Smokies April 2018

Day 1 – Monday, April 23, 2018

Just can’t keep us away from our favorite place in North America.  We were like, “O, what the heck, we have time and money.”  After a sputtering start with a return trip to the house for Dad’s pills (and a couple bandanas) we were off by 8am.  Last trip in January we had snow and a bad left front wheel bearing.  No such problems this trip.  We decided to go the I-65 way through Louisville and we got as far as Scottsburg for lunch at the Cracker Barrel.  The trip was overall delightfully uneventful but we had forgotten how long the straight thru drive was.  We ended up at an Applebee’s in Pigeon Forge for dinner, (gift card) and then on to Kroger and the Tennessee Rose, getting in by about 7:30pm.  There was a slow, steady rain all day today along the entire route.

Just like newlyweds – at Applebee;s in Pigeon Forge

It was a hockey playoffs night.  We watched the Jackets and Caps duke it out to see who the Pens get to play next  round.  It turned out to be the Caps, who beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in 6 games.  So with that all decided we went to bed.  It was still raining.  We have this blacked-out hockey thing down to an art form now.  Our cable subscription doesn’t include NBC Sports Network anymore.  No problem when you have a server showing your IP address as Frankfurt, Germany.  And the commercials are all German, interestingly entertaining – Kia automobiles, Legos Technic, Paradontax toothpaste, Schwangere und Mutter vitamins, high speed internet (“Habe schnell!”).

Day 2 – Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Awoke to more rain, just a slight drizzle.  Our reason to get up was to go pick up the rental car at Enterprise by 9am.  We were 15 minutes late, but 30 minutes later we had a silver 2018 Camry and were on the way to the trails.  Having packed lunch and all the gear we went straight to today’s trailhead – Turkeypen Ridge down to Schoolhouse Gap.  Dad was lobbying to take the side trail into White Oak Sinks for the wildflowers, but the GSNP had a  notice posted at the trailhead that the area was closed to reduce human impact on the  bats there.  White Oak Sinks has some caves and lots and lots of wildflowers since its fields are not yet reforested from the pre-park days.  No worries.  We picked this trail because there is a rock overhang about half way in where we could eat lunch if it was raining.  The drizzle was steady but as it is with us it let up just as we stopped at the overhang for lunch and didn’t restart until we were hiking again.

The Rock Overhang on Turkey Pen Ridge – retouched with Photoshop

Our first challenge for the trip is that the camera is not working – the pictures are over-exposing.  Dad ascertained that there must be dirt in the lens that is impeding the aperture from adjusting properly as the picture is taken.  Cooler heads prevailed – we just continued to take pictures and “photoshopped” them on the laptop when we got back.  Pretty smart.  Hoping the dirt clears for tomorrow.  It works fine for lower light indoors because the aperture doesn’t need to close down as far.  Weird.

under the Overhang
lunch on the rocks – retouched with Photoshop

And another installment of (an over-the-top dramatic voice with reverb) “Adventures With Dad”.  So we rented the Camry, right?  They gave us two keys.  First problem – the two keys are bound together with a braided steel wire ring permanently clinched.  Dad drives the car to the ending point for the hike, grabs the keys and we drive the Jetta to the trailhead.  No problem.  Mom takes the extra Jetta key, but the two Toyota keys are too bulky for Dad to want to carry for 5 miles.  Hmm, what do we do now?  So off down the trail we go and have the pleasant hike already detailed.  We arrive at the Camry.  Where did I put the Camry key?  Hey, do you have them?  Are they in the pack?  O, crap they’re in the Jetta.  Fortunately another retired couple had finished the trail just ahead of us.  With some quicker thinking than he had displayed when faced with the clinched keys dilemma Dad flagged them down as they were pulling out of the lot, and they were happy to give him a lift back up the road 5 miles to the Jetta.  They were from Minnesota, but the wife had been raised in Knoxville.  We didn’t even exchange names.  Back at the ranch it took 5 seconds to cut the wire braid with the cutter from the toolbox.  Enterprise will receive two keys on a similar braided wire keyring that can be separated.

