I have wanted to go to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve for a few years. It was more fun than I would have thought thanks to my daughter-in-law who recommended we rent sleds for the dunes. Who knew you could rent sleds and “sand” boards and go sledding on the sand?
This is a relatively new national park (2004) and is only a few hours drive from Colorado Springs. For me the drive down was well worth it. We rented our sleds at the Oasis store just outside of the park entrance.
The dunes look big close up. As you are driving to them, they look small in comparison to the mountains. Even the mountains look small from a distance. Once you are on the dunes and realize just how big the dunes are it is startling. This is the biggest dune field in North America.
It took a while to hike out to a good spot for our sledding adventure.
We had good instructions; more wax makes the board go fast. Going downhill was fun. The hard part of the day was walking back up hill after the downhill run. Too bad there was no ski lift for us.
A side benefit was that it was not too hot. The sand, according to the NPS, is much hotter than the air. Since it was cooler outside the sand was not too hot to touch. We know as we all fell off of our sleds.
The entrance to the dunes is over Medano Creek that apparently runs right across the only way to the dunes. We did not have to cross the creek; it was dried up in August. It would have been a nice relief to our feet to wade through the creek on the way back.
Traveling during COVID
It has been a while since I was on an airplane, okay, early in March. I remember that after September 11, 2001, I took a business flight right after the skies re-opened. I was flying to Denver from Boston and saw a lot of changes mainly with security. The military was out in force at Logan and hardly anyone was flying. At the gate there was a large collection of pocket knives and nail clippers that travelers were still used to carrying on board. The airport in Denver after 9-11 was almost deserted. More people were waiting to get us through security on the return trip than we saw going through security.
In the same way, we experienced several changes on our flight in August to Denver. Everyone was wearing a mask and the Public Address system talked about cleaning. Markers were on the floor to give us a distance marking. Everyone appeared to do their best, although at times (think trains in the Denver airport) circumstances do not allow for the distances being asked for. We were happy not all seats in our row on the airplane were filled. It was a good experience and I again felt safe flying.
I did fly direct to Denver and then drive to Colorado Springs to avoid more time in airports. I will look to fly again directly as much as possible. We were handed sanitizer for the seat and given a beverage and a snack in a plastic bag along with more sanitizer. I appreciate the front line workers at the airline and the airport. You are all coming into contact with a lot of us each day. Some can work from home but the hospitality business must show up. Thank you for showing up for us.
Bike Riding in Garden of the Gods
We have visited Garden of the Gods more than once. I think our kids all love the location as do I. Prior to this trip I had not ridden a bike in the park. That all changed thanks to Pikes Peak Mountain Bike Tours. We had a beautiful clear morning riding in the park with our guide. We have been on bike tours before. This is our first tour with just a guide and me and my wife. It was enjoyable riding as we went at our pace and saw the sights we wanted to see. We rode over 20 miles in about 3 hours.
Our guide, Nate, was very knowledgeable and friendly. The highlight for me was taking the mountain bike trail in the park (Ute trail) that I had used for an indoor biking class. We had hiked this trail before. This was a better experience than I had described to my class. We managed to go on the trail a few times.
After our ride we went to the gift shop to have an ice cream. What a nice location and the ice cream was good as well.
I had never been to Paint Mines in Colorado before. This is a local (El Paso County) park. We were amazed at the rock formations and the colors. The picture I took does not do it justice. Once you have biked in Garden of the Gods Park, also in El Paso County Colorado, taking a hike in the Paint Mines is the next best adventure to tackle.
We enjoyed our hike among the painted rocks. The rock colors were hard to believe. It was an easy hike and a well-marked path.
This was funny to us, as we have never experienced a hail storm like they do in Colorado Springs. We were out for a walk around the block and it was cloudy. I guess you can buy anything. I had never seen a hail protector before.
It was nice to see our son dressed up for the day—someone has to work.
Going out to breakfast in downtown Colorado Springs during the week was a treat. We were safe while enjoying a good breakfast.
The city has closed several streets to allow people to get around downtown. Much different from our last visit to downtown Colorado Springs.
We enjoyed walking along in the Fountain Creek Regional Park. This has several miles of walking, horse, and mountain or gravel bike trails. This was an enjoyable park for all sorts of athletic activities.
We had a couple of hikes in the nearby Cheyenne Mountain State Park. Each hike was enjoyable and moderate. It was good to get out and hike. We found this park the best marked park we have hiked in yet. Every time we came to an intersection, we found a marker.
