Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mississippi River can't keep us apart....

This year's vacation was going to be a new sort of vacation for me. That's right, a vacation with no planning.

Steven declared early on that we were to make NO reservations ahead of time, schedule nothing to constrain our time and take everything as it came.

So, we did.

We left out at 9:30 am which was going against everything I had ever been taught about vacation. That's right....."Thou shalt not leave house later than 7:00 a.m. on the first morning of vacation".

We drove for about 2 hours and ended up stopping in Mtn. View, MO. The town is only a bump in the road, but there was a nice little park that we decided would be perfect for a picnic lunch. With fried chicken from the night before, and drinks from the cooler, we ate and contemplated the beginning of our vacation.

After letting the kids run off some extra energy that they had accumulated from two hours in the car, we hit the road.

It wasn't much after this that I realized, and fully appreciated, a fear that I have developed since being a parent: Bridges.

Yes, bridges.

Isn't it crazy? As we drove over the bridge connecting Missouri to a very small portion of Illinois, and crossed the Mississippi River, I could almost feel the anxiety in my chest as my mind raced wondering that if, yes, if, the bridge were to collapse, what exactly would my plan be to get my children - and myself - out of the vehicle and to safety.

Steven? Well, Steven was on his own.

We no more than made contact with land before we crossed over another huge bridge, this time crossing the Ohio River, if I remember correctly. I have to admit that when we crossed the second bridge into Kentucky, I had the same sense of relief and completion that I have when a plane's wheels make contact with the runway.

Yes. I know. I need therapy.

That evening we arrived in Nashville, checked out the Opryland Resort, grabbed something to eat and started looking for a hotel. Of course, the only requirement was that the hotel MUST HAVE a pool.

We scoped out several places and did the required "drive around" until we saw the "perfect one". The kids enjoyed playing in the pool and would have been satisfied if that would have been the only place we stayed for the duration of our vacation.

That night as the kids and Steven lie sleeping in bed, I found myself warring with the idea of not having a place already lined up for us to stay in, in Gatlinburg. I got online and found a cabin that was available for the next two evenings. I roused Steven from his sleep and he muttered something that sounded a lot like "do whatever", and so I booked the cabin and crossed my fingers.

There is, after all, only so much you can find out about a place online. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but I am a talker and I need more like a million.


The next morning we left, heading towards Gatlinburg, and the kids were being troopers.

We stopped at a rest stop in Tennessee and they played a game of tag. Afterwards they watched about an hour of a movie. There was only once when Mr. B decided that maybe he had had enough of Miss L and he just wanted some peace and quiet. This is how he decided to achieve it. I think it was a good alternative to handle the situation:

Maybe we should try this tactic at home..... I think I definately will.

Once in Pigeon Forge, we knew we were close to our destination. We stopped, picked up supplies, grabbed our place in traffic and made our way to our cabin.

Once there, I realized that the cabin was, incidentally, perfect for us.

Rustic looking- for Steven, modern conveniences (like internet)- for me and a hot tub for, um, the kids.

From this pic, I am not sure what they like more......the hot tub OR each other? Something is fishy.......

Maybe they were just being EXTRA good to prepare us for a long night spent walking the streets of Gatlinburg and playing "Dukes of Hazzard" miniature (indoor) golf.

Yes. Dukes of Hazzard.
To be honest, I don't care if I see another picture of Boss Hog for a long, long time.


The next day we grabbed some pop tarts, some gas and some groceries and headed towards the National Park. The first area of interest, that we came upon, was Laurel Falls. I knew that this was supposed to be really pretty (thanks, TSK), so we stopped, got out and prepared to hike a little over a mile to see the falls.

After hiking a little over a 1/4 of the way, we came upon a hiker returning to the parking area. He told us that up ahead, a little over 100 yards, was a mother bear and two cubs.

It was at this point that I realized another fear of mine: my kids being attacked by a bear. Considering that there have only been "supposed" sightings of bears around our house, and no actual documentation of one, I don't have to actively worry about this at home. Here, confronted with a mother bear and two cubs, the fear seemed a little more real.

As we continued on, Steven and the kids excitedly closing the gap between themselves and the bear siting, I found myself thinking of what I could do to prevent us from being featured on the nightly news.

"Miss L, don't smack your gum and keep your mouth closed...."

Steven turned around and said, "Why does she have to keep her mouth closed?"

"Because.....I read that bears can SMELL food. We can do what we can to keep from tempting them.."

I think it was at this moment that I was completely solidified in Steven's mind as being totally crazy.

Truthfully, I am surprised it took this long.


As we reached the area that where the bears had been spotted, we found a few other people trying to get a good view.

