23rd November 2006
View from the Space Needle in Gatlinburg looking east at frost-covered Mt. Leconte, Elevation 6593′
We left Birmingham much later than we expected as Brian worked to get his presentation ready. We picked up dinner at Sonic on our way out of town, and finally got on the road at about 7pm. It was a longer drive than we expected, and we finally, thankfully, pulled into our hotel at 1:30am Friday morning. Before we left, Brian had been telling Analise that we might see snow because the night’s forecast was to be cold with a chance of flurries. She talked about it off and on all the way there. And after sleeping soundly for several hours, she woke up in the hotel parking lot, asking where the snow was and when could she build a snowman. Unfortunately, there wasn’t snow outside, so we hoped we’d find some later in the trip.
Another view from the Space Needle looking below at downtown Gatlinburg
We drove through Pigeon Forge, TN just before arriving in Gatlinburg. This is home to Dollywood, sort of a theme park with shows. Pigeon Forge is full of attractions and shopping, a definite tourist trap. At 1am, the Christmas lights were blazing as bright as day, and it felt like you were driving down the Strip in Las Vegas. Gatlinburg, though, is much more of a mountain town, set at the base of the Smoky Mountains in the valley. It’s a beautiful setting. Our hotel was on a beautiful mountain stream, which caused Analise to declare that we needed a boat. Brian worked all night to finish his presentation and slipped out for a bike ride in the mountains in the early morning. He’ll tell you about that later in this blog. Josiah, Analise, and I woke up at 8 as Brian was heading out the door to the conference. Our hotel room was on the 3rd floor, with an outside entrance. We had to bundle up to go to the hotel restaurant. It was worth it, though, for an all-you-can eat buffet for $5, with homemade waffles and omlettes. After breakfast, I took the kids out for a walk, and we found the bridge over the stream catching a glimpse of the mountains above us.
Bundled up leaving our hotel room
View outside our hotel room of the rushing stream
Brian gave his presentation in the morning, ate lunch with his colleagues and then ducked out early to get caught up on sleep. After napping, we all went for a walk downtown to explore and eat dinner. We found the space needle and paid a small fortune to ride the elevator up 25 stories to see the incredible view. One interesting note on our walk through town is that there apparently was a large Christian youth conference going on as groups of kids stood outside a convention center and shouting "Jesus" cheers — "We love Jesus, yes we do, we love Jesus how ’bout you?" Then another group would respond (louder) and shout the same thing.
[Brian interlude -- On the one hand, that's kinda cool, but on the other hand how many kids are even thinking of Jesus as they scream that at the top of their lungs.]
After dinner, we caught the local trolley and rode it around town for just 50 cents each and saw all the Christmas lights in Gatlinburg. Then it was back to the hotel for a promised swim with Analise in the Smoky Mountain’s largest indoor swimming pool (according to the hotel brochure) complete with two levels connected by a waterfall, built-in hottub, and stepping stones. Even though the water was quite warm, we froze getting to and from our room. Analise and Brian were both shivering.
Two picture sequence of the snowball-in-the-eye incident
The next morning, Brian got up really early and went for another bike ride (see story below) and we slept in. When he got back, we headed down for the all you can eat breakfast. Brian was excited about the snow he saw in the mountains, and so after breakfast we checked out and drove up high into the Smokies where Analise finally got to build her "big snowman" and throw a "big snowball". Brian had been encouraging her to throw the snowball at me all morning, so he helped her make a snowball, but as Analise took aim at me and threw it straight up in the air hitting Brian in the eye. That’s what he gets for trying to turn his daughter against her momma. They then put together a not-so-big snowman. After playing in the snow, we finished our drive to the top of the pass to the NC/TN border at 5048 feet. The view was absolutely amazing!
Can you find Analise’s "big snowman"?
Then it was time to go … we decided to break up the 5 hour drive home into two parts by stopping in Chattanooga to visit the Tennessee Aquarium. Unfortunately they had discontinued the "educators-get-in-free and the rest of the party is half-price" program so we weren’t about to pay $22.95 per person for the remaining hour and a half that the aquarium was going to be open. The other distraction on the drive home was the "See Ruby Falls" and "See Rock City" signs. This is game to try to be the first to try and find the signs for the major tourist attractions, Rock City and Ruby Falls in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. These signs can be painted on top of a barn or on billboards in a clearing around a bend tucked within trees. Brian and I are quite competitive and the final score was 15 to 14.5 going into Chattanooga. We declared the game over as we came into the city limits so he could focus on driving and not endanger our lives, with Brian winning. We sort of continued – non-competitively, of course, as we drove through Chattanooga, and I was definitely the winner by the time we passed the exit for the attractions. Of course, Brian is really the winner… at least this time.
And now it’s time for Brian to report on his biking adventures.
Hello, and welcome to biking with Brian. I went biking Friday morning after a sleepless night Thursday night driving into Gatlinburg from Alabama and then getting ready for my presentation. This bike ride turned into a ride of four progressions — time, elevation, temperature, and precipitation. I’ll recount the story as a timeline keeping in mind that my conference was set to begin at 8AM with the Welcome followed by the keynote speaker at 8:15AM.
6:15AM – I finish preparing and practicing for my presentation, so I head back to the room to eat, get warm, and get dressed for the ride.
6:30AM – I leave for the ride with bike light in hand while it is misting outside with a temperature of 39 degrees.
6:35AM – By now, I’ve made it outside the city limits and into the Great Smoky Mountains national park. The road starts to climb gently and I see a couple signs that say "Watch for Ice". With a temperature of 39 degrees, I’m not too worried about ice.
6:40AM – I’ve been "gently climbing" for 5 minutes and I have started to warm up with the exercise.
