Misadventures in the Mountains: The Conclusion

11816200_10206801399347255_7462993080004330845_oI know, I know.

You’ve all been waiting for my final mountains update, and I haven’t given it to you. I’ve been stalling with other things.

The truth is, I got to most of the good stuff.

But I’m still missing two days.

Friday

I’ve put this off for so long that I’m starting to forget what we even did on Friday.

Oh, right. Friday was the night of the Lumberjack Show.

But what did we do before that?

THE HIKE. RIGHT. THE HIKE.

So Katie, Mom, Jack, and I woke up early on Friday morning and headed to the national park to do a guided nature hike of the highest part of the mountains.

I wasn’t looking forward to hiking, but it was actually a very cool experience (once you get over the whole heights thing).

It was nice and cool at the top of the Smokies. We learned about the bears, plants, and other wildlife in the park. There were bees as big as my face. (Okay, maybe not that big, but they were ridiculous.)

But I think the best part of the two hour hike was going to the top of the observatory tower (which was literally in the clouds) and seeing the Smokies as a whole. It was really scary for me, but I enjoyed the experience. It’s not something that very many people get to do.

Then, we met up with Dad and had a picnic lunch. After that, we went back to our cabin to play some games and hang out until the time came for the Lumberjack Show.

It’s technically called the Lumberjack Feud. It’s a dinner show, where two lumberjack families compete for the “last mountain in the Smokies”. We all had a great time. Here’s the feedback I would give to anyone planning on going:

(1) Be prepared to get involved. This isn’t something you can just watch quietly.

(2) The band at the beginning is the best part of the show, so be there in time to see it.

(3) The food is actually pretty good. They serve loaded baked potato soup, a seasoned half-chicken, red potatoes, a biscuit, and an apple fritter. They also bring drinks. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was impressed. It’s definitely worth it to pay the extra for tickets that include dinner.

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(4) They have really awesome boxers in the gift shop. Buy them. Because I didn’t and I regret it.

(5) There are dogs and horses. And they are adorable.

All in all, the Lumberjack Show was a hit. It was also the last thing we did while we were in Gatlinburg. The next day, we were packing up to go home.

Saturday

The ride home was, believe it or not, more fun than the ride there.

I’m not sure what the logic behind that is, considering we were going back home to reality. But I guess maybe we were all stalling for more time. So we did a few fun things.

First of all, we didn’t want to stop to get lunch too early, since we were planning on having a late dinner. I was starving. So I begged my parents to pull off at a gas station. I was hoping they’d have some pizza but, of course, I was let down.

The place where we pulled off was probably the tiniest, weirdest town I’ve ever seen. There were two very beat-up gas stations and a McDonald’s. I mean, that was pretty much it.

We quickly piled up on junk cinnamon rolls and brownies, and got the heck out of there.

Before lunch, Mom decided she wanted to stop at Cumberland Falls in Kentucky. Driving to Cumberland Falls was creepy. Completely, friggen creepy.

We had to drive through this one-road town. Half of the houses were falling apart. The other half looked nice, but the residents were outside with a good fraction of their belongings. There weren’t any signs for a garage sale. They just all had their stuff outside.

There were no businesses. And, if there used to be, they were all ransacked and vandalized. Katie, Jack, and I decided there was probably a cult in town, slowly destroying everything in their path.

We determined their name was probably, “The Appalachians”.

It would make for a decent horror story, right?

We’ll see if I ever turn that into anything.

Anyway, the point is, we were relieved when we finally got to the falls.

I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed by the waterfall, but I was disappointed by the amount of litter and trash next to the water. It was a real letdown to set that much pollution in such a beautiful place.

We left and headed back in the direction of home. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, but we did stop at an Olive Garden in Ohio for dinner (after joking that there’s absolutely nothing fun to do in Ohio).

Seriously, though. What are they even known for?

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We turned some heads in Olive Garden. I felt bad for our waiter. We were all tired and slap happy. At one point, we couldn’t stop laughing. I think they were happy when we left.

It was probably two hours later when we pulled into our driveway. Thirty minutes after that, and we were fast asleep in our beds.

And that was vacation, folks.

Those were our misadventures in the mountains.

In my next post, I’ll tell you all about THE BEGINNING OF MY SOPHOMORE YEAR.

-Cassie

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Misadventures in the Mountains: Part 4

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Jack on the Ober Gatlinburg ski lift.

….

I don’t know why this keeps happening to me.

Alright. So I guess no more scheduling posts in advance. Apparently, that doesn’t work out too well for my Misadventures marketing plan, cause it just keeps making me look like an idiot.

