Hillbillies and Dragons

Wow, what a week that was!  Since we were too busy I never got a chance to write any posts.  So lets see if I can relive each day.  They were pretty action packed so get comfortable. 🙂

Saturday, we woke up early after a good nights sleep.  My parents met us at our house, and we did our final packing of the car, and loaded the bike on my dads truck.  We got off right on schedule and headed to Graceland.  We arrived at West Memphis around 7pm, checked in our hotel and looked for a place to eat.  Although we all know the further away from Mexico the worse mexican food will get, we decided to try a nearby mexican restaurant.  Walking in, you think there may be hope, as the decor was bright and lively, and the place was rather full.  However the equation held true, and the food was pretty bad.  On the way back to the hotel, we stopped into a Walgreens.  I only mention this, because I had never seen a Walgreens so packed at 10pm.  Then I find out that they actually have a liquor store inside!

IMG_7282.JPGSunday morning we headed to Graceland.  I don’t think you have to be an Elvis fan to appeciate Graceland.  From his lavish taste in decor, to his outlandish costumes, to his rooms filled floor to ceiling with awards/gold records.  It truely is amazing that one man did so much in so little time.  While there, this time we also toured his extensive car collection and airplanes.  One thing that impressed me about his plane was that it had a phone in it; they said he could make a call anywhere in the world.  I’d love to know how that worked.

After paying our respects at Graceland we ventured on toward Pigeon Forge.  6 hours later we made it, and stopped to have some dinner, and then headed to the cabin.  We stayed in this night as we’ve had a long ride and needed to get some rest for our week of fun.

Monday we started the day by riding the bikes into Gatlinburg.  The first stop of the day was at Hillbilly Golf.  What makes Hillbilly Golf so unique is that its literally on the side of a mountain.  To start the course you ride the incline up to the start.  Then as you play you putt and walk your way down.  Its a really fun course, and one we do on every visit.  After putt-putt we walked up and down the main drag of Gatlinburg.  We stayed till about dinner time then headed back to the cabin.  After dinner the family decided to burn some rubber at the go-cart tracks.  These of course aren’t your everyday tracks.  Each track there has at least one section of the track that is 4-5 stories high.  They are slow getting to the top, but the ride down is well worth it. 🙂

IMG_7418.JPGTuesday, Gwendolyn, mom, and I headed to the Arts and Craft Community in Gatlinburg.  Although we’ve been to Gatlinburg many times, I never knew this community existed.  Leave it to my crafty wife to find it.  Our first stop that day was to the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum.  (yes one actually exists, and yes we went there)  Okay it was actually pretty amazing.  It holds over 20,000 salt and pepper shakers!  I just can’t imagine how much time it must have taken to collect all these and even categorize them.  When my mom was growing up her family had shakers that was a bear hugging a trashcan.  Theirs actually came form the Smokey Mountains and her family had tried to find them before without luck.  Sure enough she saw them in the museum, and actually had one available for purchase.  Looking back on the pictures Gwendolyn saw the sea horse shakers that we actually own.  After the museum we did the craft community which is about a 8 mile loop of shops.  Gwendolyn had already planned out her route, so it wasn’t so bad.  We stopped in everything from Christmas stores, to pottery, to stained glass, and then to a store filled with some awesome Mountain Trolls.

That night we went to see a magic show, Magic Beyond Belief.   As a magic fan, I was entertained and impressed with the show.  After the show we went to putt-putt at Professor Hacker’s Lost Treasure.  Gwendolyn got her first hole in one, and she also got it on that days ‘mystery’ hole, so she won a free game to boot.  My parents also bought the picture they took of us, and also received a few free games.  Looks like we’ll be coming back.:)

