road trip, travel, Uncategorized

Chimney Tops

The very best day of my outdoor life came the fall of 2009. I had been laid off of work for a few months and decided to head down to the smokies, one of my favorite road trips. I wrote pretty extensively of this trip in Facebook’s notes, so I’ll reshare what I wrote then.

–Sunny day! I decided to stay another night so I can enjoy the park in the sun.

Chatted with the man at the front desk a bit, he’s from Ohio but was stationed in the south in the 70’s. Moved back home in 77, got married, started a family. Tried to convince his wife to move down here for 31 years and finally did it last summer. They love it here. I do too. Though my waiter friend told me not a lot of people that work here in town actually live here. And it’s not quick drive anywhere around here so I’m not sure how I’d like it. It would be a great temporary move though. I just hope it doesn’t take me 31 years to end up where I want to be.
Had corncake pancakes at the Pancake Pantry and some chocolate milk. Soooo tasty.
Today may have been the best day of my life.
Seriously.
I decided to hike Chimney Tops. It was noted as strenuous but at only 4 miles round trip, I didn’t think it could be that bad. I was mistaken. I’m sure for my more seasoned hiker friends it would have been a breeze. I climbed about 1700 feet of the most steep, rocky and wet terrain I have ever seen. It was incredible. And I was incredibly sweaty.
Oh before I forget, I saw 2 more bear today on my way to the trailhead. Right where I saw them yesterday. However, a soccer mom was right up my trunk and I couldn’t stop quickly enough to get a picture. Thankfully she had enough room to pull off the road for a good view of them. <sarcasm> The bears were still there when I came down. Though I think they were in the trees cause I couldn’t see them from the road. I knew they were there though by all the dumb people in the road and the rangers directing traffic. They were still there nearly an hour later, kind of wanted to stop for the photo op but the crowd was insane.
So where was I? Oh yeah, super sweaty! I tried to hide every time someone passed me. :p. Fortunately that wasn’t too often, I guess that strenuous rating keeps lazy people away and the serious hikers are on the less advertised trails. So I reached the end which is this massive rock formation. The trail to the top of it is closed but you can climb up the rocks if you want. Um, scary. I have never done anything like that. This family I had passed had a son way up top already, I thought he was nuts. I started up a bit but paused. Then mom and young daughter of the family head up. I figure if I follow them it will be easier. They stop pretty early on. Daughter wants to go up to bro but mom says no way. She pleads. Mom keeps saying no and adds that she is annoying the rest of us with her whining. Nice. Son goes all the way to the top. Eventually he comes back down and mom is scared to watch. So am I so I decide I won’t go much further. However after the fam and two others left I decide I’d go up a little more to a more comfortable spot. So I sat for awhile, just soaking up the sun (my face is way burnt!) a man passes me and tells me to continue isn’t any harder than what I’ve already done. I consider going up but he disappears and I don’t want to fall off the mountain with no witnesses. 5 teens, 2 guys 3 girls, climb up the rocks like mountain goats (I told them this). The girls were in skirts! They disappeared over the top. Two guys come up and talk to me a bit. One of them asks if I’m afraid of heights. He thinks I’m frozen in fear on the rocks and afraid to move. I’m not afraid of heights at all, and while I was afraid to go up, down (from that point) didn’t scare me. They offered to help me up but I declined. I immediately regretted it. Eventually the mountain goat family came back down and they offered to go back up to help me. They were so nice. I knew I’d hate myself if I didn’t so one of the skirts went up and led the way. There was really only one rock that scared the crap out of me, it appeared almost vertical. Once I got past that I didn’t need too much of her help. She offered to stay to help me down but I figured the guys up there would help if need be. The kids were from Indiana, I really don’t know where they learned to climb like that. It may have been more like watching Spidermen than goats. I feel like I should explain that I probably would have climbed right up if I had a partner. I just kept picturing myself tumbling down the mountain with no one knowing I was even there.
So I got up top and the view was amazing. The guys seemed happy I made it. We talked a bit and they offered me water. I said no. They offered again, so I took one. Then one offered me a cookie. Said no. Offered again. Think I said no again. One more time. I said yes. They said apparently no means yes with me. They sure figured me out fast! :p I don’t know how long we were up there but it was quite awhile. And so much fun! They had me laughing the whole time. Eli and Daniel, from NC. I think they’d be my best buds if I lived near them.
