So its been over 15 years since I’d been to Gatlinburg, TN; but what a nice getaway place to finally get back to for some relaxation. For those who have never been, Gatlinburg used to be a quaint little mountain town in the middle of Smoky Mountain National Park… and for all intent and purpose the town of Gatlinburg still is. It was roughly a 7 hour drive for us but an easy drive, maybe 3-4 turns in all. The city of Gatlinburg itself frankly hasn’t changed a ton since 15 years ago, just has a lot more tourist trap type stuff in it: airbrushed t-shirts, r/c helicopters, and maybe 900 pancake places since the original pancake house got popular.
We got ourselves a nice little cabin in actual Gatlinburg and that was a perfect getaway, no hustle and bustle of a tourist trap, a few small restaurants nearby, and most importantly its where all the awesome arts and crafts people have been forced to go anyhow. We did however venture out to the now infamous Pigeon Forge, TN, which is only a short few miles away. I wanted to go out there because we learned that New Zealand’s crazy-awesome Zorbing had made its way to the U.S. in Pigeon Forge, and I just had to do that again, and also get some family to try it as well.
15 years ago Pigeon Forge was maybe one “The Track” go-kart place, and Dollywood and maybe 1-2 other fun mini-golf places and some restaurants. Today Pigeon Forge might just be the largest tourist trap in the united states outside of Destin/Pensecola, FL. I counted upwards of 11-12 go kart places, over 20 dinner show places, over 30 mini golf places, literally over 50 pancake places, and also like 30+ zipline places.
Not that those things aren’t fun, but none of those things (save maybe ziplining) have anything to do with why Gatlinburg/PF were originally popular. Its supposed to be about going up in the mountains, doing at least activities you can only do because you are in the mountains, like skiing, alpine slide, camping, rafting, fly fishing, or even some hiking trails (we saw the Cataract Falls, maybe the easiest trail we’ve ever done), or even local-touristy stuff but ones that are unique like going to see glass blowers, jewelry makers, candle makers and wood crafters; but I guess now its about doing whatever activity will placate the standard bored American family who must have things handed to them.
I’m not saying that those things aren’t fun and aren’t even awesome to do, just look at us doing zorbing as an example, but sadly I feel for the people who travel to the new giant hotels in Pigeon Forge or the downtown Gatlinburg Parkway and never venture out any further from the touristy stuff. There are plenty homemade fudge to find and eat, many trails and kayaking, and yes ziplining, to do after you’ve eaten at your choice of pancake place. the Ripley’s additions to Gatlinburg are actually real nice, especially the aquarium. We’ll be back eventually but the more we go the less we’ll probably spend downtown.
Adding pins to the map is always fun, but what is more fun that adding them to a map? How about adding them to a cake!
Many thanks to our friend Valerie who made this awesome cake for a baby shower. Also love that Italy is represented by spaghetti and meatballs I will let China know that The Great Wall was very tasty.
If you read this thing back in April, you’re remember that I had a run in with a cache issue for the site’s Google map embed. Basically Google limits your map to 100 or so pins and then it paginates the rest. Well the heck with this folks, low and behold:
I obviously didn’t come up with this one on my own, I very much have the GMaps Tips site to thanks for it with this handy trick. Now that all is well there, I can get back to the task of updating the map page (35 new places added for New Zealand that all need some nice info pages). Plus I vow to get back to adding all the proper pages for all the other previous pins that got added to the map but don’t yet have info pages.
In other news, I’ve also updated all of the videos on our PPIAM YouTube Channel, go visit it and watch penguins, sea lions, zorbing, albatrosses and much much more cool stuff available in awesome New Zealand. and in addition to that I’ve also added video from the West Coast baseball road trip so you can get some of San Francisco, Pebble Beach, Arizona, L.A. etc.) Or you can watch many of the updated playlists like this one
We’ve been back from N.Z. for a week now and I’m starting to get many videos from our trip uploaded and was beginning to get to the pin adding task so I could start to create some info pages for this site, but alas it won’t be that easy this time. New Zealand turned out to be so awesome, that it has broken our map…
So back in 2005 when I decided to start this adventure/website, it was generally because of two things. Firstly when Kelly and I met, we were literally across the country (Baton Rouge – Salt Lake City), considering at the time we made a combined $22,000 a year, looking back its amazing we were able to see each other in person almost once a month without sacrificing our jobs or schooling or going into any kind of real debt. But the more people I talked to about it, the more people became astounded with no knowledge of our finances, how could we afford it because travel is expensive and impossible?
