All posts by hannahviolin

I am a violinist. I also enjoy running, working out, reading, and hanging with my friends and cat.

Sunday night is not for relaxing

Well, I’m taking a few minutes to blog, so there is SOME downtime. Today I got to sleep in…I’m going to be honest, I’ve been having a hard time not feeling overwhelmed. I think it’s more than just my overly busy schedule, but I think after my solo performance with the MOSL in early November I’ll be much more relaxed. I hope. Or I’m doing too much, but although that’s possible, my schedule isn’t something I can’t handle. It might be that it’s the additional stress that I’m having trouble with.

Enough complaining though Winking smile What have I been doing? Well, besides teaching my nearly 45 students (something like that, though of course statistically I’m always missing a few each week), I’ve been rehearsing for various concerts and such, practicing, trying to answer emails…oh, do you mean for fun? Well, does going to the symphony concert on Friday night count? No? (It does, a little…)

Not much, which is the other reason I’m having a tough time…(Oh, I said less complaining). I feel like I used to have a more active social life, but gosh, life is just so crazy! I do have fun in rehearsals with my friends and colleagues, but lately by the end of the night I’m just beat and want to lie down and read instead of talk to people. I think that I need to grab this busy-ness while I can though, because I know January/February will be less so and the summer too, and my work is cyclical enough that I really need to take advantage.

Especially since our country’s future is so uncertain, and who knows what retirement will look like, I feel like I need to work and sock away as much as I can. I’m sure social security will be on the chopping block soon. Speaking of, did you know that self-employed people pay a higher percentage into social security that people who have employers? This is ostensibly because people’s employer’s pay on their behalf, but it still boils down to more of my money going out of my pocket, into the social security fund, and then I’m told that it’s an entitlement? HA. I’d be happy to take that cash back, with the growth it would have had while in my IRA though. And then we can call it an entitlement.

Politics is definitely tough lately. People want to yell at each other rather than listen. I had a few interesting facebook experiences lately, actually, nothing to do with politics, but it made me think. The first was when my coffee maker broke the other week. Oh, this was a sad time! I have a little tiny coffee maker than fits under a shelf in my kitchen. I don’t have a ton of counter space, so being able to fit the coffee maker under this shelf is important to me. However, I went to look online and there were sparse options for small (under 10 inches!) coffee makers, so I thought I’d try a bit of crowd sourcing. Most of the responses I got weren’t about coffee makers; they were people telling me to get a french press. Now, I love my friends and I appreciate them responding, but I already have a french press. I have a stovetop espresso maker too, a pour over thingy, and an espresso maker. I wanted a coffee maker, something I can use to make coffee, something you fill up with water, coffee, hit a button, go do something else (this is key for me, as you know) and then you return when you have a minute to pour the coffee.

My next experience was when I was changing my strings the other night. I was trying to change the G and the string kept slipping out of the peg hole (violinists know what I mean, the rest of you are going to be confused, and for that I’m sorry). What was supposed to take 5 minutes ended up taking over 20! Every time I’d get the G up past an F it would slip, making this horrible sound and making me stressed and frazzled! I finally got it to stay by using a different hole in the peg than before, making sure to wrap the string around the end a few times, and then I went and laid on the couch. But not before posting a little blurb on facebook because I was curious if this was an experience others had had. And I got numerous responses (again, if you are reading, thanks, and I love you guys!) about how to keep my pegs from slipping. Which is not the issue I had!! (I still don’t know why this was such an issue, and I will be asking my luthier next time I see him). In any case, my new strings sound great.

But what I thought was: how often does this happen? We don’t read what the person wrote, or we don’t write precisely enough, and we end up having a huge misunderstanding, or end up feeling that nobody cares or understands us, when it is simply a communication issue. Maybe social media really isn’t the best way to interact. And yet, I love seeing vacation photos, I love keeping up on my friends who live out of town and seeing what everybody is up to. So social media is wonderful for some things, and it’s just hard to figure out what’s good and what isn’t. And honestly, crowdsourcing can be really helpful! But not in the above mentioned cases.

Oh, and I did get to have lunch with a friend last week and we tried a fun new Chinese crepe place in the Loop called Bing Bing. So I’m not totally without social engagement, though it might feel like it at times. You know I tend to get overly emotional and am prone to dramatics. I’m having a GREAT time preparing for a large variety of concerts; it’s just the stress. And I’m trying to do my best for my students too, and this weekend there’s an event several are participating in, and I’m hoping that I’m giving them what they need to succeed. I’m loving teaching college students, I’m loving all the chamber music I get to play, and I’m looking forward to playing in a full orchestra concert this month…I’ve dearly missed doing that, and too much time has passed. I hope I remember how!

