My skills are rusty. I'm not sure where to begin this tale. I suppose we will start at the beginning of an adventure. See that road? It leads into Smoky Mountains National Park, the Briarwood section, to be precise.
This is the Little Pigeon River. It was quite lovely. And clear. And noisy. All things that rivers are NOT in Oklahoma.
But the river is not where the adventure begins, but rather where it ends. This is where the real adventure began. The Grapeyard Ridge trail. It is 3.2 miles long, as you can see. Do you know what happens when one hikes up a trail? You must hike back DOWN the trail. So, it is really a 6.4 mile round trip. I just felt the need to brag there a bit.
Of course, if one adds the hike from the car to the trail, it is another half mile or so...
But we won't dwell on that, as surely that is too braggerly.
When I was looking at this photo in my phone I tried to remember what it was about. Then I remembered our first bear encounter. See that round dark shape up the trail from Grace? It was just past the first switchback on the hike. Maybe a tenth of a mile in...Grace froze, ducked down, and said "I see a bear." I froze. Brent and Mindy kept walking. The bear didn't move...
Fortunately, this particular bear was NOT a bear, but was a stump. But it got our adrenaline going in any case! See that marred spot in the moss near Brent's hand? That was our first real live bear track. And then the adventure got a little more real.
About that time I picked up a big stick. Becuase all I could remember in that moment about bear attacks was to back away, make loud noises, and if they continued to come at you, grab a big stick. I decided that having the stick beforehand was quite practical. See those tracks in the above photo? Grace spotted those. She turned out to be an excellent tracker and spotted every set of tracks we saw.
Fun fact: There are two bears for every square mile of the Smoky Mountains. Well, it's a fun fact unless one has hiked up a trail and suddenly realizes they have not seen one single soul, and surely one is nearly half way up the trail...
The thing about the forest is...There are a lot of trees.
Trees are everywhere...
So much so that if one wanders off of the trail more than a few feet (you can see the trail in this photo if you look closely) you can become quite lost.
Now about this time in the picture we are beginning to question the wisdom of this climb. And whether we were even on the right trail. It was no longer as wide as it had been. And there were no human prints to be discerned. Just bear and deer. You can't help but wonder if perhaps the park rangers should do a better job of educating the bears on what is game trails verses people trails.
A very short while after this photo was taken......
BRENT WAS ATTACKED!!!
Yes! We had stopped for a short breather, evaluated that yes we WERE determined to reach our goal, and Mindy was faithfully carrying two stones and clacking them together, and we were singing quite loudly...
And then Brent began to yell.
I nearly had a heart attack! THE BEARS ARE GETTING HIM!
I turned around to look and he was flopping his arms.
Then waving his arms.
And he was making strange warbling sounds...
Then he took his hat off and began to wave it frantically around.
You will be relieved to know that we kept a safe distance from him, trying to determine what the danger was.
It turned out to be a yellow jacket.
And it stung him 8 times.
And after the eighth sting, he finally gave up on killing the thing, and ran away...
But he ran back DOWN the trail...
Away from his laughing family.
Yes, we were laughing. It was like something like out of the Great Outdoors, or when the squirrel comes out of the tree in Christmas Vacation.
And that is just funny, folks!
Besides, it's not like he was dying or anything.
Just in store for some major pain.
Yes, I'm sad that he was stung repeatedly (please note that one should RUN when being attacked by wasps, not stand in one spot and try to swat it with a cap), but I'm even more sad that I didn't VIDEO the whole episode!
Besides, after I'd been nervous about bears for the past thirty minutes, I was easily tipped into hysterical laughter.
At last we reached our destination. See that round dark shape under that tree?
That is a steam engine!
This engine fell of the side of the mountain in 1920. It was sent up the mountain to get wood to build a school for Briarwood. The driver was unable to maneuver a switchback and crashed the engine. How scary is that?
Brent had not allowed the girls to snack as we went up the trail. He didn't want the smell of food to draw bears to the trail.
Since we still had to hike back DOWN and all.
You may look at this picture and see more forest and rhododendron. However, it is not just forest. It has a pile of rocks up in the middle. And that pile of rocks is the chimney of Dolly Parton's grandfather's homestead! Seriously! And yet we still didn't see another soul! If you won't hike up a mountain to see a steam engine that fell off the mountain, surely you will go to look at a pile of rocks!
I include this photo to show you what a great comfort obviously sawed off logs are when one is not sure they are still on the designated trail. I must confess as the trail narrowed that I did fear we had mistakenly gotten on a game trail at some point.