Our travel to Colorado was very relaxing. We did manage to play bridge, laugh and enjoy spending time with family.
What would you have said way back in 2019 if a group got together with masks and sharp axes? You are probably not thinking about a bunch of retired friends who are generally agreeable and not too competitive. Fast forward to 2020 and put on a mask, sharpen a few axes and bring them to an axe throwing establishment. We know that real men and women can have a blast throwing axes.
Even in the state of Kentucky, the rules under Covid -19 have been loosened to the point where a group of 10 can get together in a public place and throw axes. Thanks to our friends David and Sherri who bid on the event at a charity auction, we were able to join them as fellow first time axe throwers.
After some excellent ground rules and teaching for us on how to properly throw an axe by the staff, we divided into teams to play a few games. My team did not win but we all had fun. After our team competition, we divided into a “throw off” to determine the group’s best thrower. The winner for the group was Jerry. He threw nice and easy and almost always hit the target.
We are exploring other things we can do to get out, appropriately distancing and wearing a mask. For some in the group, going out to dinner after throwing axes was a new experience. I appreciate that businesses were opening back up and we were able to support them.
During the shutdown we were able to connect with our family and friends on zoom. Not the same as being with them but it was great to see everyone.
During the month of April I put more miles on my running shoes (95 miles) than I did in my car.
We started riding outside as the weather got nicer and I was able to get out for 98 miles of bike riding in April.
Last year one of our sons ran the flying pig marathon and I thought based on running a triathlon with him that I could run the half-marathon as well with him (okay—he could wait for me at the finish line). I joined a running group and began a training program in January 2020, in part so I could finish my planned 5k triathlon actually running the whole time.
The group I joined was motivational for me. I met several runners who ran at my pace; although they had more experience, we were all training for the same goals. Part of the training program was to run the frozen 5k in February and in March we were scheduled to run the Heart mini marathon (a 15k).
The global pandemic had some other ideas for group events and all of the events scheduled for me became virtual as did my running group. Without the training program I would not have contemplated or finished the now virtual runs that I have completed.
As much as I am happy to have completed these runs, I know that it would have been much more fun with the crowd. I ran all of these events in my neighborhood with limited running area; running the same loop can get challenging. Fortunately for me, my wife came out and cheered me on and provided water about every 20-30 minutes as I made another loop. She even wrote with sidewalk chalk some congratulatory notes.
My times are nothing to brag about, but I am pleased with my results. Each week in the training program I would say, this is the farthest I have ever run. Now that I have completed a half-marathon, I think a 10K is a good distance for me.
You still have to run to participate in a virtual running event.
Heart Mini: 15k
Flying Pig half Marathon
Big 10, 10k for Michigan State University
I have been enjoying running. As the gyms were closed, this was a great way to stay in shape and meet some of my neighbors. Running with others is so much easier the running solo. I will look forward to being in a group if we can figure out how to do it safely.
Walk and warm up. Who cares how fast? My goal was to finish the half marathon.
No bike riding discussed in this blog. I am now able to bike one day and run another day. This has been a good mix as the weather has warmed up and it is better on a bike in the heat, at least for me, than running. I am sure running will pick up in the fall again.
We never know where the next turn will take us. A week after my travel to California, the entire country was shut down due to Covid-19. On the plane ride home, a lady sat next to me with a mask on and said she did not want to catch anything prior to visiting her relatives. Now we are all wearing masks to go out in public. Who would have thought the bank would want to have customers wear a mask to enter the building?
I received an email from BetterUp! the coaching service that my company employed as I was transitioning from working to retirement. I have previously written about my photo shoot and that fun experience. This time, I was asked to speak on a panel to discuss my experiences with coaching for one of their conferences.
Of course I went. It was a chance to visit with family and connect with some old friends, including my coach Rob, and I was excited to make several new friends including my fellow panelists.
I knew this conference would be different from other I attended. The head of the company began on Monday night by insisting we refrain from shaking hands and just bumping elbows.
Monday, I was able to go to lunch with my youngest and spend some time prior to the conference kick off.
At the conference, I met the other speakers in the morning to go over our parts. What a great group of people. I was pleased to be included in the group. Our BetterUp! representative was Damian Vaughn, a former NFL player. What a supper nice guy to have as a moderator and facilitator for our part of the program.
