After an overnight stop in Athens, Georgia, we ploughed up through the green and red fields of rural Georgia under a crystal clear sky, briefly cutting through a thin slice of North Carolina, where we passed more churches than was surely practical. I immediately had a burning question for these churches:
WHERE DO YOUR CONGREGATIONS COME FROM?
Seriously. This is how the drive went:
Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. House. Church. Gun outlet. McDonalds. Fields. Church. House. Church. Gun outlet. Fields. Church. Rifle range. Church. McDonalds. Church. House. Fields. Gun outlet. Church. Church. Fields. McDonalds. Church.
I can only imagine that their congregations are solely made up of gun-wielding McDonalds’ employees.
After an hour winding through the deep green veins of the Smokey Mountains, we emerged into the flat valley of Gatlinburg. I had imagined a quaint Swiss-style resort tucked humbly in the mountains, hanging baskets blooming from wooden chalets, the smell of mulled cider wafting on the fresh breeze – the odd cow roaming pensively – instead, we got the Blackpool of Tennessee. Under the disapproving gaze of the hazy blue Smokies lay a bustling strip of arcades, amusements, hot dog and doughnut stalls, tacky bars, shops selling all the tat you could possibly wish for – and it was when I saw the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not and the movie memorabilia store that I wiped a tear from my eye. It was ruddy brilliant.
Upon walking through the door of the Airbnb office, the moustacheod cowboy behind the desk drawled ‘Ah, there y’are, Becky and Sarah,’ and when I asked how he knew it was us, he replied ‘Cos there ain’t no other soul comin’ my way today.’
Three minutes later we were back out the door with the key to our condo. This relaxed process was a far cry from the Spanish Inquisition we’d had checking in to the Daytona and Athens hotels, where we had been asked for ID, credit card, date of birth, known allergies, top ten favourite album covers, mother’s maiden, and favourite sexual position.
Our Airbnb was on the fifth floor of a condo complex (block of flats to us Brits), with a view from the balcony that was reasonably acceptable.
A couple of hours later we were sailing high above the mangle of shrubs and trees as a ski lift hoisted us up the mountain, our bare feet dangling in the hot air, our knuckles whitening and our colons twitching at the beautiful yet almost-certain-death below us.
At the top of the mountain, bathed in the red evening sun, was an Alpine Disneyland: a toytown of chalet-style shops, a bar, and a complex of rope bridges clutching the tree trunks of the mountainside. All accompanied by some yodelling. When one finds oneself in a mountaintop toytown, the only thing to do is to have a pint of incredibly strong local ale and go for a stroll on the perilously high treetop walk. This we did with the alacrity of a couple of slightly tipsy mountain goats.
The next morning, we felt we should do A Walk as that’s what people do when they’re in the mountains, so we drove into the darkening, tangled heart of the Smokies to do A Walk to Grotto Falls.
At the entrance to The Walk was a sign telling us that at any one time there would be 37,000 bears watching us, and if we should come face to face with one we should firstly try this:
And if Mr Bear took umbrage to that, and if we were still alive, we should secondly try this:
That was the long and short of it, anyway.
Fortunately we didn’t get to practice our bear-survival skills, and made it to the extremely pretty waterfall with merely a few splodges of bear poo on the soles of our trainers.
Are you a die-hard supporter of the 45th president of the United States? Do you live in the Gatlinburg area? Do you enjoy a statement t-shirt? Then it’s your lucky day!
Bizarrely, neither Sarah nor I fancied any of these jolly t-shirts, but we DID fancy the movie memorabilia store, where we spent probably the happiest 20 minutes of my life.
After a hard day of not seeing any bears and avoiding being gunned down by Tennesseans as we took photos of us giving Trump t-shirts the finger, we spent the evening on our balcony playing cards (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cards – thank you, movie memorabilia store) and drinking wine, which was a delightful way to spend an evening until a bug flew into my nose and I threw my wine in Sarah’s face in shock.
Question: what do you do if you’re staying six miles from a Dolly Parton-themed theme park called Dollywood?
Answer: go to Dollywood.
For three solid hours we were flung about on some of the best roller coasters I’ve ever been on, and I became intimately acquainted with Sarah’s vocal chords.
In the gift shop – a veritable shrine to Dolly Parton, her plastic face beaming from every item – I had the following illuminating conversation with the pink-capped girl at the checkout:
Then came Funnel Cake-gate.
A Funnel Cake is America’s way of making a doughnut even more lethal to your arteries. Instead of a single lump of batter plopped into the fryer, the batter is piped into the hot fat so it creates an intricate nest, thereby increasing the surface area of available fat-soaked dough by approximately 23,000 times. It is then doused in icing sugar.
We demolished this arterial onslaught in around eight minutes (theme parks are hungry work) and experienced a brief moment of sugar-induced elation, during which we planned every detail of our campaign to be the first female presidential duo of the United States, and then, as though draining through the bottom of a bucket, our blood sugar levels succumbed to the greatest sugar and adrenaline crash in the history of the universe.
It was all I could do to drive us back through the mountains and crawl into a late afternoon coma. The lesson? Roller coasters + funnel cake = absolutely nothing. Forget it. You’re finished.
Conclusion: Gatlinburg is F.U.N. And if you’re a Trump-supporting, church-going, gun-toting, bear-fighting, Funnel Cake-loving adrenaline junkie, then you should definitely go.
UP NEXT: Rain, country music, and another booze-filled afternoon in Nashville, Tennessee.