Greetings from The Smoky Mountains!

Howdy, y’all. I find this to be an appropriate greeting, considering the fact that I’m a cowgirl now. I’m blogging atcha from the Great Smoky Mountains in good ol’ Tennessee! I’m here with family on a five-day getaway before the busyness of the holiday festivities begin, and I am having the time of my life. Let’s recap.

Thursday

Thursday morning at 4am, we left home to embark on quite the journey to TN. I woke up feeling slightly under the weather because of a sore throat, so, needless to say, I was less than thrilled to be sitting in a car for the entire day. Luckily, I managed to sleep the entire way to TN, and when I did wake up, I found myself inside of an urgent care waiting to see a physician. Awesome way to begin vacation…

Turns out, I just had a case of “pharyngitis”, so I was prescribed Penicillin, given a shot in my hip and was sent on my merry way.

Friday

I woke up the next morning feeling peachy keen and thank God for that. Seriously. I was so upset that I was going to be feeling like absolute crap the entire time we were here. Since it was pitch black when we got to the cabin the night before, I was AMAZED to find the beautiful view awaiting us! I sipped my cup of coffee and just gawked at the mountains and red and orange foliage surrounding us. I knew, from that moment, that this vacation would never leave my memory.

My view every morning.
My morning view
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Hunter (the little bro) posin’ by some nature.

 

We hopped in the car around noon (we decided to “sleep in” and take our time this particular morning), and headed out. My mom didn’t tell me or my brother Hunter where we were going. “It’s a surprise!” they kept shouting. For those of you who know me, you know how nosy I am, so not knowing where we were headed was stressing me out.

After winding through the back roads and taking paths called “Eagle Bear Creek”, I heard Siri say, “In 1.8 miles, turn left onto Helicopter Rd.”

“… Helicopter road….? Helicopt…. ARE WE FLYING IN A HELICOPTER?!”

My mom immediately started laughing, and my stepdad, Mr. Daryl, still tried to play it off by saying, “… Nah.”

Busted.

We were flying in a helicopter.

Let me just say that the family run businesses out here are incredible. They are so friendly and accommodating and genuinely nice. I love it.

Once we chose our flight and put on our headphones, we hopped into the helicopter and off we went.

 

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Mom and Mr. Daryl

 

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Me!

 

 

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Hunter, aka the co-pilot!

 

“Now this is how you start off a vacation.” Mother knows best.

It was a short flight, maybe 12 minutes or so, but we got to see all of Tennessee. The pilot even made a Jimi Hendrix reference, which the “cool” side of me appreciated. I cackled into the microphone and blew everyone’s eardrums out, naturally. But it was awesome… seeing the landscaping from that perspective. Mountains. Greenery. Lakes. It was beautiful, and we were all so excited to actually be flying in a helicopter. Haha. It’s the little things. Or big things, in this instance.

Once we landed, we grabbed some photos and thanked everyone profusely before moving onto our next spot, which was the Apple Barn Winery.

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The Apple Barn Winery looked like something out of a Hallmark movie. It was a white building with forest green accents and decorated in poinsettias. The smell of fresh baked apple pie wafted through the air, and there were twinkling lights and sounds of laughter everywhere. I for real spent about ten minutes searching for Candace Cameron-Bure, because you know that b-word is all up in Hallmark films.

Didn’t find her.

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At the winery, we tasted six different apple-based wines. For the most part, they left me making a face similar to an infant eating pea baby food. They just weren’t pleasant, and I would consider myself a wine addict lover. There was one, in particular, that I enjoyed, and that was a sparking apple wine. It was sweet and fizzy and was basically champagne, which is the actual magic word to my heart, so that’s probably why I loved it so much. At least we had one winner for the evening.

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Leftover apples from the year’s harvest

 

We visited the candy shop next, where I purchased moonshine taffy, because… when in Tennessee. I also bought apple cider coffee cake muffins from their bakery and definitely had to refrain from throwing hundreds of dollars at these people and just wiping them out. Everything smelled so good. By this point, we were getting a little hungry and cold, so we walked to the back of the Apple Barn Winery and found ourselves in their restaurant.

