There’s a new adventure every day — some days are just more exciting than others.
With a four-day weekend stretch, we headed south for a mini-vacation to spend some time in the Great Smoky Mountains last weekend.
You learn a lot about people when you spend four straight days with them out in the woods with no cell service and just each other’s company — even your closest loved ones will surprise you.
One part of the trip, we tackled Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky National Park and the third highest point east of the Mississippi. Mr. Obvious had never been to this side of the park so we added it to our agenda. During my junior high school trip to the park more than 20 years ago, I faintly remember climbing to the top of the observation tower at night.
But, somehow I forgot the nearly 18 degree grade slope the entire way up to the tower. A 13 year old would forget that detail, naturally. For nearly half-a-mile, it was an uphill climb — in cowboy boots.
While the path was clear, although a bit crowded for my taste, there still wasn’t much holding one back if they ventured too far off the other side of the trail.
My son was keenly aware of this natural hazard and clung to us for dear life at various points during our hikes. But, we had drove the whole day to get up all the way to the top of that darn mountain and a half-a-mile uphill hike was not going to stop us from completing the trek.
Coaxing the terrified 11 year old to the top of the trail was a test of wit and patience. I coined the momism, “If you can talk, you can walk” to keep the anxiety and loud expressions of certain death at bay.
When we finally reached the base of the concrete observation tower, we stopped to rest and celebrate before climbing the rest of the way up of the futuristic tower accessible from a concrete spiral ramp.
Now, I won’t say I’m a fan of heights. I don’t seek them out. My days of flirting with danger have been replaced with visions of insurance premiums and meeting my deductible. Yet, I think my years of playing on the wooden timber beams 20 feet up in hay lofts of various barns gave me a slight advantage over my beloved travel companions.
Before we climbed to the top of the observation tower, Evan donned Mr. Obvious’ sunglasses as if blocking the sunlight would help him climb to the top of the 54-foot tower. I volunteered to lead the way, holding Evan’s hand with Mr. Obvious following closely behind him.
Keeping my head down and my eyes focused on the path ahead, I purposefully placed one foot in front of the other, briskly taking one step at a time.
Halfway up the steep incline to the tower deck I heard an uncertain voice say, “Mel. Um, Mel.”
Looking back, I expected to see the 11 year old ready to bolt. Instead, I observed a 38-year-old man’s face white as a bed sheet.
Now, I did not expect to see shear terror on Mr. Obvious’ face who, on any given weekend from April through October, drives a rocket-fueled race car 140 miles per hour on a quarter-mile banked dirt track while strapped inside a tiny metal cage with an aluminum wing on top thath can be crushed like a pop can upon impact.
And so, I did what any loving girlfriend would do: I turned back around and kept walking. A few steps later, again I heard, “Mel. Um, Mel.”
I didn’t say a word. I simply turned around and led the guys all the way back down to the base of the tower.
Poor Mr. Obvious was really upset with himself when we rallied at the base. So, of course, after a few minutes of deep breaths and mental reassurance, we once again made the climb back up to the top.
In the interest of full disclosure, it was I who quickly found a seat at the top of the tower to steady my own nerves. From my seat in the middle of the structure I could enjoy the panoramic picturesque view — far, far away from the ledge.
You see, I was quite nervous myself, only for an entirely different reason. One should never, ever read an article about the state of our nation’s crumbling federal infrastructure and rapid deterioration of our nation’s federal buildings and landmarks (i.e. FBI building in D.C. and 56-year-0ld tower) before utilizing a popular piece of that very same infrastructure later on in the day.
Needless to say, the trip back down Clingman’s Dome was much, much more enjoyable once we were on firm and solid ground.
“Twin” Melanie Yingst appears weekly in the Troy Daily News. The Clingman’s Dome observation tower cost of $57,000 to build and was completed on October 23, 1959. Happy Birthday terrifying tower!