After the great time we had in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg last fall we decided a return trip in 2008 would be needed. American Patriot Getaways sent us an email special...if we rented a cabin on Christmas day it would be 1/2 off. We decided to take advantage of that deal. We rented the same cabin we had previously rented and decided to go in late April. We would break up the trip on the way down and stay in Frankfort, the site of our most recent motorcycle trip.
My girlfriend had gotten a 2005 Beetle TDi a few months ago so we decided to take it. The diesel 5-speed should get excellent fuel mileage and be fun to drive. A side benefit is Sarah volunteered to do some of the driving. She can't drive my vehicles for insurance reasons. I got a Garmin 2610 GPS a few months ago and we will be taking it for routing and entertainment.
Vacation day has finally arrived. When I got home from work Sarah had the Beetle packed. I hooked up the GPS, secured the house, and we were off. Sarah offered to drive the first leg and I accepted. She drove until we stopped in Pekin for a restroom stop.
I had preprogrammed the GPS for a route to Pigeon Forge which included US150 to Louisville. Sarah was driving and took SR60 instead. The GPS was constantly saying 'off route' and recalculating. After several suggestions to turn around it recalculated a route on the road we were on.
The Capital Plaza parking garage.
Our first stop was planned to be Joe's Crab Shack in Louisville. When we got there they were having some sort of concert in the park next door. The parking lot was completely full so we continued to the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort. We checked in and had pizza delivered. We watched "Battlefield 360" on the History Channel then turned in for the night.
We were up before the alarm this morning and on the road by 8:30. We were both still full from the pizza last night so we didn't have breakfast. I drove us out of Frankfort and we headed east on I-64.
South of Lexington Sarah was ready to eat something and we both needed a bathroom break so we stopped at a McDonalds at exit 95 on I-75. We stopped at 9:23 am for 16 minutes (noted by the GPS). Sarah had some cinnamon bites and I had a Coke. The cheesy breadsticks from the previous night made my tummy a little upset so I left a small part of me in their bathroom. She took over driving duties. I told her to stop at the Dog Patch and I'd drive from there.
All too soon (50 minutes to be exact) we were at the Dog Patch Trading Post in London, KY. The Dog Patch has nice restrooms and all I planned to do was hit the head and then hit the road. Negative. Sarah had to browse the rows of junk for 45 minutes. Finally we were back on the road with me at the wheel.
(Update 2009: Looking back, I wish I had been more patient with Sarah when she wanted to do stuff like browse the junk. It was just something that interested her...and hell...we were on vacation. One of the things she liked to look at there were some decorative markers to place at grave sites. Sarah's mom had died when Sarah was 18 and Sarah's older sister had died in infancy, and she was always looking for things to decorate their graves with.)
On our previous trips to Pigeon Forge we've went the standard route...I-40 to highway 66 into Pigeon Forge. Usually you have to fight traffic all the way through Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. Today the GPS will be taking us on the road less traveled. I mapped a route through Knoxville to US441 then taking Goose Gap Road to our cabin. This will avoid Pigeon Forge altogether.
At 12:36 we stopped at Cracker Barrel just inside Knoxville. After eating for 1:15:33 (the GPS is so cool) we called to get the entry code for the cabin. The official check in time is 4pm but I thought we'd go ahead and get the code. They asked us to call back at 3pm. I guess they don't want you to get there too early?
I don't like driving through cities but the drive through Knoxville wasn't bad at all. Soon we were across the river, out of the city, and on US441. We were way ahead of schedule for cabin entry and Sarah said we should find a Walmart and get some cabin groceries. Not 30 seconds later...
...a Walmart appeared. We killed enough time here (GPS says 35 minutes) that we were able to get the cabin entry code. Once we got through probably a dozen stoplights the cruise down US441 was nice. The GPS would tell upcoming streets and tell you which way to go. Very entertaining. The route was obvious but it was cool to have the GPS helping out..."in 400 feet turn left". We peeled off US441 and onto White School Road, then onto Goose Gap Road. The backroads seem to be very well maintained, and curvy. We turned onto Bluff Mountain Road then took the now familiar route to our cabin.
We arrived at 15:28 (elevation 1727 ft, N35 48.279 W83 39.141). The cabin was as we remembered it and so was the beautiful view.
