Ms. Adventure

SWMBO does not have an adventurous bone in her body. There. That's said and it's out there. I'm not talking out of school (in any of these stories, by the way)—she'll be happy to admit that she doesn't. Now, in all fairness, I'm not talking about adrenalin junkie adventure here—neither of us has any interest in jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or facing down deadly poisonous snakes for a television documentary. No, I'm talking about much more reasonable stuff that the average person would feel no more than a little nervous about.

For example, I told a story in the Flying Stories section about the trip we took to North Carolina. That may have been the last time she flew with me. Trust me, I'm not a scary pilot. And it wasn't the first trip she'd flown with me. But somewhere along the way, she decided flying in a small plane was out of her comfort zone. I don't know why to this day.

There has been the odd time I've been able to coax her into something she probably would rather not have done, and there's fodder in those occasions for SWMBO stories. One time when the kids were still at home we took a trip to Tennessee and North Carolina—it was in the Summer, probably about 1989. As on other trips, we don't put a lot of planning further than the next 24 hours into the itinerary—that leaves plenty of flexibility for optional side trips or activities as we discover them enroute.

Sitting in the motel the first night in Knoxville, I looked through the guide book for Tennessee, because we were headed through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg. The first because there's a well known manufacturer of ham radio equipment there, and I thought if the factory was obvious as we drove through it might be neat to stop by. It wasn't. The second, well, two words—Dolly Parton. I just wanted to see the area that shaped her, I mean influenced her. And Gatlinburg was long known to me as a place I wanted to visit. In the book it mentioned an aerial tram in Gatlinburg that goes up to the top of the mountain. I didn't mention it to SWMBO.

So, the next day we motored south on US-441, made the turn in Sevierville (no sign of Ten-Tec—it wasn't important enough to stop and ask), and moved on to Pigeon Forge. According to their website, Dollywood opened two years before we went through, and although there was plenty of glitz and tourist trap along the road, I don't recall seeing anything about it. Maybe because a visit there just wasn't on the agenda. I found the string of fast food restaurants, souvenir shops, and other separate-the-visitor-from-his-money establishments quite disappointing. It made the tourist clogged thoroughfare just another reason to get out of town quickly.

We got to Gatlinburg a little before lunch. I spotted the tell tale cables and towers as we got to the center of town and cleverly navigated to a parking lot nearby without anyone else noticing them. We then walked down to the terminal and it wasn't until we were practically in the shadow of one of the moving cable cars that SWMBO noticed the facility. She tried to stammer a protest, but there wasn't time and the kids, who had figured out the destination by now, weren't about to be denied. We bought tickets and got aboard.

According to the guide book, the cars on this tramway are the largest outside of Europe. They were impressive. Our son was even more impressed when the operator solicited him to “drive the tram” which amounted to pushing a button on a control panel to engage the cable grip. If he'd have died right then the undertaker would have needed a week to get the grin off his face.

To me, the ride was uneventful. I've seen pictures of some Alpine trams, and they are downright scary. Gatlinburg's is a comfortable ride. As is common in that sort of conveyance, because of the physics, when you ride over the idler wheels on a tower, your support is temporarily provided by the tower directly, but when you come off the other side there's a gentle drop, a sag, sort of, as the weight of the car takes up the tension of the catenary between the tower just traversed and the next one. SWMBO did not like that.

Nevertheless, it's a fairly benign ride, and there's quite a view at the top of the mountain. I don't remember if we ate lunch there or went back down and found a place in town, but all in all, it was a pleasant day. The rest of the trip was mostly uneventful except for getting stuck in the mud halfway up good sized hill, in the middle of nowhere with the kids splashing around in the motel pool ten miles away. We swore we heard banjos playing.

But I told you all that to tell you this. Ten years later (and without the kids, who were out of college and on their own by then) we took SWMBO's dream trip to the Maritimes (see the Wine Store story on the Family Stories page). On Day Six of the trip (spending a couple of nights in a hotel in Baddeck, Nova Scotia, whose proprieter was Ukrainain—a special treat for SWMBO) we toured the Cabot Trail around the north end of Cape Breton Island (northern Nova Scotia). It's a spectacular, must see drive if you ever visit the area.

