Tennessee Diaries – The Pigeon River and The Rafter Story

“A Vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do in it” – Robert Orben
Generally, my vacations are unplanned, impulsive and last minute call. They are frenzied, tightly packed, hopping from one place to another, a sightseeing spree, gulp food on the roads and click on the move. I have always loved slow travel. I would gladly spend a day with a book on the river side. That’s how an unadulterated holiday sounds for me. It is the attitude you develop. They define you. 
Hitherto, 2016 has been the most half-baked year with the occurrence of plenitude matters. But then again, if I would plan for a holiday this year, then it will be a slow travel in a location endowed with Mother Nature. That’s how we dotted Tennessee.
Tennessee is a land-locked south eastern state, 36th most extensive and 17th populous state in the U.S.  The state is named after the river – Tennessee; the river was named after the Indian word “Tanaise”, the name of a Cherokee village. The state is called as “The Volunteer State” because of its prominent role in the war of 1812, as thousands of brave men fought were from Tennessee.
The state has many nicknames; Each one has a history behind it  - “Big Bend State” ( Indian name for Tennessee river)  “Mother of Southwestern Statesmen” ( Three United States Presidents are Tennesseans) “The river with the big bend” (named after Tennessee river)  “ButterNuts” (Named after the tan color of their uniform in the war between the states). img_0420
Tennessee is geographically, culturally and economically divided into three grand regions – East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee.  While East Tennessee hosts the Great Smoky Mountains, west Tennessee is lined by the Mississippi river. Nashville, the capital of Tennessee lies in the middle region and is the mother of country music.
After a geographic expedition, we settled down to visit Eastern part of Tennessee and The Great Smoky mountains.  Man, Mother Nature has beatified this place extravagantly, I could merely see grandiloquent mountains everywhere. We started earlier on Friday around 3 PM from Burgh and mutually agreed to travel by road. That’s the best decision we had ever made. Driving along the scenic mountains with mist smooching its crown on I-79 Highway is a view to die for.  That was a day long journey of almost 8 hours from Burgh and every second spent on driving along the countryside is worth it.  For next three days, we decided to stay at Knoxville, the former capital of Tennessee which was later changed to Nashville.
P.s:  I didn’t witness a number of service plazas during our road travel. There were very few rest areas. It is highly advisable to pack you own food to satisfy your hunger packs and save your travel time!  Taking diversion to the nearby city and gulping whatever is available ……. Gossshhhhhhh, I would never do that!
The next day was planned as activity day, in fact, we designed such a day on purpose. There are numerous activities one could enjoy in the Smokies – Zip line, rope courses, river rafting, camping, hiking, water sports etc.  After a scrumptious breakfast at the hotel (I simply loved their strawberry Jam and Upstate Yogurts), we headed to another beautiful mountain town – Gatlinburg.  One cannot return back without appreciating the beauty of this metropolis. Colorful flowers welcomed us everywhere and the spot has something to offer for any kind of person. 
Aerial Tramway and Chair Lift
Aerial Tramway - A must activity to do in the region of Ober Gatlinburg. The tramway is located in the downtown of Gatlinburg and operated every day. The cable car was established as a means of transportation to reach the ski area by the Skiers and now, stands as one of the must to do activity in the area.  The cable car accommodates 120 passengers and provides a life time experience to people of all ages. One could view the entire smoky mountains, cabins among the trees and the enchanting town from the elevation of 11088 Ft. Watch for the jerk in the tram when they cross the pole lines!!  The 2.1-mile ride is a breath taking one to the amusement park at the top which hosts numerous activities for all ages – Alpine slide, ski mountain coaster, Scenic Chairlift, Carousel, Ice Skating, Wild life encounter, Chair swing, Arcade, river rafts and kid’s rafts.  
We got down at the top and decided to do chair lift. After being in the hustle and bustle of Burgh, the calm and tranquil mountains are a pure bliss to my soul. The chair lift offers one of the most drop-dead gorgeous views of the mountains. A slow-paced ride in air offering the best inspiring views of the mountains, chirping sounds of birds and the greenish lush is a soul stirrer. We were not concerned about a conversation between us rather we were lost in the bliss of nature. Apart from the scenic view, one could have a glimpse of the excited people sliding down in the alpine slide. It is such a delightful experience to witness how people forget their age and let their inner child live at the moment. Isn’t that lovely experience? How did I wish for the moment to stop as I could enjoy the bliss as long as I want?  The Ski Mountain coaster is a new addition to the park and the ride approximately lasts for 5 minutes and covers almost 3700 feet. The coaster departs near the tubing park and begins with the 1000 ft. ride along the woods that border the Smoky Mountains. One could sense the adrenaline rush, zig zags, and dips during the ride. Such an exhilarating experience!