IMG_7452.JPGWednesday, the day I’ve been waiting for, for a looong time.  This was the day that I finally got to ride the Tail of the Dragon.  Its an 11 mile stretch of the road with 318 turns.  A road like that is a huge draw for all motorcyclist (and car enthusiast).  My dad and I brought up our bikes, and my cousin Brian was going to rent one.  So that morning we headed to a Harley dealership and got him a bike.  We then headed down to 129, which turns into the Tail of the Dragon.  The first part of 129 is beautiful, with lots of slow turns and follows Tellico Lake to Chilhowee Lake.  A little past Foot Hills Pkwy 129 turns into the Tail.  That is where the real fun begins.  Here you can’t concentrate on any of the scenery but have to focus on every turn.  You know you’ve made it through when you hit Deals Gap, the small shop, hotel, eatery, and bike mecca.  I was amazed by how little traffic and other riders we saw on the tail, but once we made that last turn and saw deals gap, there were at least a hundred bikes.  We stopped in the shop and grabbed a tshirt, and looked at the tree of shame.  They have a tree there where riders have placed parts of their now trashed bikes, as a sacrifice to the dragon.  Once we looked around, we headed on our way.  We then headed over to do the Hellbender 28, and then down to Cherohala Skyway.  The Cherohala Skyway was a magnificent 40 mile ride.  Riding on the tops of the mountains reaching an elevation of about 5400ft.  Stopping at some overlooks we took lots of pictures and even found a geocache!  After the Cherohala we needed to head back to return the bike.  By this time we were all getting pretty tired.  Going back we stayed off the main highways and went back country roads.  The landscape and scenery is just so different from Houston, and even Texas.  Its hard to take it all in.  It might not sound like a lot of riding, but here are some stats from the trip.  In total it was 243 miles, and took us 6hrs of driving time, and 9hrs with all our stops!  We averaged 27mph with stops and 41mph driving.  Top speed was 66mph.

While I was out riding, Gwendolyn was going to meet up with Patrick.  They spent the day back in Gatlinburg, and went shopping, to the Hard Rock Cafe and visited the Ripley’s Aquarium.  I think they both really enjoyed the Aquarium.

When we finally met back up, we had some dinner at the cabin.  Afterward Gwendolyn and I left with Patrick to go see his new house.  I think Patrick grabbed himself a pretty nice house.  Its a 3 bedroom house, with a basement and office, and even a 2 car garage.  So far he’s got plenty of room, we’ll see how long that lasts. 🙂  I’m mostly jealous of his man cave, the basement.  He already has that set up with his aquarium, computer and entertainment center.  He says he can do whatever he wants with the basement… again we’ll see how long that lasts. (I’ve heard that kinda talk before, right Gwendolyn :))  Also you can’t complain about Patricks view.  The house is at the end of a road and no houses behind him.  So he’s surrounded by nice lush trees.

IMG_7508.JPGThursday, we woke up and had a quick breakfast.  We headed back to the cabin and tried to meet up with my parents after lunch.  We then headed to go see some waterfalls.  First we stopped by The Sinks, which is right off the road, and a nice small fall under a bridge.  Then we went over to Meigs Falls, which you can see from the road, but is much harder to get to, as you have to cross the small stream.  Then it was off to Laurel Falls, which is about a 1.2 mile hike to the fall.  Laurel Falls is considered a pretty easy hike, due to the trail being paved.  It still wears you out though, as the whole way is uphill.  Amazingly we did see two people in motorized chairs going to the top.  The trail comes out in the middle of the falls so you can get a good view of the upper section.  You can go off the trail to the lower section and get a better view.  From there we headed to another fall called Place of a Thousand Drips.  Part of the road there is a one way road through a dense forest.  So beautiful.

After visiting the falls it was back to the cabin for dinner than deciding what to do that night.  Patrick wanted to do some go-carts and we still had the free Lost Treasure coupons, so off we went.  Our first stop was Lost treasure, where Patrick, Gwendolyn, and myself, vs my parents and my uncle dale.  We had jokingly bet ice cream on who will win.  With 2 golf pros on their team, and Patrick not having the week of practice Gwendolyn and I had, we loss.  So our next stop was a go-cart track, which ended up being pretty cheap, as we had 2 for 1 coupons.  Glad we had the 2nd ride, as we all had crappy ass cars the first go through.  The second time was much better though.  After racing we payed up our bet and got ice cream.  My parents and uncle were going to call it a night, so the youngin’s headed into Gatlinburg for some more fun.  We hit up another putt-putt course, this time it was Ripley’s Davy Crockett.  This is one of my favorite courses, and I think Gwendolyn and Patrick would agree.  I remember last time I was here, I came with my cousin Holly, we liked it so much, we drug the whole family back there.  This course is what you want all putt-putt places to be like.  With lots of animated/singing characters, challenging holes, unique holes, holes that interact with you.  One of my favorites is a Plinko hole.  You start on a hill, and your ball has to go down a plinko style area, bouncing off gophers.  Also when you first drop down into the plinko board a gopher pops up and starts singing one of many different songs.  Another favorite is this water chute.  Part of the course goes under a driveway to the parking lot.  While you play mostly on one side, to get your ball back over to the other side, it travels via a water chute, for about 50ft.  Ripley also has another course in Pigeon Forge, Old McDonald, but we never made it to that one.  Once we were done, we headed back to the cabin, and called it a night.