We did the trail clockwise (I think the best views are to be had that way) and as we came down the east side of CBI, we came to the town of Ingonish. Just outside of town I spotted a sign advertising a ski resort ahead (it was June) and that rides on the ski lift were available. The lift was on the outskirts south of town at a curve in the road, and I just pulled in without a word to SWMBO (do you see a pattern? I've learned not to negotiate these things ahead of time—giving her time to think is not a good idea—I think that's how I got her to marry me). She was reluctant, but she relented and we paid our colored money and awaited the next chair.

Do you know the difference between an aerial tram and a ski lift? The tram is like a small trolley car or bus. You are in a closed vehicle, isolated from the elements. In a ski lift, you sit on a bench, your feet can dangle or rest on a pipe, and there's a bar like in a roller coaster that's placed none too tightly over your lap. It's hard to be more exposed and it feels downright flimsy.

I didn't have a problem with it and as we headed for the first tower I realized that we were going up at about the same angle as the hill and there were no ravines or gullies in the hill. The only difference in height along the way was due to the catenary. Now this is significant (and debated by SWMBO to this day)—the towers were no more than 30 feet or so off the ground, and at the midpoint between towers, our seats were probably no more than 15 feet off the ground. We're talking second story porch height. Anyone can handle that. Note, however, that the same physics that apply to an aerial tram as it goes over the support towers apply equally to a chair lift.

By this time in our lives we had a camcorder and I took some shots as we went up. SWMBO was not happy. She yelled at me to stop moving around, apparently fearful that I could somehow knock the chair off the cable. The hill is pretty high—I'd guess 800-1000 feet, but with nothing but ground and trees facing us as we went up was an absolutely benign ride, despite SWMBO's trepidations. I kept pointing out interesting features and she kept telling me to shut up and stop moving.

We arrived at the lodge and looked around for a bit (there was nothing but a couple of vending machines up there). The view to the east was awesome, as there is a long bay—perhaps two miles long—stretching to the North Atlantic. It was a comfortable day, but slightly overcast (is that possible?) and there were scattered showers visible in the distance. Being nearly 1000 feet up, it was really quite spectacular.

After a time we decided to head back down. Do you know how you get on a chair on a ski lift? It's not like the tram in Gatlinburg, which is actually raised off the cable at the terminal and comes to a complete stop for boarding and disembarking. A chair lift keeps moving. In order to get aboard, you stand in the path of the chairs awaiting the next one, and the attendant belays it briefly as it comes around while you just sort of sit down on it. Then you are swept away with a bit of back and forth swinging until the energy is dissipated. I think that may have started SWMBO off on the trip up.

I almost had to leave her up at the lodge. We had to stand on the edge of the platform, looking out over that bay and down to the lower terminal 1000 feet away and catch a chair. I almost grabbed a chair before I realized she had flinched and hadn't gotten aboard. It took every bit of persuasion I could muster and several attempts to get her to seriously try catching a chair. She kept saying she'd walk down, but there was no way to do that. There was no path. Even I have to admit that it was a bit of a leap of faith to grab the chair out into space as we did, and I'm very proud of the fact that, eventually, SWMBO did it.

It was the ride of our lives. Not the way you think. When we had started up earlier, the attendant had told us there was an eagle's nest near tower # something or other, and I did see the nest and an eaglet in it on the way down. SWMBO claims she saw it, too, but I'm not so sure. I also marveled at the pleasure boat making a wake in the bay two or three miles away. It was far more interesting going down with all that view ahead of us than the trip up was with all the hill ahead of us. I got some more video of SWMBO, this time reciting rosaries and Hail Marys. Seriously. And if this isn't the irony of all time, she cursed me between every verse. For dragging her up on this thing, for moving around, for talking, for being born. It's the one family story she's never been able to embrace as a fun experience. Not an adventurous bone in her body.

As I said, I have video. Someday if I ever learn how to put video clips on my website I may publish proof of my story. Or you can just take my word for it…like SWMBO has learned to do. Ha, ha.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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