I’m still plugging away at the #100daysofpractice challenge on Instagram. It’s been a great motivation and a really interesting experience. It’s possible the challenge adds to my stress levels, but I think the positives outweigh the negatives.

And as I said to a colleague on the phone the other day (probably sounding a little insane at the end of the week!), the trick to being busy is finding somebody else MORE busy and then you don’t feel like you are taking on too much. There’s always somebody working more, there’s always a bit more room in the schedule (especially for random gigs!) and there’s always more to learn, to experience, and to play!

And there you have it. My tired Sunday night ramblings and diatribe. But one of my personal goals is to continue to blog, at least shoot for weekly, because as I always say, I enjoy it. It helps organize my thoughts as well, and I enjoy making the record. Even if blogging is “dead.”

Oh hey there

I haven’t forgotten about you all. I’ve just been running around like a chicken with my head cut off.  Waking up, going to work, teaching, rehearsals, practicing in all my spare time until late in the evening, and when I have a few moments, trying to catch up on my emails! It’s been a busy start to the fall. Maybe I took on too many students. Maybe I have too many concerts coming up. Or maybe this is all okay, and transitioning from summer to fall is hard!

In any case, I’m here. I’m alive. I’m getting back. I’m only partially losing my mind, but most importantly, I’m making it work. Is this how I envisioned my life when I was in music school? No, but this is how it is right now, and it’s working. I currently have 45 students between home and schools, and I have a quartet, a duo, some other random chamber music groups, a concerto performance, an opera (done!) and so many weddings and other gigs…and it’s all fitting together.

I credit my to do list, my calendar, my sense of timing, and my insatiable desire to make it all work.

Sunday is a day off, though it will be spent catching up. This life isn’t for the weak Smile I’m exhausted, but so are so many other people. I’m sometimes frustrated, sometimes exhilarated, and having a good time teaching kids to play the violin (and adults too). I read other people’s advice on how to make it in the music world, and they recommend not doing a lot of things that I’ve done. Maybe I’ll write my own advice book.

But currently I’m trying to decide whether I should change into long pants or if capri length jeans are good for teaching today…and then I am back to it for 4 1/2 hours, so I’m going to just leave you with this!

How’s your fall going?

Swinging into Things

This month is flying by…the days are short but the hours are long. So much to do!

The truth is I actually had a two day weekend, but I spent it being stressed out. Well, not entirely, we took Mackenzie to the annual Maplewood dog swim for two days in a row. She had a wonderful time swimming and pooping in the pool (not actually allowed, but on the first day it didn’t stop her. The second day Louie had a great save…everybody is happy then, because if one dog goes, more tend to follow, thinking it’s a thing to do.)


Yes, I already mentioned poop and I was two paragraphs in. Let me backtrack and tell you some other things too.

Saturday night I was cooking dinner and I sliced right into my finger while slicing an onion. Well, my left thumb. So then Louie helped me clean it off and we spent quite some time trying to decide what to do, unable to find an open urgent care in the area other than the ER…so eventually I decided it was okay and just needed to be wrapped really tight. There were tears and blood and probably sweat too, but it seems to be looking okay lately? Where does one go when you need urgent care after hours (8 pm ish) but not emergency? I didn’t want to pay ER prices or wait for hours over possibly getting a stitch or two.

In any case, I took a day off from violin and then the next day decided I could try it. I’m able to play, though I can’t shift into the highest of positions without difficulty, so I’ve been on a lighter practice schedule this week. I’ve got a little concert on Saturday evening with a flute and viola, so I’ve been working on that stuff, and otherwise mostly just keeping my fingers and bow in shape and trying not to stress out. I’m on a full teaching schedule this week, with all of my college and regular students scheduled and showing up, so we are really IN the swing of things, and things are swinging fast!


I realize that doesn’t actually make any sense. I’m tired, I’ve been going nonstop until I sat down to write this (kind of a lie, I did have a short lunch break) and I even have been getting up early to run! My next day off is October 8 though, so that’s how things are going now. Busy busy!


Sample schedule…the white parts are where I can practice and respond to emails and do all the other parts of my jobs that don’t get on the schedule.