IMG_7575.JPGFriday, we headed to the south side of the Smokey Mountains with my parents to do some more hiking and check out a few more falls.  My parents and I were on the bikes, while Gwendolyn drove with Patrick in his car.  On the way over there, we took Hwy 441 which cuts right through the mountains.  We made a stop at Newfound Gap, which is right at the border of TN and NC.  Also the Appalachian Trail passes through that point.  We took some great pictures before venturing on to the other falls.  We finally end up at Deep Creek campgrounds, where Juney Whank Falls Trails begin.  On this one loop of a mile or more there are 3 falls you can see.  There’s Juney Whank Falls, Indian Creek Falls, and Tom Branch Falls.  Although we got confused a few times hiking through there, we made it to all 3 falls.  I think I liked Tom Branh Falls the best, as it was the tallest and cascaded right down into the river.  Walking back from the falls, we got to see some tubers going through some rapids in the river.  Made me want to jump in with them!  It’s been too long since I’ve been down the guadalupe.

After hiking, we stoped in Bryson City to eat.  It was a cute little town, and actually had a pedestrian trian.  Amazingly, I believe thats the first one I’ve ever seen.  After Bryson City, it was time to head back home.  Since we were so close to the Tail of the Dragon we had to of course go the long way home and go run that one more time. 🙂  We headed back to 129, and stopped again when we got to deals gap, this time we were riding the other direction.  Today, being friday, there were 2x as many bikes there!  It was hard finding a spot to park.  While taking a few pictures with Gwendolyn, we saw a lady on a big hog getting ready to depart, when she dropped her bike!  Ooops.  A gang of guys come running out to pick her and the bike up.  A few minutes later, we take off, and at the first turn of the dragon, who do we see again, that same lady on the side of the road.  I think she needs to turn in the bike.  Today there were a lot more bikes on the road, and it showed.  Now a few minutes later did we see a ton of bikes pulled over, as someone had not made the turn and went off the side.  I’ve since read that they were okay, just bruised and maybe a broken bone here or there.  The police had also made their prescense known, as they were found on multiple turns.  We made it through safely, and headed home via Foothills Parkway.  We were unable to do this road Wednesday, and I’m glad we got to do it today.  I felt like I was driving on the crest of the mountain.  Each side I looked through the trees only to see more mountains on either side.  The pull-offs had magnificent views of the smokies.  At one point there is a lookout tower, Look Rock, that I will have to make it a point of going to next time.  We didn’t have enough time today to do it.

IMG_7652.JPGFriday night I went out with Patrick and Gwendolyn.  We were going to go back to Gatlinburg to finish our game at Davy Crocketts putt-putt, and also try to goto Ripley’s Believe it or not museum.  The best part was on the way there, Gwendolyn had said “I’m sad I didn’t see any bears” as black bears are pretty common up there and I’ve seen one each time I’ve been.  A turn or two later, and guess whats walking across the road.  Mr. Bear walked up the side of the road as I stopped my car and took out my camera.  Once I rolled down the window he turned to smile, and as soon as the flash was gone so was he.  He came out just for Gwendolyn.  But that’s not all, another minute later, and we saw a fox crossing the road.  Unfortunately he did not want his picture taken.  We started to hope for other animals to show up, like the liger or unicorns or hippos, but none showed themselves.  So we moved on to Gatlinburg, and went to putt-putt first, as we already had tickets for that.  Afterward, we hustled over to the Believe It or Not museum.  This museum is always fun with tons of interesting stuff to see and read.