The Claremont Club and Spa Berkeley we were staying at for the conference was really a treat. I loved the view from the room overlooking the bay.
When I say the hotel was top notch, the California primary election was on Tuesday and Michael Bloomberg who was a candidate (and is a billionaire) was staying at our hotel.
As part of my running program, I was out of town and missed the group run, so I took the opportunity to run into the campus at UC Berkley. The campus was full of students , but I was not the only older man running through campus. I assume the others were local residents or professors. The hotel had a running route that you can listen to while it gives directions and points out some of the features on campus which was a fun way to run around town.
I got to have Leslie Odom, Jr. sign a copy of his book “Failing Up” back stage after hearing him speak and sing for us. He is super guy and easy to speak with. I was happy BetterUp had him at the end of the program. It was well worth sticking around to hear him speak and sing. I recently had the chance (thank you Disney + and the Berns) to see Hamilton with Leslie playing Burr. It put it all together for me. The book was good; one of my kids also read it and enjoyed it. Take a chance and read it too.
Rob (my BetterUp! coach) took me for a hike to the Siesta Valley Recreation Area near the hotel and near where he grew up. We had a great view of San Francisco and walk around the area.
Take opportunities when you can. I did not know that a week after my return home, St. Patrick ’s Day, would be the day we would go into what I would call seclusion and the travel industry would be shutting down for a while.
I enjoy speaking with others about my experiences, like all of us; it is nice to have others care.
Hiring a coach to assist you in life is a good deal; it really makes a difference. A coach will get you to where you are going faster and on target. My journey in retirement is richer because I was coachable. I hope you are coachable as well.
No bike riding on this trip. I will get the bike out of the basement in the spring.
I enjoyed our travels last year to Bardstown so much that I suggested that we all travel to Louisville as a group. Like at the office, when you make a suggestion, you often have to carry out the implementation. At first I thought just the guys would want to go.
We soon found out that the entire group was interested in traveling to Louisville. Some in our group, including me, had been before and even had kids attend the University. This was a first-time visit for some of the group. I had not put together a travel itinerary for a group of friends before, so I went to some blog posts and pulled out a few ideas. It turned out wonderful. It was not as hard as I thought, and my friends all helped with some suggestions of their own.
We began our tour of Louisville by getting one of the rare treats, a bourbon milk shake from Royal’s Hot Chicken. The place was packed near noon and we could see why; the chicken delicious and so were the milkshakes. I had a smooth tasting, cold milk shake that hit the spot with my hot chicken tenders. I was interested that they put a test tube filled with bourbon in the glass along with a spoon and a big straw. This allowed me and the others with the bourbon shooter to add the bourbon as we went. The bourbon in the milkshake was a good combination and one I will look for again.
After a satisfying lunch we had tickets to Angel’s Envy Distillery, a few short blocks away from Royal’s.
We were impressed with Angel’s Envy and the tour. They have their own unique take on emptying the bourbon into other spirit containers, including port wine barrels. The distillery was clean and, for an old factory, amazingly modern. The distillery has done a good job in laying out their process.
Taking risks and being bold was a good combination for the taste in my opinion and the opinion of others. We did enjoy the tour guide, the general tour and the product. I found the flavor enhanced by the re-barreling process that is unique for them.
After a wonderful dinner out at Jack Fry’s, where the service was great for our party of 8 and we enjoyed very good cooking and a piano player setting the mood, we went to our B&B to dream about our next day’s tour. We enjoyed the charm and warmth provided at the DuPont Mansion B&B in Louisville. We were able to sit in the parlor and chat or play games. The breakfasts were very tasty as were the cookies when we got back at night.
Since we had a large group, I was interested in allowing us to explore the city as well as see the sights together and on our own, depending on what we liked to do. Some of us purchased the Museum Center (six in one) tickets. I thought it was a great value. Our group made it to these sites: Frazier History Museum, Louisville Slugger Museum, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Muhammad Ali Center, and Peerless Distilling Co.
I spent the most time in the Frazier History Museum; they were showing a bourbon exhibit with the history and shaping of bourbon in America, especially Kentucky.
Being a baseball fan, we noticed several improvements at the Louisville Slugger museum over our last visit about 5 years earlier. The tour was on point and ran us through their bat making facility, starting with the forest and the trees and how they work on growing and identifying trees.