I have to admit, after having a two day weekend I starting thinking about how life would be if I didn’t work weekends. I’d have to crunch some numbers to really figure out the difference financially, and otherwise, I’m torn. I love playing concerts, and I wouldn’t want to give those up entirely…at least not now! Maybe I’ll retire from weddings in a few years, if I can get enough money saved up, or something. I don’t know. I just know I kind of liked the two days off (that’s what normal people get every week, I hear) and it was nice being able to both be social and do some fun things and also be able to run a few errands and things. But yet, even though this week is nonstop busy, I’m loving the challenge of the flute/viola trio concert music and I wouldn’t want to not be playing that! I guess I am just thinking about the future, after all, I’ve got a milestone birthday coming up next year and I’m always trying to improve my life…or at least try to make sure I’m doing what I think is best.


At the Cardinals game over the weekend. One of the fun/social things I mentioned. The weather last weekend couldn’t have been more beautiful. My heart goes out to everybody who was affected by the recent hurricanes while we were so lucky. It makes you really try to appreciate what you do have!

Anyway, I’m off to practice. I’m still doing the #100daysofpractice challenge on Instagram. Even though I haven’t had 100 in a row due to vacation and then a cut thumb, I will still do 100, and I’m doing every day otherwise. I think I’m following the spirit of the challenge. And it really does give me extra incentive to practice, even just a little bit, because so often that little bit turns into a much longer practice.

Part 4: How much bob can a bobcat bob?

Part 1: Waiting for the Bears to Attack

Part 2: It doesn’t look any bigger than the Mauritania

Part 3: Didn’t see many ashes in Asheville

And now for the final installment of blogging recaps for my summer trip. This might be a record as far as how much time passed (it’s only been a little over two weeks) since I got home and finished blogging about the trip. You’re welcome.

For the last stop on our road trip, I decided to book a campsite at Cades Cove Campground. I had the idea that we would repeat the hike we did a few years ago, and it would be glorious.

But first: we left Asheville and followed the Blue Ridge Parkway and some other roads into the Smoky Mountains again.


We stopped at the Oconulufte visitors center and farm museum right after entering the park. It was really informative and interesting. I think I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post, but I found it so fascinating how many people lived in this area before the park was founded.


We wandered around the Farm Museum, which was a real farm that had been relocated to be more accessible to visitors. It was very interesting. Plus, chickens!



And pigs. They smelled. Quite a lot.


It was a beautiful day.


We had a little lunch out of the car, then got on our way again. We stopped at Mingo Mill shortly after that. It was an old mill, and quite interesting. There was a volunteer there who started talking to me about various musical instruments and played the ten whistle for me.


One of the things we definitely wanted to do was see Clingman’s Dome. The parking lot was SLAMMED though, and we had to wait a bit to get a spot. We did the hike up to the lookout tower and it was harder than we anticipated. The views were unfortunately pretty bad due to fog and cloud cover, but it was still beautiful.


If I’d been more myself, we might have done a little hike from the parking lot. There were some really neat ones in my books, but we weren’t up for it, and I was still, at this point, trying to figure out what was going on with my uncle’s services. Luckily, shortly after leaving Clingman’s I was able to talk to my mom and sister and figured out the plans. So instead of three nights camping at Cades Cove, it would be two nights, and then we’d head home. No big deal, and it meant we’d just have to make the most of it.

We got to the campground in the late afternoon, and got QUITE a lecture on bear safety by the check-in ranger. Luckily we know what we are doing Smile Bear safety is my jam.

This campground wasn’t as beautiful, and the sites were super packed together. We did luck out and nobody was camping next to us, so we had more privacy, but if they had been, it would have been close quarters. I guess we were towards the end of the season and the campground wasn’t full! We were a little farther from the bathrooms than we like, but it was fine. The most important thing was that it was DRY.

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We set up camp, made a fire, and just relaxed. We had a long hike ahead of us!

The next morning we got up and started getting ready to hike. We planned to hike up Anthony Creek Trail to Bode Mountain Trail, and then the Appalachian Trail to Rocky Top, then back across to the AT to the Russell Field Trail, then home. This would be over 15 miles, and I wasn’t sure about it, but was hopeful.

As we were getting packed up, I noticed some people down the road in the campsite pointing into the woods. I looked over, and low and behold it was a small animal, sort of trotting along. We thought a fox, at first, but then realized it seemed to be a bobcat! It had something in it’s mouth that might have been a bra, which seemed SUPER weird, but who knows!



That’s the zoom in. You can perhaps see it has something in it’s mouth. Or not.

Anyway, that was pretty nifty to see. And then we headed out.


I made a few mistakes off the bat. We’d taken our boots apart, well, taken the insoles out, the other day to dry them and I’d forgotten, so I didn’t properly tighten my shoes but instead left them how I’d thought I’d wanted them. By the time I remembered they were actually too loose, my feet were already killing me. So that didn’t help, and it seemed like just a stupid thing to have done. I wasn’t feeling great generally, and felt like I was really letting Louie down by not keeping up as well.