6:45AM – Still climbing and I’ve been passed by a few cars. It’s no longer pitch black outside, but the temperature has fallen to 37 degrees.
6:50AM – As it gets lighter, I can see the river below and to my left that the road has been following. From the rain that morning and night before, there are literally hundreds of waterfalls and small streams going through the forest. The lighting is full of contrasts. The water and the sky are both white, while the broad-leafed forest itself are almost completely brown/grey with all the trees having lost their leaves. The road itself is a different shade of gray, and that is pretty much all the color to be seen. This makes the small streams and waterfalls alongside the road stand out brilliantly compared to the gray around them. I think to myself as I am riding how this is a much different beauty than what I have been expecting to see.
6:55AM - I am still climbing and begin to think that I can see the top of the pass up ahead. By this point, I have been climbing longer than it takes to climb any of the hills in Birmingham, but the climb is not as steep as those climbs so I’m not sure how high up I’ve come or how much farther there is to go. By now the temperature has dropped to 36 degrees and continues to hold there for the next 10 minutes.
7:00AM – I make it to what I think is the top of the pass and realize that it’s just a pass between two smaller mountains and that the road continues to climb much higher. It’s much lighter now, too, and I can see that the mountains above me are covered in fog.
7:10AM – Still climbing and I pass through a tunnel thinking again that I am nearing the top. On the other side of the tunnel I realize that there is still more to go. The temperature has dropped to 34 but I feel quite warm from all the climbing. By this point, I notice a distinct line where the trees that had been behind the fog were covered in frost or snow. This line is still quite a ways above me so I don’t think much of it.
7:20AM – I make it to the freezing fog line as I notice the trees beside me are covered in frost. I also notice that the road has gotten less wet and that there is hardly any spray coming from my wheels from off the road. The temperature had been at 34 for a little while, but has now dropped to 32. The climb has gotten a little steeper at this point as well. I notice another progression as I continue to climb — from frost on the trees, to dusting of snow on the grass next to the road, to a dusting of snow on the guardrail, to snow on the side of the road and about 1/2 inch of snow on cars parked overnight in some of the pulloff areas.
7:25AM – The temperature has dropped to 30 and I again think that I must be very close to the top. I realize now that I must turn around soon or I am going to be late for my conference even accounting for the fact that I can descend back down the same route at about 4 times the speed that I was climbing it. Then it happens …
7:30AM – The transition to ice happens very suddenly … For about the 5th time I am convinced that around the next corner is the top of the climb and by this point it is a winter wonderland with trees covered in white, 1/4 – 1/2 inch snow on ground, and a little bit on the road shoulders. I am going around a corner at about 10mph still climbing and the corner is banked slightly towards the river. My rear wheel starts to slide down the road in the direction of the river. I know immediately that it is ice, and for some reason it is extremely frightening to me. Even though I am convinced that I could actually see the top this time, I know that I have to turn around. I know that I have pushed it a little too far. By this point the road is extremely slippery. My brakes are not working well, and I am sliding whichever way the road slopes. Three times I purposely slide off the road into the small snow bank to scrub speed and stop. I can’t believe I don’t fall. I finally figure out that I can ride through the gravel and snow on the side of the road with one foot "hopping" in the snow every 15 feet or so. This lasts close to a mile so I think to myself that the road must be literally freezing underneath me as I am biking. In fact, I am very worried that the temp has been dropping behind me in the valley, too, and that I am going to have to ride like this all the way back into Gatlinburg. After about a mile, however, the temp jumps back up to 32 and I notice that the roads are getting wet again.
7:45AM – I need to get back to the hotel — fast, but I am still worried about ice in the corners, over bridges, etc.. I am able to get my speed up above 20mph with 15mph in the corners.
7:50AM – As I descend and the roads become significantly wetter, I am more comfortable and get my speed up to 30 mph. By this time I am starting to get VERY cold. I begin to shake uncontrollably at times. I am afraid of losing control simply from shaking. These are large shakes that wobble my handlebars. I figure out a trick that works very well to help with the shaking. When I notice that I am starting to shake, I hold on tight for a second and then as soon as it passes, I let go of the handlebar with one hand and start to shake that hand and my whole arm as violently as I can while still maintaining control of the bike. This quickly brings blood flow into my upper body. Afterwards, I am convinced that without doing this, I would have had to stop or would have simply lost control and fallen.
7:55AM – By now I am almost all the way back down and the temp went from 37 to 39 fairly quickly. From the wind chill and spray, I have a small ice mustache. My hands stay surprisingly warm the entire time (maybe from the shaking — both voluntary and involuntary — and from my death grip on the handlebars). My feet on the otherhand are frozen. They feel as bad as some of the winter rides I’ve done up north in subzero temps. Towards the entrance of the park, I come across and startle a large male turkey (tale plume fluttering wildly as it runs off) and then a short distance later I come across 6-7 smaller female turkeys crossing the road heading up into the woods. Quite a Thanksgiving treat!
8AM – I make it back into town and scramble back to the room to change and get ready for the conference. By 8:15 I am down in the largeconference hall listening to the keynote speaker. Mission accomplished!
For my bike ride on Saturday, I head back up the same route in clear, sunny (but very cold) weather. The roads were completely dry and I am able to make it all the way up to the top of the pass, elevation 5048′. Many of the pictures in this blog post are from the ride on Saturday. I didn’t have my camera with me on my Friday morning ride. I am already looking forward to next year!
You can see why these are called the "Blue Ridge" mountains!
Elevation 5048′ at the state line. This was the turnaround point for my ride on Saturday morning.
Click here to open a map (pdf) of this ride in a new window.