Secondly, after going through Hurricane Katrina along with all our many friends and family in the New Orleans area too and experiencing all the loss and rebuilding; one note struck a particular chord for me. You can always replace stuff, but you’ll never need to replace experiences, and you can just keep on creating as many new ones as you want, no limit. Just try and take a few pictures along the way.
Later when Kelly and I started considering “our future” and where to live my good friend Cory and I had a conversation that went something like this:
Cory: “You can’t possibly be moving to Utah, there’s no way it’s better than Hattiesburg, MS”
Me: “Have you even been there?”
Cory: “No, but neither have you really.”
Allen: “Well then how do we know Hattiesburg is better?”
Cory: “I just know it is, I bet you it is”
Allen: “Well I need to make sure of that, so I’m going to have to try out all the places in the world to be sure none of them are better.”
Keep in mind that we were both mostly joking (neither of us lives in Hattiesburg anymore), but the conversation + Hurricane Katrina + a lot of people around me being so negative to the idea of travel struck me to start a self-created mission which later Kelly agreed to join: let’s try whatever there is to try, but without going broke. Our first goal was simple; Hit all 50 states. We decided only having some kind of memorable experience (good or bad) qualifies for a pin: no adding pins for driving through a state or for airport layovers.
We bought a $.50 map of the U.S.A. from good ole Rand McNally a few boxes of pins and started mostly with introducing each other to all the places either of us had been to growing up. (that’s pictures of the actual map all over the site). Then the web site started as a way to have a backup for photos and video (post-Katrina mindset) but also hoping that some people might stumble upon the site and get inspired to go out and experience more of the world.
Then came the first baseball road trip in the northeast and then perfecting the “road trip weekend.” Then we hit up the Gulf Coast, Grand Canyon, 3 morebaseball trips, sand dunes, race tracks, Amish country and Vegas and we’re currently up to 31 states (past the halfway point). Two years back though, we asked “what’s our bigger dream places? Let’s hit them now rather than later” So we bought a new World Map from Rand McNally and put aside getting all 50 states in lieu of Italy, Greece, Turkey, Bahamas, Grand Turk and most recently New Zealand, and now we’ve broken our Google map… sort of.
See, if you go to our map page, you’ll notice that right now it only shows maybe 1 pin in New Zealand, but I promise you that is not “New Zealand on a low budget.” It turns out Google’s “My Maps” function limits you to only 200 markers displaying at a time. In other words, we’ve gone to too many place for the map to display correctly. New Zealand “on a budget” actually involved a camper van, holiday parks, making a lot of sandwiches or soup and still adding 61 totally awesome pins to the map. New Zealand is supposed to actually look a lot more like this photo on the side. Luckily I married a GIS analyst, and Kelly says she’ll be able to work with the Google API and get us all set to have as many markers as we want soon enough.
So I don’t really know where I’m going with this except to say that it feels awesome and also surprising to hit this achievement with our map, because we don’t stay in fancy hotels, we don’t fly first class, we don’t own an RV, or have a travel agent, yet we also manage to not need to stay in shady areas or facilities, or sleep on floors. But still now 6 years in, after meeting many people from many countries, the one consistency I still see in Americans overall is the big misconception that travel is really hard and/or super expensive.
I just wanted to say to anyone who might find this; I’m not saying it’s easy, or that it’s totally cheap (in fact, learning how to manage money when you aren’t traveling is as, if not more, important as the travel planning and execution itself) but adding pins to your map is nowhere near impossible; it can be as simple as a 1-hour road trip on a free Saturday. Of course it can also be as crazy as 20 hours’ worth of flying across the globe and then 11 days of road tripping in a camper van… Whatever way you can, just keep adding pins to your map!