We don't have plans for tonight other than to unpack and relax. I took a shower and set up the laptop for the internet. I had to use the phone line for dialup. Have I mentioned dialup sucks? I'm surprised someone hasn't set up wireless internet on one of the many cell towers around here. Later we had a visit from the raccoon. There was only one raccoon this year. Last year we had three. We fed him some Cracker Barrel leftovers. After a long, fruitful day we went to bed.
Normally I would insert a map of the day's travel here. I always used Mapquest because you could save the map as a .bmp and post it. However, their lastest version does not allow this anymore. Boooooo, Mapquest, boooooo. Update: I now use Microsoft Streets and Trips to generate the maps.
It was a rainy day today but that's okay. We slept until 11:30. The main plan for today is to watch the Talledega NASCAR race. The race was fun but Sarah's guy (Dale Jr) and my guy (Tony Stewart) got wrecked near the end and finished badly.
After the race we were both getting hungry so we took the backroads (South New Era Road) into Pigeon Forge. We stopped at Logan's Roadhouse and feasted on steak. Then we went down the road to Walmart to pick up some more supplies. When we finished at Walmart it was getting late so went back to the cabin and lounged around.
The raccoon came by again tonight. He even took some food from my hand.
I kept up my tradition and slept in late today, lounged around the cabin, sat on the porch, checked my email. A little after 1 pm we headed into town via the backroads. Sarah drove, and she had an interesting technique for hairpin turns. She pushes in the clutch and coasts around the curve taking her half out of the middle. AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! I cinched the seatbelts extra tight when she was driving. During one of these turns we met a truck coming the other way. To the driver of a dark green Dodge truck...I apologize. I was as terrified as you. Whew! I passed on some manual transmission driving advice to Sarah and it seemed to help. We made it through the trip crash free.
We're going to start our trip at the Nike outlet store. My tennis shoes failed to get packed so I've been wearing the work shoes I had on when the trip started. I usually spend $20 on tennis shoes at Walmart. Today Sarah will make me trendy. An hour later I walked out of the Nike store $227 poorer. But I had trendy Nike shoes and a jacket, and so did Sarah. We walked over to the Sunglass Hut and Sarah looked at Raybans. Too expensive, but I did pick up some cleaning kits. They were 'buy two, get one free'.
I've been told many times by many people that I'm...uh...cheap. One thing I do spend money on is good sunglasses. I wore prescription glasses for over 30 years until I had Lasik surgery in 2000. Since then only Rayban sunglasses have graced my ugly mug.
Sarah went to a couple clothing outlets to look for jeans but didn't find anything that appealed to her. I sat outside and texted my brother who had some Goldwing questions. He was bidding on a couple on Ebay.
Next we drove up the road to Books-A-Million where Sarah the bookworm scored about a half dozen books...all fiction, of course. I tell her if she would read books with some type of relevance she could have her PhD in Astrophysics by now. She just gives me dirty looks. I guess with a boyfriend like me she needs some fantasy to make her happy...HA?
After shopping we were getting hungry so we stopped at a nearby Applebees. After a nice dinner we drove down the strip to see what we could find.
Sarah was in the mood for putt putt and go-karts so we found a place on the strip. We played two games of putt putt at the course that has the octopus and dinosaurs. I won't say who won both games, but it wasn't Sarah. We walked up the road a little and did go-karts on a figure 8 course. I spun out in a wet spot and Sarah got ahead of me. She teased me about it for days. I guess when you're a Dale Jr. fan it doesn't take much to make you happy. (Just joking, Jr.)
It was 7 pm'ish when we finished wandering around. Sarah wasn't ready to go back to the cabin so she took the wheel and headed towards Gatlinburg. Midway to Gatlinburg she turned off on Cove Mountain Road and headed off up the mountain. Her curvy road driving was greatly improved. We made a loop down Hemlock Drive and Flat Branch Road back to US441 then continued onto the Gatlinburg bypass.
Panoramic view from the overlook.
Today Sarah is wanting to go look at waterfalls. I looked online and found some that do not require hiking. Some things I will hike for...waterfalls are not one of them. We found three waterfalls. I entered routes into the GPS. Sarah will drive. It will be good for her to drive down the steep road to our cabin. She did okay going down the hill but I had to school her on the principle of using engine braking with a manual transmission.