Saturday and Sunday we sadly drove home.  We made a pit stop at Isle of Capri Casino though.  It was pretty fun.  Mom gave Gwendolyn and I 20 bucks, which we tried to make last as long as possible.  But we wern’t the lucky ones. Dad had a hot seat at the black jack table, and came out ahead!  Before leaving we tried to find two geocaches nearby, but didn’t have any luck there either.

Whew, so there’s our TN vacation.  Lots of fun and lots of driving, and lots of fun memories.  Gatlinburg will always hold a special place in my heart.

And of course here are the pictures.

…and just cause I’m a nerd and will want this info on a future date:
(total time/driving time/milage)
(17:01 / 14:47 / 994)* – going via 59, i30, i40
(20:03 / 15:07 / 996) – coming back via i79,i59,i10
* doesn’t include time/milage from west memphis to graceland

Links of the Week

Tomorrow we leave for TN.  I think we just finished getting everything ready, and are now going to try to get some sleep.  We have a bout 10hr drive to Memphis.  Then Sunday morning will be spent visiting The King.  Will post more when I get a chance.  In the meantime check out the links I’ve been collecting for a few weeks:

The Cure rocked my world!

We got to see the Cure last Monday night. It was a highly-awaited concert for me. It was supposed to take place last October, but it was rescheduled for some reason. So I’ve been waiting for a year for this great event! And it was awesome. Jay didn’t feel that he could do the concert justice by writing about it, so he left it to me. 🙂 And I had the best time. It was basically the concert I’ve wanted to hear my whole life. Well, my whole life since I loved the Cure which has been since 1992. That’s right. It’s been a 16 year love affair! So the concert. First of all, we had great seats. They weren’t the best seats in the house, but they were still pretty awesome. The concert was at the Toyota Center, and we had floor seats. And they were right on the aisle, so I could stand in the walk way and have a fantastic view of Robert and the gang. The set list was so great. It was a mix of all the albums I love. They played a ton of old stuff…most of my favorites. It was really cool when they played Pictures of You. Everyone was singing along. It was like the whole stadium was singing. Even Jay said that he knew many of the songs. And there were a lot of them! The band played for 3 hours. The encores were the best! They were definitely my favorite part of the show. They had three of them, and during the last two, they played about half the songs from Boys Don’t Cry. It was so much fun. I just couldn’t stop dancing. I think Jay had fun too! The lighting was also really cool. During a few of the songs, they had these twinkle lights glowing that just made the place magical! Here is the set list:

Intro (Adagio For Strings), Out Of This World, Want, Fascination Street, A Night Like This, The End of the World, Lovesong, A Boy I Never Knew, Pictures Of You, Lullaby, Maybe Someday, From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea, The Perfect Boy, Kyoto Song, Hot Hot Hot, The Only One, The Blood, Sleep When I’m Dead, Push, How Beautiful You Are, Inbetween Days, Just Like Heaven, A Letter To Elise, Us Or Them, One Hundred Years, Bloodflowers

1st encore: Plainsong, Disintegration
2nd encore: Boys Don’t Cry, Jumping Someone Else’s Train, Grinding Halt, 10:15 Saturday Night, Killing An Arab
3rd encore: A Forest

So after such a great show, I went to work on Tuesday to see where else they are going on this tour. It turns out that they are going to be in Charlotte, NC while we are in Tennessee. It’s only four short hours away from Gatlinburg. I asked Jay if we could go, and he said no. But I’m still asking. I think we should. What do you all think? 🙂

One last weekend

Finally we seem to be catching up to current events. This past weekend was our last weekend before we take off to Gatlinburg, TN for a Johnson reunion. On Saturday we spent the evening with my parents, as my moms sister Mary was in town. My uncle Dick and aunt Vicki, along with my cousin Dan and his wife Jen, and their new baby Jacob. I made my parents make some hamburgers since I’ve been craving them since Memorial Day. They turned out pretty good. I think mine were better though. 😉 We had a nice night of chatting and catching up.