Day 3 – Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Another rainy day in paradise.  We are really concentrating on getting the proper keys for the proper cars into the proper pockets.  Camera is still bunged up.  After our morning ritual we headed to drop off the Camry at the  Huskey Gap Trail starting point on Newfound Gap Road and then doubled back to the Laurel Falls/Rich Mountain Trail parking to get started.  Spotted a couple of turkeys on the way – one in the neighborhood and one near the Sugarlands Visitor Center.  Today it’s 5.1 miles with 0.8 miles uphill to Mid’s Gap, another 0.6 uphill and a 1.7 mile kinda flat run and then 2 miles downhill to the car.  It was really not too bad with Dad counting the paces and announcing the progress on the uphill at each tenth mile (100 paces @5′ = 1/10th mile, with some adjustment for short paces).  We found a flat spot for lunch on the trailside while the drizzle conveniently stopped for an hour.  The temperature was about 55°, so just right for a little trail exercise.

We started from the Laurel Falls end because there was a Wildflower Pilgrimage event at the other end from 8-11 am.  We hit the trail at about 10:30 from the other end and everyone was gone by the time we hiked out.  We saw wildflowers galore on the upper parts of the trail coming down for sure – white, pink, red and yellow trillium, crested iris (Mom’s favorite), which we had seen before, and also mountain bellwort (a yellow hanging flower) and squawroot (a mushroom-looking flower) that we hadn’t.  So all together a great hike.  Learned that “wort” is just an old English word that means simply “plant”.  And even better was that we had the Camry key when we got back to it.

another trail lunch
sweet as ever







It’s a hockey night as we watch to see if Toronto can dispatch the Bruins in 7 games.  It is also  keto pot roast night.  Last night was burgers on the grill.

It’s supposed to dry out around here Friday and our last weekend should be sunny and mild.

good’ol squawroot
mountain bellwort still having trouble with the camera






A fun evening sitting on the couch working on the blog, watching hockey and working on the photos.

Day 4 – Thursday, April 26, 2018

Car key paranoia continues into today.  Now that the Camry keys are separated Dad has made sure that one Jetta and one Camry key is clipped into the backpack just in case.  Dad got to the hardware store today and got a replica of the Enterprise Rental steel braid key chain that will work just fine.  So that’s behind us, and we are certainly not going to point it out to them.  Since Cherokee Orchard and Roaring Fork are closed when we are here in the winter we decided to do our hiking over there today.  We were looking for a little less than the 5.1 miles we tackled yesterday.  We settled on the Old Sugarlands trail, but starting at the top from Cherokee Orchard and hiking back down to the Visitor Center.  The climb in the opposite direction is pretty arduous.  It is still raining and the camera is still on the fritz.

Cherokee Orchard took the worst of the November 2016 fire that started at the Chimney Tops picnic area and you could still see it.  Most noticeable are the rhododendron that are all still burned to a crisp.  The new growth is coming up from their bases.  The wildflowers have recovered nicely and followed us down the trail.  We had no shelter at lunch time and the rain was persistent.  But our raingear is good.  Just a bit more water in the soup and hot tea.

Yea, it’s still raining

The rest of the walk was uneventful.  The Little Pigeon River was almost out of its banks with all the rain, and it was fun to hear and see roiling down toward Gatlinburg.  Then stopped at the Visitor Center to get a new trail guide book.  We were using the 2003 edition.  The new one is 2016, but we think we have a 2012 one at home by accident.  So now we are set.  After that we went back for the Jetta and Mom headed to Kroger in Pigeon Forge while Dad went to the ACE Hardware in Gatlinburg for the replacement braided wire key chain, but took the scenic route around the Roaring Fork loop.  We both drove back to the cabin via Pigeon Forge and got there nearly at the same time.

a rainy lunch in the Old Sugarland settlement area

Pork chops on the grill for dinner, which were done perfectly.  And then Game 1 of Round 2 – Pens versus Caps – for dessert.  And it’s still raining.