Let’s try to forget about that slightly embarrassing event, and let’s try to focus on something a little more interesting.

We’re going to fit two days in one post here. I know. It’s shocking. It’s insanity. It’s going to be ridiculously long.

It’s Wednesday and Thursday.

Wednesday

Wednesday morning, we woke up early and headed out by eleven.

We were especially excited for Wednesday, because that was the day we were going tubing down a nearby river (stream?).

It took us nearly an hour and a half to get to the “tubing headquarters” (that’s what I’m choosing to call it). Apparently, tubing is really big in those parts, because there were three or four different businesses set up on the same strip of road. Each offered competitive prices and deals, but they ironically all offered the same experience.

We went with a $10 per-person tubing company, with two routes and unlimited access for the day.  The two routes included both Upper and Lower. The Upper started North of the headquarters, and the lower started South. A shuttle dropped off the Upper riders, and a shuttle picked up the Lower riders.

I tell you this to paint a picture, but in reality only the Upper route was open the day we went. Tennessee was oddly dry the week we were there, and the Lower route was too shallow for tubers.

Let me explain why the depth of the water matters, because we’re probably picturing very different things when I say the word “tubing”.

Most tubing courses go down a sort of lazy river, where the tubers relax and travel downstream until their course ends. That’s normal. Ohio has a lot of those. And that’s mostly what we were expecting.

What idiots we were.

Remember how I told you that Tennessee is rocky? Like, rocks three or four times my size?

I also told you that the streams and rivers were rocky, too. So rocky, in fact, that we fished on rocks when we went fishing the day before.

Can you imagine how the stream was when we were tubing?

A nice downhill course would be easy, in smooth water. But the rocks jutting out created something like mini-waterfalls, which spun you every which way and were actually very dangerous to navigate through. Each time one of us fell out of our tube or tried to hold onto a rock to keep our balance, we ended up hurting ourselves rather than helping ourselves.

We all left with injuries that day. Dad got motion sick, I banged up my leg, Mom bruised herself, and I’m sure Katie and Jack ended up slightly worse off but I’m not sure that I quite remember how. Jack’s brand new swim shoes took a beating. That I’m sure about.

Don’t get me wrong. It was a ton of fun. But, by the end of the first course, Dad and I were ready to be done. It took us almost four hours to get through it, and we didn’t have that much left in us. So Katie, Jack, and Mom did the Upper course again while Dad and I got lunch in a BBQ restaurant attached to the tubing headquarters.

I’ll spare you the food review on this place. It was comfort food, and that was enough for us at the time.

The other three finished the course in a record forty-five minutes. With less of us on the water, it was easier for them to get through.

When we were all dry and back in the car, we headed back to the cabin for what became known as Kids Night (Mom and Dad were going out, and the siblings and I were going to get on our Independence Day movie watching skills).

I’ll also spare you the details of Kids Night. It was fun, of course. We played some games and watched some movies. We ate more food than I can even begin to explain. And then we all crashed.

The rest shall always remain a secret.

Thursday

I should have put aside a separate post for Thursday. I know I should have. Because this post is going to end up being 2000 words long by the time I get through everything we did on Thursday. It was the busiest day of the vacation.

Mom and Katie wanted to go shopping. Jack, Dad, and I were shopped out. So the three of us set off to find something to do while the other two settled their shopping urges.

We started out with lunch at CiCi’s pizza. I shouldn’t have to give a review here, because if you haven’t eaten at CiCi’s before, you haven’t experience the true meaning of a $7 pizza buffet. But that’s alright, I’ll provide one anyway.

The food was fresh, the building was clean, and the staff were very attentive. You don’t get that often at CiCi’s. We were in Pigeon Forge, so I assume they must be busy often, which explains the organization and well-preparedness. But still, we were impressed with it. I’m pretty sure, next to a single McDonald’s excursion, it was the cheapest meal we ate throughout the entire vacation. And it was well worth it.

After lunch, we set off down the strip to find something to do. We had two and a half hours to kill before we had to meet Mom and Katie at the ATV headquarters (I’m starting to like that word). Almost half an hour of indecision went by before we finally decided on the Hollywood Wax Museum.

We didn’t, however, go there for the Wax Museum portion. We went there for the mirror maze, zombie apocalypse horror house, and 5D interactive haunted ride. By the time we purchased our all-access tickets and were shoved off into the Wax Museum, we only had about ninety minutes to do everything.