The Slugger Museum did a good job of explaining the process of bat making and letting us feel the product in various stages. I am still in awe of holding a major league bat that could be used in a game (I hope so!) later this year.
Several in our group went to the Muhammad Ali Center and were impressed by the presentation in the museum and the life story and values of this great fighter. This is a stop we will need to go back to and experience. We foolishly thought that we could do a museum in about 30 minutes and then we were drawn into the stories setup inside and spent longer at each stop.
The surprising stop for me was the Peerless Distilling Company. It does not look like much from the outside and is in an old building.
The product was very good and we came away from our tour with a favorable impression of their product and the way this craft maker distills their bourbon. We enjoyed the tour and our tour guide. Peerless uses a sweet mash and they would not share the mash percentages, the corn, rye or wheat, unlike other tours we have been on before.
Peerless takes pride in their heritage as an old line (placed in barrels beginning in 1889) Kentucky distilling company. They have modeled their bottle and the re-start of this distillery on the original distilling company. The history was a good story and made the tour worthwhile to hear.
The distilling process and the inside of the building is clean and new in appearance. We did not find a rundown bottler but an up to date modern facility with a good product to sell.
We were unable to tour the Even Williams shop, although we stopped in for a visit to the gift shop. Several in our group knew what they liked and found it in the shop.
Our second dinner out at RYEs was a bigger party for us, with 10 at the table we had the best waitress and service. The food was delicious and I would say you should try it out for yourself. A long time ago, I waited on tables and discovered that big parties like a group of 10 friends, was a big pain to wait on. No one is ready and then everyone is ready. This restaurant must do a great job training their staff because we had no hassles and excellent service.
On our way out of town, the day after Leap Day, we visited the historic Brown Hotel, a landmark in Louisville.
The hotel is known for their grand style and inventing a unique Kentucky dish called the Hot Brown. I thought I had had hot brown before that day, and I now know that it was a poor imitation of the real thing.
Everyone at the table ordered the hot brown and we all loved it!
This is a hotel that properly prides itself on service and satisfaction. We were happy with the meal, our service and the ambiance. We were visiting on a Sunday and the place was packed. We had the feeling that we were special, just because we showed up and enjoyed a hearty meal.
After the hot brown at the Brown Hotel, we needed a walk. We had planned a walk to Indiana on the Big 4 Bridge over the Ohio River. We picked the perfect day, the sun was out and the weather was a hint of early spring.
On the first of February I ran the “Frozen 5k” and my son and his friends ran the “Frozen 10k.” This event is put on by our local minor league ice hockey team, the Cincinnati Cyclones. They were kind enough to open their arena prior to the race for us to stay warm and get ready for the event.
It was cold (about 36 degrees when we started) in the morning, not as cold as it could be with the historic average of 23 on February 1 in Cincinnati. My running group suggested that we sign up for several races or running events to get use to running in large events. The run was sold out with about 2,200 runners.
This was my best run (I finished in 32 minutes and 2 seconds), as I ran the whole 5k instead of my unusual running and walking and then running some more. I managed to finish faster than my son and his friends and was able to see them cross the finish line. Yes—they ran twice as far as I did and I am twice their age.
Always plan ahead. A plan can change, but as we saw with Evan Williams, we do not always get to visit a place without planning ahead for a limited tour.
Take advantage of the local opportunities. We could have gone almost anywhere with our group. A quick ride down the road was like being a world away.
No bike riding on this trip. I will get the bike out of the basement in the spring.
Before Christmas, I was able to watch the New England Patriots with Tom Brady as quarterback playing the Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati. I shared that I thought it may be the last time we see Tom Brady in person in a Patriots uniform and as events unfolded, we were correct. I thought he would retire.
My son joined me for a “fun run” in Northern Kentucky put on by the Arthritis Foundation. The Jingle Bell 5k Run was fun and a challenge (for me). My son ran with me the whole time giving me moral support and slowing down his pace for mine. One of the pictures he took while running backwards.
After a Christmas Eve church service we had a lovely Christmas day dinner in downtown Cincinnati, complete with a walk around town with wonderful December weather.
On Boxing Day I flew to California to enjoy the continued nice weather and live out my desire to spend time with family and friends. Our youngest lives in San Jose and we had a great visit. Besides spending time together, watching the MSU Spartans win a bowl game on TV and seeing the latest Star Wars movie, just spending time together was the highlight. We also had a day in San Francisco where we toured Golden Gate Park, visiting the California Academy of Sciences and enjoying the wonderful late December day. We ended up at Ghiradelli Square for some ice cream and good memories.