Day 5 – Friday, April 27, 2018

And the sun is shining today, finally.  With the car key problem solved for the moment we returned to Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork to do a hike we’ve always wanted to do – the Baskins Creek trail from one end to the other, previously unrealistic with only one car.  It is a 2.7 mile trek with the very nice Baskins Falls in the middle, an extra 4 tenths mile roundtrip.  But since we are on the 6-mile plan we dropped the first car off at the edge of Cherokee Orchard, actually in Gatlinburg and started the hike from the far end of the Baskins Creek trail getting us up to 6.5 miles as it turned out, mostly, mostly he said, downhill.  There was the problem of climbing back uphill from the falls for 1.4 miles.  The pain will heal.

The anxiety for today was figuring out where to park the car at the end of the trail.  We ended up in the Gatlinburg city park.  Then since the trailhead at the other end is on the one-way Roaring Fork Loop road and not too well marked we certainly didn’t want to drive past it, which Dad had resigned himself to the fact that we had just before we found it.  Right off on the trail we saw a hen turkey and then a couple of does.  The sunshine made the day.

Baskins Falls from the near side

We ate lunch at the falls.  While at the falls Dad HAD to cross the creek to the other side to get a picture from that angle, so he slid along a fallen tree.  He has made this crossing in the winter at least once but with a riskier, rock hopping route.  It ended well.  Sometime  earlier we abandoned the camera since it was so bright with the sun for Mom’s cell phone.  It did a great job.  The complication was getting the pictures to the laptop.  Dad used email.  There is probably an easier way, but this worked.  We went through the worst forest fire area at the top of the Baskins Creek trail, and after that crest it was downhill for 3.2 miles.  That got long believe it or not.  Part of this was on the road.

getting a better picture angle

The treat today was finding the lady slipper wildflowers just down the trail from the Bud Ogle homestead.  Apparently it is the only easily accessible area where you can find them.  They are a native member of the orchid family, meaning they are symbiotic.  These need to have a particular fungus in the soil that breaks open their seeds when they drop and allows the seed to germinate.  In turn the fungus receives its nourishment from the seed hulls.  So that would explain why their growth range is limited to this area.  We got pictures of both pink and yellow ones.  But Mom still likes the dwarf crested iris the best.  Dad thought they should re

a pink lady slipper
a yellow lady slipper






name them “frog throats”, since they look more like the bulbous throat of a croaking bullfrog.   So check that off on the wildflower list.

For the day Dad received to minor penalties – one for tripping and one for high sticking.  On the slope down to the falls he was caught executing a perfect takedown of Mom from the rear when his right heal lost its grip and they went down in a heap.  A little later he turned suddenly with one of his poles at head level and Mom had to be quick not to get clipped good.  Hey, it’s playoff hockey time around here.

Day 6 – Saturday, April 28

As we gradually work up our stamina and strength we, yes we both agreed, decided it was a good day for Clingmans.  There was not a cloud in the sky and the air temperature at the cabin was 56°.  We hit the road at about 8:15 as it is a long drive up the mountain.  We dropped the rental at the Fork Ridge trailhead on Clingmans Dome road and were slowly trekking up the 1/2 mile paved trail to the observation tower by about 10am.  We did get a parking place in the lot; folks after us were not so lucky.

at Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
at the top looking west







What a clear day!  These don’t happen here very often.  We were fortunate.  We talked to a few folks while resting on the ascent and at the tower Dad talked to two, three-man groups of through hikers.  Yes, he is a hiking fanatic.  The Maine-or-Bust group had started on April 4 at the trail’s beginning on Springer Mountain in Georgia and were making good progress.  The others were doing the trans-Smokies hike and were headed south.  After going up the tower, looking around and taking pictures we jumped on the AT and headed down to the northeast toward Newfound Gap.  The word “downward” doesn’t quite capture the eroded, boulder and detritus strewn trail in this section.  Slow going for sure.  And take it from Dad the AT in the other direction is just as bad.

a new-to-us wildflower, a trout lilly

But what an exciting beginning.  As we were driving up toward Fighting Creek Gap between the Elkmont turn-off and Laurel Creek Falls parking, with Dad in front, from the left side of the road came a black bear cub.  Mom said it appeared to her like it was stopping to let me pass.  Taking no chances I went for the brakes since he was even with the front of the car.  And just that fast it was gone and things were back to normal.  By comparison the doe tearing across the road in front of him as Dad made a blind turn coming down the Park entrance road was not nearly as exciting.

