Sunday started bright and early with another cup of coffee on the porch. Gazing out at the Great Smokies through the trees never gets old.
On the agenda for today was visiting the Smoky Mountain National Park and driving through Cades Cove, which is an 11-mile stretch showcasing old churches, homes, and wildlife. We packed sandwiches and Swiss Rolls (because, when you’re on vacation, calories don’t matter), hopped in the car, and made the 45-minute trek to Gatlinburg.
It was overcast today, which kind of put a damper on our moods. The previous days were chilly and sunny and damn near perfect, so seeing clouds holding rain was a bit of a bummer. It didn’t stop us from embarking on an adventure, though! Vacation waits for no one. Aaaaaand neither does rain, apparently.
As soon as we past the welcome sign for the national park, it started sprinkling. My first thought was, “But my hair looked so good today.” Diva. I did happen to wear my parka and “outdoor boots”, so, as far as I was concerned, I was set. We made a pit stop and took touristy photos by the sign and ventured into the park.
I was secretly hoping to see a t-rex or something, because, at parts, it was very Jurassic Park. Take out searching for Candace Cameron and replace her with Jeff Goldblum, and that was pretty much me throughout the ride.
Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that The Smoky Mountain National Park is BEAUTIFUL. Actually, that word doesn’t even begin to describe it. I think I’ll have to use the word magic again, because that’s what this place was. Magic. We were driving in a valley between two mountainsides on a winding rode. On one side of the car were rock formations and the other was a steep cutoff with a creek flowing through rocks and stones at the bottom. The water? Crystal clear with white caps because of the intensity of the wind. Parts of it reminded me of the scene when Bella Swan jumps to her death because she thinks her dead boyfriend is, well, dead. It was kind of like that, but we’re not in Forks and also we’re not lame characters written by a fourteen-year-old. We’re cool people. “I’m a cool mom.” < NAME THAT FILM. Hint: It rhymes with Gean Mirls.
It took about an hour and a half to actually make it to Cades Cove, which we were all really surprised by. It was a pretty ride, but after awhile, we were damn ready to make it to our destination. Also, there was a turkey sandwich and a bag of baby carrots SCREAMING my name. #foreverhungry
About halfway, we saw a little bridge and decided to stop off and explore it. We were feeling, not only adventurous, but extra antsy from sitting in the car for so long.
We walked across the bridge that crossed over a stream and found ourselves amidst a forest of some of the tallest trees and biggest leaves I’ve seen. While mom, Hunter and Mr. Daryl took pictures on various rocks (so fetch), I made my way to the creek. The last time I was in Gatlinburg, I was about six, I remember vividly playing in a creek in the summertime. It’s a memory that has stuck with me forever, so I wanted to revisit it. I slowly walked down the incline, past large tree roots, and carefully balanced on stones in the creek and just listened. Peace. I heard the wind through the trees, the sound of the stream flowing over the stones, and birds calling to one another. It was, for lack of a more suiting word, magic. Again.
We continued to explore the area for a bit longer before heading back to the car. About thirty minutes and a bear-sighting later, we finally made it to Cades Cove.
Cades Cove held a lot of history, which I wish I appreciated more. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t find myself caring all that much about Bob and how he was fined $5000 for etching his name in the wall of a random cabin. P.S. That cabin was weird and had a staircase leading up to Lord knows where, which prompted me to say, “Wow, this is some Anne Frank kind of shit.” which NO ONE on that tour appreciated. ‘Cept me. ‘Cuz I’m funny.
The coolest part about Cades Cove (all 11 miles of it) happened after leaving the cabin that Bob defaced. We were walking the ¼ mile back to the car. Hunter and I were a couple steps ahead of mom and Mr. Daryl. I heard mom call out, “Kaitlyn!” and, as I turned around, I saw the most beautiful buck standing about 50 feet away from us. He was majestic, sporting about an eight-point rack laden in ivy that must’ve gotten stuck while he was rummaging through the brush. Beautiful animal. He turned towards us, took us in, and lightly jogged (what I would call “cardio”) back into the woods.
The rest of Cades Cove was kind of a pain in the ass because of the weather. The journey provided us with gorgeous mountain views, but your girl had to pee, and, by this time, we had been in the park for over three hours, so it was time to GO. I ended up passing out towards the end, which was fine by me, because, when I woke up, we were exiting the park and entering into downtown Gatlinburg, which meant one thing. Moonshine.
Half of my money and half of my diet was set aside for moonshine consumption, and I am not complaining one bit. I tried dozens of flavors, which made me the happiest of campers. The distillery we visited this afternoon is called Ole Smoky Moonshine, and it was, hands down, my favorite of the three we visited.
Our bartender for the tasting, Matthew, looked like someone right out of a Tracy Letts play, and I wish, for your sake, I could’ve gotten a photo. He was about six feet, bearded, and wore overalls that somewhat masked his beer gut. I fell in love immediately. Maybe it was the moonshine, or maybe it was the fact that he was one funny son of a b making comments like, “Now this one, folks, tastes like tequila. If you’re not a fan of tequila, maybe because of a time when you woke up pantsless on your neighbors porch, well that just means that you had the right amount.” It was almost as if he was speaking directly to me, and I found myself nodding in agreement and saying, “Yep” far too much. He also made a comment to me and mom after checking our IDs, “Ah, Louisiana girls. I don’t expect y’all to be passin’ on any shots then.” Ya damn skippy, Matthew. Bottoms up, baby.
We tasted 100 proof straight Tennessee moonshine. One was called White Lightning, and the other was called Holy Shit That Burned…or something like that. After awhile, the names didn’t matter, and, as Matthew kept saying, “Don’t matter what you drink, it jus’ matters that you drink it, folks. A free buzz is a good buzz, that’s what I always say.” A man after my own heart.
The flavors that followed were peach, pineapple, apple pie, pumpkin pie, blackberry, shine nog, charred (reminiscent of whiskey), orange, hunch punch, and a maraschino cherry shot that had been soaking in White Lightning for months. By the end of that tasting, we were all feeling pretty good. We ended up leaving with three jars of moonshine, which scored us a free t-shirt! We got pumpkin pie, which tastes just like pumpkin pie and will make some holiday eggnog damn good, apple pie, and the shine nog. Bring on the holiday cocktails, baby.
We walked around downtown for a little while longer, but, because of the rain, decided to call it an evening and grab some dinner. We stopped at Texas Longhorn (hate chains, loved this one) and I ate my weight in bacon green beans and steak salad. We went back to the cabin and ended the evening with some hot chocolate and a few games of pool, which I seriously need to work on, because I kept getting schooled.
Today was a fun day, aside from feeling temporarily stuck in Cades Cove. We got our dose of nature, steak, and ‘shine, so I can’t really complain. Besides, we’re on vacation in the mountains of Tennessee, and I’m very blessed to be able to have the opportunity to experience moments like this. It’s special.
Monday’s recap to come – more horseback riding through the Smokies and, you guessed it, more moonshine.
Talk to y’all soon,
Probably Still Drunk