2017 Pigeon Forge fall trip

As summer was winding down Donna said it would be nice to take a 'getaway' vacation to Pigeon Forge. Stay at a motor inn on the strip. Watch some shows. Eat some good, unhealthy food. Rest and relax. I'm always up for something like that.

Earlier this year Donna switched jobs at the hospital and now works three 12-hour shifts a week. She doesn't have set days and sometimes it works out she has several days off in a row. Another nice thing is her schedule is released a couple months in advance so it makes it easier to plan trips. I noticed she had a block of several days off that coincided with Columbus Day weekend, so we decided that would be a good time for a trip. Fall weather and the leaves should be changing. We decided the trip would be October 7-10.

I sent out feelers to the usual fall riding crew...my brother Monty and Mike Padgett at work. Monty had a business vacation to Las Vegas in the same time frame so he declined. Lucky dog...a paid vacation. Mike Padgett strongly pondered the idea. He and his wife did a similar ride last year around this time and both really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, he has been having some hip issues that make it painful to ride very far. He said his hip is killing him after the 30 mile ride to work. He wasn't happy about it, but he also declined.

The date was set. The participants were set. Based on a recommendation from one of Donna's friends we reserved a room at the Maple Motor Inn on the southern end of the Pigeon Forge strip. As the departure date approached I got the Goldwing ready to travel. This included patching the rear tire due to a nail. The weather leading up to trip time has been dry and warmer than normal. Great bike riding weather. Well........

You knew something had to happen and for us it was tropical storm Nate. It was coming up from the gulf and would be arriving in Pigeon Forge the same day we would. So, at the eleventh hour, I readied the Jeep for travel. I don't mind traveling in the Jeep but it has had an issue recently. The oily crankcase ventilation (CCV) had saturated the intercooler hoses with oil and they had popped off on me a few times. When it does this the Jeep is still driveable but is very underpowered on hills. The hoses are a pain to reattach due to tight spaces and not something I want to do outside of my garage. I modified the CCV hose to vent to the atmosphere so the hoses could dry out. I've not had any issues for several weeks but the uncertainty lurks in my mind.

October 7

When I packed for the trip I decided not to bring my camera. We've been to Pigeon Forge several times and if I need to take a photo Donna and I can use our phones. They take better pictures than the camera anyways. The gist of that is there isn't a lot of pictures in this trip report. Donna's daughters will watch Buford while we are gone and he will be spoiled. Still, it's always a little sad to say goodbye. When he sees us packing he seems to know what that means and he has a sad look. He stands on the couch, looks out the window, and watches us leave with those big eyes.

Bedford, IN. 8:53 - The first stop for Donna and I was at Revere's for drinks and fuel. We went by the credit union for a little stash cash and soon we were southbound. We will head down IN-37 then US150 and cross the Ohio River via I-64. This is our normal route now since they made the I-65 crossings toll bridges. We took I-65 out of Louisville then headed east on KY-245 to Bardstown. Familiar routes.

At Bardstown we pulled off for a stretch and restroom break. Donna has been dealing with a pinched nerve issue the past couple months so she appreciates some movement and the opportunity to smoke. My old bones also like a good stretch. The nice thing about driving the Jeep is Donna can use pillows to get semi-comfortable. Also, if I get tired she can share the driving. As we stood in the parking lot Donna spied an antique store a couple blocks away. She might have smelled it like a bloodhound. She seems to have that ability when it comes to antique stores. We paid it a visit but we didn't find anything. The building looked like it might have been a funeral home in a previous life. From Bardstown we continued southeast on US150.

We had lunch at the Dairy Queen in Danville. Donna had chicken strips and gravy. A hamburger for me. It feels nice to be carefree for the next four days. We rode this same route in 2011. At that time there was a lot of road construction between here and Mt. Vernon. The construction is now finished and the road is either 4-lane or 'super' 2-lane. Driving through Mt. Vernon we saw a CSX train loading at the gravel plant. Our first train of the trip!