Zipping through the Wax Museum, I snapped several decent photos of Jack with celebrities like Morgan Freeman, Tom Cruise, and Miley Cyrus. I think I took a selfie with Beyonce (who was, by the way, the only normal-sized celebrity there).

After making our way through that, we hurried toward the other building (which held the remaining three attractions).

We started with the interactive 5D ride. It was extremely cool. Probably one of my favorite parts of the vacation, because I wasn’t expecting something that awesome. You know that feeling when you’re genuinely impressed by something? That’s how I felt. And the ride kept score of our points (because we were shooting things) and I won. I never win anything. So that was a good experience.

The mirror maze was slightly disappointing. It’s really built for younger kids and their parents. It’s the only attraction in that building that probably won’t scare children (although, I have to say, my claustrophobia found it pretty terrifying).

We were told a princess story and then we were set loose in the maze. I felt sick just walking inside. It looked like it went on forever and, as soon as the entrance was out of sight, I could feel a freak out coming on.

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A man in a chicken costume.

Luckily, Jack and I managed to solve the maze in a matter of minutes. I’d say we were in there for maybe four minutes (or less) before we found our way out. I was relieved then, of course, but looking back, I wish it had been more challenging.

Then, Dad went out to the car and left the two of us to do the zombie horror house. I was more nervous than I admitted. I write horror stories for a living. There was no excuse for me to have a problem in a haunted house. But I think that’s the fun of doing it. You get to be scared, and then look back on it and laugh. That’s the whole reason why I write what I write.

It was, by far, the longest line. We waited for probably twenty minutes before going inside. I clung to Jack the entire time, but he clung to me too, so. I guess you can’t judge me that much. It’s nice to be able to hide behind him, now that he’s almost a foot taller than me.

When we finally got out, we headed to the ATV headquarters to meet Mom and Katie. We made it just in time. Then, we started our drive back up the mountain to find the place where the trail actually began. There, we would watch a video, get helmets, and be paired with our ATVs.

I guess I never really explained this activity to you, so let me fill you in. My parents thought it would be fun to rent out ATVs for a ninety minute trail ride in the mountains, led by two guides. We were all looking forward to it.

Katie and I used to share an ATV, but ended up having to sell it when we downsized to a house without a big yard. We both missed driving, so we were excited to see if we could still handle it. Mom and Dad also had an ATV, but Dad drove it more often than Mom. She preferred the snowmobile.

And then there was Jack, who just wanted to come along for the ride. He went with Mom.

The experience was really incredible. It was also challenging. The rocky terrain made it difficult to navigate hills, turns, and descents. This, of course, just made it more interesting and fun.

We were told that we would drive through a stream near the end, so we were prepared for a little water. Turns out, they literally meant through a stream. I mean, we turned head-on into the thing and drove for about half a mile. How cool is that? And my clothes somehow didn’t get wet.

After the ATV ride, we went back down the mountain again for dinner. We ate at a giant buffet. I mean, the biggest I’ve ever seen. It was like Golden Corral on steroids.

I’m going to share with you my thoughts on this place.

1.) They gave me unlimited milk refills. That was a good start.

2.) The mashed potatoes were instant, not fresh. That was disappointing.

3.) The pizza was housed in the same room as the desserts. Can someone explain this to me?

4.) The meat was tender. I got steak, and I appreciated it. It wasn’t quite as good as my medium-rare sirloin at Texas Roadhouse, but oh well.

5.) Our waitress was from Michigan, and lived in the Howell area. She was extremely nice.

6.) The food was, overall, good for what we wanted. We wanted a meal with lots of options, and a meal that would fill us up. The food wasn’t 100% amazing, but it was up to par for a buffet.

I have to say, though, the seafood buffet from earlier in the week was still the most impressive.

After dinner, five exhausted Bondies headed back up the mountain to go to sleep before our last day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

There are still more adventures to share. See you there.

-Cassie

P.S. – It occurs to me that there are a few experiences missing from my story. I’m not sure how it happened, and I’m genuinely lost as to how I got the days so utterly confused, but I’m going to tell you about them now.

On a certain night on a certain day at some point in the week, we went to

OH MY GOD I COMPLETELY FORGOT MONDAY.

Monday

We woke up on the second day of our vacation, fully prepared for anything. And that included facing my fear of heights.

Monday was the day that we traveled up the mountain to Ober Gatlinburg, a kind of amusement park.

We had to ride a tram to get up there. A tram that was probably almost a mile off the freaking ground. I couldn’t look. How can people rely on a single pulley system to keep almost a hundred people alive at the same time? That’s more terrifying than I can even put into words.