Steven took the kids over to where the view was better. We were so excited that we all had the chance to see, not one, but three bears, out in the wild.

Although you had to peek through some pretty heavy brush cover, you could, indeed, see bears.

And, surprisingly, they didn't try to attack us....... Probably because they didn't smell Miss L's gum due to my wonderful advice and motherly instinct.

After this encounter I relaxed a little. Although the bear was, no doubt, very strong, I felt sure that Steven could, at the very least, put up a good enough fight that the kids and I could make it back to the truck in time.

Isn't that what husbands are for?

Finally we made it to the falls.....and it was beautiful. The kids took off their shoes and put their feet into the cold mountain water....

They loved it!

They also liked climbing on the rocks to "explore" and go on "adventures" surrounding the fall area.

We made our way back to the truck and couldn't wait to call Aunt Sissy. You see, Aunt Sissy and Uncle Jason had went on vacation to Colorado with Mi Mi and PaPa.

Steven didn't want to go.

At the time I pouted and complained and it was only made worse by a phone call from Aunt Sissy informing us that she had, indeed, seen a bear. I was so jealous....

But now....yes now..... we had seen three! Life was good. As I picked up the phone to make "the call" I realized that we had no service..... and wouldn't for the rest of the day.
So much for bragging..... it would have to wait.

We made our way down the road and found a nice picnic area along side a stream. We sat on a log and ate our picnic lunch.


As we continued on towards Cade's Cove, we passed by an apparent local attraction. It seemed to be where two mountain streams combined and then converged into one stream. At this junction there were adults and kids of all ages swimming, and floating in the water. People could be seen jumping off rocks in the form of cannonballs, only to surface with their teeth chattering and their lips turning blue.

I could only imagine how cold the water must be.

Of course, Miss L, only thinking of her love of water wanted to stop and swim. Mr. B, however, was just buying time until the evening, knowing that we had promised him a trip to Pigeon Forge to take his turn driving Go Carts. Steven told her that on our way back through, we would stop at the water "and wade".


We made our way to Cade's Cove and the beginning of the 11 mile loop. I love history and everything the discovery of it brings with it and it seemed as if this was the place for me!

Our first stop was the cabin of the first settler in Cade's Cove.

(I think Miss L likes to pose....)

We then got on the loop road and continued on. We turned off on a gravel road to head toward an 1800's Baptist Church.

It was a narrow road and we approached a car that was heading back to the loop road. We both commented on this car and how, instead of hugging her side of the road, she was somewhat in the middle of the road, preventing us from passing her.

It was then that I noticed her wildly waving at us to look to our left.

So, I looked.

Before my mind even had time to register what I was seeing, my body was moving. In one fluid motion I grabbed my camera, turned it on, crawled over the console, kneed Steven in the groin and hung the upper half of my body out of his, the driver's side, window to capture this shot:

OK, so now we had seen four bears.


We stopped and enjoyed a couple other churches and cabins. We were a short distance away from the mill area which had several historical buildings and a visitors center, when I noticed a group of people standing on the side of the road, outside of their cars. As we narrowed the distance we noticed that there was also park rangers....doing their version of traffic control. As we passed by, some of the bystanders started pointing up. It was at this point that I leaned forward and looked up out of the windshield and noticed a bear, above us on a limb.

Now, we had seen five bears.

With every bear siting, the size of the bears grew, as did the story the kids were going to recount to Aunt Sissy.

At the visitor's center, Miss L picked up a little stuffed black bear and showed it to me. Considering that the kids had asked for nothing, I told them that they could pick out a souvenir to take home.

Miss L, being practical and sentimental, clung to the original stuffed bear she had spotted. Mr. B, on the other hand, said he wanted a stuffed Robin.

"But Mr. B", I exclaimed, "a bear would remind you of our trip! Think of how many bears we have seen!'

To which he replied, "Yeah, but I saw a lot of birds too..... I want the bird!"

And so, he got the bird.

We toured the old buildings, took many pictures and made wishes in the water trough of the old mill.

As we left, we again returned to the loop road and immediately spotted an old cemetery, with only a few cars. We turned into the cemetery lane and parked and got out. As we walked up to the few people there, they began to point and show us that up in the tree there was a mother and her three cubs.

Yes. Three cubs.

Nine bears total. (Take that Aunt Sissy!)

(Baby bear taking a nap...)

I only had time to take a picture or two before another bystander shouted, "The mother's coming down...."

Now, although I had only finished reading my "what to do during a bear encounter" manual, my mind erased any trace of the rule about not running. Because, I will be the first to tell you that I am a follower and when complete strangers find it necessary to run from the mother bear....then I follow right behind them and run too.

Miss L was in front of me and Steven and Mr. B were behind.

Or so I thought.

