Thursday morning I rose early. There was a room full of things that had to be collected, packed and then packed into the Explorer. I knew already that my packing was going to be nothing more than wadding, twisting and shoving. It was either going into one of the two suitcases, the bag that was designed for something else but had been drafted and if those were full- Wal-Mart bags would work. I sent James to get some ice- just enough to keep the sandwich meat cool until we get a bag of ice. Once I had everything packed(?) I went down on the elevator to fetch a cart to haul everything on. Back up at the room James helped me get the cart loaded and then we moved everything to the car. Things packed so much easier --and better--as we were preparing to go on vacation, this looked like something that had been poured out of a blender. Looks aside, everything was in the Explorer..all that was left was making a last examination of the room to make sure we hadn't left anything-any where. Once I had checked every inch of space and made sure the room was half way decent as far as all of the trash was in or beside the trash can, the bed linens were at least on the bed not the floor while the dirty towels were on the floor beside the tub. The counter space was clean, the fridge was empty as was the microwave. It was time to turn in the keys.
My husband was waiting in the lobby for me and James, handing me a cup of coffee he waited as I turned in the keys and acknowledged we were checking out. It had been a nice and interesting adventure but now it was ending and we were turning our thoughts toward home. Right after breakfast.
On Wednesday we had eaten breakfast at Shoneys, the breakfast bar was good, but it was too much for us on this morning so we turned in at a fall back favorite and made our way into the Cracker Barrel. While were ate we discussed what we were going to do. James said he was going to hang around a while then head for home. My husband looked at me and told me "If you still want to go to the waterfall we'll go." I wasn't giving up that opportunity. With a big smile and nod I was happy..and ready to go before he changed his mind.
I was worried about making it there without problems since I didn't have my navigator this trip, but I made it. It really wasn't difficult, if you didn't turn, you drove into a field, since I didn't want to run off into any fields- I turned.
We drove past all of the points of interest, we had already seen them. I wanted to see the falls. Following the slow line of cars traveling around the scenic loop we finally arrived at the road leading to where I was wanting to go. Parking the car we got the cameras and a bottle of water for each of us. Crossing the parking area we were met by a park ranger who asked if we had enough water. She told us that we really needed more than what we had. I shrugged and went back for more. I rearranged my camera bag and put the water bottles in it being I didn't have anything else. Returning to where my husband waited he took the bag and we smiled at the Ranger and started off. I was excited, my husband not so much.
I'll give him credit for trying. He did, he really did try. But his lack of exercise, his job sitting behind the wheel of that big rig and his excess weight did him in. A half mile into that five mile hike he gave up. He told me he was going back but I could go ahead if I wanted. I asked if he was sure and when he told me he was I took one bottle of water and headed off at a fast pace. I didn't want to leave him waiting on me too long. We did have to go home after all and that was going to take a while in itself. The sign said a three to four hour hike. I wondered if I could do it in less?
It didn't take me long to wonder about my intelligence - or lack of, my sanity and my ability to do this crazy thing. The one thing that held strong was my determination. Each step was one closer to my goal. Unfortunately for me some of those steps were uphill, steeply uphill. Roots and rocks littered the trail and I won't admit -loudly- how many times I nearly tripped because I wasn't watching where I was going or I wasn't lifting my feet high enough.
I talked to some very interesting and friendly people along the way. It was quite the variety of people taking this hike, from elderly to the very young carried in backpacks. Single people and families all were making this hike. Each were friendly in their own ways. I was enjoying this---right up until I reached that first "bridge" A half long placed across the creek with a handrail. Thankfully neither this bridge or any of the ones to follow were very high, it was just the thought of trying to cross and not slip. The bridges didn't slow me down very much, I was still determined.
Finally reaching the falls, tired, hot and way out of breath I was disappointed in how many people were gathered there. It was going to be difficult to get a good photo. There was a gentleman and his daughters over near the falls taking pictures, lots of pictures. I waited as patiently as I could in my tired condition. Finally they finished with their photo shoot and moved away. It had only been at most ten minutes but it seemed like hours. I fired off around ten shots then turned and headed back the way I had came.
Along the route back I stopped every once in a while to take a photo. I captured the trail, the creeks and even places in the river when I could get down to it without problems. I passed people who would in turn a few minutes later pass me. We passed people going in the opposite direction. I did not do to them what had been done to me "You're about ten minutes away". The first time I heard that I had to have been forty minutes from the falls..that was mean.
As I recognized points I could guess approximately how much further I had to go. I was overjoyed when I turned the bend in the trail and saw that bridge. I glanced down at my watch, that three to four hour hike had taken me just over two hours. The ranger smiled at my return and told me she bet I was glad I had more water. I told her that actually since my husband had turned back all I had with me was the one bottle. Trust me, I had nursed that bottle, carefully rationing it along the way up and back. But yes- I was more than ready for more water and as soon as I reached the car I found another bottle. Another thing I did was dig a pair of shorts out of the suitcase. I had been wearing jeans and I was melting. Taking advantage of the restroom I quickly changed.
Returning to the car I settled in for the long drive ahead of us. We had filled the gas tank up the night before so I was not going to have to stop. We crept around the scenic loop watching out the windows for wildlife. I was still hoping to see a bear but it simply wasn't to be. Not this trip. Once we were out of the loop we turned the car in the direction of Pigeon Forge. I called James to see where he was, if he was still in Pigeon Forge then maybe we could head back together. He was already at home and wondering where we were. Oh, um, well- its going to be a while before we get there. Then... a rare thing happened. As I drove I was able to remember landmarks just as I had on the trail. I knew approximately where we were and how long to the next turn. Reaching the light at Pigeon Forge we turned and were finally on the way home. Adjusting the air conditioning, my sunglasses and the radio, water bottle within easy reach..I was ready.
I drove, and I drove and I drove. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever arrive at 40. I was remembering things from past visits so I knew I was on the right track. I just didn't remember it being so far. I did finally find it after getting my husband annoyed at my lack of confidence in my own sense of direction. The one thing that my husband should be glad of, is that I was wanting to get home as badly as he was, otherwise I'd have stopped several times along the way for pictures. We did stop once for coffee. I was more than ready to stop. Once parked I opened the door and stood slowly. Every muscle ached. It took longer than it should for me to fully straighten. That first step had me looking like a toddler first learning to walk. It was embarrassing but the pain and stiffness eased quickly. The thoughts of coffee helped.
Back on the road everything was going well right up until the wind picked up. Remember, I'm driving a Ford Explorer, down a mountain..with winds that were determined to give me a difficult time. I was holding onto that steering wheel with all I had and we were still being blown about. I watched the road ahead of me praying the winds would die down. I began to ache from the shoulders all the way down to the tips of my fingers. Only once did it manage to frighten me, that was the time that the vehicle was actually pushed almost into the lane beside of us. There was a nice big truck coming up quickly. I didn't want to be where it did.
Gaston County was a very welcome sight. My husband asking if I wanted to stop and pick something up for supper was a welcome suggestion. Even though I wanted to go home, the thoughts of not cooking had me quickly agreeing to what ever he wanted to stop for. Fried chicken secured in the back seat we headed for the house.
The Dirt Road was a beautiful sight to see. The remnants of the puddle at the end of our driveway a welcome sight. Parking the car I watched the dogs in their excitement of seeing us. James came out to help bring things in. I watched as they piled everything but the food in the living room floor. Yep, we're home. And it feels so good.