But we did make it up the mountain, thank god.

Then, of course, my mother and sister wanted to go on a ski lift that went up even higher. 

I managed to do it. I don’t know how. I’d never be able to do it again. But I did it. I got on that ski lift with Katie and I went even farther up that damn mountain. Then I got off the ski lift and hurdled my way back down the mountain on a self-controlled roller coaster cart. Talk about facing your fears.

By the time we finished that, the zoo section of the park, and a maze (in which my mother and I most definitely lost), we headed back on the tram and back down the mountain to grab dinner at Texas Roadhouse.

This is the meal I’ve been waiting to tell you about since I started writing about our vacation.

When I say something is the bomb diggity, I mean it. From the core of my soul. And this restaurant was, in fact, the bomb diggity.

I ordered an $8 sirloin steak. I very rarely order steaks in restaurants, but I took a chance. With the steak, I got corn and fresh vegetables. I then realized that I hate vegetables and ordered a side of loaded mashed potatoes. Those were much better.

The steak was amazing. It’s so rare that I truly, full enjoy a meal at a restaurant. And this was it. It was delicious. Eat there. Eat there now.

After dinner, we made our way downtown to the Sweet Fanny Adam’s theatre, where we would be seeing a traditional vaudeville production. The theatre has been around for decades. It’s one of the more historic parts of Gatlinburg.

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The cast.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but I caught off guard by the humor. The actors loved involving the audience, and they were truly captured by what they were doing. It didn’t matter if they were old, young, serious, or immature. They all pulled off their parts, acting skills aside. I was thoroughly impressed with it, and I would definitely go back just to see them again.

When the show ended, we headed back up the mountain for the night.

AND THAT WAS MONDAY I’M REALLY SORRY I FORGOT I’M GONNA GO NOW BYE.

Misadventures in the Mountains: Part 3

Group picture at the zip lining place.
Group picture at the zip lining place.

I guess by now you’ve all found out how I keep track of my posts.

My secret has been exposed.

You know, the most difficult thing about updating a blog is remembering to write and keep it updated with fresh, new information. I keep myself on my toes by scheduling future posts that I haven’t written yet, that way I’ll write them just to avoid…well, what happened last night, from happening at all.

For those of you who aren’t aware of this, an email was sent out to my followers last night because this post went up. It was scheduled to go out at 7pm. However, it wasn’t written. All it included was a brief itinerary of the things that we did each day over vacation so I could remember for the rest of the posts. I assume most of you thought that I got sick of writing the posts and decided just to literally post what we did.

The idea, while hilarious, was a freaking nightmare for me when got the email on my date night last night. I had no way of getting on a computer and explaining to my followers what had happened. I just forgot to actually write the content of the post.

You’re not supposed to see the behind-the-scenes stuff. You’re just supposed to see the finished, beautiful product. So, I’m sorry. But, you have to admit, it was pretty funny.

Now you’ll know, in the future, why you get emails like that. It means I’m slacking. Don’t let me do that, guys. It’s bad.

Jack zip lining.
Jack zip lining.

Tuesday

Tuesday morning, Mom and Jack woke up early to go zip-lining. I was originally supposed to go with them. However, I am a coward and would probably have headed for the hills when I saw how far up we were supposed to be going.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been zip-lining before. But I was in Alaska, I was eleven, and I didn’t fully understand the consequences of falling.

Trust me, I do now.

Dad, Katie, and I decided to go fishing that morning to pass the time. We drove into Gatlinburg and found a fishing store where we could purchase licenses. We chose the single day passes for fishing in the stream in town.

It took us nearly half an hour to find a decent place to set up, mostly because Tennessee is full of rocks (and that means the streams and bodies of water are full of rocks, too). And I don’t mean small rocks. I mean rocks two or three or four times my size.

When we finally did find a spot, we had to go down a large hill and pick rocks to stand on. Now, I wasn’t actually planning on fishing myself. I didn’t get a license. Instead, I ended up perching on a huge rock that jutted out on the water and read a book while Katie and Dad did their thing.

Unfortunately, the fish in the stream weren’t any bigger than six or seven inches. Maybe not even that big. The two of them caught about four of those before we gave up and drove to Pigeon Forge for lunch.

I’m going to take a moment here to tell you about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

They are probably the two largest tourist towns I have ever seen in my life. I mean, I’ve seen carnivals and attractions and tourist attractions before, but never like this. Driving through the main road in Pigeon Forge is like driving through a giant, permanent carnival. There are go-carts, putt-putt courses, Ripley’s attractions, buffets, dinner shows, arcades, gift shops, and signs for Dollywood everywhere. 

