Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Welcome to the Smokeys!

Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a bustling little tourist destination nestled about 40 yards from the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. There is one main road in and out of the park and if you drive it on the weekend, especially in the summer, you will hit traffic, traffic will be slow, you might go crazy.

We left Clemson around 9 am Fri. morning since J had the 4th off and I wasn't going in to work that day (yes technically the university was closed but that doesn't stop grad students!). So we set off towards Greenville, which is the wrong way but J had to stop by work for a second, we ate lunch at Jersey Mike's (non-vegetarian, sorry animals!) and then headed out! I'll spare you the details but we went through some gorgeous scenery and followed some incredibly slow cars, SUVs, and motorcycles. Coasting downhill, I would usually put it in 3rd and literally only use the brakes. I had no need for the accelerator, gravity was my accelerator! I would normally use the gas but traffic prevented any of that nonsense.

Up through South Carolina, past Caesar's Head State Park, into North Carolina through lonely Cruso, NC and stopped for lunch and snacks in Waynesville, NC at their Bi-Lo. The downtown area was packed with pedestrians and shoppers! I suppose it was July 4th related but as soon as we set foot in Zaxby's for lunch, the bottom fell out and it rained pretty hard; not for very long but long enough to spoil a few people's day.

Back on the road and the last town we went through was Cherokee, NC. It was bumper to bumper traffic. It was nice though getting to see what the modern day Cherokee Indians have done with their land and town. We just saw the main strip but they have decided to allow Harrah's to open a casino on their land and it seemed to be doing well.

As we passed through the Smokeys, we detoured and hiked the half mile up to Clingman's Dome, the highest point in the Smokeys. Lovely views and the Appalachian Trail goes right past it, so we hiked about 80 feet of the 2000 miles of the AT. Hooray for us! We didn't see any thru-hikers on their way up or down but they were out there somewhere.

We made it without me going crazy or smashing into the rear end of a car in front of us and check into the Americana Gazebo Inn, which was just bought by the Super 8 Motel (a quick google makes it seem like this is a new Super 8 location, but the one we stayed at is by traffic light #8). We missed the turn but luckily had their number in my recent calls list and got directions to turn at traffic light #8. Huh? #8? Oh wait, this traffic light has a number, #6, so I turn right and whip a u-turn real quick. I really liked the numbering of the traffic lights. More towns with one main road should do that. Driving on the main road in Gatlinburg is pretty crazy. It's slow bumper to bumper with no turn lanes, so you have to get a little nuts to turn across traffic. I expertly threaded through traffic and pedestrians to make the turn.

We checked in and since the 3 hour drive took at least 5 1/2 hours with traffic, I decided to hop in the pool to cool off. J grabbed some local attractions books and I grabbed my beach towel and we enjoyed the cool mountain weather for a while. We changed clothes and walked around G'burg checking out the sights and shops and people. A healthy mix of white trash, foreigners and they all looked like tourists, as were we. We walked down to the aquarium (traffic light #5 if you're wondering) because we heard rumors of a fireworks show. We weren't really sure where they were happening so the bench we picked out didn't feel right to us so we kept walking down (east I think). We stopped near a big group of people and it turned out that we had a pretty good view! Some of the lower ones were blocked by a building so we went to the sidewalk in front of that building and it seemed like the entire sky would light up! Their display put Clemson's to shame. So many colors and shapes and late cracklers and random spark directions and the smoke during the grand finale was so thick, we couldn't even make out the last few. Wonderful! Great job Gatlinburg! With all the hotels emptied of occupants for the fireworks, the walk to dinner and back to the hotel reminded me of New Orleans, lots of people moving slowly, but less nudity, vomiting and public urination. We found a wonderful little pizzeria to grab dinner. We ordered a large half cheese, half pineapple to go and carried it back. Blast! I can't remember the name, Julian's? I think it was Julian's Pizza in an out of the way, but still right off the strip, plaza. It's actually for sale if you've ever wanted to own a pizza place in a popular tourist destination right next to a national park. Ha! It was Julian's pizza! Don't be swayed by the $3.99/slice. It's literally a quarter of a pizza.

We walked back to the hotel, up the stairs, through the sickly sweet cloud emanating from a room about 7 down from us (get 'em DEA!) and into our room for some rest and pizza. The hotel only had double bed rooms left so J and I actually slept in separate beds for that night. It was weird but we both enjoyed the extra room to sprawl out.

When checking in I asked the desk clerk if they had Speed. He said they did! I didn't really believe him but there it was! You know what that means right? Yes, I woke up about 7:30 am (my natural alarm goes off around then), I throw on some shorts, shirt, and flip-flops and make my way to the continental breakfast! Woo-hoo! Big money bagels! And they had bagels! The smorgasbord entailed donuts, bagels with cream cheese, mini muffins (blueberry and chocolate), 2 types of cereal, OJ, apple juice and coffee! Hooray! So I popped 2 bagels in the toaster and made some coffee while I waited patiently. Grabbed a couple mini muffins and an apple (they had apples too), a couple knives, 2 packets of cream cheese, DING!, grabbed my toasted bagels and went back to the room because.... Qualifying for the British Gran Prix at Silverstone! F1 on vacation! With bagels!

J woke up when she heard me come in and grabbed her bagel and a muffin and went back to sleep. I watched Heikki Kovaleinen of Vodafone Mclaren Mercedes nab pole, but even better Mark Webber of Red Bull Renault was second! That's incredible! Kimi Raikkonen sealed up 3rd in his Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro. Robert Kubica and Felipe Massa had some car issues so they qualified their BMW Sauber 10th and Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro 9th. Full qualifying results.

After that I got some work done and then shared a couple Marlboros with our Harley Davidson riding neighbors. They had already ridden 1400 miles through 5 states and had another 400 or so to get back home to Ohio. Nice guys. We chatted about motorcycles, why people ride trikes (for stability but they're much slower in turns because they can't tilt), what kind of gas mileage they get (around mid 40s to low 50s depending on how giddy they get with their right hand). As it neared 10:30, I bid them farewell and went inside to take a shower and pack up. And wake J up too. If you didn't know J was a sleeper, she is, I put her sleeping ability up against anyone. I used to be able to sleep like that but just can't do it anymore.

We moved Focus from the hotel to the Aquarium of the Smokies parking deck, behind traffic light #5 but instead of the packed main strip I took the super secret parallel road and saved a few minutes. We parked and then walked around some more and had brunch at Shoney's. There is also some Pancake Cabin or something but I heard it gets a bit crowded. A little more shopping and then to the aquarium! Hooray! It was really cool and I'll share more once we get pictures uploaded but the one with me and the horseshoe crab is pretty cool.

The drive home was straight toward Clemson so we stayed on 441 all the way and once you get past Cherokee, it's 4 lane pretty much all the way, which was nice for making good time but lame for driving pleasure.

We should've hiked in the Smokies but didn't because we're lame. Next time though.

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