We headed west on US321, then turned south on Lyons Springs Road. The GPS was helpful as we navigated unfamiliar roads. At the intersection with Little River Road there was a picnic area pulloff so we stopped there and checked out a bridge and stream. While we were taking pictures from the bridge a couple bikes came by. I especially liked the Fatboy with apehangers. It made me miss my bikes.
Sarah decided it was my turn to drive, so we headed west on Little River Road to our first waterfall...Sink Falls. There is a nice parking area. A few more miles to the west we came upon the pulloff for Meigs Falls. If we continued to head west we would have hit Laurel Creek Road and Cades Cove. Instead we headed back east to Gatlinburg and the Roaring Fork Motor Trail. I'm adding Little River Road and Laurel Creek Road to my list of motorcycle roads to ride in the area.
We took pictures of the falls then headed back to the car. We were walking downhill when I felt something hit me and then I heard a thud. I turned to see my girlfriend lying face down on the side of the road. She had slipped on a muddy spot and highsided herself. I helped her up and brushed her off. I could tell by her wince that something hurt, and it ended up being her right ankle. I helped her to the car and after seeing that it wasn't anything serious I burst out laughing. I would laugh repeatedly about it over the rest of the vacation and beyond. It was funny to turn around and see nothing but her butt and ponytail. I'm still chuckling...
After the big tumble we decided to head back towards the cabin. We were both hungry so we stopped at Shoney's. I assisted Hobbles (her new nickname) inside. The food wasn't as good as last time. Someone really liked adding the salt today. We went back to the cabin and Sarah/Hobbles soaked her ankle in the hottub. I woke up in the middle of the night to a cool sight of a crescent moon over Pigeon Forge. As the sun came up I got another cool shot.
Today Sarah said she felt like driving and exploring so that's what we did. We got up early (8 am'ish) and stopped at Flapjacks. We both wanted pancakes. Sarah's ankle was still tender but she was getting around better. Sarah wanted to check out the Deep Creek area north of Bryson City so after breakfast we headed that way. I missed the Gatlinburg bypass so we went through Gatlinburg.
For some reason Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were dead. When we played putt putt and go-karts the other day we were the only people there. I like it! Usually it's wall-to-wall people.
US441 in the forest is a nice road to drive. Scenic. Curvy. Unfortunately I think we were behind someone's great grandfather in an Escalade. He was slooooowww. By the time we got to the Clingman's Dome turnoff we had at least a dozen cars backed up behind us. I felt a nature call approaching so I peeled off towards Clingman's Dome. I knew from our trip last fall they have nice restrooms. The road is nice and curvy and I was letting the diesel 5-speed Beetle eat up some curves when Sarah warned me that too much more of that would make her breakfast french toast reappear. I turned it down a notch and soon we arrived for a potty break. On the way back we stopped and took pictures of snow still on the ground.
We continued down US441 to Cherokee. We pulled off and I got a couple pops and a map. As I went inside a couple bikes pulled up. One was a Honda ST1300 and the other was a Yamaha FJR. I came back out, drank pop, talked to Sarah, and checked the map. I went to the bathroom (for good measure) and when I came out the two bikes were gone. Sarah said the guys had helped each other put their helmets and gloves on. Hmmmm....
We had considered doing the train ride that leaves from Bryson City. A check of their online schedule showed they only have one train this time of year and it leaves at 10:45 am. That was too early for us today. Maybe some other time.
We continued down US19 to Bryson City and found our way to the Deep Creek trail areas. Sarah saw the trail lengths so we headed back down the road. We took US19 east back through Cherokee. Along the way we passed a Harrah's casino. US19 between Cherokee and the Blue Ridge Parkway is very curvy with large elevation changes. Definitely a great motorcycle road. As we neared Maggie Valley we passed Ghost Town in the Sky (Official website). Our family went here in 1969 when I was 6 years old. I still recognized the roller coaster on the side of the mountain. We continued through Maggie Valley (a nice little town) and turned north on US276 at Dellwood. After we crossed the state line on I-40 we pulled off at a rest area (N35 49.155 W83 09.525).