… and I’ll keep trying to figure out how the world compares to Hattiesburg, Mississippi : )
While many of the pins we add to our map are planned out well in advance, I’d say a good 30% are spur of the moment ideas. The Mid-Ohio race weekend would be a perfect example, we knew we had a free weekend coming up. Thursday of that week I’m talking to Kelly about wanting to watch a race on TV, and Kelly asks how far away that track was from us… Suddenly we’re buying General Admission tickets and finding the closest/cheapest hotel. Friday as soon as work is done we immediately hop in the car and drive. Saturday morning we arrive at the track have an awesome time getting to see 6 different racing series over both days of the weekend, then immediately after the races on Sunday we drive back home, getting in at roughly 3 a.m. and go to work at 7 the following morning…tired as heck but happy with the experience and memories.
It sounds crazy, but those trips define us just as much as the planned ones Its also how we ended up on our first date (a story of cross-country travel on a whim, but for a later time); and it lands us great life experience, great sights and memories.
This past weekend was one of those weekends, it went something like this:
Me: “You know I really miss doing hiking trails to see waterfalls; my parents did those occasionally on vacations when I was young.”
Kelly: “That sounds cool, I’m definitely up for trying some out.”
One day later of me on the internet researching, and the next free moment we get three days later we find ourselves in Shenandoah National Park hiking the trail for the White Oak Canyon Waterfalls. It was certainly worth it, the falls are gorgeous, and I can only imagine how it must look in the fall with even more color or in the winter at a frozen state. For the sights (falls, foliage, rock formations, deer and other wildlife) it was totally worth it, one of our best trips, and it only cost us gas and a $30 annual membership to the Shenandoah National Park (a park that we’ll be re-visiting a lot as it has much more to offer including 5 more waterfall trails).
Alas, here comes that “but” you were waiting for since the title of this post. In the rush I had forgotten to charge the battery for my Nikon DSLR, doh! Luckily for a trip like this we bring along our small handheld Cybershot too, which while it does good photos, just isn’t the same. Then halfway into the hike, my seven year old hiking shoes started coming apart! Unfortunately these still weren’t the “worst” part; the worst-ness all falls on the hands of myself, who simply failed to fully research the grade and direction of this hike.
Firstly, we got an official trail guide which is greatly helpful, but the problem is that we’ve never done any of this guy’s trails before; so when he tells you easy/moderate/difficult, we have no way of really knowing what to judge that off of. Then the few people on the internet who talk about doing this trail mention how it’s a gradual/moderate hike, but nothing too strenuous. Sounds perfect for our first hike in a very long time right?
The problem is that most/all of them only did the half hike to reach only the first main waterfall. The problem for us is we intended to see all six waterfalls. This trail is roughly 2.3 miles just to the first waterfall; and then there are 2.8 more miles if you chose to hit the other 5 waterfalls, which we did. While the trail to the first main waterfall is graded “Easy/Moderate” the grade of the remaining trail, that no one did online, to get to #2-#6 waterfalls is “DIFFICULT.”
The miles alone are quite a distance hiking with slight elevation changes, but from what I’ve now researched, the elevation change you do is roughly 2,800 feet! About 80% of this is direct decline/incline without much in the way of switchbacks to make it less steep.
Its all downhill (literally) to get to the many falls, and you’re happy with the beautiful falls, you can even take a fresh/cool swim at waterfall #6, but after you’re done having fun and taking pictures, begin the torture. The trail from #6 to get back to #1 is 2.8 miles of Grade DIFFICULT… uphill! Pardon me for a second, I think one of my calf muscles just exploded just thinking about it.
Now Kelly and I aren’t totally out of shape or anything but we’re hardly near being triathletes; I think if we did this trail again next weekend it’d be a much different story as we’d be a lot more prepared than 2 bananas and 2 bottles of water with a dead battery camera and shoes that are falling apart. The lesson? Listen to the Boy Scouts and ‘Be Prepared’ because it’s totally worth it in the end. In total it was five and a half hours of hiking and rest stops that we’ll never forget; not the beautiful waterfalls and the wildlife, nor the sensation of kneecaps imploding