We got to the top and then turned onto the Appalachian Trail. The previous time I remembered this was quite magical (it was after a rain.) This hike, it was still very nice but lacked the same quality. We went further than before, though, because we really wanted to get to Rocky Top.



Somebody had a little too much fun with the cairns. Probably several somebodies.



We ate our lunch up there, but I was quite frustrated because there were hundreds of bees crawling on the ground. Why???


We should have stayed longer, but I was cranky because of the bees. We didn’t get a selfie, unfortunately, and we just started heading back. I didn’t feel that great, my feet hurt, and I was disappointed in myself across the board. We decided to cut the hike “short” and just head back the way we came. It was still nearly 13-14 RT miles, including the hike from the campground to the trailhead, but I just felt like we had failed. The hike down was a little sad and I just felt bad about everything. It was a hard day.


We decided to cut across the stream near our campground—to get to the trailhead we had walked around this creek on a bridge, but it added probably 1/4 to 1/2 mile.  We managed to ford the creek on the return, making it across at a place that seemed easy enough and we didn’t get too wet. We showered, made dinner, and relaxed. It was a nice night, and we made a fire, finished some leftover s’mores, and tried to make the best of our last night. Overall it was a nice day, and I know we made the right decision on the hike, but I can’t help but wish I had been able to do better! I am such a slow hiker and I often feel clumsy and out of shape. I know I’m being hard on myself, but…that’s one of my skills Winking smile

So there you have it. A wonderful trip somewhat spoiled by my worries and anxiety Winking smile Nah, it wasn’t. Just that one part of the hike. I had a wonderful time overall, and I think Louie did too. While the Smokies aren’t as “exotic” as Utah, they are beautiful, and we had a great time getting out and seeing the world. We didn’t have any major disasters this trip, other than our tent being so wet and getting a lot of moisture through the bottom…not a disaster, just an inconvenience. And our trip home was uneventful—we got started fairly early, stopped for a delicious Thai lunch in Nashville, and made it home around 6 pm. The house looked great, we got mexican food at Amigo Joe’s, and enjoyed sleeping in a bed. I did some laundry and packed for my short trip to Ohio, including my violin and getting music for Leslie and I to play at my uncle’s memorial. It wasn’t the way I’d hoped to finish vacation, but it was how things were.

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Final Thoughts:

Asheville is great! Go, visit! Great food, very walkable downtown, lots to do.

Cataloochee campground was just awesome! And Elkmont quite good too. Our campsites were especially good.

Cades Cove is a lovely area. We’d already spent some time there. The campground isn’t quite as nice, too crowded. Or my site choice wasn’t as good, hard to say, I guess, since we didn’t explore as much.

Next time we’ll do more hikes in the Clingman’s Dome area, something up higher where there are more views. That’s what you miss in the Smokies, so many trees, less views. Still beautiful though, and better than what we get at home for sure!

I’m glad we did this trip. It was a really nice time, and a relaxing enough cap on a stressful summer (especially for Louie) before a stressful fall (for both of us.) Every time I plan a trip I learn new things, and this was no exception. But overall, good itinerary, good times, great memories. Thanks for reading!

Part 3: Didn’t see many ashes in Asheville

We left you in Cataloochee…Part 1 and Part 2. Lots of camping and talking about hiking and the rain.

So, after spending about 6 days in the wilderness feeling rather…damp…(the humidity!), Louie and I drove to the civilized world. We had three nights booked at an AirBNB so we’d be sleeping in a bed, using a bathroom with HOT water (fun fact: the campgrounds in National Parks never seem to have hot water, only cold), and who knows what else? Wearing real clothes, eating food at restaurants, and more!

First stop: the electro bike tour. A few years ago we’d done a bike tour in the Rocky Mountains (that was all downhill, so much fun) and I wondered if there was anything like that to do. A little searching brought me to a company that provided a tour on electro bikes—bikes that gave you a little assist with the hills. We met the tour guide in a park in Asheville, and it would be just us and another couple on the tour. The guide’s name was Torin, and he brought the bikes, helmets, and water for everyone.


You can see the bikes look very similar to regular bikes. In any case, we took a few minutes to ride around the parking lot and see how we felt. I thought the bikes were great! You could have the assist off, but that’d be crazy, and then there were a few levels, low, med, and high. Torin told us he’d warn us when to turn up to high and otherwise we’d probably want to keep it on the middle level. You still had to pedal and otherwise steer/ride the bike as normal, but if you are comfortable riding a regular bike, you can do this. I personally thought it was amazing, because it made bike riding more fun and more easy, and you definitely still get a little workout!