Katie with one of her "fish."
Katie with one of her “fish.”

Gatlinburg is smaller, and slightly less in-your-face. While there are attractions such as gift shops and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, there are also nice restaurants, local stores, and old theatres. It’s a little more homey, if that makes sense. They’re both still ridiculously gauged toward tourists, but Gatlinburg is the lesser of two evils.

Alright, got that? Let’s get back to the story.

So we went back to cabin for a few hours after lunch, I took a long nap, and then we headed back down the mountain to eat dinner at a giant seafood buffet. I wish I could explain how much food there was. I don’t even like seafood and I didn’t know where to start. There was crab, crayfish, cod, salmon, macaroni and cheese, potatoes, soups, salad, desserts, shrimp, and biscuits. Along with 8000 other things I couldn’t even begin to figure out how to eat.

It was delicious, too. I mean so, so good. 10/10. So it passed the Cassie inspection.

After dinner, we went putt-putt golfing at a course in Pigeon Forge. It was gold-mine themed. A lot of it took place in dark, damp spaces. Not to mention there were about three hundred people there. But we managed to make it fun anyway. We usually do.

Jack did the splits over a little pond trying to get Dad’s golf ball out of it. He got stuck and almost fell in. I reached for his hand to help him (there were about twenty people staring at us by now) and, instead of letting me help him, Dad grabbed Jack by the back of his pants and pulled him back onto the course. Talk about the world’s biggest wedgie.

We were crying, we were laughing so hard. Katie was acting like she didn’t know us, Jack was beat red, and Dad was just standing there acting like it was totally normal. Mom and I had tears rolling down our cheeks. It was hard to recover from that.

The laughing stopped when we saw a giant beetle toward the end of the course. It was sitting on the post with the number of the hole on it. We all hit really quickly so we could move to the other side and avoid it. None of us admitted that we were afraid, but we looked like complete tourists. Northern tourists, at that.

So we provided a little entertainment for the people at the putt-putt place.

Mom and Jack at the zip line headquarters.
Mom and Jack at the zip line headquarters.

Then we headed back to the cabin for the night. We had to avoid a huge line out of the Krispy Kreme parking lot, though. Can somebody explain to me why, at nearly 9pm every night we were there, Krispy Kreme had a huge line outside, even though it didn’t have a line at all during the day?

Thanks for reading (and I promise the next one will be more than a list),

Cassie

 

Misadventures in the Mountains: Part 2

A giant sea turtle in the Aquarium.
A giant sea turtle in the Aquarium.

**All photo credit in this series of posts goes directly to my talented mother, Shannone Bondie. And no, she doesn’t do photography professionally so you can’t hire her for your wedding.

Welcome to part two of my extremely long vacation rant. For part one, click here. For part two, well, keep reading.

Enjoy!

Sunday

I woke up at nine in the morning to the smell of eggs, bacon, and buttered toast. Shopping for nearly an hour at Kroger the night before had definitely paid off. After using our enormous shower and getting dressed, I trudged up the stairs to start the first official day of our vacation.

On the agenda for Sunday was the Aquarium in Gatlinburg (created by Ripley’s, the same company the does the “Believe It or Not!” attractions in every big city), lunch in the downtown area, and then a scenic tour of Cades Cove (a eleven mile car tour through a historic park of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park).

We left around 11 and began navigating our way down the mountain. It isn’t an easy task to travel through thousands of feet in elevation several times each day. Our ears popped so often on vacation that I actually couldn’t put my headphones in or I would end up with a headache. But the views? You can’t beat them.

Anyway, so we reached the Aquarium about half an hour later, parked, and headed inside. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m usually not overly impressed with aquatic attractions. Maybe it’s because I live in Michigan and I’m used to seeing turtles, fish, frogs, and toads on a normal basis. It could also be because I’m not easily impressed. Either way, I was a little nervous about what we would find inside.

I have to say, it was hands down the most interesting and beautiful aquarium I’ve ever visited. We got to see jellyfish, seahorses, a weird species of lobster that looked like it wanted to eat us for breakfast, and an entire tank of live sharks. There was a moving conveyor belt that toured underneath the tank, we really got up close and personal with the animals. We also saw eels, stingrays, and giant sea turtles. It was an awful lot to fit into such a small building.

Jellyfish from the Aquarium.
Jellyfish from the Aquarium.