IMG_7182.JPGOn Sunday we caught back up with Cory and Annie. We said we’d continue our Geocaching this weekend so that’s what we did. We meet at 10, and went for some breakfast. This time I was much more prepared. My gps already loaded with all coordinates, and I had laptop as a backup. We went over the plan at breakfast, and afterwards we went on the hunt. There were two caches I really wanted to try to grab. Each one had a travel bug that I would like to take to TN. We found both fairly easily, but neither one had the travel bugs in them that I wanted. One did have a Navy Travel Bug, which was a navy jet, that wanted to travel more miles than the Air force jet. Since my dad and most my family had been in the Navy I had to take it with us. It didn’t want to be held for more than 24hrs so we stashed it in the last cache of the day. I think we did pretty good for still being new at this. We tried for 13-14, and we found 9 of them. Gwendolyn actually found her first nano cache! I couldn’t believe how small it was, no bigger than a half an inch! Unscrew the top though, and find a rolled up sheet of paper of all the past finders. We finished the day with a stop at Carvel ice cream. Then we were amazed as Cory at two large cones. And I thought I loved ice cream.

Like I mentioned earlier, next week we’ll be in TN. We are going to head out on Saturday and try to make it to Memphis. Then Sunday morning we will visit Graceland. I’m not much of an Elvis fan, but Gwendolyn would like to see it, and it does have some sort of draw to it. It must be because I used to listen to Paul Simons Graceland over and over as a child. 🙂 After Graceland we’ll head up to Pigeon Forge, where our cabin actually is. Pigeon Forge is just a few miles away from Gatlinburg, but is more of a shopping strip, where as Gatlinburg feels more of a small town. Don’t get me wrong though, Gatlinburg is 90% shopping also, but much nicer. 🙂

While there, we plan to partake in all the usual tourist stuff. Shopping during the day, and mini-golf every night, along with ice cream. We’ll also visit the Aquarium and Ripleys Believe it or Not museum. What I won’t be partaking in, is Dolly Wood. I’ve managed to not go the past 3-4 times in Gatlinburg, and I don’t plan to go now. What I’m really looking forward to though, is a ride through the Smokey Mountains. We are taking our motorcycles, so we can enjoy one of the best roads in the US. Its known as the Tail of the Dragon, or Deals Gap. It has 318 curves in 11miles. It borders the Smokey Mountains on the South West side and crosses over North Carolina and Tennessee. It will be one hell of a ride.

Also while we are there, we’ll be a an hour or two away from Patrick, so we’ll go visit him in his new house. We should have internet access at the cabin, so hopefully I’ll make a post or two while there. As for the rest of this week and weekend, don’t expect much else, we gotta get packing.

Geocaching

Another busy weekend. After buying a new TomTom GPSr (GPS Receiver) on Memorial day, I wanted to try a new hobby, called Geocaching. After hearing about it a few years ago, I’ve always wanted to try it. Unfortunately the main piece of equipment you need is a GPSr, which I never had. Now with my new receiver I wanted to give the hobby a try. I knew our friends Cory and Annie would also like it. To sum it up, its basically a modern day treasure hunt. Who doesn’t love hunting for treasures? First you log into geocaching.com. Then you can search by zip codes for nearby caches. Pick and print the ones you want to go look for, and then plug in their coordinates into a GPS. Now GPS’s are only so good. They get you pretty close to where you should be, but then you have to use all your other senses to actually find the hidden cache. Once the cache is found, you sign a log saying you’ve been there and trade items if you choose.

IMG_7176.JPGOn Saturday we headed to Annies apartment in the Woodlands, and went out to eat at Nit Noi, which turned out to be pretty delicious. I’m not much for Thai food, but I might have to give it another shot now. After eating we went on our treasure hunt. I plugged in the coordinates for ‘JoslinsROCK!!! #!’, and off we went. The GPS lead us into a nearby subdivision. We parked in a cul-de-sac where there was a small forest between two houses. The location was showing beyond the trees. We got out of the car, and made our way through and around the patch of trees, to a nice little pond/park. It would have been easier coming from a different direction, but TomTom didn’t realize that. Once we started to get closer, we read the clues again saying ‘check the mightiest of pine trees’. I looked around and saw one that stood out. I walked in the woods a bit, and found a green ammo can covered with pine needles. We had found our first cache! Opening up we found wonderful treasures beyond our wildest dreams. No, I wish, they were just little kids nick-nacks, but fun none the less. We took a magic pterodactyl towel, and left a pirate rubber duckie. After that first find, I knew I was hooked.