Just being together is enough. Listening and respect is also good. I love all our kids!
I did get in my running preparation while visiting prior to joining the running club for the Flying Pig half marathon I plan to run virtually in May of 2020. No bike riding on this adventure.
With Covid-19 disrupting everything, I am home for a while and need to catch up on my blog posts starting with Christmas in San Francisco. I thought I would start out of order and share that I got back from my last travel adventure in early March and just like all of you, all of my activities have been cancelled.
One of the things I learned was the phrase “too much husband and not enough income” describing the now retired husband. I am now at home and my wife is working part time outside of the home. It is a balancing act. One each has to make adjustments for and with each other. My habits changed as full time employment ended at the office and part time travel and teaching began. I was fortunate to have a coach work with me on this transition, more on that at another time.
Many of us are now faced with no travel and life socially distanced even from their neighbors. I am looking forward to getting back into my routine and meeting in person with my friends.
Here are the things I had to start doing to keep going when I stopped going into the office daily:
- Walking daily for at least a mile with my wife. This habit, which we enjoy even in the winter, keeps us together and active.
- Intentionally calling, emailing and setting up meetings with friends and family.
- We started a group we call First Friday Friends. We have traveled with this group, and the consistent monthly interactions have been great.
- A life lesson I heard about and then experienced was that my work friends said, as I did when others left, that they would keep in touch. The reality is they are busy and the demands or bonds that previously brought us together are not present any longer.
- I needed reach out to maintain friendships and connections and you will as well.
- Find a routine: Prior to the staying at home notices we now are all under, I had a set routine on when to go to bed, get up and what I was planning to do daily. I went so far as to schedule out a day, week and month so I knew what was coming and had events to look forward to each day. All plans change as events happen. I was fortunate to have a plan to change. My lesson learned was having a plan to change was better than no plan to begin with.
- I chose to get up and go out most days—playing racquetball with friends, teaching indoor biking, working out and swimming at my local gym, now closed until at least the first of April, 2020. The consistency of a group I was accountable to and for kept me active and engaged in life. It was the same thing until a week ago with my running group.
- Challenge yourself and live your values. One of the coaching benefits was the exploration of values and how to live those out. My frequent visits to family, friends and travels are a part of me living my values of family and friendship. I have also taken on some new challenges, starting running at the age of 60 and participating in running races for the first time in my life.
Here is an example: I joined a running group in January (first run on January 2) and enjoyed running with the group from Tri-State Running Company, a local shoe store in Kentucky. My inspiration for joining this group came from reading the book by Peter Sagal, “The Incomplete Book of Running” where he advises readers to not run alone. I also want to improve my weakest link in the triathlon, running, in hopes to compete in the event again with my son this July. Last year, I walked much more than I ran, so I thought I should keep up the running, at least until July.
So, I joined the running group and have enjoyed the comradery. In fact, the group is so large, I could join the 11:15 pace group for the half marathon.
If you do not know (and I did not a year ago) this is a slow pace, and we have more than a dozen dedicated runners who are self-selecting to train at this pace. I picked the half marathon because they did not offer a 10K training program. Now I have done several runs more than a 10k so I think it was the right call.
I just completed, as a virtual run, the Heart Mini Marathon Cincinnati. I did the 15k run that was scheduled for this weekend and was cancelled. It was fun as I had the support from my wife while I ran the 2.25 mile loop in the neighborhood. The 15k I found out is 9.321 miles.
Keep safe and healthy. I will have more coming soon on my recent travel adventures. Happy to assist with tips on working from home or places to visit. My only bike riding has been at the gym or in my basement. Warmer weather soon and I will be out riding again.
You already know that I am not a runner. Happy Thanksgiving and let’s run a 5K race in Colorado Springs almost a mile higher in elevation than where I live. I can see why the Olympic athletes train here, once they are acclimated.
This was not our first family visit to Colorado Springs, just the first time visiting when it snowed in the city. We were fortunate to have a day without snow and had a nice time in Acacia Park and walking downtown Colorado Springs.
Here are a few before and after views from our condo (Airbnb) before and after the snow:
I have stayed at my home for many years now, avoiding traveling at Thanksgiving. When my kids were younger, I sometimes took the family to the in-laws or my parents. They have also come to join the six of us at our home. More often, we stayed at home for Thanksgiving. We have several years of Thanksgiving memories where we hosted local “orphans” or were hosted by other “orphans” who did not have other family in the area.
