giant structure that shows you what you are looking at. The hike is quite something…about a ½ mile…straight up. I saw one girl fall and the sidelines were littered with spouses swapping “this was your idea” looks as they trundled onto the waiting benches. I admit I was happy to come across a group of “watchers” where I could watch but also catch my breath.
 The watchers were watching a cub that was very close to the path and the Park ranger was watching the mom who was further down the hill. I overheard “Well if she starts coming this way I’m going to ask you folks to walk slowly away from me and I will use an airhorn and paintballs to turn her around. What the hell man…the ranger should have been clearing THAT crowd out, sweaty Canadian included so that the mom had no reason to come over and check on her baby. Oh well…Clingmans dome disappeared in my rear view and I headed for Cherokee, NC the exit point of the smokeys (when you drive straight across). However…I yawned…and my body told me…Smokemont awaits you. So into the last campsite in the smokeys and  I was relieved to have wood that burned.

 After a night in Smokemont...again no Elkmont as far as campsite placement is concerned...I headed out to the open road...

The picture I managed to snap of my gps as I rolled the Dragons Tail

Living in a van down by the river...

left over stove top stuffing hushpuppies

Senior Bacon at your service

The road to old elkmont

Excellent on porkchops!!


 Old Elkmont
Appalachin club

Cades Cove

Clingmans and Smokemont

These madmen are coming up out of Georgia and headed for Maine. Estimated trip time..April 15 - Oct 15

An awesome tent!!

When you have no bacon...but you have a bacon chocolate bar thanks to a friend...pancakes are delicious!!

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