Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Drive To North Carolina

After watching the weather this past week with great focus and anticipation, on Saturday we finally decided the risk of rain for our trip was minimal ... so we started packing.

On Sunday morning, we loaded the car and were on our way. We brought along the laptop and speakers so the childrne could watch movies. (BTW - that was one of the best ideas we have ever had for a long road trip !!)

The planned route to Maggie Valley, NC, was going from Tellico Plains, TN to Robbinsville, NC, by way of the Cherohalla Skyway. We were a little concerned about some winter weather, but planned a leisurely scenic (no hurry) drive. Then from Robbinsville, we would travel to Bryson City, NC, and then on to Waynesville, NC, and then finally getting into Maggie Valley, NC. Total trip time calculated including a quick stop was 3 1/2 hours point to point, without hurrying.

The scenery was absolutely breath-taking along the skyway, even in the pouring rain. However, at about 2000 feet above sea-level the wind picked up considerably. So we slowed down a bit. (note the LAST photo above of DadToCherubs at Obidiah's Gap - 4000 feet above sea level - you can "see" the wind in the photo). We stopped a few times to take pictures - never have we seen so much of the "smoke" that the Great Smokey Mountains are so famous for. It was amazing - God is a Master Artist !!

At 3000 feet above sea level the rain turned to a definate wintery mix - and we started seeing progressively bigger icecicles hanging off of the enormous, sheer rock faces that line the road in so many places. And the water in the "run off" gulleys along the roadside were definately slushy, and getting more icy with each mile. At this point, the temperature had dropped to 33 degrees (before the windchill) .... 14 degrees lower than the temperature had been in Tellico Plains at the start of the Skyway. So we slowed down even more ....

At 3500 feet above sea level, the temperature was dropping steadily and the wintery mix had more "winter" in it than "mix", eventually becoming ICE .... and the road was covered in true BLACK ICE. The temperature at the "top" was 32 degrees on the dot before taking into consideration the windchill. Being from New England, we knew what this meant .... 1st gear, NO brakes unless certain death was imminent, and slow slow slow. Turtles move faster than we were (HA !). The trees moaned and bent under the weight of the ice that coated the branches .... and sparkled .... under the eerie "wintery mix" clouds ...

So we continued up and up, being way too far to turn around and go back (more risk by going back - we were almost to the top) .... and at 4500 feet above sea level we were at the top .... literally IN the clouds ... and it was 30 degrees exactly. It would have made an incredible photo, BUT we did not want to stop even for a second if it was not "necessary", and anyway it would have been just a light grey "solid" appearance. And we wanted to get off the ice-covered roads with all speed, although we did not dare "rush".

At this point in the drive, we had seen 2 other cars TOTAL along the entire skyway. And they were pulled over at "scenic overlooks" ... we are guessing they were southerners who were a bit afraid to continue. It was very daunting, but being "trapped" at 4500 feet in a winter storm with 6 children on board was even scarier.

So - now we started down the mountains ... slow and steady ... and the fog lifted ... and eventually the "winter" was less and less in the "mix" .... until it changed back into rain (just below 3500 feet). We eventually rolled into Indian Springs, NC, and then into Robbinsville, NC.

We stopped for lunch at the Brushy Grill. The man said "What in the world are you driving ?" with a look of shock on his face after we told him we had come across the skyway. He said the Emergency Services Dispatch Radio said that from mile marker 13 and up was nothing but ice .... well, we thought it might be a bit further up than that on THIS side, but not much, and that it was worse on the other side. He was amazed .... NO ONE CAN DRIVE IN ICE HERE he said. We told him how we did it - 1st gear, NO brakes, and as slow as you can possibly manage ... he said most people do not "know" how .. they think the brakes will save them, and that 1st gear is for mud. HA !! (Our children decided that "winter driving skills" should be taught to all new drivers regardless of climate. I think they were a bit proud of their Dad at this point, but did not say so.)

So - our trip had been MUCH longer at this point than planned, but now we contniue on our way (much relieved !) .... and finally arrive in Maggie Valley, NC, at our hotel in one piece just after 5pm .... and thankful to be there after a 5 1/2 hour ride that was "supposed" to take 3 - 3 1/2 hours total.

**Above are a few photos taken along the Cherohalla Skyway at 3500 feet and below. Now you can see WHY the Great Smokey Mountains are called as such. Apparently it has something to do with high levels of moisture in the ground. The photos do not do it jsutice, but you can get the idea. If you ever have the opportunity, please come see for yourself !!

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