The second day in Gatlinburg dawned beautiful. After a relaxed breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the splash pool where the kids were able to spend a lazy morning.
After browsing through several brochures for outdoor activities, Mr. JJ called Wildwater Rafting that arranges whitewater rafting, zipline tours, waterfall canopy tours and Jeep tours in individual tours and packages. Our initial goal was to do the rafting and canopy tour package. A full package would have meant spending most of the day at Wildwater. Normally, that wouldn’t have been an issue except we had to attend a presentation on Saturday afternoon. The company doesn’t do rafting trips on Sunday and Monday. Eventually, he booked the rafting tour alone for our second day. We decided to try our luck ziplining elsewhere.
The Pigeon River is located in Hartford, TN, about 45-60 mins away from Gatlinburg. Again, closer to the river, the cell phone reception was nil, so we went armed with screenshots of our route. Close to Hartford, the roads were single lanes and at times we had to stop and let the oncoming traffic pass. There were a few homes scattered along these routes. I had to wonder about the lives of the people here. So beautiful a surrounding, this place seems to be a wonderful cocoon from all the troubles of the world.
With a noon time meeting, we didn’t have time for lunch. As we hurried to get to Hartford, we stopped by Donna Jo’s. It had a small full service restaurant and the adjacent shop carried ice creams, smoothies, small snacks. The smoothies we had at this shop were the best in a long time. All natural and very nourishing for an afternoon of adventure.
Our rafting time was 4:30 but we were asked to get there 45 mins in advance. We had to wear closed toed shoes or sandals with straps. There were about 4/5 other families with us. We were given a lecture with demonstration of the equipment that would be used, the proper way to sit, to handle the equipment, what to do in event of an unlikely fall into the river, how to save a friend from the water.
Now, I have to admit, I have a healthy fear of water after a near drowning accident where I panicked. If I had been reluctant to do the rafting before the start of this adventure, I was terrified after listening to this lecture. The thought of turning tail and running away occurred several times. But I couldn’t miss an awesome experience with my family either. And with two excellent swimmers in the family, what did I have to lose. So I charged ahead resolutely, meeting up with Blaize, our assigned guide who reassured me that I wouldn’t fall and that he would save me, if I ever did.
We put on our life vests, helmet, and were each handed a paddle. We filed into the waiting bus with the other guides and their rafters while the guides loaded the rafts onto the top of the bus. After a ten minute ride to the river banks, we were all waiting to hop on and set off. The whole adventure was about 1.5 hrs and I wondered what mortification lay ahead for me.
Having never rafted before, there was a lot of excitement among the family, as we hurried to seat ourselves. We should have balanced ourselves properly but the two adults ended up one behind the other and the kids on the opposite side. Despite this lopsided seating, we managed to have a lot of fun.
The trip we had chosen was whitewater on the Upper portion with Class 3 and 4 rapids. There is another available for younger kids with Class 1 and 2 with calmer waters. We were soon on our way trying to work together, albeit clumsily at first, to get the rafting riding along. Boy, was it a lot of fun! The little raft kept tossing and turning in the waters, bouncing us at times, filling the inside with water temporarily. There’s something to be said for trying to outmaneuver the water as it tries to drag you along, to get past the slippery rocks and to safety. After the first few tension fraught minutes, I began to enjoy myself, anticipating the pull of the water, the rhythmic chant of the guide, the excitement laden voices of the kids and other rafters, the immensely beautiful and peaceful scenery around us. I was so glad to have joined the JJ family on this adventure. And wondered why we hadn’t rafted before and vowing to raft more often in the future.
True to the Wildwater promise, I did not fall, although Sonny JJ nearly got dislodged from his seat once. The family was able to get in the water midway through the trip to enjoy some quiet swimming for a bit where the water was deep enough and placid. Blaize told us that the area of the Pigeon River had been a railroad in the past until it had been flooded many years ago. There were remnants of the metal from those days of yore along the banks. The River is normally placid, but what adds excitement is the release of water by Duke Energy which powers these rapids. Apparently, this doesn’t occur on Sunday and Monday and hence the closure on those days. At the end of our trip, we exited the raft and helped Blaize carry it up the slope. It was then that I realised how heavy the raft really was. It took all our efforts to get the job done but we did it. It had looked easy when the guides loaded it on the bus roof!
Once back at the store, we were able to use Wildwater’s neat changing rooms in the back to get dry again. After collecting our quintessential photos of the trip, we headed to Pigeon Forge to round out the day.
Pigeon Forge is about a 30 mile drive from Hartford. It took us a good hour to get there. The strip on Pigeon Forge is famous for its eateries, shops, amusement, and every other imaginable tourist activity. But we were famished and tired and not in the mood to spend too much time on the strip. We headed to the Old Mill Quarter that had been established nearly 200 years ago. It still maintains its old world charm. The mill with its large water wheel is still easily seen and iconic.
I had hoped to take a tour of the mill with a guide but all tours were on hold since they didn’t have any guides to lead through. That was disappointing but the general store itself came through, selling plenty of flours of different kinds and soup mixes. I was able to find 3-4 that were purely vegetarian. They also had plenty of kitchen accessories that were tempting but I resisted due to lack of space in the luggage and a true lack of need for them.
The Old Mill restaurant was very crowded but there was several guests waiting to be seated. The menu did not offer vegetarian varieties so we headed across the street to explore further. This quarter also contains the Creamery, the Pottery store, a Candy Kitchen and a jewelry store. We came across the Pottery House Cafe and Grille that had more vegetarian items on their menu. After checking in, we had to wait about 30-40 mins, so we sat outside listening to this young girl crooning in a lovely voice and some of the latest hits, too. Just as we thought of giving up and heading to the nearest fast food, our table became available. We hadn’t spent more than 15-20 mins waiting but it felt an eternity to four really hungry people.
Our lady server was cheerful, courteous and attentive and made the whole experience worth the wait. We were able to get a table outside on the patio and had a nice breeze from the fan wall unit. The Fried green tomatoes appetizer was excellent especially paired with the House avocado dressing. Just the right amount of spice. I ate a baked potato while Mr. JJ enjoyed their large strawberry salad and Sonny JJ and Missy JJ enjoyed the grilled garden panini. The food is served on their own baked stoneware and I enjoyed the craftsmanship of the plates and bowls. The portions weren’t overly large but didn’t leave any space for desserts.
But who needs dessert when one is stuffed to the hilt with the warmth of good company, the memories of a good adventure and the taste of a good meal. It had been a good day, one to be looked back upon fondly. We made the drive back in relative quiet, each lost in his or her own thoughts as the road silently led us back to our hotel.