A day into week 5, we bade farewell to the family and headed farther north, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we camped for two nights at Cades Cove. Wednesdays from May through September, the one-way loop road around the spectacularly beautiful valley is closed to cars, so on Wednesday morning, we joined hundreds of other cyclists of all ages, on all manner of bikes: road, hybrid, trikes, mountain, kids, e-assist, and our one lone tandem, for the 18-km rolling loop. We were a bit unprepared for the Category 4 and Category 3 climbs, but enjoyed being scofflaws, breaking the 20-mph (32 kph) speed limit on the downhills while filming forbidden video (though the NPS more or less ignores casual filming for personal, non-commercial use). We pushed the heavy tandem up a lot of hills, but had an excellent time. Link to video below:
Leaving at dawn on Thursday, we traveled back though the park, with a brief detour to Gatlinburg, TN, for groceries. We took a side trip to Clingmans Dome, where we hiked the steep 800-meter trail up to the observation tower, 2000 meters above sea level. The Smoky Mountains earned their name, with the cloud cover and haze obscuring all but the nearby peaks, but the view was spectacular nevertheless. We took a few steps on the Appalachian Trail just below the tower, to say we had “hiked” it.
Continuing on, we turned onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, getting off at the first exit on US 19 to spend the rest of the week with our son and his wife at their cabin a few miles off the Parkway and up a steep mountainside. We parked at the future “Glamping” site at the second of four switchbacks on the way to their cabin, with a good southern exposure for solar to keep our refrigerator running.
Our planned itinerary went awry once again, as our son’s work schedule had changed. With only the weekend to visit, we decided to spend a few days into the next week to wait for him to return from his out-of-town job, and help a bit with their construction projects in the meanwhile.