Archive for October, 2008

Close call on Mount LeConte

October 21, 2008


“DANGER!” read the signs posted around the three-sided wooden shelter atop Mount LeConte. “BEARS ARE ACTIVE IN THIS AREA. DO NOT APPROACH THEM. ATTACKS ON HUMANS HAVE OCCURRED, INFLICTING SERIOUS INJURY AND DEATH.”

My friend Cheri and I were aware of our position on the food chain during our backpacking trip through the Smokies last weekend, but we didn’t let it bother us too much. We explored the mountaintop, cooked and ate dinner and watched the sun set from a west-facing lookout, all without giving much thought to the 250-pound mammals that average two per square mile in the national park.

But then, as we were talking with fellow campers outside the shelter after dark, we heard snorting and blowing from the trees nearby. Everyone, immediately, went on edge.

“What was THAT?” whispered Randy from Atlanta.

“I dunno. What WAS it?” responded Tim from Knoxville, a tinge of panic in his voice.

We heard the thick huffing sound again and squinted into the darkness, trying to identify the source of the sound. I shone my headlamp into the blackness and, no more than 30 feet away, made out the silhouette of a head and two ears. A bear.

“I SEE it!” I said. At that, everyone in the group — all men, except Cheri and me — took off running toward the shelter.

Now, when you see a bear, you are NOT supposed to run, because it only activates the animals’ chase instinct, and the odds are pretty much stacked against you (bears can run up to 30 miles per hour). Instead, you’re supposed to speak to the bear in a quiet, monotone voice and back away slowly, avoiding eye contact, which can be interpreted as a challenge.

Rather than be the only one left in the bear’s path, though, I took off with the rest of them. “We’re not supposed to ruuuuuuuun,” I yelled as I sprinted behind the group, determined not to be last.

Once back to the “safety” of the three-walled shelter, a couple of the men started shouting and making guttural noises to threaten the bear. Another banged together his hiking poles (a la The Parent Trap).

Just then, a figure emerged from the trees. It was Sam, a hiker from Jackson, Tenn., back from brushing his teeth and spraying his spit in a wide arc across the ground in true Leave No Trace form. He saw us lined up on defense along the edge of the shelter, posturing at the dark.

“What are you guys doing?” he asked, toothbrush in hand.

We burst out laughing at our mistake and immediately started making fun of each other.

(Check out this Web site and this video to find out what you’re REALLY supposed to do if you encounter a bear.)


Our stuff sacks of food, suspended out of bears’ reach on the ginormous industrial-strength pulley near the shelter

At 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Starting from Newfound Gap, Cheri and I hiked 2.7 miles along the Appalachian Trail and 5.4 miles along the Boulevard Trail to arrive at the summit (maps here). In many places along the way, spruce and fir forests scented the air like Christmas, and at the higher elevations, the leaves were just about at the peak of their brilliance.

We contributed stones to the cairn marking the highest point on the mountain.

And watched a spectacular sunset from the Clifftops lookout.

Cheri and I walked through the LeConte Lodge camp to look around, fill our water bottles at the pump and use the composting toilet. LeConte Lodge, which sits on a grassy slope atop the mountain, consists of seven one-room cabins ($75 per person per night) and a dining room that serves homecooked meals ($35 for dinner and breakfast, $9 extra for wine). It’s so popular among hikers who want more than a three-by-six-foot space in the shelter that it’s usually booked a year in advance.

The living spaces are cozy and rustic, with bunks for beds, kerosene lanterns for light, washbasins for sponge baths and rocking chairs for porch sittin’ and great views. Would be a great option if I ever had $120 to drop on a camping trip.

On Sunday morning, we followed the ever-popular Alum Cave Trail down the mountain 5.5 miles and 2,800 feet.

The Alum Cave Bluffs

And now, a few other photos:

Me

Cheri

Neon green lichen

An adelgid-eaten tree

A pretty stream

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Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Eww.

October 15, 2008

“Here, we fill our spirits, seek inspiration, and continue the journey toward what we know is right. In Gatlinburg, we Reach Higher Ground.”

– The Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce

If the Smoky Mountains National Park were to have an opposite, it would be Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the city at its doorstep. In just a few short blocks, the tourist trap contains 400 shops and five malls, plus a mess of arcades, mini golf courses, wax museums and mirror mazes. Though Gatlinburg claims to be about “the simple goodness of small town life,” where people gather to “stand in awe of nature’s glory,” the only thing green inside the city limits is the bills constantly changing hands.

My friend Cheri and I ventured into the Smoky Mountain town to grab dinner before a backpacking trip this weekend. We ate burritos under the beer flags on the No Way José’s Cantina patio, then strolled along Greenbrier Road, the main strip, to take in the sights.

Things you’ll find along Gatlinburg’s main strip, over and over and over again:

  • That “Grandma’s Punkin” airbrushed T-shirt you’ve always wanted.
  • Leg lamps (which can make “the soft glow of electric sex” glow from YOUR window TOO!)
  • Sailboats, elephants and unicorns sculpted of clear glass, perfect for the top-lit curio cabinet in your living room.
  • Chinese knives, swords and cutlery (because… this makes sense in a Tennessee mountain town?)
  • Hotels advertising their dance floors, hot tubs — and AARP specials.
  • Pancake houses. Seriously, there are like 15 in five blocks.
  • Tuxedo and wedding gown rental shops beside white-washed wedding chapels.
  • People pushing their dogs in strollers.
  • Old Tyme Picture Shops, where you can have your photo taken in a saloon or with the money bags from the bank you just robbed.

As we passed the front door of one of these picture shops, we saw woman in a frilly red dress posing in front of the saloon backdrop with a man who was completely naked, save the top hat he held as a codpiece. A fellow passerby, a woman in her mid-40s, yelled at him from the street. “Tip your hat!” she said. Then she clarified, “Not your HEAD, your HAT!”

Once you leave Gatlinburg and enter the national park, you will fall to your knees and weep with relief, if you’re not too sick from all the fudge and candied apples. And then you’ll feel like you’re a whole lot closer to Reaching Higher Ground.

Confessions of a Jazzerciser

October 7, 2008

The energy and rhythm of the mob swept me up, and before I fully understood what was happening, I was Jazzercising with the rest of them.

If you had asked three days ago, I would have told you Jazzercise died in the 80s along with mall bangs, leg warmers and belted leotards. But that is just not the case. Jazzercise is alive and kicking.

It is also tapping its feet, swinging its arms and thrusting its pelvis.

The women of the Jazzercise Fitness Center in Greensboro led an hour-long Jazzercise session to warm up participants for a 5K walk/run to benefit breast cancer research last weekend. I participated. Accidentally.

Aerobics does not come easily to me. The only other experience I’ve had with the activity was a step class I took toward a PE credit in college. It ended badly. As everyone else in the class kicked and stepped, turned around, and kicked and stepped again, I jumped and flailed and tripped over my platform. I tried to sneak out in the middle of class, but had to put away the platform AAAAAND the four blocks under it. Not very subtle.

I felt only slightly more coordinated on Saturday. Following our leader, 200 women and I stepped three to the right, kicked, stepped three to the left. We rolled our shoulders, popped our hips, and did a series of exaggerated pelvic thrusts, all in unison. It was actually kind of fun.

When I told my sister Laura about my experience later that day, I met silence on the phone line. “Jazzercise, Christina?” she said. “You are no longer allowed to make decisions for yourself. From now on, run everything by me.”

Learn Jazzercise moves, including the Jazz Stretch, Attitude Lift, Flick Kick, Heel Hop and Hip Rock, here.

Become a Jazzercise instructor here.