Interesting temperature profile for this mornings hike.  The change of seasons.:

  • upon awaking at the cabin – 53°
  • down the mountain in Wears Valley – 58°
  • just entering the park on Lyon Springs Road – 59°
  • just over the rim of the park boundary on Lyon Springs Road (100′ from the above) – 48°
  • at the Visitor Center – 73°
  • dropping the first car on Clingmans Dome Road – 47°
  • in the parking lot at Clingmans Dome – 43° (brrrrr)
  • back at the first car after the hike – 58°
too long on the trail – Mom goes all glamorous

On our descent we passed Dad’s camping spot on the top of Mount Collins from his Trans-Smokies hike in July 2013.  We ate lunch beside the trail and talked to a lot of people – the aforementioned through-hiker trio (Walk-It-Off, Easy Street and Ditz), a single gal through-hiker (July), a single guy through-hiker (Atomic) and an older couple from from Maryland that we had passed on their way up after we just started.  They hiked the roundtrip up and back.  Must have been way younger than us.  He said he had done the AT through Georgia and that they were working on Pennsylvania lately.

We started out early today because we were planning to go to Mass that   evening at Holy Cross in Pigeon Forge at 5pm.  We had found out that our friends the Voisins, who own this cabin, were away and were not going to be doing the music.  However, the substitute did a very good job , and we were happy to learn that the music at this parish was better generally.  The 40 minute sermon at Mass was another matter.  And it was not a happy sermon.  Whew.  Rather it was a rant about the problem with Christians today that drifted generally to the Protestants, but bashed Catholics equally.  So in that regard it was at least ecumenical.  Not going to save the world and fill the pews with that kind of thing.

Then it was dinner out at Calhoun’s on a Saturday evening and apparently also Prom week.  Getting seated took 20 minutes, which was not bad, but it took another hour for the food to appear.  Thankfully the food was excellent.  Best prime rib Dad had had in forever and Mom’s salmon was equally good.  We had a lot of time to discuss the sermon.  We got back to the ranch at around 9pm and messed around with stuff until bedtime.

Day 7 – Sunday, April 29

We decided to take a day off from serious hiking.  We need to recover after the worst of the Appalachian Trail from Clingmans Dome down to the east.  Actually, the descent to the west is just as bad.

There has been a slowly developing situation  since Monday.  On Monday Dad started having some pain at the upper end of his butt crack (yea, I know this is too much information).  Since then the area has swollen and reddened a little each day it seems.  He’s had this before a long while ago and it was just an external infection in the little cavity at the bottom of the spine.  Well sitting has become a problem now and this morning early he texted our doctor Tom Seasly explaining the situation.  Do you have your family doctors cell phone number?  The pharmacy in Pigeon Forge opened at 10am.  We made the trip in by about noon and got the antibiotic, immediately taking one pill.

on the banks of the Little River

It’s Sunday and folks are everywhere enjoying our national park.  The majority are stuck in traffic in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville :).  We took a back street or two to get to the pharmacy and then back on SR-73/US-321 through Wears Valley to the Metcal

another daredevil stunt on the quiet walkway

f Bottoms picnic area for lunch on the banks of the Little River.  With the promise of a healing buttocks it was very pleasant there (hey not a bad pun being at Metcalf “Bottoms”).  Then we went up toward Fighting Creek Gap for a 1/2 mile Quiet Walkway along Laurel Creek that turned out to be a tree blowdown study area.  Still there were wildflowers and the stream.

Hey, Lady, I’m trying to take a picture here.


dinner on the West Veranda








It was a hockey day in Pittsburgh so we came back to the base for the 3pm start.  The Pens did not fair as well as on Thursday, when they won 3-2, but lost to the Caps 4-1 to even the series at 1-1.

We had dinner on the deck in the  setting sun that was very nice. Dad’s butt has taken a noticeable change for the better with the first antibiotic dose.  Glory to Jesus.

