Sunday, December 6, 2015

Up, Up and Away She Goes!

When life throws you curve balls every now and then, the thing is you gotta know when to swing to get far. -Unknown
 Recently my ‘better half’ and I took a much needed getaway. On his end, the bidding schedule at the office had been relentless for weeks. Me? I had been wrestling with the addition of a new bathroom at Bear Cabin for nearly two months.  With the constant shrill of skill saws, electric nail guns, hammers, little privacy from electricians and plumbers… all the while overseeing the project as ‘straw boss’ (as Tony fondly referred to me), I was as near being put down as the wood tile on that bathroom floor. Permanently.
 So I found us a charming little cabin up in the woods between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, aptly named ‘Alone at Last’.  Our desires for this trip were simple.
 We wanted to see Dollywood lit up at night as we had heard it was stunning during the Christmas season. It was. I also had to challenge the race tracks at  Pigeon Forge to satisfy my need for speed with my personal goal of getting around each track with the racecar’s pedal to the metal without letting up. As an aside, my sweetheart does not race but says it is worth a million bucks to watch me; he says I look hilariously serious hunched over that little steering wheel. We did get that done. 
 Most of all though, Tony and I wanted to make the gorgeous drive through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park over to Cherokee Village to add to the grandchildren’s growing collection of Indian paraphernalia for our to-be-continued summer study of Cherokee Indians in the 1800’s. -See My Puppies and the Kind Cherokee Indians. 
 When Tony and I left the hustle-bustle of Gatlinburg the morning of the trip to Cherokee, the peace and serenity of entering The Park was overwhelming. The traffic was light, the weather stunning and I settled down for the first time in a long time… deeply exhaling.
 When we reached the pinnacle of the mountain where you start the long descent to our destination, Tony pulled over at a look-out and we hopped out of the car to enjoy the vista. Suddenly I heard the far-away hum of a helicopter.
 Way in the distance I spotted a yellow Bird flying across the mountain tops with what must have been a chain suspended beneath it hauling what could be a cage or whatever with a…OMGoodness!
 “Tony! Look at that! Is that a person in there! That must be a new sightseeing ride Pigeon Forge is showcasing!” I knew they had helicopters that took people up for sightseeing tours- I had been up before; this had to be a new, more daring twist. “I have to check that out when we get back to the cabin!” I’ll try anything once.
 We made it on to Cherokee but when we left a few hours later headed back toward Gatlinburg we missed a wonderful scenic photo shot and Tony had to turn around to back track in the opening of a large scenic turn-out .
 Lo and behold there sat that yellow helicopter and she did not look so tiny up close and personal. She had some men standing near her and my thought was maybe this is the place where the incredible new ride is lifting off.
 Telling Tony I was going to check ‘er out I jumped out of the car and, at a fast clip, started in that direction but found quickly there was a rope with yellow flags across the entrance blocking traffic from entering. Was that for cars only? Surely.
I stepped over the rope and started toward the helicopter that was about seventy-five yards away. One of the men broke away from the group and started walking quickly toward me. He carried with him an engaging grin so when we reached each other I extended my hand, introduced myself and asked him why in the world a helicopter was sitting on top of these mountains. Furthermore, as I had noted by then, why were there huge piles of railroad ties sitting not far from it?
Laughing, he said his name was Sergio and he was with the National Park Service and was part of that crew of men working on a park project. Did I want to come over and see what was going on?
Was he kidding?
Sergio escorted me over and introduced me to the rest of his team… Tobias Miller, Trails Manager for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Brad Gotte, the helicopter pilot.


 And what I learned then fascinated and gave me a whole new Park perspective.
 No, they were not there to give sightseeing rides over the Smoky Mountains- I blushed after I told them that was my first inclination and then had to endure roars of laughter. They were there to augment the work of trail teams stationed around in those mountains below. Each of those teams were expecting them at various times to air lift and slowly lower, honing in by GPS, the needed ties to carry out a pre-planned trail project!
 That tiny brown spec of what looked from my vantage point earlier like a possible person on a sightseeing ride was actually, close range, a massive bundle of logs (nineteen per bundle to be exact!) And there were probably fifteen more of those bundles already harnessed up and ready to be picked up by that helicopter.
 Just think about that.
 Many of us have had the joy of visiting these awesome mountains. We have hiked and used lean-to’s and overnight cabins, clung to hand cables as we passed over trails so high and steep that without those cables we might have plunged below onto treacherous rock ledges. Also, we have, probably without realizing it, hiked trails that had earlier collapsed and were in danger of being totally erased except a trail team had spotted the damage, came in and pulled the trail back into place...oft times with wooden ties.
We have enjoyed picnics with our loved ones, finding the perfect picnic spot after walking over sturdy bridges as we gazed at the white capped river rushing over boulders below. The list of amenities offered to make our park visit memorable is myriad. Aside from the construction of these wonderful resources, it has been said without aggressive maintenance from The Park Service, whole areas of the Smoky Mountains would be reclaimed by the forest.
 I’d just never given any thought regarding how all of these wonderful facilities happened to get placed there for us.
 As I was wrapping up my unsolicited but kindly welcomed visit with my newfound buddies that day, I told them about my Blog and the fact I would like to write their story if it would be okay; business cards and e-mail addresses were exchanged.
 With a grateful heart and sincere thanks, I walked back to the car knowing I would never again visit and enjoy those majestic mountains and view them through the same eyes.
 After Tony and I pulled out and ran back to snap the photo we had missed earlier, we started again down the mountain toward ‘Alone at Last’.  Suddenly traffic started slowing until it was at a standstill. “TONY!”, I squealed. “I’ll bet it’s a bear and everyone’s stopping to see it!” I have memories of that happening when I was a child driving through with my family.
 I opened the car window to lean out and look. Ahead I could see a man in an orange vest holding up a ‘STOP’ sign, blocking traffic both ways. Nope, no bear. So I once again slid out of the car, grabbing my iPad, figuring we would be going nowhere fast.  I quickly crossed the road to snap a photo of a small but beautiful, cascading waterfall.
 Then I heard it!

Muffled at first but growing louder and clearer, I knew exactly why traffic had been stopped!
 I also knew just exactly where to train my iPad for the video I hoped I would capture. 

Sure enough... UP, UP AND AWAY SHE GOES!
*** With my deepest appreciation to Tobias, Brad and Sergio for your full-time dedication and nurturing of our most pristine and gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park ***

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