The restaurant was very cute. The servers were all wearing long dresses in plaids and floral. Our server even had a pin on her apron that read, “I heart Jesus”. I had to laugh at that and also found myself looking for Candace again, because this place can’t be real.

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Cute, old ladies making candy apples. Too cute to be real.

 

We started with apple fritters and apple butter. UM YES. They tasted like little apple beignets dipped in warm apple heaven and I was wishing at this moment I also had an I heart Jesus pin, because He made these, and I wanted to show my love for Him publicly.

Next up was the main course, and, man, did they feed you here. I ordered the Shepherds pie, which also came with salad, soup, stuffing, green beans, rolls, and apple cobbler. I ate about 1/8 of it before I felt like I was going to curl up in a ball and die. We left with roughly 8 to-go boxes. I noticed a lot of the other tables were clearing their plates, and, honestly, that concerns me. I mean, are you pulling a black bear and planning to hibernate this winter or what?

After dinner, we came back to the cabin for the evening. We played pool in the upstairs loft (because, um, THERE’S AN UPSTAIRS LOFT), drank hot tea, and curled up by the fireplace. It was a great evening, but the next day was even greater.

Saturday

Saturday began bright and early at 8am with a hot cup of coffee and another gorgeous morning view. I make a habit of drinking my coffee outside when I can, and being in Tennessee makes it even more of a treat. I watched a few woodpeckers making new homes for their families this morning, and, for a moment, I thought about what it would be like to live in a place this magical.

Around 9:30am, we left the cabin and headed towards our first destination of the day: horseback riding! We went to Jayell Ranch, and I know I can speak for my entire family and say that our entire experience was absolutely perfect.

Upon arriving, we spotted the horses all saddled up and ready to begin their day. My mom, who grew up with horses of her own, immediately begin clapping and shouting, “I’M SO EXCITED.” I couldn’t help but smile and was eager to see her ride!

We checked in and purchased our tickets for the one-hour ride through the mountains. When we found out they also offered the longest zipline in the Smokies, my mom and I looked at each other and said, “Sign us up!” Mr. Daryl and Hunter sat that one out, but I know they would’ve loved it.

First up was crushing on all of the bearded country babes horseback riding. The staff was so friendly and excited to share this experience with us. We each hopped on our selected horse (mine was a sweet, brown horse named Rosie) and began our ride. Our guide, Terry, rocked. He led the four of us through the winding hills and didn’t hesitate to answer questions and just chat with us. He even let us stop and take pictures with the most beautiful backdrop of the mountains. Ugh, it was magical. I loved every single second, and it was relaxing and exuberating all at the same time.

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Magic.

 

I have to admit that I occasionally tapped Rosie’s ribs with my heels to make her gallop, because she was taking her precious time. It was funny, because once Rosie started to pick up speed, Big Red, the horse Mr. Daryl was riding, began to pick up speed too. Whenever Terry would turn around, we’d gently pull on the reins and just smile as if we weren’t potentially breaking the rules. It was all in good fun. We just wanted a little wind in our hair. 🙂

I could’ve stayed on that horse all day long. I actually made a comment to the guide about packing up my life in New Orleans and moving to Tennessee to work on a ranch. He said, “That’s what I did.” Turns out, he’s from Florida and has spent the last year working and living in Tennessee. I think that’s amazing. It goes to show that there’s so much of the world for us to see and experience, and it definitely sparked a fire within me to travel more!

We said goodbye to our horses and made our way over to the zipline area. The pace of the morning shifted tremendously, as we were greeted by two charming dudes, RC and Einstein, who I immediately sensed would appreciate my sarcasm and wit, so it was flowing during the whole event.

They greeted us and asked where we were from. “New Orleans? But y’all don’t have that New Orleans accent. Where’s it at?” “The movies,” I replied. For anyone out there wondering, not all of us talk like Blanche DuBois. Some of us like to get our words out instead of liingerrrr awn… ev’ry… single one a’um. Much love to ya though, Blanche. Stella, you my girl.