A few miles up I-40 we turned west onto the eastern portion of the Foothills Parkway. We stopped at the above pulloff so Hobbles could take some pictures. The parkway deadends at Cosby, so we took US321 west back to Gatlinburg. It was another nice road. I don't think there are any bad roads in and around the Smoky Mountains National Park.
Upon arrival to Gatlinburg we checked out the large tramway to Ober Gatlinburg. Sarah has wanted to ride this since we got here. She checked the hours and found it wouldn't be open until Friday. We made a lap around town and found a centrally located parking area ($8...hmmmmm).
Since the big tramway wasn't open we took the skylift up the mountain beside Gatlinburg. It was a fun ride. They have a little giftshop at the top. Hobbles smoked one of many cancer sticks. The trip down was even cooler than going up. The red arrow in the picture is pointing at the Beetle. Back on the ground we went to the Ripley's Haunted House. It was okay but too expensive for me at $29 for both of us. I'm not that into haunted houses. The only thing that scares me is parting with money.
After that we checked out some stores. Sarah has been wanting to get an airbrushed license plate for her car that says "Lady Bug". I call her car 'Gomer' but she doesn't like that name. She also wanted a Dale Jr. sticker for her back window. Last time we were here we found a store that had a Dale Jr. sticker like she wanted. We went to several stores before we found the one we were looking for. I don't remember the name, but it's to the right of the auto museum. A cute little Hispanic girl works there. (Update Sept 2009...Season's Best)
Karma must have been with Sarah. They actually had a license plate with a lady bug already on it. She had them airbrush 'Lady Bug' on it. They also had a new '88 Dale Jr.' decal. She scored big. While they airbrushed the plate we went across the road and ate at Lineberger's Seafood. It was good. After eating well, a successful shopping trip, and nearly 200 miles of scenic driving we headed back to the cabin for some hottubbing and relaxing.
We'd picked up a brochure at Flapjacks for 4-wheeler riding that looked interesting. I ride motorcycles but have never ridden a 4-wheeler. When we got back to the cabin I looked up the prices. $50/hr per person. Holy crap! I wouldn't pay that much for a sexy hooker.
Last year when we stayed here Sarah could never get the dryer to work right. It is one of those all-in-one things. This year we had no better luck, so we had gotten a clothes line at Walmart. I hung the clothes line on the back deck and we dried the clothes the old fashioned way.
I got up this morning, cleaned the rear window of the Beetle, and started to put the Dale Jr. decal on for Sarah. As I was carefully applying the decal it sucked itself to the window creating dozens of wrinkles. D@mnit! Trying to pull the decal off just stretched it so I just ripped it off. I ordered her a larger decal off the internet. (Replacement decal)
Today was a 'piddle around Pigeon Forge' day. We started it off with a trip to Fuddruckers for lunch. Sarah, not a math whiz, ordered a 2/3 pound hamburger because she thought it would be small...bless her heart. Not to be outdone, I did also. Needless to say there was a full doggy bag. The food was great though.
Our next stop was across the road at the Rainforest Adventure Zoo. The Pigeon Forge map I had called this a reptile zoo so I was a little wary that it didn't say 'reptile' anymore. We went in anyways. I was not disappointed. In addition to all kinds of furry creatures, birds, etc., they had lots of reptiles. Especially my favorite...poisonous snakes. We were in there for over an hour.
After the zoo we drove to the southern end of the Pigeon Forge strip. Sarah wanted to check out a bookstore but didn't find any books she liked. We went next door and bought a bunch of gifts and stuff. Next we made a return visit to the putt putt course we'd been to earlier. I retained my title although Sarah improved her score. We both got two holes-in-one. We went to a different go-kart track where the cars were very well matched. I outdrove her in the corners (go Tony Stewart!). She said she had gotten something in her eye...sounds like a Jr. fan.
Sarah was going to cook steaks on the grill so we stopped and got pop and supplies on the way back. Her steaks were excellent, along with the salad and baked potatoes. The raccoon was happy, too. He got the scraps.
Today is our last day in Pigeon Forge. We're going to do the tram to Ober Gatlinburg. First, however, we must have a good breakfast. We stopped at Mel's Diner. We ate here a couple times on our 2007 bike trip.