You see, the trail had no designated foot bridges. At one stream we crossed over on a handy log that was across the stream. After I did some foolish balancing stick and eagle poses, then fell off of the log into the stream, I realized that there was the trail to and away from the log...
(Even worse than the fall in the stream?
I got my legs all muddy on the side of the log.
And grass stains on my yoga pants!)
And another trail that was further up stream that popped out on the other side. We debated about which trail to follow and by the grace of God we picked the right one!
If I had read the scavenger hunt guide book I had bought thoroughly BEFORE beginning the hike I would have been aware of this potential hazard. And I would have known the bear statistics before we were three miles up a mountain with no source of protection!
As we hiked down, Brent tended to lead with the girls behind him and I took up the rear. Surely the bears were going to attack the lead or rear?
See that pile of rubble in the middle of this picture? It's an old homestead. All that is left is a portion of a wall. Thanks again, handy dandy scavenger hunt book!
We had all looked forward to a lovely break at the steam engine wreck. However, Brent's legs were giving him trouble from the stings (my first aid kit was in the car, 3 miles down the mountain), so we decided to eat and walk. Except Grace decided she was no longer hungry.
Instead she became terribly cranky.
And then she decided that she did not need to wait on us to dawdle our way down while I took lovely pictures.
I offered her snacks. She stated she had her own snacks, but was hungry for real food, so she was going to RUSH down the mountain to get to her sandwich...
This plan worked fine until she walked into about the seventh spider web. Then she had a complete freak out moment which resulted in screaming, stomping, throwing her water bottle on the gound and jumping up and down on it repeatedly...Apparently she was determined to make the lid fly off.
And it didn't.
She had a great plan to vent her wrath.
And it didn't work.
And then her whole family laughed at her.
While they kept walking, of course.
I said in my best mom nurse voice "Now, since you've made a fool of yourself, eat some crackers. You're cranky because you need carbs. No more arguments."
And so she ate as we continued our trek.
See the fence post? Yet more evidence of settlers!
Shortly after this post I made a fool of my own self. I was following Mindy.
Mindy is exuberant in all things.
She was picking up bits of bark and stones and would toss them off the trail.
Then they would hit trees.
And then they would ricochet back and I would have to duck to avoid them.
And I would tell her "STOP."
So, then she picked up a very long flexible stick. It made a nice whipping sound as she swung it. "I will scare the bears off with my whip!" Then she reached back to get a really good sound...
And fortunately I put my hand up because the stick wrapped around my arm and hit me in the head. I barely protected my face.
I glared at her.
She gave me an "Oops" face and continued on her way...
Fast forward twenty feet...
She jumped up and grabbed a rhododendron bush, then let it fly.
It slapped me full in the face.
I think my head spun completely around before I grabbed her by the jaw. Naturally, she tried to duck away.
So, I grabbed her by the back of the head.
And I said in my scariest mommy voice EVER "Do. Not. Hit. Me. Again."
And then I let her go and began to hike as if nothing happened.
She walked very quietly up ahead of me...
You see, Mindy is manipulative. She always goes off and pouts in hopes that I will feel bad for scolding her.
It didn't work.
Okay, see that log at a right angle to the moss covered log? That's the log of deception. Instead, you need to walk up the stream a ways, in the water (as you can see it's very shallow) and come out on the correct trail. See how one can get lost?
At last we finished our hike.
We decided to picnic on the rocks along the Little Pigeon River.
But not too closely together.
We needed some carbs to quiet the bears in all of us.
Who knew that the only bears we encountered would be ourselves?
Hey! I'm including this picture because I need to tell you about this restaruatnt!
If you ever go to Gatlinburg, you need to drive east to Cosby. Drive down 321 until you get to Kyle Carver's Orchard. They not only have beautiful orchards with a fabulous produce market, and their restaurant is not only wonderful, but their prices are very reasonable.
I had chicken and dumplings on the advice of our resort staff.
Brent had fresh grilled trout.
Grace ate shrimp.
Mindy had barbecue cooked in their special apple barbecue sauce.
Each of us loved our food, but I gotta say, the chicken and dumplings were the best in my opinion.
Each entree comes with apple fritters, apple butter, apple cider, an appetizer of soup or salad, and fresh made rolls! The food was great! The view fantastic! The wait staff accents were priceless!
All around, it was a great way to end the day.
That was a really long post, no?