We decided we’d spend an extra day in Tennessee so we could visit Clingman’s Dome on Sunday (the 3rd highest peak east of the Mississippi at 6,643′), keep the mileage right at about 100 and spend a night in Gatlinburg before making the 200-mile trip back home on Monday.
I’d thought about including a trip over to the Wheels Through Time Museum in the Maggie Valley, but that would have required an early get-up and go around 8:00am to fit in the extra 100 miles, 2.5 hours of ride time plus a couple hours to explore the museum. Given it was raining at 8:00am, that just wasn’t in the cards. Guess we’ll just have to make another trip! But I digress…
After breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we loaded-up and headed over to see our friends Tim & Sharon Patterson in Louisville, TN. It was a mere 10 minutes from where we were staying and it had been waaay to long since we’d had a chance to visit with them. As is the norm for “Club Fred”, Tim & Sharon were entertaining friends from out-of-town but for them it’s always “the more the merrier”. We spent about 1/2 an hour out on the back deck visiting with them and their friends from Indiana and talked about a possible late September weekend get together with “the usual suspects” (a collection of long-time tandem cycling friends) at Club Fred in Louisville. That would be a good time and give us some tandem cycling time before heading down to Panama City Beach on the Road King the following Thursday.
It was about 11:45am when we said our goodbyes and headed off to Clingman’s Dome, about a 64-mile ride through the Smokey Mountain National Forest. The weather was “iffy” for the day, but the air felt good and it was a pretty nice ride from Louisville over to Townsend, the gateway to the Smokey Mountains. As always, the scenery on the ride along the Little River is amazing! This was the first time we made the trip up or down Little River Road on anything other than a tandem or triplet bike, so it was not as physically demanding, but it was most certainly as rewarding just for the views!
When we arrived at the intersection of Little River Road and Highway 441 where a right turn would take us to Clingman’s Dome, it started to rain. Given it was already 12:30pm, we called an audible and headed left into Gatlinburg to have lunch and wait for the weather to improve (ha, ha). We had lunch at yet another Smokey Mountain Brewery while David made our room reservations at the Hampton Inn via his smart phone. As we enjoyed our lunch, we also watched as the weather went from dark & gloomy, to hot and sunny to partly cloudy and promising: pilots call breaks in the clouds like these “sucker holes” as they intice you to head out into what really isn’t what it appears to be!
The ride up to Clingman’s Dome from Gatlinburg is about a 30-minute, 23-mile trip. It was pretty nice, a bit cool but the rain held off for the first 10 miles or so. However, we started to get a pretty good drizzle and pulled-off to put on our wind jackets as a hedge against the cold and light rain. Before we headed out I wondered aloud if we shouldn’t just go ahead and put on our rain gear expecting the worst instead of hoping for the best: should have gone with my gut.
We didn’t get 100 yards before the skies opened up. We pulled over at one of the next pull-outs and put our rain gear over our wet jackets, pants and boots, while also getting the tour bag covered to keep it from getting soaked through-and-through. We should have put the gear on at the first stop! It was a steady monsoon for the rest of the ride to Clingman’s Dome, with brief spots where we were in near zero visibility as clouds/fog settled over the road… but, by golly we persevered and made our way to the top! The observation tower was hidden in a cloud, so that was reason enough to pass on the 1/2-mile hike up to the top.
As we got ready to leave the rain stopped and the skies finally began to clear so there was hope we’d enjoy a dry ride down the mountain.
Photos Above: (Left) Miss Debbie giving me the “you’re taking a friggin’ picture?” look of disbelief just after pulling into the Clingman’s Dome parking lot. (Right) getting ready to head back down.
It did, in fact, stay dry and back at Newfound Gap we ditched our rain gear for the final leg back into Gatlinburg.
We had a little drama on the descent, as one of David & Deb’s saddlebags got jarred off their motorcycle over some rough pavement. A very kind gentleman in a red Ford quad-cab work truck stopped and told them where the saddlebag landed so all they had to do was walk back and retrieve it vs. finding it, which could have been a bigger challenge. In the face of bad luck, this gentleman was certainly a gift of good luck, as was the saddlebag’s stopping where it did instead of going down into a ravine just feet away from where it came to rest. This same kind gentleman also stopped at the pull-out where we were waiting for David & Deb, after realizing they were no longer behind us. He asked if we had lost one of our friends; we said yes. He then filled-us in on the details before he headed back on down the mountain. What a wonderful, kind and considerate man!
We finally regrouped, got the low-down on the bag and then finished our ride into Gatlinburg and the Hampton Inn parking lot. After getting checked into our rooms, taking some quick showers and hanging the wet rain gear out to dry, we met David & Deb and went in search of dinner.
We lucked-out big time on dinner. All of the restaurants looked as though they had a good 1/2 hour waiting line, including Calhoun’s. However, on a lark, we decided to go and see if they had a bar with any open seats where we might be able to at least get some cocktails and/or order off the menu and eat. They did, and we did and we had a grand time doing so! The gals working the bar were awesome, the food was awesome, and the beverages were cold. It was a perfect meal!
Best of all, after walking up and down Main Street looking for a place where we might find either some entertainment or at least four chairs at the bar, we finally found both at TGI Fridays. The entertainment ended up being the restaurant manager; she was great! Years ago TGIF offered a drink called a Friday’s Freeze: a blended/frozen drink with orange sherbet, orange juice, vodka & rum and topped with whip cream. However, it was discontinued and no matter how often we asked, no one at any of the other TGIF’s was willing to make it. Not so tonight! She also had the manager from their upstairs sister restaurant — the Melting Pot — bring down something for me they didn’t stock at TGIF. We just had a grand time chatting with and learning more about our host / restaurant manager.
In retrospect, we couldn’t believe our luck with restaurants and bars since we began our trip on Saturday. Sunday was another great day, to be sure!
Part II of III: Part III can be found HERE