Sunday, October 23, 2011

Smokey Mountain Dream

I just had the most vivid dream...

In this dream I took a risk and booked a vacation to Gatlinburg, TN. I'm sure it was a dream, since our last vacation was to Disney World, and in real life I would worry the family would find this vacation underwhelming. 

In this dream we drove 16 hours over two days to get there. 
On our way out we drove to Indianapolis on day 1 (took us 10 hours with a stop in Cincinnati), and finished the trip on day 2 (8 hours). I'm sure it was a dream since all 4 kids did not complain, had fun, and generally found things to do in those 18 hours.

In this dream we awoke to the Smoky Mountains and went horseback riding. 
After, we got a treat, went exploring, and then hiked through the Roaring Fork trails.  They all found hiking sticks to bring home. I'm sure it was a dream because my girl's dream is to go horseback riding and all the kids were loving every moment...and no technology was involved.

In this dream every morning greeted us with beautiful fall colors in the mountains. 
We were able to truly relax, have morning tea, and gaze at the rainbow-colored mountains...and the occasional black bear (yup, curious and hungry creatures). We swam in an indoor/outdoor heated pool surrounded by colors and enjoyed the outdoor hot tub even in the rain. I'm sure it was a dream because the most expensive special effects team in Pixar could not have generated more brilliant colors in the mountain trees. 

In this dream we went to Dollywood, a big amusement park filled with big coasters, great food, and fun music. 
I'm sure it was a dream because one of the rides had disappearing people! We waited in a long line for Blazing Fury, then, when ride returned, one of our girlies blurted out, "Where are all the people"? Turns out a mechanical problem shut down the ride and they evacuated those in line. At least they let us finish our ride.  Oh, and I'm also sure it was a dream because I don't think the kids will even remember the amusement park day unless asked. Sure they had fun on the coasters, cars, log ride, river raft, bird show, and ropes course, but all of that was overshadowed by the immersive experiences of the hiking, horses, and exploring 

In this dream we had perfect weather. 
When we walked the trails, the sun beamed through the tree canopy...creating highlights only found in the highest of budget movies. The leaves gently fell onto the trail like a movie set...after all dreams let you transport instantly. Even the storm covered the mountains in a mist more stunning than the latest cinematography could create. I'm sure it was a dream because even my oldest boy's favorite kind of weather showed up late in the, cloudy, and misty. Certainly no where in real life could this variety of sun, mist, warm, cool, breezy, calm be mixed with the variety of terrain it highlighted.

In this dream we drove 16 hours over two days to get home...with an amazing side stop in St. Louis.
We stopped in Nashville for an hour but was not impressed...which is kind of a nightmare for me as I've always wanted to roam Nashville. St. Louis, however, exceeded all expectations. I'm sure it was a dream because the weather was perfect, the arch was cheap to ride up, and the family got to relax in another beautiful american city.

In this dream the family machine ran smoothly, was highly refined, synchronized, supportive, and glitches were quickly fixed.
Certainly there were moments of bickering, but they usually resulted in finding a remedy that could be applied several times throughout the week. I'm sure it was a dream because on the drive home, after many miles, fatigue was getting the better of me...and my oldest, from his own inner core of discernment, came up from behind me and gave me a big hug. It moved me so much that he would make me feel better with a hug. Certainly only a dream would conjure up that life-long-I'll-never-forget-it kind of highlight.

In this dream I thought that this was one of the most fulfilling vacations our family ever had. But, of course, I'm sure it was a dream because everything was so perfect, our family was so engaged with each other, and our memories so rich that it was well beyond anything a real vacation could have ever offered.


Curious, though: If this were all a dream, how do I explain the hiking sticks in the back of the van? Or the photos? Or the sore muscles?

Who knows. I guess I'll just sip my Smoky Mountain Moonshine and ponder the mystery...

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Hike

It was supposed to be a short jaunt to a waterfall inside the Smoky Mountain National Park. 

The drive to the trail was breathtaking...

