Saturday, August 23, 2008

Vacation in The Smoky Mountains

Here I sit in the Smoky Mountains. Michelle and I took a long weekend to come down here and do a hike, and a few other things. I just thought I'd post about our day and weekend in general so far. We had a really great time! Brace yourself, this is a long one. :) This morning we got up early and started out between 9:30 and 10:00. This was my first time trying out a complete hiking "getup". I was wearing my clearance polyester shirt and clearance Field & Stream shorts. The only cotton I had on today was my bandana, which I might add, served me very well. My clothes were super light, and later in the day when I'd normally be completely soggy, heavy and miserable on the trail, I was light and very minimally damp. The dri-weave fabrics and such are definitely the way to go. In the spring on the AT, the only cotton I plan on carrying are my two bandanas. Michelle, by the way, donned her polys today as well. All Dick's and Gander Mountain clearance. If you are planning a big hike, clearance clothing is the way to go. We have nearly outfitted ourselves with a full trail wardrobe for fully half what we intended to spend on that part of our gear.
Also, I was in a pair of my old New Balance running shoes, which if you can believe it, were fantastic on the trail. I've tried all kinds of shoes on hikes, and by far, these humble $40 NB Runners have been the real champs! I've been researching shoes online and I've come across a few brands that I think would be good, and yesterday we were fitted at the happy hiker in Gatlinburg, and I tried a pair of Montrail hikers that I really like. By the way, my foot is a little odd. I have the length of a size 8.5, but the ball of my foot hits where a 9 should. I think that means my toes are too short. Anyway, I'm a size 9 overall. Just thought you should know. Anyway the point is, I may well end up in a mundane pair of New Balance trail runners. In the ones I have, I can feel the path enough to react, the gravel and roots don't batter my feet, and the toe box is flexible and forgiving so my toes are not completely destroyed in descents. No one wants to lose toenails.
So, on to the actual hike. We went to Ramsay Cascades. This is a 4 mile in and out style hike, usually categorized as moderate in nature. That is an incorrect categorization! This hike is brutal! I keep using that word to describe it today. It's the only one I can think of. It's pretty short really. An ascent of 2000 feet over 4 miles (Fairly steep and constant). The trail starts wide and graveled, but soon narrows and becomes almost entirely roots and stones. After that the slope increases and the stones become boulders. The last three tenths of a mile, as I saw it described in a trail review, is nothing less than hand over hand boulder climbing! Now, don't get me wrong, it was a blast, but this one will kill you if you aren't ready. :) It's as hard going back down because you have to climb down over these tough sections of trail. No open trotting until you reach the bottom third or so. If you think I'm exaggerating, have a look at part of the trail...
I took this picture standing on the trail. If you look up the right side of the photo, you'll see the continuation up through that hole in the trees. On the top half of the hike, this terrain is the rule, and not the exception! :) Challenging and rather crazy, but in a word, awesome!

So, now that I've impressed upon you the seriousness of this trail, (Except for the part where there's a sign that warns you that bears are active in the area, and the fact that you are indeed stepping over numerous piles of bear scat to remind you and praying that you don't see a class ring or something in one of them) Let me mention a couple of really neat things about it. First, the trail to Ramsay Cascades winds through some old growth forest. Some truly enormous trees. Now, they aren't the redwoods, but they are the biggest trees I've ever seen. Michelle and I took a quick break at this one...

This angle actually makes it appear a little smaller than it is, but you get the idea. Very big trees. And as tall as you'd imagine a trunk of this size to be.

Then there's Ramsay Cascades itself. The tallest falls in the Smoky Mountains at around 100 feet. Check it out:

It was quite a sight. Michelle and I both took our shoes off and waded at the foot of the falls a little bit. The water was ICE cold. No joke, it made my feet hurt it was so cold. I don't know how there wasn't ice somewhere. Anyway, we spent a little time at the Cascades, had something to eat and relaxed then started the trek back down. A tough hike all in all, but very rewarding, and an excellent test of both our mettle, and our equipment. :)

So, what would you do if you had just hiked the roughest 8 miles of your life, and were now sitting at the family vacation home in the Smokies, looking at and realizing that you now have more than 3000 calories to consume? That's right. You plan dinner!

Michelle and I went down to Maryville and tried a little place that Dad and Donita have been watching from afar and wondering about. It's called the Lemongrass. It's a Thai menu, and there's a sushi bar. So, in the interest of informing Dad and Donita, and the rest of my vast readership, here's how it went:

The restaurant is smallish, but in a cozy way. Well lit and comfortable. There were quite a few people there, but we didn't feel crowded out or anything. The service was excellent. It's the kind of place where they place your napkin in your lap for you and all that jazz, and the staff was very attentive and interactive. Our waiter was quite smooth and did a great job. (He kept the meal moving, but you didn't feel like he was standing there waiting to take your plates from you.) :)

So, we tried it all. We ordered some sushi. A shrimp tempura roll which was absolutely awesome, and a salmon roll. It too was very good. The nori (dried seaweed used to roll everything up) was very mild, which is usually my trouble with sushi. The seaweed overpowers the fish and other things. The flavors were all present and nothing overpowered.

As for entrees, Michelle had a Red Curry Chicken, and I had Cashew Chicken. I got to sample Michelle's which was very tasty, and mine too was excellent. I ate the whole thing and it wasn't a small plate. :) Again, the flavors were complex, all present, and very well blended. I sound like one of those judges on Iron Chef. Allez! Cuisine!

One of the best surprises about the place was the dessert menu. The desserts are actually unique! I was expecting, "Ok, cheesecake, some pie, vanilla ice cream, oooh...look at this Triple Chocolate Thunder Blunder Mega Bang Death Mountain!!"

Michelle had a slice of fresh mango with rice pudding, which I sampled, and which was pleasant and light. I had banana pieces, wrapped in rice paper and deep fried, drizzled in honey and sesame seeds, with a scoop of the ubiquitous vanilla ice cream. A really great, and unusual dessert experience.

The whole trip to Lemongrass was well worth it. It's priced pretty comfortably. Two people can eat there for somewhere between 30-50 dollars depending on what you order and whether you do the whole thing or just have entrees. A 4 star experience to be sure!

Alright, I'll wind it down now. I'd say if you've read this far you deserve to be finished! Thanks for reading, and I'll talk to you next time!



Psyferre said...

That sounds like a blast! I'm sure you'd have had to drag us up that trail :) Hope tomorrow is just as fun!!


Gina Cooper said...

What an incredible trip! That trail sounds fun and the pictures are great. I can't believe the water was that cold in August? The meal sounds good too - 3000 calories on TDP - I'm so jealous :) :)