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Today we headed to the mountains.  Not a huge excursion, not one requiring great exertion, oxygen or even hiking boots – simply a little adventure to get our feet wet, breathe some mountain air, and make new friends.
Um, yeah.
My dad suggested that we avoid the mobs and get to the Park via Townsend instead of Gatlinburg, which was excellent advice. No traffic to speak of and a bit more pleasant entrance than the DIXIE STAMPEDE/NASCAR/RIPLEY’S route.  I gave Katie a brief boring history lesson about ALCOA, reflected on my friend Nancy who commuted to Knoxville Catholic from Maryville every single day and explained to Joseph what these things called “tubes” are.
I didn’t feel like doing Cades Cove for various reasons, so we just sort of drove along Laurel Creek then Little River Road until we came to a good spot for stopping and wading around a bit. 
Which went swimmingly until I looked down at a large stick/small log and idly remarked, “Wow, those are big spiders.”
Well, they were.
Next stop was to be Laurel Falls , which is very popular and crowded, but it was on the way, and we hadn’t really come prepared for extended wandering and exploring of lesser-populated spots.  We found a parking spot and started walking. 1.3 miles doesn’t seem very far, but I think distances should probably be recalculated using some sort of formula that takes into account how many children under eight years old are with you, especially if the way is uphill. I mean, it was really nothing, and they did do  pretty well, but about five minutes from the falls, Complaints Were Heard.
Which were promptly forgotten as soon as we reached the destination. I seriously think Michael could stand in water and throw rocks for dawn to dusk. With Joseph climbing alongside.
As we started back (mostly downhill), about a third of the way down, those coming the other way started smiling meaningfully at us and gesturing from where they’d come. A guy finally said, “There’s a bear and cubs down there.” I said, “You’re kidding.” He laughed ruefully and said, “Nope, and she’s really  close to the path.” A few yards later, another group approached and I asked, “Is the bear still there” and he answered, in accented tones, “About a hundred meters down.”
“He said meters!”  whispered/squealed a Europhile daughter.
There was a small, quiet crowd gathered around the next bend, pointing, taking pictures. When we arrived, the mother was scuttling up a tree – I’m not sure why. Perhaps she was teaching the cubs how to climb, for one of them was certainly trying to follow. But after reaching a great height, she slid back down, ignored us, and kept on with her wandering, the three (three!) cubs scampering behind her – they were down a ravine, but really no more than fifty yards from us. I’m sorry to get stupid about the harsh realities of nature, but those cubs were really, really cute.
Quite the excitement.
Followed by the trip back, on which I did take the Pigeon Forge/Sevierville route, mostly for the sake of feeding the hungry horde (told you we weren’t prepared. Next time. Always next time.). Pretty amazing – Daytona and International Drive in Orlando all rolled into one, long, noisy, busy stretch. I actually wondered if a different level of tourism had been reached when I spied a big building way off the road upon which was enscribed “Cirque”  – but a bit of research shows it is something called “Cirque de Chine,” whose non-Cirque de Soleil bloodline is clear just as much from the ticket prices – $25 – as from the content.
And tomorrow? This, perhaps?
Oh, and the title of this post? I was explaining to Joseph that the Smokies were part of a larger range called the Appalachian Mountains and that some people hiked the whole way, from Georgia to Maine, which led him to reflect on all you’d have to take with you, which dumbfounded him after I told him that no, there were no motels along the way, and you’d have to take your sleeping bag and tent with you, and so on.
“And your food.”
“Some of it. There are places to buy food along the way.”
“And all your money.”
“Well I guess.”
“And you’d have to take a lot of band-aids.”
Certainly. Depending on the moods of any new friends you happen across on the trail, to be sure.

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