We went to a variety of places, and got off the bikes and walked around a bit as well. You do ride in the street some, though the guide does his best to make things comfortable and safe, but there will be cars on occasion. I don’t mind at all, but the other party seemed to have some trouble with that.

We went to the Grove Park Inn which is an old historic hotel which overlooks Asheville.



Then we biked to downtown Asheville and had a quick look around, tried to see the Basilica but it was closed to the public, and then headed to the Botanical Gardens.


On the way, it started POURING buckets of rain. We all got completely soaked. We decided as a group to skip the last stop and just head back, which was a little disappointing, but probably for the best.

It’s important to note that we now each had two pairs of completely soaked shoes, and unfortunately for Louie, the only pair of shoes he had that wasn’t soaked was his tall hiking boots! I had sandals.

Anyway, our next stop was to the AirBNB to check in and do some laundry! We got a room with a private bathroom, private entrance, and shared laundry facilities. It was in the basement of the owner’s house, but it was great, and we’d highly recommend for an easy stay. It was only a short drive from downtown, in a neat neighborhood, and was just a great place to stay at a good value.

After doing some laundry and getting cleaned up, we took a lyft to downtown Asheville and went to Curate (our bike tour guide had recommended it)…OMG this was one of our top ten meals. We got there around 5 pm with no reservation, and were seated at the bar. I think we got very lucky, because the restaurant was absolutely packed from that point on. Based on the current menu online: here’s a sampling of what we ate:

ensalada de sandía y tomate
salad of compressed watermelon, heirloom cherry tomatoes, sheep cheese, sweet onion, and corn nuts with petite lettuces dressed in a honey-sherry vinaigrette

sardinas curadas
salt cured sardines, pickled raspberries, toasted pistachio (inspired by an elBulli flavor combination)

rossejat negro
thin noodles prepared paella style, squid in its ink, shellfish stock, garnished with all i oli and salsa verde, the essence of the ocean

We had a few more things too, but nearly every dish was a hit and was simply delicious!

I should backtrack and tell you a funny story from our lyft. We got into the car and the driver asked us if we had been camping. Here we are, finally all cleaned up and we thought, respectable looking, and yet we looked like we’d been camping? But she said, well she smelled campfire. We were baffled, but we agreed, we smelled it too. Later I realized the smell came from the umbrella! I’d been holding it over the fire the previous day to give Louie a fighting chance at starting it. Sigh.

After dinner, we decided to walk around a bit and headed to a few breweries as well. We’d been told to try the Wicked Weed so we started there and then went to the Green Man Brewing Company as well. After that we were exhausted and headed back and fell asleep.

The next morning my parents were coming up to visit for the day, so we waited a little bit for them to arrive. We had a light breakfast in the room, and luckily had a wonderful coffeemaker to use! Once my parents arrived, we managed to fit everybody in one car and headed out. Our first stop was the NC Arboretum. There was a lot to see there, but we headed for the gardens first.

The gardens were designed by Frederick Olmsted, who designed Central Park, parts of University Circle in Cleveland, the Danforth campus of the Washington University in St Louis, and the Biltmore Estate Grounds.  Basically he seemed to be the only landscape architect worth using for a period of history and had a long and busy career!


The most interesting part was the bonsai garden, I thought. I didn’t know all that went into making a bonsai plant, that you had to cultivate it to grow exactly how you want and how much work it took!




Next we decided to head on the Blue Ridge Parkway for a bit. We got some amazing views of the mountains, and ended up at the Pisgah Inn at a good time for lunch, so we ate in the restaurant there while enjoying amazing views.

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I know there were pictures taken with my Mom and Dad but I guess not on my camera! Anyway, they were totally there also.

After lunch we went to downtown Asheville and walked around again. We tried to follow the “Urban Trail” but found it very difficult. We had a good time anyway, and were able to see more things than the day before. We also went back to the Grove Park Inn and wandered around there more than the day before, saw an art gallery and a car museum in the area too. We thought of going to the Botanical Gardens too, but they were closed by the time we tried.


My parents weren’t staying overnight though, so after a long day of sightseeing, we all got a coffee, visited for another hour or soon, and then they headed on their way. Louie and I looked up a place for dinner and ended up at a fun place called ‘‘Nine Mile” which featured Caribbean cuisine. It was great. We just went back home afterwards because we were exhausted.

The next day we had tickets for the Biltmore House. I’d been two previous times in my life, but not for about 8-9 years, and Louie had never been. We decided to get breakfast at a place called Biscuithead, which was kind of on our way.  I had the fried green tomato biscuit.