Canopy Zip Line and River rafting
I would love to sit in a retro restaurant and gaze around the entire city – observe people around, capture the vibrancy through my lens and sip a hot coffee. Gatlinburg is a feast to your eyes and pacification to your soul. But, we had scheduled other activities for the later part of the day in the Smokies.  We reached an hour earlier. The scorching sun glowed brightly with the consumption of our energy. 
“Rafting in the Smokies” is family owned and operated. Mark and Brenda settled in the mountains of East Tennessee to build their dream business. Mark’s commitment to his business has made this place, one of the best in the East which offers wild exhilarating activities with pleasing employees and a great family picnic island. The new suspension bridge, rope walks, and canopy Zip line tour are evidence for his innovative mind.
We have decided to give a try to Canopy Zip line tour and the lower level river rafting.   The Zip line tour had 6 lanes, the first two being trail ones and the remaining four in the second trail is along the edges of the island. There are numerous companies offering such activities in the Smokies – Zip line on the river, lower lever river floating and white water rafting.  What does that stand out here when one can perform all such activities in a local state park? But, not every park offers the experience as Smokies. Since parking is limited and we had our rafting schedule in a gap of two hours, we roamed around the picnic spot in the island along the banks of calm Pigeon river and had our home made packed lunch (Yes, you got it right, Homemade food)  The river was shallow and was flowing swiftly. It was a lovely experience to see beautiful kids playing in the water, throwing stones and building a stone tower. Wish I should have stayed as a kid!
P: S. There were only a few shops owned by families and sold hot dogs, ice cream, and lemonades. Options for food are limited. Heading back to the city from the mountains for lunch will be tiring and one would never know that you might get stuck in traffic and skip your schedules. It is highly recommended to pack homemade food or stock food before entering the park. We packed food for the entire trip (we also explored local food in the evenings) and had a relaxing holiday. You will be amazed at how much time you can save if you don’t want to worry much about your lunch when you are vacationing in the mountains. And more than time, it avoided so many arguments between us. (I never liked to have burgers in big giant restaurant chains for lunch, though I can occasionally relish them.) Don’t forget to try the homemade ice creams sold at the corner shop and a dollar lemonade.
Hang around the rafting spot as you never knew when your lot will be called for. We had chosen lower level family float which floats along the lower region of Pigeon River.  One doesn’t need the experience to do family float. You just need to be 3 years old or more. The entire rafting is for an hour long ride in the calm pigeon river with pinkish Mimosas on both the sides. You can find these pinkish Mimosas on the roads on Sevierville and Knoxville. The scenery is breath taking like the rocky riverbed of the Pigeon through the dramatic parts of East Tennessee. 
Though it is my first experience, I would say it as the best one till date. I have to mention about the little boy who was with us in the raft and his silly, sometimes clever questions. Such a cute chatter box! Your calm river rafting might turn into a wild rewarding experience if you have the best rafter with you. Ours turned so. We had Birdman with us, a guy who worked in a concern which manufactured elevators and later turned into a rafter. I should say that I am surprised about his career choices and a bit jealous too. (Not everyone gets opportunity to pursue their passion as their job).
“He worked in a concern which manufactured elevators. Due to the recession, he was laid off. And all he did was packed his backpack and lost in nature for almost five years. He went on hiking the entire Appalachian Trail which covers almost five states. He said it took him almost 8 months to complete his entire trail. He used to sleep on trees, fed himself with local food, established a connection with local people, explored nature and at the end, he found associating himself closely with nature gives him profound happiness. Having found his destiny, he undertook raft courses and became a rafter. He said he used to raft four trips on a day and met thousands of people from all over the world. His sense of humor is simply awesome and he would make you laugh with his witty jokes throughout the raft. One could appreciate his experience from the way he swirls the raft and stops at ferocious points of the river to make you drenched in the river”.
As said by him, don’t forget to get blessings from the Shark’s fins in the middle of the sea during your rafting experience. He claims that as a living fossil, actually, it is a stone in the shape of sharks fin. You could take a dip in the pigeon river at certain points if you are brave enough like the little one’s dad who was with us. It’s approximately seven miles rafting and when you arrive at the takeout, a bus will be waiting to pick you and drop back at the island.
Do you know why is it called as Pigeon River?  The Pigeon River was named after the passenger pigeons who used water as guide for their migration. These birds, which are extinct now, were so numerous that they darkened the entire blue sky when they flew into the valley and the beech trees along the banks of the river were stripped of their limbs by the weight of their great numbers.
What did we do after our rafting in the Pigeon River?  Watch out for the next post about the beautiful mountain town – Gatlinburg.
                                                                             By Karthika Gopalakrishnan

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