From here we would normally highball south on I-75 but that is not the plan. For years as I travelled down I-75 I've looked down at US25W and wished I was there instead. Today we will be. It was nice to drive over I-75 and keep going into the country. I always prefer the 2-lanes and it is even nicer in this area due to the hilliness. The road weaves through and around the bluffs, often following train tracks and rivers. All hold true for US25W.

One bad(?) thing about this type of terrain is poor radio reception. As soon as one station starts to fade Donna is looking for another. She got tired of searching so she played the songs on the flashdrive I had. One of the things I had forgotten to do when moving to the Jeep was getting the flashdrive from the Goldwing that has our travel songs on it. The one in my Jeep only had about ten songs on it. The 'travel' flashdrive has hundreds.

Dog Patch Trading Post. 14:18 - The first major city on our 2-lane deviation is London, KY. Donna had a request. She'd like to revisit the Dog Patch Trading Post. Neither of us have been there since 2011. We used to stop there often due to their nice restrooms but a new truck stop nearby has taken over those duties. They've added firearms and fishing sections since we were here. All I ended up buying was some pins and a sticker. They had some Yeti cups and Donna said she'd like to have one for her birthday. Mental note made.

From London US25W weaves back and forth around I-75 and passes through Corbin, Williamsburg, and Jellico. All towns we are familiar with. We saw another train north of Corbin. We stopped for a refreshment break in Williamsburg. Leaving Jellico US25W became a GREAT motorcycle road. There was hardly a straight section all the way to LaFollette. Great pavement. River views. Train tracks across the river. Five stars!

At Caryville US25W merges with I-75 and separates again at Rocky Top several miles south. For the sake of time I decided to forgo the last section of US25W and we took I-75 to Knoxville. From here we took the 'back way' to Pigeon Forge...US441. It's less crowded and more scenic. We stopped at a convenience store on the south side of Knoxville to refreshen our drinks and stretch. The was a fire somewhere and we saw several fire trucks flying by.

When we reached Sevierville I got in the wrong lane and we had to do a circle maneuver through a Walgreen's lot. I wanted to stay on US411 but confused myself and started to turn onto US441. Confusing. Dyslexia? We continued east to Veteran's Blvd which is a 3-lane thoroughfare to the south end of Pigeon Forge. The main drag is almost always a traffic jam so I have learned to use the roads less known and travelled. From Veteran's Blvd we took Teaster Lane (another backroad) to Jake Thomas Blvd. This put us within a block of Maples Motor Inn but it still took us several minutes to get there creeping along the main drag.

We checked into Room 216 without issues. It had a refrigerator and a microwave. There are benches outside the door to sit on and watch traffic. The west fork of the Little Pigeon River is directly behind the motel and adds a tranquil feel. I packed our stuff on a luggage trolley and Donna unpacked it almost as soon as I got it to the door. We relaxed for awhile before our next adventure. Walmart.

Maples Motor Inn is isolated from any interconnecting roads so the only way out is the main drag. Someone eventually let us out then we had to poke our nose across the three lanes to a crossover. From there it was back to Jake Thomas, to Teaster Lane, to Veteran's Blvd, then to Collier Drive. Collier Drive deadends at Walmart. There we bought some pop, snacks, and a razor for Donna.

Pigeon Forge. 19:53 - We reversed our route to the motel. We stopped at a Marathon station on Veteran's Blvd for fuel and decided to get supper at the attached Subway. The Marathon station would be a popular stop for us. Back at the motel we ate our supper and spent the rest of the evening relaxing. We wanted to go to the Country Tonite theater tomorrow so I ordered tickets online.

The weather today had been beautiful. Tomorrow will be rainy, but it doesn't matter. It's nice to be on vacation!

October 8

Today awoke as the expected rainy day. Donna had been up for awhile due to her back pain. It wakes her up then the daylight keeps her up. She sat outside watching the rain, smoking a cigarette, and talking to family and friends. She took a shower and got dressed for the day, then I did the same. We left the room around 10:00 am. One of Donna's goals for the trip is to eat at Bubba Gumps in Gatlinburg. We will get there today but first we will do some local shopping.