This year we traveled to Colorado Springs to visit and celebrate Thanksgiving. As I am older, so are the kids. They are now in the position that I was when I stayed at home. Thanksgiving happens over a few short days. My excuse for not traveling at Thanksgiving the limited time and because of the limited time frame many travel during the few days of this holiday. We stepped up as mature adults and enjoyed the travels to the kids, including bringing one with us.
The retirement benefit is leaving the weekend prior and leaving after the holiday rush. Even on Sunday traveling by airplane was already busy. We were prepared for the lines and the hassle of Thanksgiving holiday fun. It was an easy experience traveling and the airlines and airports were well staffed and handled the crowds with ease. We also made it into Colorado before a big snowstorm and left after the next high wind and snow could hit. We had an enjoyable week of travel to and from Colorado.
We were happy that our kids invited one of their friends to join our holiday meal. It is good to welcome the “orphans” to the Thanksgiving dinner and keep the tradition and we hope someone did the same for our one kid who couldn’t make it to Colorado.
We had the pleasure of taking one of our kids who flew in for Thanksgiving to the Garden of the Gods. It was beautiful all covered in snow.
If you have not been to the Garden of the Gods, you are really missing out.
This was my first time seeing it in the snow; I appreciated the snow and the red rock combination.
One of my kids suggested, in August, that we all sign up for a family 5k run. I believe her words were “No one listens to me, so why now?” So, we all signed up as (much to their dismay) a team for the Colorado Springs 5k Turkey Trot.
We received a message the night prior to the run advising us that the road conditions were less than ideal and we should be prepared for cold weather and ice on the road.
We did have cold weather (about 21 degrees Fahrenheit when we began) and ice, slush and snow was on the ground. It was also a little foggy when we began.
The crowd was just about half of the runners who signed up for the event, or about 2400. I am happy to say that I did finish and stayed upright on the ice and snow the whole time.
My time to finish was less than 36 minutes, about 10 minutes slower than the two oldest kids who ran.
Altitude is real and takes your breath away when you are participating in the family 5k. Okay, I only managed to “run” a quarter mile before walking, much sooner than my normal 1 mile before I have to walk. I did manage to finish 1077 of 2409. The training I did was okay, but I was unable to train for altitude. The reward is the same; I was not going to win, even my own age group, so finishing the event was the key. No matter what place, I completed the race.
Traveling is good to do when you visit with family. We did sit and enjoy the company of our kids. Spending the holiday with family was all it was supposed to be, including snowball fights on a walk around the neighborhood and a wishbone pull after Thanksgiving dinner. I am so happy to have spent the time with the kids.
Our day trip to Denver was cancelled when they received over a foot of snow. We had planned a fun adventure but were able to spend the day preparing for Thanksgiving and playing games. I learned how to play Catan. We also managed to get in a Euchre tournament and play some bridge.
Bring Kentucky holiday cheer; it is great for an unexpected snow day.
Looking at the Garden on the Gods through the eyes of a first time visitor enhanced the hike in the snow. A first time visitor brings wonder and a lot of appreciation when this magnificent garden is first viewed.
Everyone thinks of the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. We enjoyed a tour of Ft. Carson Army Base. We were surprised how large the base actually is. It does make sense for tank training. We heard the bugle call reveille each morning from the fort at 6:30 AM from our place; it was a good reminder of some other things that are going on in the world.
No bike riding; too much snow, and we did not have easy access to bikes.
Before leaving for our Thanksgiving feast, we walked a few miles in our local Arboretum. The trees even after the leaves have fallen present themselves with a beauty and wonder. We liked the Larch and did not recall seeing the yellow needles on our prior visit.
Now that the long bike rides and triathlon are over, relaxing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sounded like a good time.
When we booked our cabin and planned the trip we were unaware that October is one of the busiest times for the park. We also did not know that this was the busiest National Park. One of the benefits of retirement travel is going during the week. We were surprised at all of the people gathered in the park and Gatlinburg. I guess Columbus Day is a popular time for schools to take a break; we visiting the week prior to the break. We thought traffic and the number of tourist picked up as we got closer to the holiday weekend.
