Beautiful site, but no solar happening
Another national park visited and a long stretch of rain, rain, rain. We got just enough breaks to be able to get out and enjoy the park. And what a spectacular park this is. We went through the little town of Townsend, where I dropped Richard off on his bike and he rode the national park road up to the campground. That was dodgy in terms of traffic, but there were plenty of pull outs so that cars could pass him. They were also all giving him a wide berth. No one needs to speed on a national park road, so that usually ends up being pretty safe.
Blacked out Black Bear
I was playing leap frog with him in case it started raining, and pulled in to the campground with Dory at the same time. There was a growing crowd around a ranger truck, which I knew meant some kind of interesting wildlife was there. Sure enough, a female black bear was lying on the truck bed, very very asleep. The rangers explained that she had wandered into a “bad place,” so they trapped her. When they do this, apparently they do all kinds of medical tests to find out about the bear. Then they release them and the bears learn not to go to those places anymore. While they were doing this, they let people quietly take selfies and even let kids touch the bear. They put her feet into straps and hung her upside down to get her weight: 67 lbs and man was she out cold. I felt funny watching the whole thing, but Dory was happy to get a selfie.
Cades Cove Loop: The Best Ride Ever
Then we pulled into our site and it started to rain. We walked over to the campground store, where they have some of the best soft serve campground ice cream ever. We tried to get on to the campground wifi with limited success, and then we just got our bearings for the bike loop we planned for the next day.
Same saddle as the Townie E-bike we rented for me in Grand Canyon
I don’t know if I knew this at the time I was making reservations, or if I just got lucky, but they close the Cades Cove Loop to cars on Wednesdays. I had purchased a new saddle for my bike and had it shipped to my Little Rock friend, just for this purpose. Turns out, even if I don’t end up getting an E-bike, I can totally get a super comfy E-bike saddle. This turned out to be a game changer for me. I can’t pass Richard on a ride, but I can endure being on a bike all day long without consequences to the crotch.
I highly highly recommend doing this loop road on a bike on a Wednesday with no cars. This was an all time high for both of us. The park is so lush and beautiful, and full of bears. We saw at least five of them, literally frolicking in the meadows. They were at a nice safe distance, just close enough that we could see their friend shaped ears, but far enough away from their ‘not actually friends’ nature.
John Oliver’s House
We saw numerous historic dwellings and lots of churches. We also saw a barn owl and several turkeys making people stop and look, because they thought they might be bears. Everyone on the trail was having so much fun!
Total bikie scene
We stopped about mid way at a nice Visitor Center and had lunch. We both geared up for the rain, and you may notice the special appearance of Richard’s rain kilt! This has been great for hiking, but not so much for biking. It is a skirt, after all, and ended up dragging on his rear wheel, making it all dirty and gross. But otherwise, we were fine all day in light rain. It was one of our best days in memory.
Perhaps to balance out our travel equilibrium, the next day was equally challenging. When you are traveling for a fairly long time, there are bound to be days when it just all falls apart. This was one of those days, mostly triggered by weather, but also by the stress of Richard trying to juggle work and travel. It’s really hard to be in and out of service, and it’s really hard to accommodate your traveling partner’s needs and desires. All of that is normal and happens with every long journey. Usually it’s ok and we figure it out, but the rain really makes it that much harder. For our second full day in the park, we could have stayed in the campground and gone on a rainy hike. Instead, we went on a rainy drive to the Sugarlands Visitor Center and drove up about half of the way on highway 441 to the summit, mostly in order for me to assess the road without taking Dory on it. The Little River Gorge Road is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and Richard will now admit that yes, it was. But he was hoping to bike it. The rain, combined with heavy traffic, made it not doable, and that made him grumpy. The Visitor Center had excellent wifi, just enough for Richard to try unsuccessfully to get something done for work. His frustration was mounting as we then drove up the road in the worsening weather. By the time we got back to Dory, where everything was damp and not drying out, he was really feeling it.
We did get out of the car for a quick out and back hike up to Laurel Falls. That was pretty and we didn’t even get rained on. There were lots of other people on the trail though. We heard from a ranger that this national park is one of the most visited places in the country. Part of that might have to do with the fact that there are no entry kiosks or national park fees. You do have to pay for a parking tag, which is one of the only ways the park can get money. Highway 441 runs straight through it and lots of people come from Gatlinburg for day trips.
When the scenery makes you think of words like “lush” and “jungle,” you should not be surprised by lots of rain
I share the hard times as well as the good times, just to retain a level of honesty here. This reminds us later that we’ve gotten through the tough spots together. In fact, when I got back in service, I looked at the pictures from last summer’s trip to remind us both that we were losing it over the rain then too. Richard sometimes gets into a mode where it feels to him like the universe it trying to make him miserable and just dump water specifically over him. He looks in a panic for ways to escape, and usually there aren’t any immediately good options. This often triggers my route planning defensiveness, all in a glorious co-dependent negative feedback loop. So the next time we are feeling travel beaten, I will offer future us some advice: first, it’s going to be ok. No seriously. At some point, it will stop raining and the towels will dry out. Also, KOAs are really incredibly restorative. Next time it’s getting tough, just find a KOA for a day or two. Hookups and laundry and wifi can make a world of difference. That’s a spoiler alert for our next stay, but I can give a full throated reassurance that the travel joy is back, as I sit here in excellent wifi, waiting for the towels and sheets to come out of the dryer. Richard is out riding and there are blue skies here and there, all around us.
Total miles from Edgar Evins: 160.7, 17.5 mpg, 6 hours 40 min. Site B60 no hookups, no solar, no cell service. Dump located in C loop with potable water. Good dump. Service back in Townsend or wifi at Sugarlands Visitor Center. “wifi” behind store in amhpitheater, but mostly didn’t work.