The Aquarium also had some really cool attractions like a penguin show, a stingray petting area, and an opportunity to touch an odd species of crab. Ironically enough, that crab exhibit was located directly by where the Aquarium chose to sell Dip N’ Dots and refreshments, but to each his own, I guess. (Says the girl who bought a Coke.)

Katie was having the time of her life. She’s always been into marine biology and aquatic animals, so we stayed for an extra half hour so she and my parents could go back through the shark exhibit (my head wasn’t going to handle any more underwater experiences).

Overall, we had a great time. It was a positive start to our vacation, and we didn’t have any serious misadventures. (Well, my mother did almost fall into the pool while trying desperately to pet a stingray, but we avoided that disaster.)

After washing our hands thoroughly, we headed out to lunch. And it was HOT. We wanted to eat somewhere nice, but our bodies couldn’t handle the humidity and the heat. So we ducked inside a small, funky smelling diner to look at the menu.

We were in the air conditioning for maybe two minutes before deciding that we weren’t willing to stay. So we headed back out into the heat and nearly ran the two blocks it took to get to Shoney’s (a southern version of Big Boy).

The infamous coyote.
The infamous coyote.

It’s time again for another wonderful episode of restaurant reviews, featuring your host: Extremely Picky Eater Cassie.

I’ve never really been a fan of Big Boy, so I didn’t have high hopes for Shoney’s. But being hungry will put you in a position to eat just about anything, so I ordered a burger and hoped for the best.

It wasn’t too great. I mean, the burger was fine and everything, but no one was overly impressed with the food. It was just something to eat. The interesting part about Shoney’s wasn’t the food, anyway.

It was our waitress.

We had to ask the woman twice for anything we wanted. And no, it wasn’t busy. We were right between the lunch and dinner rushes. She only had one other table. It wasn’t that she was busy. It was that something was…off. (According to my dad, she was drunk. But I’d like to think he’s wrong about that. It’s a little disconcerting.)

It was amusing, for a while. But it got downright confusing when she put the check on the table and then took it back before we paid. We kind of sat there for six or seven minutes, wondering if she was going to come back. She finally did, but she just set it back down. She didn’t say anything about why she took it back.

It was one of the more bizarre eating experiences we had while we were away.

Then we set off down the street to check out a few shops in the downtown mall. There were three floors, and most shops had a rebel flag or two hanging in the window (please don’t even get me started on this). So I avoided most of those. I did, however, find a really awesome fantasy store that had merchandise like Dr. Who themed laptop bags, phone cases, and t-shirts. They also had Magic: The Gathering items. I knew I’d found Austin’s souvenir right away when I saw a Dr. Who tie.

One of the historic homes in Cades Cove.
One of the historic homes in Cades Cove.

After drooling over half of the other items for sale in that store, we explored the mall and then piled back into our car. It was time to head toward Cades Cove for our evening car tour.

Little did I know that Cades Cove is located in the heart of the Smoky Mountains National Park. Guess what a national park doesn’t have?

Phone signal. Zip. Zero. Zilch. None. And I didn’t even know it was coming. We tried our best not to be on our phones during the day, but when long car rides made themselves prevalent, we would at least check our messages. I was waiting on a few important work-related emails, and Austin was also watching our house and the dogs. Randomly being without phone signal made me incredibly uncomfortable. I don’t think I’ve ever just disappeared off the face of the Earth for five hours like that before.

So yes, I was grumpy at first. But Cades Cove actually ended up being one of my favorite parts of the vacation.

There were a few historic houses for us to view, but the wasn’t the most interesting part. No, the most interesting part was when I grumpily looked out my open window and saw a FREAKING BLACK BEAR WALKING IN THE WOODS.

It took a few seconds for it to fully register in my mind, because we had just been joking around about seeing a bear. But no, I was sure. It was walking along like it had nothing better to do, not even paying attention to the cars driving by.

“That’s a bear. That’s a bear. That’s a bear!” I started yelling like a maniac. My dad slowed the car, and the rest of them went crazy trying to see it. Mom and I both hopped out of the car while Katie yelled at us for going after a wild bear. Unfortunately, neither of us got the picture we were hoping for. It turned and went back toward the woods before we had a chance.

We also got up close and personal with a fawn.
We also got up close and personal with a fawn.

I think that’s the first time in my life I’ve seen an actual, WILD bear.

We didn’t think it could get much more exciting than that, but apparently we were wrong. While stuck in a long line of cars (there was a merge ahead, and everyone seemed to be taking forever to figure out where to go), Katie saw a bee outside her car window. Now, the bees in Tennessee are HUGE. And the hornets? They’re downright scary. So you can imagine we were all completely okay with rolling up our windows immediately.

