The Last Vacation Day

One thing I have learned through experience that I try to do with every vacation, but especially one involving international travel: Always fly home 2 days before returning to work. Best case, it gives me a day to unpack, do laundry, get caught up on mail, nap at will, and settle back in. Worst case, if Pat gets detained in immigration (or a storm rolls in) and we miss a connection, it gives us an extra day to get home. We have needed that day for travel three times now, but when we don’t, I always appreciate having that day at my disposal. This is doubly true when my body has gone through a time change of more than 3 hours. I don’t do time changes well. Coming back from the West Coast actually messes me up worse than coming back from Europe, but I still need a few days to get back on schedule.

We managed to get into Atlanta last night without incident. The drive from Atlanta to Chattanooga was killer. When I booked our flight, I thought, “Oh, we’ll get into Atlanta at 7:30PM, that won’t be too bad for the drive home.” I failed to add 6 hours to that–our bodies were still on Germany time. To us, it felt like we arrived at 1:30AM. Then, it took another hour by the time we got our luggage and found our car in the “economy” lot (which turned out to cost almost double what the economy lot in Columbus costs). We hadn’t made it half way home before I was nodding off in the passenger seat and Pat was soon struggling to keep his eyes open behind the wheel. We had to stop and find a place to buy some water, stand up, get some fresh air. I don’t know which exit we took (I was probably asleep), but as we drove down the main drag, it seemed every building was boarded up. Some had signs that said “open during construction.” Others look abandoned. I remembered that tornados went through the area earlier in the year before we moved from Columbus and was astounded by the remaining devastation after so many months. We pulled into a gas station that had a trailer for a building. A large building was about halfway built behind the trailer. It’s a creative solution to staying in business. My mind shifted from the misery of being overly tired to the fortune of not having gone through a tornado. Unfortunately, this didn’t keep me awake for long once we were back on the road.

When we pulled into our parking lot, Pat told me that he’d been nodding off again for the last 10 miles. I said that he should have pulled off and found a place to take a nap. He had thought about it, but decided it would be weird to pull off the road so close to home. I replied, “Better weird than dead.” He agreed, but we were already home so it was a pointless conversation. We drug our tired selves upstairs, not even bothering to take all of our luggage with us, and fell into bed.

So, here we are, we’ve made it home without incident and now it’s Sunday morning. I managed to sleep through the night and wake up at 6AM after our long drive home the night before. I have no desire to do laundry or anything else that isn’t vacation-like. However, I don’t want to end up laying on the couch all day because it will slow down my adjustment to the time change. I talk Pat into walking across the bridge for breakfast in the Bluffview Art District. On the way back, we decide to walk down to the aquarium and find out about their River Gorge Explorer tour. They have a really nice boat that they use for tours of the river gorge. We confirm the schedule at the aquarium, but don’t buy any tickets. On the way back to the apartment, I talk Pat into going on the sunset tour tonight. I purchase tickets online when we get home just in case there is a big rush and the boat fills.

We do a little unpacking and a little laundry, but we spend a couple hours relaxing, dozing off and taking a short nap before it’s time to walk back over to the aquarium. We stop in member reception because the online ticketing didn’t have a way to get our membership discount. The guy is extremely nice and apologetic in crediting back the discount. The aquarium also credited us for 3 adult tickets we had purchased when we signed up for our membership. With the $10 we save on the cruise, we’re now exactly even on the cost of the membership–it’s a really amazing deal.

We walk around trying to figure out where we need to be for the boat ride. The boat is still out on the previous tour. When it returns, we watch it spin in the water and then slide sideways over to the dock. When we get on the boat, there is a video playing that explains how it was built and then transported to TN from WA. Two of the boat captains actually picked it up in Florida, tested it, and then brought it up the river to Chattanooga. It’s a very cool boat that goes very fast, but I lost interest in all the details about what it could do. We have to remain seated during the fast portion of the ride. We get up to speeds over 60 MPH, but the captain stops suddenly whenever he’s approaching other river traffic or docks, etc. The wake rises above the windows when we stop, but the guide explains that the fast stops and starts actually minimize the amount of wake, preventing rocking other boats.

The guide is actually a naturalist and, apparently, a history buff. He talks us through the history of the area going back to the Native Americans and the Civil War. He also talks about the wildlife in the area and points out anything that he sees as we go down the river. When we get to a wide open area, the boat cruises slowly and we all go stand up on the deck, watching for wildlife. We pass the convergence of Suck Creek with the Tennessee River and the naturalist explains that before the river was dammed, there was a huge whirlpool at the confluence that would suck down boats, etc. Apparently, it’s still there, just in deeper water. I wasn’t clear if it was still dangerous or not, however. In any case, he solved the mystery of why someone would name a creek “Suck.”

I have brought my big lens in the hope of seeing exciting wildlife, although I’m not exactly sure how well I will be able to shoot from a moving boat. We see many, many Blue Heron. I knew they had recovered well in Ohio after the banning of DDT, but the number along the Tennessee River is amazing. The most exciting bird (to me) we see is the Belted Kingfisher. Unfortunately, we’re too far away for a good shot. We also spot a huge gathering of Turkey Vultures circling above the river. I keep my eyes peeled for masses of dead fish floating on the water, but we never do spot what’s attracted them. While Vultures are always a little creepy, having had a large die-off of fish in our pond when we lived in the country many years ago, I have tremendous gratitude to vultures–I didn’t have to clean up a single dead fish.

When we return to the dock, we are all invited to go up on the deck to watch the captain spin the boat 360 degrees using a remote control. We stand on the boat while it spins. Then, the captain steers it sideways to the dock using the same remote. It’s a little crazy that a boat can maneuver like that. As we de-board and walk up the dock, we discover the lights on the pier have interesting patterns that shift as we move. We can see these lights from our apartment, but they just look like normal lights with interesting shapes from across the river. Up close, the light shoots up a post that has metal shaped in parabolas and a metal reflector at the top. The parabolas reflect the light so that it looks like the entire post is in motion as we walk. The reflector at the top doesn’t appear lit at all looking at it from below, but from across the river, it looks like it is the source of the light.

As we return home crossing the bridge, we discuss our day and decide that it was the perfect last day of vacation.

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