Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Girls are sometimes such liars… but they mean well.
It was late on a Friday afternoon in July, the peak of tourist season, a few months before the Gatlinburg fires. The traffic had been a bit thick but not yet unbearable, but it would become so in another couple of hours as Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge would begin to overflow with tourists lining up to eat or just walk the streets. I’d like to say the most challenging part of spending time in the mountains is the rough, long trails or the impenetrable stands of rhododendron, but to be honest, the biggest challenge is usually the traffic. Even if you intend to spend time in a remote part of the park with very few people, you still have to get there. So traffic – especially in June, July, and August – is an inevitable part of the picture, requiring patience, perseverance, and good music to soothe the savage beast that lurks in the hearts of each of us when we are stuck in traffic.
I slipped through Gatlinburg and drove past Sugarlands and approached the Chimneys area – first the picnic area, then the view of the Chimney Tops in the distance, then the parking lot at the trailhead to the Chimney Tops. This trail is one of the most popular (i.e., crowded) trails in the park. It is two miles, one-way, and mostly up, sometimes steeply. The top end of the trail is an open, airy, exposed, rocky peak that is a bit scary in a few places. It’s a great spot if you can manage the last 50 yards of steep crawling. A lot of people can’t handle those last 50 yards, but a lot of people can, so the entire top is usually full of people. As you drive toward it, if you’ll stop and look carefully at the top, you’ll see what appears to be a colony of ants crawling all along the uppermost ridge and top. The rock itself seems to be heaving and waving. You stop and squint and rub your eyes and look again, and the rock is still moving. But it’s not the rock. It’s the dozens of people on the rock – a colony of tourists, not ants.
My secret to visiting the Chimneys is to go late in the afternoon, a couple of hours before sunset, as most of the folks are hiking down the trail and back to their cars. From the lofty perch on either the first or second Chimney Top, I watch the sun set, then I turn on my headlamp and walk back down the trail in the dark. I almost always have the Chimney Tops and their trail all to myself. It’s the perfect plan, if you don’t mind hiking in the dark.
Occasionally, I’ll entertain myself on the hike up to the Chimneys by asking an occasional hiker who’s going back down to her car, “Am I getting close?” I’ll ask this at the beginning of the steep part of the hike, knowing that I have a mile to go, which for most of us is definitely not “almost there.” Not to mention the fact that there’s about a half-mile of steep trail just a few minutes in front of me.
The entertainment I derive from this little game is in hearing what the down-hikers have to say in response to my query. Over the years, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern – women try to be encouraging, even to the point of outright lying. They’ll say things like, “Oh yes, you’re doing great!” Or, “You’re getting close. Just a little farther.” Or, the outright lie, “Yes, you’re almost there.” Even though they know that I’m not almost there, and I know that I’m not almost there, but they don’t know that I know that I’m not. So they lie, expecting me to believe. [To be continued]