Our next stop was the Ober Gatlinburg tramway. Gatlinburg was hosting a band competition and there were lots of school buses with high school kids. One bus had just unloaded at the tram ride so we waited to board the next tram. This gave Sarah time to do some shopping. 20 minutes later we boarded the next tram and were headed to Ober Gatlinburg. The tram sways and bounces a little so beware to the faint of heart.
The tram ride ends in a mall. From the mall you can go to an amusement park area or to a bear enclosure. There's even another chair lift to an even higher mountain (Mount Harrison). We decided to go the chair lift. The view from Mount Harrison is peaceful. We sat there for awhile taking it all in. You can even see the tower at Clingman's Dome in the distance.
We came back down to Ober Gatlinburg and did several of the amusement rides. Some sort of water tube ride. It was fun. Sarah screamed all the way down and we got soaked. Next we rode the chair lift about halfway up the mountain to the alpine slide. It was a long track down to the bottom. It would have been more fun but the attendents wouldn't let you go very fast. Next we did the raft ride that goes down a big ramp and you splash into water at the end. Sarah and I were going pretty fast at the end and the 'slow down' section stopped us quickly...throwing us forward and it tweaked Sarah's ankle again.
After that we walked around the mall for awhile. Sarah had some ice cream. Rested, we visited the bear habitat. The middle enclosure was still under construction. It was fun to watch the bears mozy around. I could be a bear. We decided we had all the fun we wanted so we took the tram back down to Gatlinburg. We hopped in the car and took the road back up to Ober Gatlinburg so Sarah could show me a couple places she'd stayed with her family on previous trips down.
We drove back to Pigeon Forge to a Big Boys T-shirt place so Sarah could get some shirts. With the shopping finished we drove back to Gatlinburg and ate at the Smoky Mountain Brewery. The food was excellent and our waitress was tall, blonde, and had an awesome set of hooters which she proudly displayed. God love her. She got a big tip.
With a full stomach and the thought of boobs in my head we made the last trip back to our cabin. We packed up as much as we could and loaded it in the car. The raccoon even came by. He must have known we had a ton of leftovers for him. I skipped hottubbing and just sat on the porch enjoying the scenery. I tried to watch 'Battlefield 360' on the satellite but couldn't get the History Channel. It said it wasn't subscribed. It seemed to have an odd subscription. We went to bed around midnight.
The day to head home...sigh. I looked outside to see that the raccoon had taken the access cover off the hottub. Tricky thing. In fact, he was still hanging around. We chatted for awhile in raccoon talk then he left. I must have offended him. We finished our packing, then made the final check for anything we forgot. Then it was down the mountain one last time and northbound through Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. We stopped at IHOP just north of Knoxville. The omelette I ordered was huge. I only ate half of it. The rest came home for breakfast the next day.
We stopped at a rest stop just north of the Tennessee border and Sarah drove. She drove all the way to Frankfort. That was nice and I even napped a little. I took I-64 into Indiana to avoid the I-64/I-65 interchange of death I hate. Then I did something I haven't done before. I let the GPS tell me where to go. We came up US150 then it had me turn north at Hardinsburg onto a county road. It turned out to be a nice route. Other than a few sharp turns the road was almost arrow straight. The road connected to SR56 in Livonia, then we turned onto SR337 (another nice road) that led us to Orleans. We stopped there for a potty break as Sarah was about to bust. From there it was up SR37 and home.
On our previous two trips to Pigeon Forge we'd taken long weekends. It was nice to stay a whole week. No need to hurry. Plenty of time to sleep late and relax.
The GPS was fun to have. You can download the day's tracks and keep them as souvenoirs of the trip.
Dialup sucks. The slowness is one thing, but the constant disconnects aggravate me to death. Next time I'm going to investigate using my cellphone for an internet connection.
Using the backroads around Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are the way to go. We were never in any bad traffic this trip.
If and when we come back to Pigeon Forge we might see about renting the cabin next door. It has a larger, flat parking area. Probably big enough for parking a motorcycle trailer. Hmmmmmmmmm...
It was nice that Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg were dead during the week. I hate crowds.
Update 2009 - This was the last trip for Sarah and I.