Our first stop was the Nike outlet store on Teaster. Donna got her second choice of shoe. They didn't have her first choice in the right size. The next place was the Levi outlet store in the Tanger mall. We made our way up the main drag and eventually got there. It took us forever to find the Levi store. The first road sign said it was ahead but subsequent signs said nothing about it. We creeped through several of the submalls looking for the store and eventually found it by process of elimination. She got some Christmas shopping done here. Our next stop was the Vans store where Donna got her boy some shoes and a pair for herself.

We were finished at the Tanger Mall so we crept our way north to Collier Drive. Last night we had seen a winery there. Donna wanted to buy a couple bottles for gifts. At the winery Donna prepared to do some tasting but there was a problem. She didn't have her driver's license. They are very strict about confirming ID in this tourist town. The bartender thought Donna's gun permit might be good enough but her boss said no. There is no picture on it. So I did the tasting with Donna sneaking sips when no one was looking. We bought three bottles for gifts and some salt scrub they had that Donna loved.

It was now time to head for Gatlinburg and Bubba Gumps. Traffic wasn't bad until the outskirts of Gatlinburg, then you do more creeping along. Keep one eye out for traffic and one for pedestrians. We eventually made it to the parking lot we use near the Space Needle. Bubba Gumps is on the corner. We had to wait for ~15 minutes so Donna did some shopping in the gift shop. I found a shirt that says "I have to pee!". That is Donna.

We were seated next to the window so we got to watch touristy Gatlinburg. Donna got a shrimp basket and I got flounder on rice. We both got the shrimp macaroni & cheese. Mmmmmmmmmm. We left stuffed. We walked a couple blocks northward and checked out some shops. Donna found a nice orange sweatshirt on sale. It was raining so we walked together under the umbrella. That was fun. We made our way to the Jeep and back to the motel where we napped.

I napped a little. Just enough to take the edge off. I get excited on vacation. We had decided we were going to the Hatfield & McCoy dinner theater tomorrow night so I tried to order tickets online. The order wouldn't go through. It kept saying there were technical difficulties and that I had not answered questions that I clearly had. Oh well. I also looked for a way to get to Country Tonite and stay off the main drag. I found some back roads that led right to it!

The Country Tonite show started at 8pm and the directions said to be there thirty minutes prior so we decided to leave at 7pm. It had stopped raining so we milled around outside the room for awhile. I have always liked the Z71 Tahoes and there was one parked nearby. A few years ago I was having some issues with the Jeep and I seriously considered going to a Tahoe.

Donna with her new sweatshirt from Gatlinburg. The river is in the background. There were tables to set at and watch the water flow by. We left a few minutes before seven. The back roads we took were awesome. More great motorcycle roads...very curvy and scenic. Sugar Hollow Road is like a mini Dragon. The whole area is very rural. It's hard to believe this exists in the middle of Pigeon Forge, Sevierville, and Dollywood.

I look better in the dark.

We were at Country Tonite by 7:10pm due to the quickness of the back roads. When allowed we took our seats and waited for the show to start. An older couple from Peoria, IL, sat next to us. They had taken a trip to Florida to visit children and were working their way back home. A cool trip! During our conversation they mentioned they had been been to the Hatfield & McCoy dinner show and thought it wasn't worth the money. Good information!

This is my third time at Country Tonite and they always put on a great show...song, dance, comedy. After the show the performers are available in the lobby for pictures and autographs. Donna got autographs. The girl in the picture, Willow Osbourne, has been playing at Country Tonite since she was 10. She's now 17. She sings and plays banjo.

On the way back to the motel the back roads were even more interesting in the dark. We took Center View Road to Veteran's Blvd and stopped at the Marathon station for ice and coffee. Donna has become addicted to coffee. We decided we would go to the Comedy Barn tomorrow night instead. I tried to order tickets online but they used the same billing company and I got the same 'technical errors'. Hmmmmmmmm.