The day took a turn after breakfast though, because that’s when I found out my dad’s brother, my uncle Sam, had died overnight. He’d been sick for awhile with pancreatic cancer, but still. The news is never expected. I wasn’t sure what to do—it seems ridiculous to just continue your vacation after getting such news, but there’s nothing to be done otherwise…send words of condolence, know how sad you are and how sad you are for your aunt and cousins and grandmother…it’s just so sad.

So I wasn’t in the greatest of moods at the Biltmore House, nor did I know if we’d be cutting our vacation short, or what, but we went anyway, and made the best of it. And then I kept thinking of our last family trip to the Biltmore House, which was right around the time my grandpa died…of pancreatic cancer, and it all just totally sucked.

But we had prepaid, and there was nothing more to be done. We got the audio tour with our tickets, and I’d recommend that as well. We both enjoyed the tour and learned a fair amount. I always love the library and the pool was also really fun, along with so many other amazing rooms. (The Biltmore house is a house built by the Vanderbilts, and it’s like a palace. )

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I didn’t take too many pictures, but there’s a few. The pool couldn’t hold water for long because this was before the modern pool chemicals! And these days it doesn’t hold water at all—there is evidently a crack or something that makes it not work. Anyway, I encourage you to look up the history of the Biltmore House if you are so inclined.


After the house tour we walked around the gardens. It was a hot day though, and we didn’t enjoy them as much as we might have.


We went to the winery next and ended up getting a few bottles of wine to take home.

After that Louie wanted to check out the Moog museum, which was near downtown Asheville again. Unfortunately the museum wasn’t open, but there was a showroom with a bunch of stuff, including a few theremins. So we tried our hands at playing theremin!

We had dinner reservations at Rhubarb, a local “farm to table” restaurant. We really enjoyed our meal! Afterwards we went to a few more breweries: Burial and High Wire.

The next morning we were both pretty sad to leave. I was also struggling with knowing what to do next with my uncle’s passing and waiting to hear what would happen as far as a service. I was very hesitant to go to our next destination as I knew I’d be out of phone service there…and I was also hesitant to leave our creature comforts to go sleep on the floor again, ha! Maybe I shouldn’t have split up the camping…I’d thought, in the planning, that it would be a nice break, but it was hard to leave.

But we did. We loaded up the car and set out for the Smoky Mountains again. Since I’m going to stop this post before going on, I will tell you that I was able to make plans for attending my uncle’s service before we went into the wilderness again, and it did involve leaving one day early, so we only had two more nights camping ahead of us. I was happy to do it, because I really wanted to go to see my family and pay my respects.

Asheville: we would return. More restaurants to eat at, see the Moog Museum (for Louie), the Botanical Gardens, and we didn’t do any hiking in the area—evidently there is plenty! They say fall is a beautiful time to visit. We are hardly ever able to travel in the fall, but maybe someday.

Next stop: Cades Cove.

Part 2: It Doesn’t Look any Bigger than the Mauritania

If you haven’t, first read Part 1 of my trip report. Well, I can’t tell you what to do, but I recommend it!

We left Elkmont Campground around 9:30/10 am and headed to Pigeon Forge. I hadn’t originally planned for us to go to any of the touristy areas around there, but at some point I noticed there was a Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge…that looked like the Titanic. You may not know this, but I was, at one time, and still somewhat am, completely obsessed with the movie Titanic. I saw it, I believe, 11 times in the theater. I’ve seen it countless times since. I read many books on the ship; I even went to the library and looked at microfilm to see the original reports from the sinking. So, I couldn’t pass up a trip to the museum! There’s evidently one in Branson too, which would technically be closer for us, but the internet told me the Pigeon Forge one was better, so my decision was made!

Before Louie got the camping shower, I’d thought we would need to seek out a place to shower, but luckily we didn’t need to do that! So we just headed straight for the museum. Our reservation was at 11 am, but we got there a little early and it wasn’t very busy at all.


When you enter the museum, they give you a “boarding pass” and each one has the story of a passenger on the Titanic. At the end of the museum you learn his or her fate.


I liked the one they gave Louie because he was a violinist!

The museum admission comes with an audio tour, which was quite helpful and informative. There is mostly no photography allowed in the museum, except in one area where they were showing off some of the actual costumes from the movie.


This is the corset from the scene in the movie where Rose’s mother is telling her “This is not a game. Our situation is precarious. You know the money is gone.”