But then Katie thought she heard a bee inside the car. So she asked Jack if there was something on her.

I suppose that was a very bad time for me to do what I did next.

You see, while Katie was worrying about the bug in the car, I was looking out her window to see if it was still outside. And, when I looked down on the ground, I saw a COYOTE right outside her door.

I didn’t realize, however, that it was a coyote. So instead of pointing and saying the name of the animal, I just started pointing at Katie’s window and repeating, “Oh my god, oh my god, look guys, LOOK!”

Katie got out of the car because she was so terrified that there was a hornet on her. Mom saw the coyote and got out of the car to get a picture. I got out of the car just to get closer to it. And by the time we all figured out what we were looking at, it was pacing on the grass next to us. It ran after a few deer, but we decided it was just playing around. The deer weren’t afraid of it at all.

So that was our second wild encounter. The third and final encounter came toward the end of the trail, when we were stuck in an extensively long line of cars. I was completely grumpy and almost freaking out by this point in time. We’d been gone for nearly four hours and I still didn’t have any cell reception. It was dark, and we couldn’t see any wildlife, even if there was any to be seen.

And then my brother, father, and sister saw an owl in a tree. They even saw it swoop down and grab something off of the forest floor, then swoop back up. I didn’t get to see it, but apparently it was the only live owl any of them had ever seen at night.

We got through the line not long after that. Then we began the hour and a half (closer to two hour) drive home, most of it without signal. When we finally got it back, a lot of the tension was released from the car.

I’m pretty sure most of us crashed almost as soon as we got home. It was a long, interesting day, with quite a few adventures.

More in the next post. I hope you’re enjoying these. I think, altogether, these posts are going to add up to over 7000 words.

My hands hurt.

Until next time,

Cassie

Misadventures in the Mountains: Part 1

The infamous Waffle House.
The infamous Waffle House.

The time has come for me to begin spilling the beans about my family vacation last week.

I know you’ve all been dying to hear about it.

As some of you already know, the five of us (my mother, father, sister Katie, and brother Jack) went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for some much needed quality time together. So, much like I did with some of my adventures in Manhattan, I’m going to split up our (mis)adventures day by day.

Try to keep up. Today, we’re just going to talk about the first day of our trip: Saturday.

AKA, we’re going to talk about food. Literally half of these vacation posts will consist of restaurant reviews.

Alright, here we go.

Saturday 

Our phone alarms went off at 3:30am, but Jack and I hadn’t slept a wink. After getting in a nasty Facebook debate with a business owner (more on that later), the two of us ended up watching Friends and talking for the majority of the night. It didn’t come as a real shock to either of us. We’ve always stayed awake on the nights before something big. You should see us at Christmastime.

We left my room and found the rest of the family climbing out of their beds upstairs, none of them feeling too pleased about the early wake up call. But, since we planned on pulling out at 4, we didn’t have much of a choice. I’d already determined that I’d be sleeping for about half of the ride there. It was inevitable.

The cars had been packed tightly the night before (we took my mother’s car and my sister’s car), so all we had to do was take one (which quickly turned into a dozen) family picture(s) before heading out. All was on schedule, until we couldn’t find our walkie talkies (because how else would we keep in touch on a road trip?).

We ended up pulling out closer to 4:30, but hey. Anything before 9am is a miracle in my family.

The art-themed rest stop.
The art-themed rest stop.

Now, I really did fall asleep for the majority of the ride there. But I can fill in bits and pieces about the trip.

After falling asleep on the highway, I stayed knocked out for almost an hour and a half. When I woke up again, we were in the parking lot of a Waffle House. I’d never been to a Waffle House before in my life, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I have to say, I won’t be going back anytime soon.

For those of you who don’t know, Waffle Houses are America’s favorite road-stop diner. Truck drivers, out-of-towers, and travelers are the most common customers. You’ve probably seen their yellow and black signs before, extended above some highway. Got all that?

So, first of all, it was freezing. I mean, cold enough for me to actually be shivering. Jack gave me his sweatshirt, but it didn’t help much. We told the waitress (and it was obviously visible that we were uncomfortably cold), but nothing was done.

Then, the menu was very small. We had a choice between waffles, grits, eggs, toast, bacon, sausage, and hash browns. I mean, that was the majority of the menu. And it was on a laminated piece of paper, so not too professional either. I chose the $6.99 special ( two eggs, toast, a waffle, bacon, and grits).

