On Top of Ol’ Smoky

I’m back! How has everyone been doing? I hope you all are staying healthy and safe. It’s been a difficult seven months since the quarantine period started as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and my friends Kaveri, Ivory and I were getting a little stir crazy and ready for a change of scenery. So for the second weekend of October, we decided to get away to the Great Smoky mountains together!

We all followed CDC guidelines and wore a mask every time we were out in public. I also made sure to handle surfaces in public restrooms with Clorox wipes. You can never be too careful! In addition, Tennessee recently lifted their restrictions on COVID and it’s one of the states that is on the quarantine list for Chicago. I live in Chicago so that means if I travel to one of the states on the quarantine list, I should to self-isolate for two weeks after my return to Illinois incase I get exposed to the virus.

The time it takes to get to the Smoky Mountains from Chicago is roughly 9 hours by car. Ivory and I drove together and met Kaveri and her boyfriend, Stefano, at our cabin. The route took us all the way down Indiana, Kentucky, and eastern Tennessee. We marveled at the fall landscapes as we drove through the mountains; the road trip went by faster than expected and we stopped only a few times for gas, bathroom and food breaks. There were plenty of Waffle Houses along the way, and we made sure to get our fill of their famous waffles and hash-browns.

Stefano, Kaveri, Ivory, and I stayed in a beautiful mountain cabin called On Eagle’s Wings in Gatlinburg, TN. Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are the two main destinations for a vacation in the Smoky Mountains. The roads leading up to the cabin were very narrow and wound up and down, but Ivory handled it like a champion. It was also nice of Stefano to drive when we explored the area. The cabin was very spacious and clean – there were 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms with a Jacuzzi, a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, living room with a fireplace (two of the nights we built a fire and had s’mores!), and the downstairs had a movie room and a lounge with a pool table! The best feature of the cabin was the wraparound porch where you can walk out and take in the gorgeously colorful views of the majestic and serene Smoky Mountains. I could never get used to it!

Since a lot of the cabins are built in the mountains, many of them are not ADA-compliant. If you have a scooter/wheelchair or need an accessible cabin, your best bet is to rent one at the foot of the mountains. But if you are comfortable driving up the mountains, you may also be able to find an accessible cabin on a higher level. Here is the the website we used to book the cabin. I myself was fine with the cabin elevation; only accommodations I needed were a couple of step stools to access the kitchen area and bathroom sink. Kaveri was able to speak to the on-site manager who agreed to provide stools before we arrived.

To avoid contact and exposure to the coronavirus as much as possible, we cooked our meals at home. The grocery stores we went to for food were very busy; it was nerve-wracking to see some people without masks on even though it’s required to wear one in the stores. We shopped at Kroger in Pigeon Forge and Food City, which was a little closer to the cabin. The dishes we made over the weekend were delightful! We heartily devoured masala frittata, Dutch baby, scrambled eggs, and potatoes for breakfast, pizza, enchiladas and lasagna for dinner. For dessert, we checked out a couple of popular ice cream places: Mad Dog Creamery and Donuts and The Old Mill Creamery. All while wearing masks and social distancing, of course! Kaveri and Ivory’s friends, Karen and Bob, joined us for dinner couple nights and we played a creatively-designed fun game called Wingspan.

My favorite part of the trip was hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail we went on is called the Laurel Falls Trail. It was marked as one of the most popular and easier trails, being 2.6 miles roundtrip and a total elevation gain of 314 feet. I can generally walk long distances, but to help with the trek, Karen gave me an adjustable hiking stick to use. It really came in handy and I was able to climb up the mountain easier than expected. We also made sure to take plenty of breaks and absorb the breathtaking sights.

When we reached the end of the trail to capture the rushing 80 feet high Laurel Falls, there was a young boy around 6 years old who wouldn’t stop staring and pointing at me despite my attempts in asking him to stop. His parents were watching and didn’t say anything. Kaveri stepped in and requested the parents to have their child stop pointing, but their response was that he’s just a small child. It doesn’t matter how young or old children are, it is never too early to educate them about differences and that pointing is rude and disrespectful. No one likes to be pointed at and if your child is curious, they can ask me a question or you can ask me on their behalf. Next time a situation like this happens again, I will make sure to address the parents directly. They should use this as an opportunity for their child to understand that we all come in various shapes and sizes.

We were hoping to catch a mountain sunrise and sunset during the weekend but it was cloudy and rained for the most of the time. Nevertheless, the trip to the Great Smoky Mountains was very relaxing and memorable. I hope to come back and bring my family here one day!

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