Tennessee from East to West

Trip Photos

PIGEON FORGE & DOLLYWOOD:  For a change, this trip tp Tennessee was all about being a tourist. We came for "leaf peeping" season to try to catch some of the fall colors and do all of the things that tourists do. As time is limited we decided to go wheels up before dawn even cracked today. It was o'dark-thirty and Wild Mama was in the air and had her IFR clearance. Leaving LaBelle was a beautiful, clear night; but there wa a lingering line of storms through southeast Georgia that we would probably have to cross and morning fog was forecast so going low was not an option. We settled in at 6,000' and caught a nice little tailwind.tew1.jpg
The sunrise peeked through the back window and we cold see that we were just starting with the clous layers. At 6,000', we were just between the layers, for now, but knew that our clear ride was coming to an end soon. We check the NEXRAD and see that the rain cells are breaking apart before us but the clouds persist. We are in the soup by the time we are parallel with Atlanta. This trip we have to cross the mountains for real. No, they are not the Rocky's but a rock is a rock; the winds shift and you cannot go through on a day like today. ATC clears us up to 8,200' for terrain clearance. WHile Mount Mitchell is the highest peak in the range, the second highest in beneath us and only 30' lower than Mount Mitchell. The clouds start to break apart as the mountains are the ones doing the peeking: we see nothing but tops as the valleys below are still shrouded in the morning fog.
The radio crackles and ATC asks what kind of approach we want. The AWOS said scattered at 4,900' so we ask for the visual. NOT! We shot the appraoch, doing the full appraoch which took us out over Knoxville before bringing us back to GKT.
Dollywood was lots of fun. I hit a couple of the roller coasters. Vern joined me at first but begged off the last one (I guess I can be excessive). The day remained overcast and we had a hard time getting warm so we stayed away from the wet rides. The park was not crowded so it made getting on the attractions easy and even the steam locomotive was not too crowded.
After Dollywood we headed to the craft shows and fairs in Pigeon Forge. I had never been so it was quite a surprise to find it looking like a lumpy version of Kissimmee - lots of road side attractions and very touristy. But nightfall, the clouds that shrouded the area were lifting and the morning promised to be a glorious one.

CORN MAZE AND LOST SEA: Ever since we flew over the corn maze in Georgia, I have wanted to over-fly more. It was cool to see tew2.jpgthe artistic designs from above and now is the time of year to see such creatures. The plan today, however, was to head southwest to the Lost Sea - an underground lake deep within a cave. Low tech weather checking was simple - look out the window, see unlimited visibility; flags are limp; sun is shining. Go fly! We took off in such glorious skys - these are the days pilots live for. With no wind at all, we decided to meander through the mountains enroute to Monroe County Airport (MNV). We just started out climb, turned toward the south and looked at the artificial horizon which started on that, oh, so familiar, "broken gyro dance". No worries - the words of Ed Wilson, my flight instructor, echoed in the back of my head: "Just look out the window. There is nothing in this cockpit that you need to see."
It was a great day to have your nose pressed to the glass looking out the window. The leaves were still not at peak but they were turning; the fog in the lowest valleys was a eerie reminder of the overcast day the day before and the houses perched precariously on the ridges were a spectacular sight. We meandered until it was time to turn right and head to the airport. We had called ahead and had a ride waiting for us to get to the Lost Sea (that last 2 mile problem was already resolved).tew3.jpg
tew4.jpgThe Lost Sea was really interesting in and of itself; but I also happen to like caves. There were cave flowers made in rock formations and the traditional columns, strlagtights and stalagmights. Then the lake... with the drought it was about 30' low ... and it was still quite deep with colorless rainbow trout artificially inhabiting the still waters. It was a feeding frenzy when we arrived as the only food they get is from the guides at boat launch time.
We continued on after the caves to go hunt for the corn mazes as there were signs that some were in the area - no luck, so we headed for Sparta. I knew I could find one there. Success. I found it - much different than last years' design which was a celestial pattern - this one is a person, although I cannot see who since I am already in the patters AT the airport. More investigation is needed later. tew5.jpg

