Sunday, October 28, 2012

Riding the Cade's Cove Loop Road

Check another one off my bucket list! I have been wanting to ride the Cade's Cove Loop Road for years, but have just never had the chance. Yesterday, my husband and I got up very early, loaded the bikes, and headed up to the Cove. I was under the impression that the Loop Road was closed to automobiles on Wednesday and Saturday mornings, which is true during the summer months, but I was sadly misinformed yesterday. When we topped the hill on Laurel Creek Road and made our way toward Cade's Cove, we encountered a line of cars, only a few of which were adorned with bike racks. That was my first clue that all might not be as expected.

We arrived a few minutes before 7:30, apparently just a short time before the Park Rangers unlock the gates to both the Loop Road and the Picnic Area. After parking the truck and unloading the bikes, we headed up toward the gate where we were dismayed to see cars streaming through undeterred. We debated not riding, but we had come a long way and gotten up so early, we decided to try it anyway. I knew there were two roads that cut across the Cove to shorten the loop and figured that if the traffic was a problem, we could always take one of those to end our ride early. I was just sure I would be terribly in the way of the cars and would constantly feel like they were pushing me or waiting to get around me, but, oh, was I wrong!

The day broke to clouds and a little mist, but not enough to make the ride uncomfortable. The temperature was about 55 degrees when we got out of the truck. I was pleased with this because the forecast I had checked the night before said the high in Townsend would be 50 degrees on Saturday, so this was already warmer than I had expected. Sugar maples were still ablaze as we made our way through the open fields and shady woodlands of the Cove. Deer were not as prolific as I had seen in the Cove on many other occasions, but we encountered many more turkey than I've ever seen before in any one location. Seems like every turn we made, we'd find a few more turkey. They were definitely traveling in same-sex groups--hens in groups and gobblers in groups. We saw as many as ten gobblers together picking in the open fields very much unlike the wary, skiddish animals they are in less protected areas. It's funny how animals within the Park seem to know that no one can shoot them in their own special paradise.

We did see one majestic buck grazing under a tree near one of the churches along the Cove Loop Road. He seemed to have come out of the woods for the express purpose of posing for photographs on this cool, damp morning. Photographers had flocked to the Cove to capture the last show of color in the Park as the leaves began to fall in preparation for November's rapid approach. They were massed around this buck, cameras and tripods at the ready. He, however, was nonplussed by their presence or the flashes that emanated from those cameras. I've noticed lately that when I'm tired, my camera hand is far from steady, and although I took several pictures of this nice buck, only one of them was clear; the others were blurred by my inability to hold said camera still as my muscles quivered after a long pull up one of the hills interspersed along this road. This photograph is poorly lit, but perhaps you can still get a sense of how beautiful this buck was.

I absolutely love riding my bike, but riding it in the splendor of one of the most beautiful places on Earth clad in her fall colors was a special treat indeed. Although it was a little past peak, there was still enough color to dress the fields in golds and reds as even the native grasses added to the show. The only thing that detracted from this day was the presence of those cars. I thought I would be in their way, but on the contrary, they were in mine! Invariably, when approaching a long hill or steep incline, cars would stop to look at something (and I can't blame them for this!), but it sure made it harder to ride those inclines. There was more than one time when I think I could have ridden up the incline had I been able to begin it with some momentum. Starting from a near stop or a dead stop though, at least for me, makes those long hills next to impossible. However, even walking up those hills just gave us a little more time to slowly enjoy the beauty of the Cove, the quiet of her open fields, and the solitude of her woodlands. I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning!

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