One of the downsides was that parking to hike was at a premium. However, like a good restaurant that is always full, we found that the experience and scenery were worth the hassle. Traffic in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge was also heavy as we went through town. We have been to the park before. This time we were happy not to see any bears as we were hiking
We had a cabin away from town and up a hill so we could enjoy breakfast and linger a little out the front porch. The cabin had large windows and offered a great view of the mountains. We did see the “smoke” in the mountains in the morning that looked inviting.
Our afternoon hikes were good. We had spent most of our previous time in the southern part of the park (Cades Cove), so we hiked in the middle of the park this time.
We noticed that the signage on the hiking trails in the park was lacking or had been removed though too much use, but it was easy to find our way as several other hikers were on the trails with us.
We enjoyed the hikes and the views. It was great to have some hand holds as we went up and down near the edge on the hikes.
The National Park Service has done a good job keeping the trails in good condition given all of the traffic on them we encountered except for the signs while on the trail.
There are plenty of hikes we have not yet taken in the park. We will have to come back and enjoy some of them on our next visit. Now we know to schedule the visit outside of October.
The colors had not yet come out to the park. We did see some of the trees turning early here and there. The week after our visit was probably a peak time for fall colors. We enjoyed the lush green views and left the pretty colors for the visitors for the following week.
We purposely went back home on the back roads from the Smoky Mountains National Park (which is in parts of Tennessee and North Carolina) so we could stop at the three state Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
The weather on the Saturday when we arrived in Kentucky was cooler than it was in Tennessee as we were leaving. Our first stop in Cumberland Gap was at the only visitor center. This is a large park and it was important to know that there is only one visitor center.
We were happy talk with a couple making apple butter over an open fire and dressed in period costumes. It looked like hard work. They assured us that the taste was worth the work on the open fire. We liked the warmth of the open fire.
We were immediately stuck by how few visitors were at this park, just a few miles (85 or so) up the road from the Smoky Mountains. The ranger we spoke to at Cumberland Gap indicated that over 11 million visitors go to the Smoky Mountains and about 1 million visit Cumberland Gap. We really enjoyed hiking in Cumberland Gap with well-marked trails and easy parking.
We took the tri-state trail and hiked up and stood in the three separate states at the same time (Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia). It was interesting to see the contour of the land and to know that many western settlers had journeyed across the mountains where we were hiking.
When looking at the road into the gap we wondered how much harder the mountain pass must be, as this was not an easy climb. We do not have wagons with all of our possessions and have no real idea of the hardship.
The Civil War had a lot going on in Cumberland; we enjoyed the side spots where we could see evidence of the forts and the places where some of the troops moved through. It did make sense that the troops came by and through the gap in the struggle to move across the country.
I recommend driving up the road to the pinnacle overlook, although it twists a whole lot. At one point you can see the road next to you as the road almost doubles back on itself.
The paved paths along the viewing area made the walk out to the view easily assessable. Unfortunately, the view was one where we could see the clouds as the weather was not in our favor. We caught glimpses of the surrounding area and will look forward to coming back for a better view in the future.
We can get to the Smoky Mountain National park in about 5 hours. We should plan to go before or after the peak times for the park, staying away from October (Columbus Day for example) and school vacation week in the spring.
Both Cumberland Gap and Smoky Mountain National Parks do not require admission fees.
Cumberland Gap has hundreds of miles of hikes available. We are thinking about spending more time visiting this park in the future.
We enjoyed two dinner shows and would have liked to have gone for another. We were amazed at the horse handling skills demonstrated during the show at the Dolly Parton’s stampede and the Hatfield & McCoy Dinner Feud. The dinners out were fun and since it gets dark in October so early we had to leave the trails earlier than we would have during the summer.
Our preference was the Dinner Feud. It was a little smaller theater and we had a lively and interactive server. We found that we liked the food better at the Hatfield’s than the Stampede. The musicians for the Stampede put on a great show prior to the dinner and gave an amazing performance. Of course, the horse-riding feats were exciting to watch and they were well executed. We appreciated the good clean family entertainment at both shows.
We did not come for the town, so Gatlinburg was lost on us. A sea of people walking up and down the main street near the Park was interesting to see. I believe we would have enjoyed the walking in town had we been staying in Gatlinburg.
No bike riding in the mountains where the roads are narrow and winding. From the Cades Cove camp grounds areas you can go biking a few times per week. As we have seen bears in this area, we did not think we should tempt fate by riding bikes near the bears. It might be fun…with a group.