At one point a guy comes up and has a butterfly on his hat. Eli told him and he replied that it had been following him the whole way up. Eli took a pic for him and it flew away only to land on me a short time later! Then on Daniel. Eli took it from Daniel so he could get a pic. They decided it must be thirsty so they put some water in a bottle cap and fed it. It was pretty neat. Did I mention that these two were also scared by “killer” squirrels or chipmunks on their way up? Now they’re feeding a butterfly. I was kind of questioning their manhood. :p
At one point I mentioned I was at Fridays last night and they asked if I was the loud one cheering and high fiving during the game. They had been sitting in a booth at the bar! If only I had met them last night, I could have had some more fun.
Eventually we decided to head down. I was glad to have them there, that steep spot was scary! I hiked back down the mountain with them. Lots more laughs, they were so much fun. I wish I could remember some of the things they said. I was giving them a pretty hard time but rightfully so, who is afraid of squirrels??
Oh, some couple told me I should go some place in Maine, I need to remember that. Lots of fun rocks to climb I guess.
We reached the trailhead and we were all planning on seeing the sunset from Clingman’s Dome (highest point in Smokies) but first Daniel wanted a funnel cake with ice cream. So we said a temporary goodbye and drove off. Me to my hotel to shower and change.
Headed to the dome, stopped to take some pics on the way and met a nice couple from Washington. They, like myself, hadn’t seen any Minnesota plates either. Minnesota, I beg of you. Visit the Smokies! I’ve been to higher mountain ranges but I don’t know that I’ve loved them as much.
I pulled into the parking lot and Eli and Daniel were just getting out of their car. Bad news, no funnel cake. They got in the shop but the woman said she was closed. Very sad.
It was so windy up there! And cold as a result! Daniel had to change out of his shorts and into the track pants that matched his jacket. I told him he looked like a grandma and we headed up the hill. It is paved but WAY steep. Boys needed to stop for a break. Made me feel less out of shape than I am! We got up to the observation tower, where on a clear day you can see 7 states or something. So windy and even more cold but we stuck it out till the sunset and it was so worth it. I hope at least a few of the 70+ pictures I took of it do it justice. Of course there were a lot more laughs and a few awkward moments. Like when a guy from our earlier hike showed up after telling them he was going somewhere else (they told him they were going there, creepy!), or when a kid asked his parents if America and the United States were the same and I couldn’t contain my laughter, or when Eli said my hair was reddish and I loudly said it wasn’t red when a redhead was standing right behind Daniel. (my hair is NOT red!!!!)
The sun went down and it was time to leave. Luckily for me the guys were prepared, they brought flashlights. And glow sticks. Yes. Glow sticks. They gave me one. We hosted a rave in the tower then went back down the hill. I was a little sad to say goodbye to them knowing I’d probably never see them again. We did exchange email addresses so we can share pics though, and I will find them if I’m in NC again.
I hadn’t even thought that another bonus to being in the mountains For sunset would be the stars. They were amazing. I sat and watched them for a bit before making the 30 mile mountain drive back to town. I saw 3 creatures, two were fox and I initially thought the third was but it may have been a coyote. I so love the wilderness!!
I debated whether I should go to bed or eat when I got back. Eating won. Went to Calhoun’s, a local joint and sister of the brewery from the other night. Initially I regretted it cause the menu didn’t impress me but I was too lazy to move. Told the bartender gal I wanted the fresh Calhoun chicken (per the menu). “Calhoun chicken?” she asked. Yes. “side?” Corn puddin’ (again per menu.) “Corn puddinG?” AGH! I was not going to sit there all night if she was going to keep this up. Luckily she was cut. And the corn puddinG was effing fantastic.
I talked to the other bartender a bit, sounded like he was kind of displaced by Katrina. He almost moved to Minneapolis too. (I’m starting to think the servers here are trained to tell that story.) He said everyone there is really nice. I argued that people here are nicer. He agreed but said they’re a lot less intelligent. So I guess we have something going for us up there!
Wow, Jason Bateman is hot.
I finished my meal and Adam sold me on their banana pudding. Homemade white chocolate macadamia nut cookie crust, layer of bananas, pudding, hand whipped cream and shavings of some exotic something or other. I didn’t need it but asked to take it to go. He went to the kitchen. They were out! Guess I’ll have to come back for it. That really bums me out. :p
I am very much dreading the ride home tomorrow. I imagine I’ll be sore from today and extremely tired. Oh, and I just never want to go home. Zombie pub crawl on Saturday though, gotta make it back for that!
Oh, lesson learned today: People are amazing.

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