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  • Writer's pictureSandra

Adventures begin where plans end

published 9th of june, 2022

About 30 minutes from Weiss Lake is Little River Canyon Falls Park, which I thought was worth a visit. I always inform myself in advance on the Internet about the respective park and the conditions, because of course not all trails are accessible with a wheelchair. Nevertheless, there are actually a few paths in every park that are designated for wheelchair users. The park wasn't big and the main protagonists - as the name suggests - were the Little River Falls. I would have loved to scramble down the steep path to the bank of the waterfall, but my climbing skills were better. So I settled for the more comfortable route, which led down a wooden walkway to a viewing platform overlooking the falls. Since it had rained relatively little lately, the waterfalls were relatively "harmless" but still very nice to look at.

After this short flying visit, we left the state of Alabama in an easterly direction. We drove about 160 miles to North Carolina. Actually, we had already passed this state on our journey south, but not this part bordering Tennessee. It was late afternoon when we set up camp on the Nantahala River. The parking lot was almost empty and nowhere did it say that overnight parking was forbidden. After we had dinner I wanted to go to the river with Lennox. On the way from the bus to the river it was only a few meters, but it was already quite dark... that's why I was all the more shocked when Lennox suddenly jumped to the side next to me. In the twilight I saw how - apparently just as frightened - a snake slithered away. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell what kind it was. After that, Lennox wasn't that motivated to go any further and he gave a wide berth to every branch lying around. We managed a few more meters to the river rushing past us and then the water came from above in torrents. The rain started almost immediately. We were definitely faster back to the bus than on the way there. The night was calm and uneventful.

Our next destination was 65 miles away and was called the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We were aware that the mountains would be a challenge for the bus, but we had no idea what we would experience that day. The first part of the journey was comfortable, at least for us... the cars behind us were probably rather annoyed. But a school bus weighing 10 tons is not an express train. The sofa bed also had plans of its own and decided to fully unfold in a curve. Not so bad.

And then it appeared again, the problem called "Warn Engine" (see blog post "The solution is always easy, you just have to find it"). In the old fashion, we lost power when going uphill. I was disappointed, I had hoped so much that the problem would finally be fixed. However, we were not discouraged and slowly but surely arrived at the "Parking Lot" to the Clingsman Dome; this is the highest point of the national park. All hell broke loose and the parking lot was relatively small; luckily we got hold of a parking space (consisting of 3-4 parking spaces). From there you can walk the last 0.5 miles (800m) to the lookout tower. The park attendant wished me a lot of fun and said she hoped my battery was full and the brakes were in good shape. I'd read before that it was quite a steep climb, but I was confident that my Segway would be doable. I had to smile at the first sight of the steep ascent, I definitely had an advantage over all the pedestrians here. While almost everyone was gasping for air after a few meters and slowing down, Lennox and I passed them with relative ease. Our team caught the eye. Some envied me for my wheels and others for Lennox, who trotted alongside me in his work clothes (service dog) in an exemplary manner. Sebastian kept up well in his flip-flops, I have to say... if not effortlessly.

However, when we arrived at the "Observation Tower" at 6,643 feet = 2,024 m, the view was worth all the effort.

A few fun facts: The Great Smoky National Park is located in the Appalachian Mountains of the US states of North Carolina and Tennessee. The highest point of the national park is also the highest point in Tennessee.

After this - at least for Seb & Lennox - exhausting trip, I thought it would be a good idea to drive the "Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail" before we move into our camp at the "Cades Cove" campground on the other side of the park, which we had booked days before wanted to. First things first: it never happened!

To get on the trail we had to go through Gatlinburg, apparently the party capital of the area. Lots of people, loud music, tourist shops, pubs, restaurants, the full program. This distracted us so much that we missed the first driveway. That wasn't so tragic, because we wanted to take a break anyway. We parked at the first opportunity and let the brakes cool; they were literally glowing from the steep and, above all, long descent. After the brakes had recovered halfway, the wild ride continued. I should actually say: that's when things really got going.

The first mile was still ok, a paved road with ups and downs, through the forest. Not super wide but perfectly ok. I was still glad that I wasn't behind the wheel. The further we drove, the more parked and narrower the path became. With every curve, the path felt narrower and my nerves tighter. Although Seb' was annoyed by the many cars that parked really shitty, he was still relatively relaxed.

And out of the chaos a voice spoke to me: "Smile and be happy, it could get worse!" and I smiled and was happy, and it got worse...!

We had made about half of the trail when the trees on the right and left were sticking out more and more into the road, the curves became even tighter and finally narrow wooden bridges completed the inconvenience. We mastered the first bridges. But then it went uphill, downhill, around the curve and then it was there, this small, modest wooden bridge - almost lying in the curve. No chance to hit the right angle. My "that doesn't fit" shouting didn't help any more when the outer right rear twin tire scraped past the edge of the side bridge border and burst with a loud bang and the air escaped with a loud hiss.

I could have cried... but I was way too tense. We still weren't out of the mess. The bus leaned even more to the right with the flat tire, it felt like we were about to tip over. At one point it got so steep that we touched down really hard on the front right. I don't know how, but eventually we actually made it out of Hell. I was exhausted. Sebastian drove trucks for years; he is far ahead of me in such situations. He kept calm. If I had been behind the wheel, I would have given up crying and just stopped driving. The 2 brown bears we encountered along the way weren't worth the drive either. There isn't really any photo or video evidence of the whole ordeal, I didn't have the nerve for that. Just a miserable attempt to film the brown bear.

We spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find a workshop nearby that stocked a spare tire our size. That wasn't easy at all. After calling about 8 garages we found someone in Knoxville who promised to change the tires for the next morning. The problem: Driving 40 miles with a flat tire isn't pretty and it's extremely dangerous. I was panicking that the twin tires would overheat, the wheels would catch fire and in the worst case scenario the bus would burst into flames. We didn't have a choice, we had to ride, but we paused to see if the heat was building up. That was at least a good reason to buy a fire extinguisher.

The campsite I had booked for the night was out of the race with the burst tire, not least because it was in the other direction. We spent the night not far from the garage, so the next morning at 9 o'clock we were able to close the chapter quickly and painlessly. However, the travel budget had shrunk by about 500 dollars.

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