Getting into the harness was probably the most confusing thing I’ve ever done in my life, and all I did was “step in with your left foot, and now your right.” I was like the Charmin Ultra bear trying to see the specks of toilet paper on his bum. You know what I’m talking about? A part of me was trying to protect my leather boots from “scuffs” and the other part of me was like “WHY DID I WEAR THIS GIGANTIC PEACOAT?” I cracked some jokes to lighten the mood, so I think that made the whole ordeal and little less dramatic. The highlight of the dressing portion of the ziplining adventure was when mom put her helmet on backwards. RC and Einstein started chuckling, and I joined in before breaking the news to her. She was a good sport about it all.

While we waited for the other couple to suit up, mom and I decided to channel our inner supermodels and pose in front of everything in our gear. Zipline station? Pose. Wooden fence? Pose. Pinecone? Pose.

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Striking a pose in our zipline attire

 

By this time, they were instructing us to follow them up this hill and into the woods. Honestly, if these dudes weren’t a) funny and b) cute, it would’ve been a big “hell no” for me. The hill was steep and our quads were burning, so I made a joke about how we CrossFit, so this was a cake walk. It was a hit. *We obviously don’t CrossFit. We’re from New Orleans – we eat butter for breakfast.

Anyway.

We made it to zipline numero uno. I’ll admit, I was a little nervous to step off of a platform and trust that this cable was going to keep me from plummeting to my death. They explained to us that we could lean back, flip upside down, etc., just as long as we didn’t touch the cable and made sure to resume a seated position before we reached the end. Flip upside down. Right, Einstein. I pulled a Cher and said, “As if” before volunteering to go first like the adventurer that I am. I might’ve done that to look cool to the staff, but don’t tell them I said that.

They hooked me up to the cable, and said, “Whenever you’re ready.” I took a deep breath and jumped. I felt my stomach shoot into my throat for half a second before opening my eyes and feeling the rush of the wind in my face and hair. It. Was. Magic. The first line lasted a few seconds, and it left me excited for the second and third, faster and longer lines. Einstein, who was at the end waiting for all of us to make sure we didn’t smack into a wall and explode, asked, “How was it?!” and I think my response was, “That was (explicit) AMAZING!” Leave it up to me to remain classy.

Mom followed, the other couple, and RC and then we were onto the next!

The second line was higher and faster and is where mom and I attempted to hang upside down. It was so cool. I felt weightless and, oddly enough, safe. We sped through trees and above a little creek. I just wanted to scream and shout from joy and excitement, but I couldn’t even find the words.

The third and final line was the longest and fastest. I think we hit around 45mph. Talk about a rush! On this line, I took a running jump, which probably looked measly compared to the instructors who front flipped off of the platform. Front flipped. What is this, the Olympics? Anyway, I took a running jump and just flew through trees and inside of this shed. The one instruction we had on the third line was to lean back when we approached the end. What did I forget to do? Lean back. So I had the instructor, Cole, at the end yelling, “LEAN BACK” at me as I was approaching. I was too busy feeling like a damned nightingale to think about leaning back. I guess if I didn’t want to risk having my head knocked off of my body, I would’ve paid more attention to what I was doing, but I’m an adrenaline junkie now DAMMIT. I will admit that it was kind of worth not listening to have Cole ask, “Are you alriiiight?” in all his southern glory. I might’ve batted my eyelashes and said, “Yeah, I’m fiiiiine. *giggle*” Shameless. Whatever, I’m single and on vacation. YOLO.

I waited for mom to finish her final zip (is that what you call each line? A zip? I dunno.), and we made our way back to the shed to be stripped of our helmets and harnesses. I continued laying on my charm and making the dudes laugh before asking for a photo with them because they “rocked and were fun.” After getting a couple pictures and good lunch recommendation, and after they invited us back for a discounted rate (nudge nudge – jk everyone gets this discount), we said our goodbyes and walked back to the car while smiling about our amazing morning and also wallowing because we weren’t ready to go.