October 9

Today is planned to be a day of exploration. Last fall huge fires consumed the hills around Gatlinburg and hundreds of cabins in the process. We like to watch the show 'Barnwood Builders'. In one episode they rebuilt one of the burned cabins. Donna wants to drive around and see if there is still any fire damage.

But first, we will shop. Donna wants to return to the Nike store and get her daughter a pair of shoes for Christmas. She has talked to her and knows the size and color preference. Shoes purchased, we headed towards Gatlinburg. The parkway south wasn't busy so we took it.

As we were driving down the strip I saw a Volvo tractor in a parking lot. At first I thought it was one of the mega ARI-type sleepers. As we got closer I realized it had a huge drom box on it. We pulled in to check it out. It had been converted into an RV hauler. Last year we bought a Volvo tractor and are doing something similar.

The sleeper in this one had been converted to additional seating. It has an air hitch and a bunch of cabinet space. It's a little odd from the typical RV hauler because it has a manual transmission and a long wheelbase. It's a very beautiful truck.

There is no rain forecast but the sky looks gloomy.

On the way out of town we stopped at a Marathon station for some pops. It is at the turnoff to the cabin we stayed at here in 2012. It was a nice station then. Now, not so much. The ice machine didn't work and there was a poor selection of drinks. I couldn't understand a word the cashier said. It cost us almost $4 for two medium fountain pops.

Before reaching Gatlinburg we turned onto Flat Branch Road and took it all the way to the end to explore. We didn't notice any fire damage but the houses and buildings were pretty. Some appeared to be very old. The road was nice and curvy, too.

About the time we reached the Gatlinburg bypass we also reached a traffic jam. We were only detained for a minute or so because we were taking the bypass. At the top of the bypass we turned onto Cambell Lead Road. In no time we started seeing the devastation of the fire. Everywhere you looked were burned out cabin foundations. We even saw a few resorts with fire damage. It was sad. There was a lot of building going on and some of the rebuilt cabins were gorgeous. We followed the main road and it was super curvy. I was almost glad to have four wheels. We followed Wiley Oakley Drive back to parkway.

We took the bypass to the south end of Gatlinburg. Donna requested a restroom break so we went to the Sugarlands Visitor Center. There was a traffic jam where the bypass and US441 merge but it wasn't horrible. Donna never gave me the "I'm dying over here" look. When we got to Gatlinburg we drove up Ski Mountain Road. There were a few burned buildings at the bottom but that was all.

Talking to her kids.

It was lunchtime so we decided to eat at the Smoky Mountain Brewery. Donna dreams of their fried macaroni & cheese. We both got some. They opened at 11:30 and we got there at 11:36, so it was nice and quiet until the lunch crowd starting rolling in. Everyone around us seemed to have a bunch of noisy kids. The meal was great.

After lunch we hit some of the stores in the area. I got Donna a Yeti cup for her birthday at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. She bought some Minnetonka moccasins for her granddaughter at a store in the tramway building. She also picked up some balm for pain. The engineer in me is always skeptical of 'magic potions'. I have to say it seems to work. There isn't a lot of shopping in the area so we headed back to the motel.

The plan for the afternoon is to walk down to the Comedy Barn and purchase tickets for the show tonight. Along the way we stopped at some stores. At the Country Barn Donna found a placemat shaped like a dog bone. We also found an orange pair of Minnetonka moccasins. We've never seen that color before. Donna pondered them but we left the store empty handed.

I purchased tickets at the Comedy Barn. I mentioned the problems I had buying the tickets online and the guy said that was a good thing. They charge a bunch of fees for an online purchase. Good to know! Leaving there we crossed over the parkway. Donna called it 'playing Frogger'. Young people won't understand. We went to the Big Dog T-shirt Shop where we picked up some items on sale. Donna got some shorts and I got a couple pair of pajama pants.

