I consider July to be the mid-point of summer and 4th of July the 2nd in a trifecta a summer holidays (Memorial, 4th and Labor). Back in the days when life centered around work, I looked forward to these 3-day weekends, determined to make every minute count. Numerous backpacks, city visits and family time was carefully planned and executed. Over the years, I squeezed out every last drop of summer holidays.
This morning I lounged in bed with Katie, drinking coffee and catching up with online postings. After 4.5 years of retirement, I am still grateful for the unhurried mornings that look like this, and I am still in awe that I get to choose how to spend my time…every single day.
Life has changed in other ways too. Now on weekly rotation, this little 14-month-old is lighting up our Tuesday evenings. Recently steady on her feet, she is full of babbles, giggles, dancing and has cute little hugs to share. She is beginning to take a shine to her “Grandpa” and follows him around the house. She also likes to jump up and down on the bed and fall into the pillows, a practice that keeps John and me on our feet to keep her off the floor. Que peals of little girl laughter!
And the weekday hiking continues. Last Tuesday our group decided to hike one of the least-used trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Roundtop Trail. The trail begins in the Metcalf Bottoms area of the park near the GSMNP northern boundary. It climbs 1000′ in the first 2.5-miles, then mostly drops for the next 5.0-miles.
Tuesday was cooler than recent days, but still quite warm. The trail is mostly shady, which protected us from intense sun, but the lush vegetation held in a fair amount of humidity. This was a tradeoff that we agreed was worthwhile. Now if we could have chased away the annoying gnats that kept buzzing our eyes and ears!
Roundtop trail was not particularly well maintained. Several downed trees along with overgrown vegetation provided interesting challenges, not the least of which, for me, was the possibility ticks finding their way to my legs. Ticks are my least favorite inhabitant of the Smokies, and I am not very charitable when I find one.
The next day, we kept the Smokies in rotation, deciding to bicycle Cades Cove Loop Road. While Roundtop Trail is the least-used trail in the Smokies, Cades Cove has the highest concentration of visitors in the park, 2.1 million people annually. For this reason, the traffic jams and the people, we infrequently visit the Cove. Thing is, when we do, it always takes my breath away. (Note: the GSMNP receives over 14.1 million visitors annually throughout its 522,427 acres).
Tucked in amongst with the majestic beauty of the Cove, the history of the area settlers has been carefully preserved. The history provides visitors with a glimpse into the settlers lives, their hardships and deaths (often far too early). The cabins, churches and cemeteries are worth exploration, but on this visit, we weren’t there for the history. We have long since explored each log cabin, cantilevered barn, rustic church and walked through most of the surrounding graveyards. We were there to bicycle, to climb and descend some challenging hills and to be inspired by the mountains and valley before us.
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motorized vehicles on Wednesday. This provides the Park Service a way to safely accommodate bicycles, walkers and runners. Unfortunately, the number of Wednesday participants is high and while a team of volunteers on e-bikes patrol the 11-mile loop, it is hard to keep it accident free. With varying levels of skill and lack of focus on other participants, accidents happen, every Wednesday. We witnessed one that required an ambulance and it had occurred before 10:00 am. I expect others, of various intensities happened during the balance of the day.
We did finish our ride, accident free. The backside hills were more challenging than I remembered but provide a motivation for another ride before Wednesdays are returned to motorized vehicles in the fall. We finished the ride with a small picnic in the Cades Cove picnic area.
Finally, training has begun in earnest for a late summer backpack. As in previous years, we started step climbing. We utilize the series of steps that encircle “The Hill” at the University of Tennessee. One can climb as many steps as desired by circling the hill over and over. We started with a modest 503 steps. The thing about step climbing is you also have to go down. I don’t count the down.
So that is life around here recently. Now back to getting ready for that backpack….