CUMBERLAND CAVERNS: For all of the time we have come to the Cumberland Plateau area, we have never been tourists. Today we decided to hit the local caves, Cumberland Caverns. This set of caves has miles and miles of public tour areas and an tew6.jpgextensive "unexplored" area. Unexplored is a bit of a misnomer as it has been mapped; but it is generally not available to the general public. We took the 1-1/2 hour standard walking tour - it was fantastic. There are many large rooms and lots of formations in the cave. One of the rooms was turned into a meeting area with a huge crystal chandalere hanging overhead. They did a light show in the bowles of the cave that was really cool as well.
Unfortunately, duty called and Vern had to get back to the airport to replace the AI that had broken the other day. He had one air freighted into Sparta so I could have one for the trip home as we were expecting IFR conditions and would probably be flying at night. Not a time to be wihtout the AI, if you can help it. In short order she was fixed and ready to go. We depart tomorrow for Memphis where I will be playing in a racquetball tournament with Susan Carastro, another ARC racer. The forecast, for the weather, anyway, looks good. tew7.jpg
"INDIRECT TO": Vern had asked to take a small detour on the way to Memphis this morning, and with another picture perfect flying day with clearer skys and unlimited visibility, heck, why not? We headed to Kentucky Dam State Park (M34). It was only 45 tew10.jpgminutes or so out of the was but it was another meander that was worth the trip. I had headed off in this diretion just a couple of weeks ago and the scenery was loking very familiar to me. I recognized some of the land features - a meandering river, a lock, a bridge to nowhere and some settlement features. We came to the Kentucky River and headed up the river. We did not exactly do a "direct to" navigational pattern this time. We followed the rivers which was much more scenic.
Upon our arrival to M34, we called for a ride to Patti's Settlement. It is a small village-type of area but the main attraction is food. The restaurant boasts a 2" thick pork chop that was guaranteed to melt in your mouth. They were right. It wa awesome; but so was the Aloha Chicken Salad, Potted Bread, veggies and the desserts. With our useful load completely blows we waddled out and headed back to the tew9.jpgairport. The sky had now started to haze over and we knew there was an approaching storm system so it was best to get on our way; besides, Vern had a commercial flight to catch back to Fort Myers from Memphis and I had to check into the hotel and start preparations for the tournament.
We landed at Gen Dewitt Spain Airport (M01) and were treated to the rock star treatment: our car wa ushered to the plane, the linemen came to fetch Wild Mama and fuel her up, help us unload and tie her down. Wow! What service. We were out of there in no time and heading to the international airport to drop Vern and pick up Susan, who was flying in commercial from West Palm Beach. Susan and Vern ended us tew8.jpgcrossing paths in Atlanta as both took Air Tran and both had a quick plane change in Atlanta. Susan arrived late and I gathered her up and headed back to the hotel. She had an early mixed doubles match in the morning although I did not play until late in the afternoon. We are both plying singles in different divisions; doubles together and Susan had a mixed doubles match scheduled with a partner whom she had never met. This should be interesting.

13TH ANNUAL USA RACQUETBALL TOURNAMENT:  Today (Saturday) might be our last day of play inthe tournament. The single matches are Pool play, meaning you have to win your pool to advance. I have lost both of my singles matches and Susan is 1 for 2. She still has a shot at the finals if the player she beat wins over the player that beat her. Unlikely, but you ever know. As for our doubles, we are doing well, having won all of our games so far and have played well together, especially considering we have not played as a doubles team before. We have one more game to win this afternoon and we will take the Woman's B Doubles. We will do our best. Stay tuned ....
Back from the tournament, Susan won her singles match this morning although the first days loss put her out of the running for the title of Women's A Division. We did have a victory this afternoon in the B division doubles and garnered first place in that division - it was a good day. So with bellies full of southern barbecue, leftovers to carry home and first place medals in our pockets, we pack this evening and check weather ready for an early morning departure and to head for home.

HOMEWARD BOUND: It is a rare trip wher you can really do most, if not all, of the trip in perfect VFR conditions. Other than the first day out on the way to Tennessee, the weather has been spectacular. Today for the trip home was no exception. We awakened to a clear cloudless sky on a cool morning just ahead of an approaching cold front. This is the kind of day in which an airplane loves to fly. We departed, wheels up, right on schedule at 0800 local and headed west to avoid the Class B airspace of Memphis. The winds were light down low, but we had a headwind on our westward leg. In short order we cleared the airspace and turned southeast to head to Montgomery so we could stop and say hi to Susan's family.
As we climbed out to 5,500' our ground speed was ever so slightly increasing. This bodes well for a fast trip home. We leveled off and set in at cruise to the tune of 170 kts ground speed. Sweet! With the autopilot firmly engaged, we turned on the air tunes and relaxed, keeping our eyes open for traffic but enjoying the unlimited visibility and the signs of fall below. In short order we arrived in Montgomery.
Susan's Dad greeted us at the terminal and had breakfast waiting. What great service! We had a nice visit and talked airplanes for a while then we had to get on our way. We wing waggled as we departed for Dothan and some cheap gas ($3.93/gallon). With a quick turn around, we were off again in the never ending blue sky.
Winds were quite favorable for us again, although there had been a bit of a shirt and 3,500' gave us the best tailwinds...and a rough ride. Since we were in no particular hurry, we opted to lose 5 knots and go for the smooth ride back at 5,500'. Still, not a cloud in the sky. We plotted a course to steer clear of all airspace as we really did not feel a compelling need to talk to ATC so we headed out over the Gulf and through HEVVN intersection. Susan had never been to HEVVN before.
We continued on toward Lantanna to drop Susan through the vast blues until just south of Lake Okechobee where we saw our first cloud of the day. There was an overcast layer just northwest of Palm Beach that we ducked under to make our approach. Susan and I said our good-byes and I headed back to LaBelle for the last short leg of this week-long journey covering over 1,750 nm with stops at 9 different locations. Still enjoying the ride . . .