And of course, the dress we first see Rose in! “It doesn’t look any bigger than the Mauritania…”

Although I think the museum is more of a “one and done” type of place, I thought it was well done and quite interesting. There were loads of actual artifacts from the ship and great information. I didn’t learn as much as Louie only because I already knew the information, ha! They even had an area (very cold) where you could feel what the iceberg and the cold water would have felt like. We couldn’t even stand to be in the room at that point, much less spend time in the water! There was another part with the deck at various tilted angles. And tons of stories of the people, both the survivors and those lost. I highly recommend taking the time to go if you are in the area. We probably spent about an hour there, so it wasn’t terribly long, but I felt it was worth it, at least for me.  Who am I kidding, I loved it. Total guilty pleasure, and I’m grateful to Louie for tagging along.

Afterwards, we decided to grab lunch at a nearby restaurant called the Local Goat. I got a really nice portabella mushroom and goat cheese sandwich while Louie had less luck with fish tacos. Then we headed to our next campground destination, Cataloochee!

Before you go to Cataloochee, you need to know there are no services there, no ice, no wood available, so be sure to stock up. We made sure we had plenty of both and all the groceries we needed to, and then we were ready. You go up a winding gravel road for several miles, but it was no problem for the Corolla (unless I had been driving and then I might have had a panic attack, but Louie thrives on this windy mountain driving. ) After about 2 hours we arrived at the campground. This place was even more beautiful than Elkmont, and more remote. I had reserved site 7, and again, I think it was one of the best if not the best site. It was fairly private, and had lots of room and backed up to the creek.

We started unpacking, and noticed this right behind our campsite.

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Was it what we thought? We headed up to chat with the camp host to see what he thought. He told us that yep, the past two nights a bear had been in the area, but the night before the rangers had trapped the fellow and relocated him about 20 miles away. Okay, good to know. Be on the lookout. Be ready to make some noise to scare the bears away!

Cataloochee campground had no shortage of trash cans. Only one bear box for those without cars, but every site had its own little bear proof trash can, which we thought was hilarious. We kept all our food stuffs in the trunk when we weren’t using them, though we noticed our neighbors weren’t quite as careful, which is frankly upsetting and annoying to me…we work really hard to keep a very clean campsite, and if everybody doesn’t, then the bears are coming.

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The tent from the backside. How beautiful is this setting??

After we got set up, we decided to go looking for the elk…we were told to turn left out of the campground and continue into the Valley and we’d see them, especially around dusk, so we set out before dinner.

The elk were reintroduced to the Park in 2001, after being gone from the area for over 150 years. It took a little work, but the herd is now doing well and part of them even moved away to another area of the park.


We did the typical Park “pull over on the side of the road, roll down the windows and start snapping pictures…”


Cataloochee Valley used to be full of people, so there are quite a few historic buildings left.


Anyway, we spent some time just watching the elk and taking pictures, and after awhile we started heading back. We popped into a few of the old buildings, when there weren’t elk around.


And then! A smallish black bear crossed the road right in front of our car. Louie stopped the car and we both kind of froze and panicked! Then we watched it in the woods next to the car and hoped it didn’t notice us. I took this excellent photo.


I’m pretty sure that black blobby bit is the bear.

We were pretty close to the campground then, so we went back and told the camp host what we’d see. He was a little alarmed and said “Maybe they got the wrong bear!”. I think I was a little freaked out that evening! It started raining a bit after that so we waited for a break in the rain to make dinner, and then we relaxed a bit and went to bed.


In the morning we got up fairly early to do a hike called the Big Fork Ridge Trail Loop, about 9.1 miles. It was still fairly raining (light, off and on) and the humidity was high. Once we got started on the hike, we never saw another person!



The terrain varied over the course of the hike, from a wide gravel road, to narrow bits, mud, rocks, you name it! About 5 miles in the trail was completely blocked by a giant tree, and we had to crawl around it. Here’s what the trail looked like after we got around the tree!


Going around was a little tricky, but we could see the trail way on the other side so we felt good about it.  We had forgotten our chain saws though Winking smile

There was a little side trail to see the “Big Poplars” which were actually Tulip Trees, evidently.


That’s a big tree!

We ate our lunch at a campsite, since there were nice places to sit. We definitely needed to reapply bugspray! It was buggy and muggy.


Another side trail went to a gravesite from the Civil War.





Anyway, the hike took us about 5 1/2 hours. On our short drive back to the campground, yep, we saw more elk! We took camp showers after that, and then just did a variety of things around the campground, planned the next day, relaxed, made a fire, etc.

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This is the view from the back of our campsite. We would have set up our tent further back if we hadn’t been required to use the tent pad.