All in all, our experience at Jayell Ranch was perfect. I suggested going back on Monday to ride the horses again, so I’ll be working on that this weekend with the folks. In the meantime, Jayell, thanks for the memories… and also the handsome and fun fellas.

Lunch was at a Mom and Pop BBQ joint down the road called Deep South. It was a little shed with an attached garage-turned-dining area and a black lab named Maddie chilling on the porch. So country, so fantastic. The food knocked my face off, and it was the perfect meal to eat after the busy morning we had. I ordered half a chicken (a literal half chicken) with mac and cheese and cole slaw and smothered it in their two homemade BBQ sauces. Divine! Mom and Mr. Daryl and Hunter ordered racks of ribs, fried okra, beans, and beer battered fries and oh my friggin gah, I almost cried. It’s amazing what good BBQ can do to a person, and, friends, I think I found the answer to all of life’s problems right there in that meal in Pigeon Forge, TN. We ate until we had to unbutton our pants (don’t judge – you’ve been there), and we still had two boxes worth of leftovers. These people like to feed you til you burst, and I ain’t complainin’ one bit.

We left Deep South and headed towards Gatlinburg to spend the rest of our day. It was about a thirty minute drive from where we were, and it was beautiful. Usually, I dread driving long distance, especially at home. There’s just not much to see at all. I mean, there are buildings and some of them are… cool, I guess… and there’s the occasional gutter punk asking for money for a sandwich when you know he’s wearing Calvin Klein underwear, and just no. Driving in Tennessee > driving in New Orleans. Sorry, not sorry. We weaved in and out of mountains and passed over creeks and by signs that said “deer crossing”, and I’m just envisioning this place wrapped in a blanket of snow and it’s melting my otherwise frigid heart.

Aside from the sign saying, “Welcome to Gatlinburg”, you immediately knew you were entering a new town because of the change in energy. There were people out and about buzzing right and left and the area, which I’m assuming was Downtown Gatlinburg, reminded me of a packed street you’d see in New York, except less smoggy and more nature-ish.

We pulled into a place where we saw a sign for $5 parking. Upon arriving, we found out it was Christ in the Smokies, which is a museum that takes you through the life of Christ, and, as Christians, we were like, “Ok sure.” My mom and I were eyeballing the moonshine tastings right down the street, but because Mr. Daryl has never been, we all purchased tickets and went through the hour long tour. It was okay. As I said, I’ve seen it before, and I kind of get weirded out in wax museums to begin with, especially when they’re playing “Hallelujah” too loudly, but it was an experience nonetheless and you bet your bottom dollar I threw a penny in the godly pool after wishing hard on that thing at the end.

After leaving the museum, we walked up Maple Street… or maybe it was Main Street… or maybe it was neither, to Sugarlands Moonshine for a free tasting. Mom and I situated ourselves between a family o’ prudes and a hairy Alabamian and sipped away. It was a 15 minute tasting lead by a super-chick who cracked jokes about iced tea and how it’s better spiked (preach). We tasted the original which ’bout knocked me on my ass. It was so strong, I had to decline round two of the unflavored. It reminded me too much of tequila and I began to have very scary flashbacks of Endymion. The ones that followed, however, I loved. We tasted blackberry, lemonade, sweet tea, butterscotch, and caramel apple. I left with a pint of the lemonade, because I figured it would be the most versatile and I liked the tartness. I won’t be shocked if I somehow end up with a caramel apple, too.

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The shot that almost killed me. Little did I know.

 

We took a little ride on the ski lift after the tasting, which was nice. It was just a short little trek up the side of a mountain which gave us a beautiful view. We went back down the mountain, stopped in for a cup of coffee at ye olde Starbucks (maybe you’ve heard of it?) and made our way back to the cabin.

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View from the sky lift

 

Today was my favorite day so far. I’m not sure if it can be topped, but we’ll see. Two more days to go. Tomorrow is Cade’s Cove for some hiking and picnicking!

Talk to y’all soon,

Kaitlyn

The Cowgirl – Ziplining – Moonshine-Tasting Extraordinaire

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