Something Donna has been looking for is a concealed carry purse. After years of procrastinating she finally has her permit. All the purses she has found so far are either super plain or very gaudy. We looked in a purse store and their's were the same way. We eventually happened onto Lidl Dolly's. We have bought several quilts here over the years. They also have purses. Do they have concealed carry purses? Yes they do. Donna was able to find one she liked.

We crossed back over the parkway and returned to the Country Barn where we got the dog mat and the orange moccasins. From there it was back to the motel for a pre-show nap. The weather has been warm and stuffy today. The air conditioning felt good.

I napped a little bit, but I had thoughts in my mind...about the Volvo truck we'd seen earlier. I couldn't get over the feeling that I had seen it before. I looked through a bunch of truck pictures I saved while doing RV hauler research. Ah hah! I found a picture of the truck at one of the Escapees HDT rallies. I posted a picture of the truck on the Escapees forum and asked if it was one of their members. Another one of the members was familiar with the truck. A guy had built it to pull an RV in retirement. He spent a lot of money on it. Before he ever used it their plans changed so he has spent the last few years trying to sell it.

Donna had set her alarm for 5:50pm and by 6 we were headed up the parkway looking for a bite to eat. The Wood Grille buffet looked good so we stopped there for supper. Great food and we both left stuffed. We had plenty of time before the show so what to do? I noticed we were on Sugar Hollow Road so we took it to Ridge Road, up to Collier Avenue, to Veteran's Blvd, and stopped at the Marathon station so Donna could get some coffee. She also bought some lottery tickets. She won a little bit and bought some more tickets. She ended up making a few dollars.

We headed to the Comedy Barn and parked. There was a western clothing store nearby so we killed some time in there. They had some nice, but expensive, boots. We sat on a bench while Donna drank her coffee. We went to the Comedy Barn, checked out the gift shop, and eventually took our seats.

The Comedy Barn show is great. It is clean comedy. Donna laughed and laughed and laughed. There is singing, dancing, and, of course, comedy. Lots of audience participation. At the end of the show they offered a deal we couldn't refuse...a T-shirt, picture package, and DVD of the show for $35.

Afterwards it was back to the motel for some pre-packing. Tomorrow we head home. Sigh...

October 10

When this was supposed to be a bike trip I had a nice 2-lane route planned for the trip back home. Now that we were in the Jeep we decided to get up early and take the interstate home. The cool morning air invited us to stay a little longer, but we were headed north at 6:35. At that time the parkway was relatively clear. We took US441 to Knoxville which leads to I-75.

Lake City, TN. 8:12 - Fuel stop and Donna got some coffee. Soon we were back on the interstate. We set the cruise control and settled in. There was a restroom break at Corbin, KY...another at the rest area near Midway, KY. At Waddy, KY, we stopped at McDonalds for some quick food. It was nice to see the Indiana state line...almost home. At 1:20pm we were in Orleans to pick up Donna's car. She had let her kids use it while she was gone. Not surprisingly, the fuel guage was below 'E'. We went to the Northside station and both of us fueled up. Donna has errands to run so we'll part ways here.

I logged my fuel as I always do. When I looked up Donna had left. It was sad after being together exclusively for the long weekend. Our vacation is over. It was a great little vacation!


- It was nice to get away for a few days. Given Donna's flexible schedule I hope we can do this more often.
- We had pondered visiting the Bush's Bake Bean store but ran out of time. I'd like to go there sometime.
- There were pluses and minuses about taking the Jeep. I hadn't planned on taking my laptop but did since we had more space. It was nice to have for ordering tickets and looking up stuff. I still find my phone awkward for more than talking or texting.
- We were able to do more shopping with the Jeep. We finished a lot of Christmas shopping.
- We never turned on the TV the entire time we were there.
- Other than a rainy Sunday the weather was perfect.
- I'd love to do a similar long weekend trip to Roanoke to visit the Salvage Dawgs and Barnwood Builders. The distances would be pushing it, though.
- I had a wonderful time with Donna. Love butterflies from start to finish.
Other trips

See You On the Highway

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