176. Smokin Hot’ Smokies
I’m grateful that I’m part of a group of 24 people who call themselves “Loop Mithraru”. This is largely a bunch of young couples and singles originally from Karnataka who are mostly based in Chicago. They plan an annual outing and for 2012 the chosen destination was the Smoky Mountains in Tenneesse and ever since this was announced over three months ago there has been much excitement – proof of that is over a hundred mails exchanged as a run up to this July 4th weekend driving holiday. As I write this blog, the 71 hour seem like a beautiful breeze just gone by. The friendships forged, the good times shared and the memories captured will be remembered for a long time to come. Most importantly the precision planning with which two of the group members organised the trip were remarkable (10 on 10).
We began the journey from Chicago at 6.30 pm on July 5th from downtown Chicago. After three stops the three cars transporting 15 people halted at the cabin booked for ourselves in the Chalet Village. After a few hours of rest we were at downtown Gatlinburg to visit an amusement park and bond as one large family. An eight-minute tram ride took us from the foothills to the mounatin top amusement park called Ober Gatlinburg. Many of us began by ice skating, visiting the baby bears in the mini zoo and then getting chair lifted to the highest peak and doing a variety of fun things with loads of snacks thrown in – some purchased at the mall and some carried carefully from Chicagoland. By evening we were back in the downtown area to window shop, sample the free Moonshine and experience various ticketed Ripleys centers to see unbelievable attractions. By dusk we were back at the cabin to unwind in the jacuzzi and catch up on the day’s experiences over barbecued food and some refreshing beverages.
Saturday morning started off early with a visit to the Pancake Pantry – a must visit breakfast place that is open all day to savour some of the yummiest delicacies on offer. This done, the cars took off on three back to back journeys to three exciting spots a few miles apart in the National Park area. Our first stop was at the Laurel Falls. This tiny yet pretty waterfall is a 40 minute hike from where we parked the car. After taking a lot of pictures and walking through a forest which is also home to bears (we did not spot any in the wild) we were back to the Sugarlands Visitor Center for a picnic lunch. Soon after the official group picture we set out again to visit two scenic spots – the first is called Newfound Gap which is on the Appalachian Trail where we stood on two states at one go (North Carolina and Tennesse) and then Clingmans Dome (another place where we had to walk on a slopy path for about an hour, two ways). We were back after a tiring yet memorable day for a night of revelry. We played a game of Tabboo which was filled with a lot of action and reaction. The day ended with a lot of coolers and conversations with a promise to catch some sleep and then drive out of the mountains to sweet home Chicago early in the morning to start planning for the next trip.