Day 8 – Monday, April 30, 2018

a cold beginning
warm and tired ending

Our last day in paradise for this trip.  We saved our most ambitious hike for last, an 8-mile amble from Elkmont back to Metcalf Bottoms on the Jake’s Creek/Meigs Mountain and Curry Mountain trails.  The weather started out a bit brisk – 37° when we started at 8:45 – then up to 73° by the time we finished at 2:30.  We went through 3 layers of clothes.  We ate lunch at the junction of the Meigs and Curry Mountain trails like we did several years ago.  From there it was almost all downhill.  The prettiest day of our week.

All three colors of violets – violet
white, and…..

Straight from driving back to pick up the Jetta we headed to Enterprise in Sevierville to turn in the rentla.  This was not without some excitment when Dad left the Elkmont parking lot going the wrong way down the one way entrance road.  He was about 200 yards down when he realized his goof – he was trying to figure out why the signs at the lot entrance were all in the wrong places.  You know those rear backup cameras on the new cars are very helpful for backing longer distances.  We can laugh about it because the first car coming up the road appeared just as Dad got even with the lot entrance.  The one way exit road was pretty obvious, and this is not the first time we’ve been to this parking lot.  Turning the car in was a snap.  Dad didn’t mention anything about cutting the clinched wire braid on the keys and replacing it; the Enterprise guy didn’t notice.

Arriving back at the cabin at about 4:30 it was all we could do to just collapse on the bed.  Boy, that felt good.  Dad’s butt crack while getting better was still giving him pain so the solution was 2 ibuprofen, a glass of wine and a 40 minute nap.  It was a miracle.  Dad grilled the buttermilk chicken and we at on the West Veranda again – 75°, sun slowly setting, no bugs and a very slight breeze, with various song birds calling.  The serenity was broken for awhile by a pileated woodpecker, which has the loudest and most raucous call around.

So now its time to pack up and work hard at not forgetting anything.  We are looking forward to dinner with Dad’s brothers and wives tomorrow evening in Cincinnati.

Day 9 – Tuesday, May 1

Took our time getting out of Dodge and decided to take the familiar back way via Russi Gap to Tennessee 66; this is the same way we go to Enterprise Rental.  Don’t think we forgot anything, either.  Another great trip even with four days of rain.

We booked a Comfort Inn on Winton Road and went straight there.  But we stopped for lunch at Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in London KY.  That was nice.  Dad’s butt was still painful but under control.

Met the brothers and wives at Cheddar’s on Springdale Road at I-275.  It was a good time.  But Dad observes that they are all so different.  Maybe they always have been.  Bob is working at Miami Whitewater Golf Course a few times a week.  Kathy is working on the yard.  Bill & Hali are working on moving to Florida’s Gulf side, probably sooner than later.  Bob and Kathy just finished having a foundation leak fixed and then re-landscaping all around the outside.  Alot of their life revolves around helping with Jamie’s pottery business.  Hali’s drream is to open her own pet rescue center on a large parcel of land in Florida.  Tired of suburbia they are.  we forgot to use our

So after dinner it was back to the motel to watch the Pens play the Caps.  Caps scored with 1:14 left in the 3rd to win.  On the play Pens Defenseman Olli Matta was tripped leading to a 2-on-1.  Earlier in the game Zach Aston-Reese left with a broken jaw courtesy of Tom Wilson. (found out the next day he got a 3-game suspension; that reduces some of the anger at the poor sportsmanship.

Day 10 – Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Left Cincinnati at about 9am and our first stop was the Harrison Krogers for our Glier’s Goetta stop.  We bought 12# – 6 for us a 6 for Anna.  And of course that ment that we could deliver it and have lunch with her, which is what we did.  All very pleasant.  On loading back in the Jetta to leave Dad noticed that the passenger rear mudflap was loose.  It was missing two screws.  So he took it off and figures Joe Tirotta, the body repair guy missed putting them in after the repair.  Luckily, there was one screw that held to save losing the mudflap altogether.

Arriving home things were fine until Dad’s butt really started hurting.  He called Tom Seasly and took the suggested option of going to the South Bend Clinic ICC and getting it look at.  Dr. Rob Reilly diagnosed it as a hematoma, lanced and drained it.  Ahhhh, what a relief.  We’ll see what happens next.  Could have been a puss-filled infection or a cyst, but wasn’t either, thankfully.

Now back to the normal grind.