The kids were excited...even the it reminded him of Canada. We jumped out of the car to hike to Rainbow Falls. I had packed 2 bottles of water. All 5 had their hiking sticks foraged from the last successful .75 mile hike 2 days before.

Just 5 minutes into it, I hear, "Hmm. I wonder if the whole trail is up hill?"

It never occurred to me that hiking to a waterfall would be up hill. After all, the point of a water fall is to see the water...falling. And to do that you want to be at the bottom of the falls.

So we hiked...

and hiked...

and hiked.

Now at this point you need to know we are not hikers. We love nature, love to explore, but we do not hike multi-hour trails.  My past explorations took me to 5 different continents for work, but all walkabouts were within a city, and essentials like water, bathrooms, wifi, and coffee were all available at a moments notice.

Not so in the Smoky Mountains. Whoever runs them assumes you're playing iwth the big boys. If you're going to drive along the roads, there are no barriers between you and the 100' cliff...and if you're going to hike along the trails, there are no 'rest stops'. 

It's you and nature. survival of the fittest. Did I say I am not among the fittest?

The first 30 minutes was really great. We followed the mountain stream and saw many stunning sites. All 6 of us were skipping along and taking some photos of the adventure.

The second 30 minutes...reality set in. It was constant effort to climb the trail up-up-up. To make the trail not as steep, the trail tacked back and forth. This was nice for keeping pace (set by our twin gymnasts...much more fit than the rest of us), but it also made the distance longer. I've explored cities and parks before, and always seem to make good time, and at the beginning of the hike when the sign said "2.6", we figured it was not going to take much time at all...maybe 40 minutes.

At the end of the first hour, we meet a couple going down and asked how much farther. Surely based on our estimates we had walked at least 2 miles. 

Their response? "Well, you're about half way there".

Impossible. In suburban 'feels like over 2 miles'. But we were making about 1 mile an hour up the trail...traversing rocks, roots, and an occasional slip and fall. After we heard that, they must have seen despair because they said "but there's a couple of 'small' falls before you get there"

Third 30 minutes: youngest falls again and splays out yelling "I AM SO DONE!". We fell done, too. Hearts pounding, sweat pouring...I know it's only been 90 minutes but up hill the whole time not knowing how close the goal is...we became disheartened. The trail is tacking away from the stream so we know we are nowhere near our goal.

Another couple pass, and say there is a bridge with small falls 10 minutes up. We now have our goal. The last bit is hard until the trail tacks towards the distant stream. 


Then we hear water. Lots of it. Hitting rocks!

We come across a beautiful rocky falls and a small wooden bridge the crosses it.

We've made it! 

Well, sort of. You see, Rainbow falls was another grueling 40 minutes up the mountain. We made a critical family decision...that has become a pattern for our lives:

We renamed the falls. "New Rainbow Falls".

Just like that, we reached our goal.

We played...

We climbed...

We rested...

and...we posed. (future band album)

We must have frolicked in New Rainbow Falls for an hour. The water was freezing but completely refreshing. The rocks were challenging, but the eddies and pools were fantastic to wade through.

After fully satiated, we gathered ourselves, and walked down.

Now we became the 'experienced'. Others asked us, "Are we at least 1/2 way there?". Our response? "You have another hour. However, we newly renamed the small bridge falls 'New Rainbow Falls', and we think you will enjoy that destination just as much as  we did".

All that we encountered smiled. I think they, like us, got more than they bargained for with this hike, and having someone give them permission to set a realistic goal that wouldn't kill them was delightful to them.

As we reached the bottom, we were exhausted, but I felt extremely proud of our family. They pushed through some very tough moments, and got to enjoy a wonderful waterfall experience. 

Oh, and just as we were leaving, we heard in the distance a comment from someone we met on the way down, "Yeah, ...we reached New Rainbow Falls...enjoyed it so much...then returned".

Looks like we put our mark on the Smoky Mountain lexicon.

I love this family.


How about you, have you encountered a challenge that ended wonderfully?

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