IMG_7179.JPGOur second find was a little harder. We found the right area, in another forest like park. The area was too big to really look around aimlessly. Unfortunately my GPS doesn’t seem to work good with that kind of tree cover. We looked around for 10-15 mins and we were about to give up, when Cory, the natural outdoors man, went running deeper in the forest. A few mins later, he comes back with the cache. We all got excited, again and opened up our second cache. This time we took a small skull key chain, which I attached to my thumb drive, and left another duckie.

We tried for a third, but again, the area was too large and with my poor GPS being ‘off road’ it was a lost cause looking for it. I guess I need a new GPSr! One for hiking. Maybe not, as Cory said he had one that he’s never used. We were going to have to change that. We made plans for next Sunday to go out and make a day of Geocaching. I can’t wait!

On Sunday we headed back out to Gwendolyn’s parents, for a going away get together for Patrick. We had a great time with the family, and I went on Patricks last trip for a while to Fry’s. A store he will surely miss. 🙂 And of course we will miss him too. Hope everything goes great for you (and soon to be Mandy) up there in TN bro!

Memorial Day

For memorial day weekend, we decided to invite our parents over for a little BBQ. My parents came over early so I could do some errands in the truck. We dropped Gwendolyn and my mom off at Arbor Gate, while my dad and I went to Lowes. I wanted to pick up some wood to make a new DVD/CD shelf. Patrick and I came up with a nice design the other week. When done, it will hold all our cd’s, dvd’s and have a small cabinet to hide our guitar hero guitars. 🙂

We picked up the wood, then headed back to Arbor Gate, which has become Gwendolyns favorite garden center. The place is pretty nice. It’s really big and has anything imaginable for your garden. All the plants are in really good shape, and they actually have deals on some.

When we were done shopping we headed back and got home right before Gwendolyns parents arrived. They had actually just gotten back from Hawaii with Patrick and his fiance Mandy. They told us about the trip and showed us some pictures. One day, we will have to go there! After catching up we cooked the hamburgers, which turned out awesome. I’ve been craving them ever since!

Overall it was a great day spent with the family. I’ll have some pictures of it soon.

Iron Maiden

Thursday we went with Jake and Brian, and our houston friends to see an Iron Maiden concert at the Cynthia Woods Pavillion. Never been to Iron Maiden before, but it was definitely worth it. The stage was pretty awesome, and they had some nice pyrotechnics, and giant puppets. I was really impressed by how hard they all rocked out. The lead singer was running and jumping around the entire time, and never let it show. If it was me, after the first song, I would have died. They put on a hell of a show, and a perfect way to hang out with everyone.

Radiohead

The following weekend, we tried to take it easy. We went over to my parents house on Friday for my mothers birthday, we had dinner and cake, and jumped in their hot tub. The rest of the weekend, we spent resting and laying around. It was our first weekend in a while we didn’t have to do anything. Well we did have a concert on Saturday night.

Saturday was the Radiohead concert. It was at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavillion in the Woodlands. We had lawn seats and sat pretty far in the back. It was nice and cool though, and the concert was awesome. The stage was set up with suspended LED lights in a tubes, which were in a giant grid over the stage. Each song set a different mood with its colors and lighting effects. It was a perfect night of relaxing to some Radiohead. Amazingly at one point we saw a shooting star fall directly over the pavillion. It looked like it came right along with the music. It was pretty awesome, and a lot of people saw it.

Graduation Day

The weekend after I got back from Ohio, we went to Beaumont to celebrate Patricks Graduation. We drove up Friday night and stayed with Patrick. On Saturday morning was the graduation. He graduated from Lamar University with a degree in Electrical Engineering. After the graduation, we caravaned out to Galveston. We headed south to a secluded area of beach. Its a good thing too. For Patricks graduation, he had gotten a 16,000 roll of Black Cats firecrackers! Not to mention the few boxes full of other assorted fireworks. We spent the night sitting and eating around a bon fire, and blowing stuff up. What more could a new graduate ask for? 🙂

Sunday was mothers day, so we had breakfast with Gwendolyns family, and then headed over to my parents. We spent the afternoon with them, and took my mom out to eat. It was a great fun weekend.

Check out the photos here.