Having decided to spend Labor Day weekend in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we first have to make it there. As we head out of Chattanooga with our entire plan being:
- Drive to South Entrance
- Find an available front-country campsite
I am somewhat nervous that our trip will implode. But as we head off of highway 75 and into Cherokee National Forest, I have to relax. The woods surround the roadway and we drive along a river that appears to be a popular white water rafting destination. I give up counting rafts after about 50–the river is swarming with them. I’m glad we’re not rafting today–it’s a bit too crowded for my tastes. But the people in rafts all smile and look happy, which is the point. As we twist and turn along the river’s edge, watching rafters, kayakers, and fishermen, we realize we haven’t had lunch. Just about that time, we see a large lodge-like building on the edge of the river just ahead. We pull in and discover a visitors center at the 1996 Olympics Kayaking course. The river has been altered here to create an olympic shoot of rapids that probably all have special names, but I’m afraid I didn’t take the time to read all of the signs explaining the course. We watch both kayakers and rafters take the course one-by-one. One man in a kayak rolls over in the middle of a big rapid, but bounces right back up again, looking like he meant to do that. I like kayaking in sea kayaks–the kind that you couldn’t roll if you stood on one edge and jumped up and down. The notion of being tied into a boat and hanging upside down in rapids just doesn’t appeal to me, although I suppose it’s something I may end up learning how to do someday just out of shear curiosity. (What’s that about cats?)
After watching for a while and even getting a few shots, we walk into the downstairs of the visitors’ center and find a cafe. The man and teenaged boy working there appear to be father and son. The son pitches their curried macaroni salad and baked potato salad enthusiastically as well as their “vintage” sodas. We get one of each along with a ham sandwich, a grape Nihi and some specialty root beer. I ask the teenager what year it was made. He looks puzzled and I remind him that it’s supposed to be vintage. He cracks up, revealing a mouth full of gums. It’s nice to make a teenager laugh, especially when he might be self-conscious about his smile.
Selecting a table with a view of the kayak course, we discover an interesting large insect parked on our table. I’m not sure what s/he is–but it’s large and green with the longest antenna I’ve ever seen. I get out my macro lens and do my best to shoot it without making it move. I didn’t have much to worry about–I don’t think an earthquake would have gotten that guy hopping.
The teenager brings our food to us and we settle down to eat. The curried macaroni salad is more interesting than most macaroni salads, but it’s still macaroni salad. The baked potato salad tastes just like a baked potato with sour cream and chives. It’s really nice. We finish our food quickly and sip on our sodas (we can’t call them “pop” anymore now that we’ve moved out of Ohio) that taste like they were definitely made recently. I have a craving for ice cream and the cafe has a freezer full of frozen treats including Ben and Jerry’s ice cream bars. However, we decide to use the restrooms before getting ice cream and when we return, about a dozen people appeared from no where and lined up to get food. Deciding it’s not worth it to wait in line, we head back towards the car.
As we come up the steps to the parking lot, there are several people coming towards us. Two of them are shirtless young men who look like they spend all of their spare time in the gym. I really barely noticed, but I catch my sandal on a step and trip going up the stairs, which, of course, makes Pat think I’m so distracted by these shirtless wonders that I can’t walk straight. Pat has known me for over 15 years and he’s seen me trip going up stairs about 90% of the time, so we both know that the fact that this time there happened to be a couple of shirtless men on the stairs at the same time is completely unrelated, but both of us laugh hard at the sheer silliness of it.
We return to the car and head on up the road. When we get a stretch that is traffic free, Pat opens it up a little and enjoys the enhancements he’s made to the car over the years. It’s a fun car to drive. Pat is the master of making cars last forever and this BMW is no exception. Plus, we’ve invested a little money into making it more fun, so Pat gets his money’s worth as we lean into the turns on sticky tires and a sport suspension, accelerating out of each turn with verve. Unfortunately, the break in traffic doesn’t last long, plus, it’s getting hot enough to require air conditioning for comfortable driving and air conditioning just ruins the whole driving experience. Pat settles back down and I get comfortable in my seat, finding my eyes closing with a full stomach and the sunshine coming through the glass. Sometimes I think that if I could put a bed in a car, I would sleep a sound 8 hours every night. I lean the seat back and give in to the need for an afternoon nap.