You can see there was a lot of extra room!

The next morning we didn’t jump out of bed because we’d chosen a slightly shorter hike, called the Boogerman Loop. It was about 7.5 miles around, and the trailhead was within walking distance of the campground.

It started with a wooden bridge…



We ate our lunch around this giant tree. It was a bit warmer than the day before, and less raining, so we saw a few more people on this hike.

There was a lot of evidence of people having lived here before: old rock walls, grave stones, even old farm equipment. Not all of my pictures turned out well– sometimes I don’t spend enough time standing still.



During the hike there had been a variety of creek crossings, mostly with those little wooden bridges. It seemed like each crossing was getting more difficult…for instance, a bridge seemed quite broken and we walked very carefully, another crossing that didn’t have a bridge, but probably needed one…at one point Louie joked that the trail was presenting us with increasingly difficult obstacles, like a game. And then suddenly we came to a place where there was no bridge, just a creek…and it seemed there once was a bridge and now it was gone. There was no way around it: we had two choices, turn around (4-5 miles back) or forge the creek. It looked scary, but we had two hiking sticks, good shoes, and I figured, the horses do it. We plotted our course, took some deep breaths, and waded through the water.


This was, I believe, one of the earlier challenges, but you can see there’s plenty of water and not an obvious trail.

And here’s me going across!


And Louie…


After the first crossing, the second didn’t seem so bad…that’s always the way of it! Though I wasn’t super happy to see the second bridge out.


It wasn’t so bad though, and the worst was really all the mud on the trails afterwards!


But I was pretty relieved to see this guy later…


When we finally finished the hike, we noticed there had been this warning at the beginning, which I’d seen but hadn’t really read.


Anyway, we walked back to the campground, dipping our feet in the creek along the way to wash off the mud…and then we hung things up to dry and took showers.


This is a little swimming area at the campground. People swam, though the water would have been too cold for me! Not as a kid though, I would have made it work like kids do.

While we were getting cleaned up a woman drove by and told us about a ranger talk in a nearby house, so we decided to go check it out before dinner. We got there late but were only 2 of the 5 watching. As we listened, it started POURING rain…and just so you know, we weren’t so smart and left a bunch of stuff hanging on the clothesline back at our camp. We were dry under a porch (well, fairly, as it leaked) so we listened to the ranger talk about the Elk and various other things and it was very interesting. Then, as the rain let up a bit, we watched some male “bachelor” elk head our way.


This guy was right by our car. The ranger told us about another ranger who had had his car damaged by an elk, got it all scratched up. We were lucky this time.

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The caution tape was actually for the front of the house, the Palmer House, as the porch had been repainted that day. I like it in the picture though.

After that, we headed back down to the valley area of the other night, and watched the elk there again. And…get this. In almost the same place, ANOTHER black bear crossed in front of us. We didn’t get pictures, because it was just too fast, but WOW. Two bears crossing the road in front of us? CRAZY.

We got back to the campsite and of course most everything was soaked. We decided to make the best of it and try to make a campfire anyway, and Louie managed! I also managed to cook dinner and then we hung out a bit. At one point…we were sitting at the campfire and then heard a loud crash from the bushes/trees behind us. We both jumped up and ran towards the car…I was certain a bear was going to be heading out the bushes towards us…I had my light pointed at it and was ready to start yelling, and nothing happened. Louie said he’d thought a bear fell out of a tree, because he’d heard a branch snap and then a lot of rustling. I don’t even know what really happened, because we never saw anything. Maybe just a branch fell and then made a lot of noise—the bushes and trees were thick and maybe that was the rustling. Or the bear ran away and was scared. In any case, we worked up the nerve to sit back down after awhile.

The next morning we had to pack up even though pretty much everything was wet. Our tent stayed FAIRLY dry but even that had some dampness from the floor. Our hiking shoes were soaked, our towels were soaked, everything was at least damp, but the good news was: we were heading to Asheville to stay INSIDE and could do laundry and take a real shower when we got there. So we packed up and headed out, stopping to get a few pictures at a viewpoint.


A few more thoughts on Cataloochee: We would come back again for sure. Site 7 was awesome! And there were more hikes to do. An overnight hike would also be great, though perhaps terrifying. All the backcountry campsites had wires and pulleys to hang your food.

Also, in a different vehicle, we might have driven in a different way. We took the “short” way in and only had to drive on about 3 miles of gravel roads, but there’s a more scenic way which means about 10 miles of gravel roads (decently well maintained), which in a different vehicle could be awesome. I guess I wish we’d had another night or two, though it was nice to get out of the rain.

So next stop: Asheville!