Days Three and Four: Waterfalls, Trails, and Five Whole K's!

And I thought doing my video work was hard! “Lugging equipment around everywhere is the worst!” I would complain to myself. Little did I realize that tourists really have it worse off. Doing legitimate hikes and activities day after day really takes its toll on you. I mean, I’m just 23 and I woke up stiff on Saturday!

Anyways, there was no time for resting. My parents and I had more scheduled for today, so off we went.

Our first stop was Grotto Falls, off of the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Thanks to Gatlinburg garbage bears, traffic there was pretty terrible, but my parents, of course, didn’t mind the opportunity to see some “wildlife.”

Once we got to the trailhead, my parents found out just want I meant when I said it would be crowded on the weekends. We finally found parking (a quarter mile away, well, maybe not that far) and started up the short trail. And you know what? It worked. It was actually so foggy on Saturday, that we still had some privacy on the trail. Seriously, it was hard to see past 100 feet, even less than that at times.

After hiking the roughly mile and a half and passing some rather poor examples of parenting, we finally got to Grotto Falls. Then we proceeded to completely hog all the best photo spots.

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After the falls, I got my parents to do something that I have actually been meaning to do the whole time I’ve been here, hike the Appalachian Trail. That’s right all 2,000+ miles of it. Well, not really. But we did get to hike roughly 1/1000

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of the trail (and don’t forget we had to hike it back, too!).

You know, if you really just looked at it on the surface level, it was just another trail. But in reality, the AT just had a different feel to it. There’s romanticism, struggle, accomplishment, nostalgia, and all sorts of other feelings all tied up in what is really just a very long stretch of three-foot-wide deforestation.

Appalachian Trail markers, definitely not mistakable for patches of guano, moss, mold, or snow

The hike was really enjoyable, and we saw quite a few hikers, though most of them were just day hikers. Even more interesting, most of them were fairly elderly and had each been to the Smokies at least five times, some more than ten.

She’s thinking, “I could totally live in here overnight if I had to.” (She totally couldn’t)

I don’t know if it was the all the old people who were more ambitious that them or the Appalachian Trail pins I gave to them when they were ready to turn back, but suddenly my parents were excited and ready to keep going a little ways. By our estimates, we had gone between one to one and a half miles, and the thought of only having gone 1/1000

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of the AT was unacceptable to them. So we trudged on and ended up having a very enjoyable and rewarding hike.

Seriously, autumn here is awesome!

I don’t remember when I took this, but it sure is a great view

We ended the day earlier than the previous two, and my dad was very happy we had time to hit up the local brewery to catch some of the Notre Dame game. He was paying for dinner, so why would I say no?

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Sunday morning was even harder to overcome than Saturday. I woke up (after sleeping the past few nights on a couch, and my dad on an air mattress), and thought my knees would never bend again, which was pretty bad since I had a 5K to run that day.

The gods of unfortunate situations were watching over us, however. My mom was starting to feel kind of sick, and the fog was thicker than I’ve ever seen it before. So our planned morning hike turned into driving around looking for a view bute really just finding this everywhere.

This pretty much sums up the view the whole day

Still, it wasn’t a wasted day. We descended back down under all the fallen clouds and made the strenuous .1 mile hike to see Cataract Falls, which is normally just a trickle but was actually a decent, little waterfall since it had started raining.

Then came the main event of the day, the Pi Beta PhiveK, which I had signed up for back when I first arrived in the Smokies. However, I had only trained for about two weeks, minus a few days here and there. Still, I was hopeful that all the hiking and high altitudes of the past month would help me be in somewhat passable shape.

I set what I thought would be an unrealistic goal of twenty-five minutes for the five kilometers. I also started off the race way too fast. Excited by the opportunity to blow past a bunch of nine and ten-year-olds, I quickly pulled ahead of all but two people in the race (one of which ended up finishing in something ridiculous like fifteen minutes), but by mile two, I was pretty gassed. Plus, I had already been passed by a girl (I don’t mean to be sexist, but in the moment it hurts a selfish man’s pride a little bit extra).

To make matters worse, I turned my head to find a pack of what I could only assume to be members of the girls’ high school cross country team. Now, I’m quite a cross country veteran, having run for a whole year in high school and even making it on the top seven for one race, and I knew what these girls were doing. They were running as a group to pull each other along and build of one another’s strength and determination. However, it was only a matter of before one or two of them finally made their move and pulled away.

My adrenaline-filled, egotistical brain said “Go!” My cramping lungs and stomach said “Stop!” And to be completely honest, I think I ended up doing something a little in between.

Still, I managed to hang in there and only get passed by one of the girls. I was heaving for air as I crossed the finish line, but at 23:18, I did way better than I had expected. Regardless, who wouldn’t be proud of representing Smokie’s Team!?

While I was racing, my parents got to hit up some local art shops, which I know my mom was happy about. They picked me up from the race, and we headed to the airport so they could get back to real life in Chicago.

Overall, I was really happy my parents were able to visit. The park is such an amazing place, and I’m glad I was able to share it with someone while I was here. I can’t wait to come back and share it with a few more people (I’m looking at you Emma, Kelly, and Joe!)

Plenty of room for more of you next time!

With my parents gone, and less than two weeks left in my stay, it’s time for (not)Ranger Mike to get back to work!