Grits were a new experience for me, but I enjoyed them. The bacon was well-seasoned, and the toast was fine.

My shared shower with Katie.
My shared shower with Katie.

However. The eggs had a very odd flavor. I’m not sure how to describe it, but when eggs taste funny, it’s probably not worth the risk. I was starving and ate them anyway, and I didn’t die, so that’s a good sign. But it left a bad taste in my mouth (literally and figuratively). Dad said he had a similar experience.

And then there was the waffle itself. Maybe it’s because I’m used to my boyfriend’s waffles (which he makes with chocolate chips on the inside and pancake mix instead of waffle batter), but they felt dry and they weren’t fluffy like I expected. The chocolate chips were also sprinkled on top, instead of actually cooked into the waffle.

It wasn’t a great first meal to our trip. But the next one was a little better.

We stopped around two in the afternoon at a famous art-themed rest area. It had an extensive collection of local artwork (though most of it was too expensive for me to touch with a ten foot pole), and a large cafeteria. It was set-up very similarly to a college dining area. There were different stations and specials, and most of the food was cooked right there in front of us.

Again, though, I was unlucky. I chose to order a burger and fries (hard to mess up, right?). But the burger came out charred. I managed to make it through about 1/2 of it before my sister broke and bought me some roasted potatoes (she had some and I fell in love with them from the moment I smelled them).

So lunch was really my own fault for poor food choice.

Why am I only talking about food? Well, be honest. What else is there really to talk about on a road trip between Michigan and Tennessee? We passed through Ohio (which, we’ve determined, is famous for just about nothing) and Kentucky. Other than our really cool walkie talkie code names (Birthday Girl, Jolly Ranger, Cheeky Monkey, Yogi Bear, and Camo Kid), we didn’t have anything too interesting to report. I’ll let you try to guess which of us had which code name.

Our kitchen.
Our kitchen.

So anyway, the point is that food was the only real focus we had. And, by the time we got through our first two meals, we were really looking forward to my mother’s birthday dinner that night in downtown Gatlinburg. She hadn’t decided where she wanted to go yet, but a real restaurant sounded amazing.

For the sake of writing a reasonably sized article, I’m going to skip ahead now to the part where we reached our cabin. The road there, especially the last hour or so, was terrifying. Tennessee has all of these twisting and turning roads. I’m used to Michigan. Flat. Even Manhattan is flat.

I was riding with Katie when the roads started getting really difficult to navigate and she was freaking out. Then, when we found out our cabin was literally at the top of a mountain, things got ever scarier. Separated from our parents, driving up that road was probably the bravest thing we’ve ever done as individuals and adults.

I wish I had a picture of the slope on which we had to park our cars. That was cringe-worthy. And the giant hornet on our front porch, not to mention the heat, made all of us feel very wary about the week ahead of us.

Then we opened the door to our cabin. I have to say, things felt a hell of a lot better after that.

Other than a few minor mechanical issues and a broken pool stick, the place was drop-dead gorgeous. The cover photo to this article is the view from the back porch. No, I’m not kidding.

Pictures are supplied of the living room and kitchen, so I’ll fill you in on the rest of the house. On the back porch, there was a working Jacuzzi tub (it was so hot when we first got there that none of us figured we’d be using it too often). There was also a half-bath on the first floor.

Everything else in the house was located in the basement. Apparently, in hot climates, that’s the best place for a bedroom. All three of our rooms were down there (Katie and I were sharing a room with two double beds), as well as three separate bathrooms for each room, two GIANT showers, and a laundry room.

Our living room.
Our living room.

Once we’d gotten there and settled in, no one was too anxious to leave. But we still had Mom’s birthday dinner to attend. So, about an hour and a half later, we were heading back down the mountain to dinner.

We ate at a very loud restaurant in downtown Gatlinburg (and boy do I have a lot to tell you about Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, but those stories will have to wait), called the Smoky Mountain Brewery.

I ordered a personal pizza. It was beautiful and completely worth the wait. The waitress was very nice and, though she had a hard time being attentive because she was so busy, I felt like we were being taken care of. Everyone else enjoyed their food. It was a good meal; a satisfying meal. A meal signifying the start of a new adventure.

After dinner, we went shopping at a Kroger for a week’s worth of groceries. Why is that important?

I guess you’ll just have to find out.

Until then, that’s all I have for you. In the next installment, you’ll read about our Aquarium adventures, further food encounters, and (get this) WILD BEAR AND COYOTE encounters. See you there!

-Cassie