Kevin standing in front of Great Smoky Mountains National Park sign

2022 Tennessee Vacation

Milo and I recently took a six-day trip to Tennessee so he could compete in a national taekwondo tournament. Airfares were pretty pricey, so we ended up driving, spending some extra time in the mountains, and I brought my mountain bike for some extra biking time.

Tournament

Milo Hendricks with his instructors, Jena Bushey and Jack Smail

In terms of the tournament, Milo did pretty great, bringing home a first, second, and third place. He did first in weapons, second in forms (and had to win a tiebreaker), and third in team board breaking (something he hadn’t planned in competing in, but was recruited to fill in for folks who weren’t there).

He also saw his instructor, Jack Smail, test for his fifth degree black belt, and also saw a trio of national masters test for their ninth degree black belt. That’s the pinnacle of achievement—the 10th degree is awarded posthumously.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The tournament was two hours from Gatlinburg, Tenn., on the doorstep of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so of course we had to head there.

We did the touristy Gatlinburg Skybridge, the longest suspension bridge in North America, for some incredible views. The middle of the bridge has a transparent floor, as if swaying in the wind wasn’t enough.

While trying to find an Airbnb, the reviews kept talking about seeing bear in the parking lot. While we did not see a bear in our parking lot, we did see lots of them. I lost count, but I think it was eight or nine.

Walking back from the Skybridge, we did see this bear (he’s the black blob on the edge of the river). For a moment he looked like he was going to climb out of the river and come towards us on the bridge, so we started getting out of there, but then he changed his mind and continued along the river.

Kevin and Milo on a bridge with a bear in the background on the edge of the river.

The other bears we saw were on the wilderness drives, mostly on the Cades Cove loop (where traffic backed up for miles) and a few on the Roaring Fork Motor Trail (way better scenery).

I’m more used to the Rockies than the Appalachians, but they did not disappoint. There were creeks and rivers everywhere, with abundant waterfalls.

Early November seemed to be a good time to visit. The park wasn’t too busy (except for the Cade Cove loop), though Gatlinburg was, and there were still some fall leaves out, though it was definitely past peak.

Mountain Biking

Since we drove, I threw my mountain bike on the back of the car and stopped whenever I could to try out some trails. I biked in Louisville, KY; Johnson City, TN; Cherokee, NC; Ela, NC; and Indianapolis, IN (yes, four states in four days).

Louisville and Johnson City were a bit rough as the trails were covered in a deep bed of fall leaves. That made staying on track and not crashing into unseen obstacles pretty difficult. Not a good combination, so I took it pretty easy. I lowered my expectations for the rides in North Carolina and took a couple really easy trails (basically just flat hiking trails that allowed bikes) that offered gorgeous scenery. Well worth it. The Indianapolis trail (Town Run Trail) was nicely cleared of leaves and pretty fun, though I was chasing sunset on the first day after Daylight Savings ended.

Dunes

Indiana Sand Dunes National Park

We also made a very brief stop at Indiana Sand Dunes National Park, a place I’ve probably driven past a dozen times without stopping during my college years. It was elevated to a National Park a few years ago, which piqued my curiosity to check it out. Might have been better to stop at an actual visitor’s center, but at the very least it was a good chance to stretch our legs.

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