Primal fear, instinct, or maybe it was just a really good understanding of my husband, made me turn around and take inventory.

Miss L in front. Mr. B behind. Steven still watching the mother bear.

I picked up Mr. B and scooted Miss L along until we reached the truck. I quickly deposited them inside and told them to stay put.

I watched the mother bear turn and head into the woods. She looked bigger than the others and I was thankful that I didn't have to sacrifice Steven to her.

It might not have been a fair fight after all.

As I took my place along Steven I watched as the three cubs, one by one, decided to follow their mother.

Although I am not sure why I had the preconceived notion that bears descended from trees much in the same way a cat did, I quickly found out that I was wrong. In fact, I would liken it to that of a firefighter sliding down a pole.



We headed back towards the cabin and as we closed in on the swimming hole, Steven and I found ourselves trying to make a deal with Miss L.

You see, we had been out the whole day and it was already after six. We saw that we could bypass the National Park and take a Hwy straight into Pigeon Forge. However, if the kids swam (in their clothes) we would have to go through the National Park and go on into Gatlinburg to our cabin and THEN go to Pigeon Forge.

The kids agreed that they would just wade in the water and then we would go straight into Pigeon Forge, eat and ride Go Carts.

Everything was fine and well until Mr. B, slipped and fell into the water.

Plan aborted.

We were obviously going to have to head to the cabin, after all, and change his clothes. I gave Miss L the "green light" to go ahead and get wet.

And she did.

And although her teeth were chattering, her lips were blue and goosebumps covered her body, she was "NOT COLD".

Mr. B, was cold and decided that swimming in the water wasn't for him. Instead, he threw stones while trying to keep from succombing to hypothermia.

After they decided they had enough, we stripped them down to their skin, wrapped them up in their blankets, and drove 30 miles to our cabin with our naked babies in the back.


The next day we decided to head towards Chattanooga, TN. Once there we took in the Incline Railway (major anxiety trigger for me) and the "largest model train in the South".

(Incline Railway, 73% grade)

The kids were intrigued by the mechanical make-up of the Incline Railway and wanted to see how it worked. A nice man that worked there told us where to go to see the pullies in motion.

The kids loved it. Mr. B echoed my own thoughts...."What happens if one of the cables break?"

He is SO my child.

Both Miss L and Mr. B were thrilled with the detail of the model railroad. Of course, this wasn't your average model railroad. It was approximately 100' x 15'. The life like scenary and props brought it all to life.

They sat in silence, moving up and down, different parts of the track, for right at an hour.


Once we left the Chattanooga - Choo Choo, we decided to search for a hotel and turn in early for the night.

Although when we left we had no deadline, or itinerary, I found that once the truck started back West, it was really hard not to head on home.

We were ready. The kids were ready.

They had been troopers the whole way. Although I had packed movies, snacks, coloring books and Leapsters, they found themselves entertained by the new and exciting scenes that passed by their truck windows.

They never once slept in the truck. No naps. Nothing.

They watched about an hour of a movie and never turned the DVD player on again.

I couldn't have asked for better, more content, children.


That night we stayed in Murfreesboro, TN. The next morning we decided that we would sleep in our own beds that night.

And on our way home, in the same town that we kicked off our vacation, we ended it. Mtn. View, MO.....this time a different park, but fun just the same. The first park had a airplane in it and this park had a caboose. The kids spotted it on the very first day and we vowed to take them to see it on our way back through.

We kept our promise and the kids enjoyed their last hoorah before we arrived at home. Five days prior we had contemplated our vacation and this time we reminisced it.

Five days. Four nights.

We had a blast.
Still, there is NO place like home....


~*Michelle*~ said...

Can you adopt me and take me on your next vacation?!


What an amazing are now in my top five fun people. That cabin.....oh Lord, I would have expected the Pearly Gates right at the beginning of the road leading up to it. All that and internet AND a hot tub?


The Next Phase said...

Great trip! Thanks for sharing all the great memories...takes me back to our trips out west when I was a teenager. I absolutely LOVE that you left without a plan because, let's be honest, there is NO way I could do that so I know how hard it had to be for you!!!

Manda said...

AWESOME!! it looks exactly like the cabin my sis stayed in!! and i KNOW those exact is awful narrow, isnt it? i try to be in the passenger seat if at all possible so as to have quicker access to my kids when we fall over the edge....

Mama Goose said...

Seriously, can I come on the next trip too? What an awesome time you guys had. (though a few too many bears for my nerves...) I LOVE that cabin. It looks perfect!

The Sour Kraut said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed your trip.

My irrational anxiety is with waterfalls. I freak out if the boys go anywhere near the edge. I'm fearful of deep water.

9 bears? That's awesome!