Sunday, July 07, 2002

Three Days in Tennessee

I spent my July 04, 2002 extended weekend camping in Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains. Here's a brief lowdown.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

The rental vehicle is a Subaru Outback and there are five of us from Atlanta. We began with some shopping for spices and such for cooking at the campsite. As a consequence of a search for some music tapes (yes, the vehicle didn't come with a CD player) for the drive, I uncovered a Singapore-made combo: Asli Naqli (Laxmikant-Pyarelal) / Itihaas(R. D. Burman). Yay! After stuffing ourselves with an Indian buffet at Mirch Masala, we headed out on the road. We reached Newport, TN rather late in the evening, but luckily after the showers had ended. Another shopping spree ensued at Wal*Mart for camping supplies and I also got a sleeping bag and a pair of sandals to boot. Once we made it to the campsite it was dark and we proceeded to set up the tents in the headlights of cars and a pair of flashlights (since we conveniently missed buying kerosene and firewood). The group grew to 12 now! Half of us went back to town to get the supplies and something to eat, while the rest of us stayed back to cook some chicken over coal. The process of drenching the meat in spices and constantly stoking the flames and flipping the chicken was a long one and beer bottles provided respite and fuel for the others to talk and laugh out loud. At 1 am there was still no sign of the others and we proceeded to devour the chicken (which I must say turned out rather well). Thanks to the ruckus, we received a courtesy visitor informing us that the camp turn-in hour was 11 pm and we had better tone it down to allow our neighbours to get some sleep. Soon the rest of the party returned and despite the warnings, there was more beer and louder conversations with discrete spurts of laughter. Fearing the worst, I packed the rest of the food into the cars and turned in. Of course, this was my first experience camping so I (as well as my other experienced colleagues) forgot to open the tent window. Consequently, it was uncomfortable sleeping at night, to add to other woes.

Friday, July 05, 2002

Wakey wakey at 0800. Half of us had driven out to get some hot showers. All we saw around the camp grounds were restrooms and I still don't know if they have showers. The rest of us had some black coffee to scare the rest of our sleep away. The park ranger dropped by with a cautionary note about yesterday, although he was happy to see that we had packed all the food in. The agenda for the day was some hiking. We drove to Cades Cove, which by the time we reached there, seemed a long way off from the campsite. The hike to Abrams Falls was great fun (2.5 each way). Of course by the time we made our way to the Visitor Centre we were drenched in sweat and thirsty. My group of four headed back to the campsite. We stopped off for hot showers. These were booths where the water was operated by inserting quarters. If you aren't very efficient on time, you could end up standing there covered in soap with the shower running dry. Dinner, in an effort to make good time, was at Waffle House (yes, that sounds very defeatist considering we were camping, but the uniformity of the American consumer landscape is all-encompassing). As a plus, we did see Gatlinburg, a city-sized version of Universal Studios, tailored as a theme tourist park. Everything about the camp and the landscape reminds me of Kerala. I made this clear to my companions, who are now all ready to beat me up for flogging the Southern horse one time too many.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

Sleep came easier this time and the key activity for the day was rafting on the Pigeon River with a guide from the 5 Rivers Adventure Company. The rapids were classes 2, 3 and 4. No mishaps for our boat and we even 'rode the waves' (getting the raft against the direction of the waves). Harish on the other hand wasn't so lucky. His companion on the other raft lost balance and took him down with him. No danger, but just a little comic event. His elbow aches now, though. I have a cool photograph as a memento of our journey on the river. After this, everyone parted company with promises to stay in touch and exchange information about expenses (a definite possibility) and photographs (a possibility). After an excellent Saturday Country-style bar buffet at Shoney's (cabbage beef soup, salad, meatballs, fried chicken, ham, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, jelly, pudding, pineapple chunks) ...burp, we were on our way. As good luck would have it there were two RD Burman compilation tapes lying in the car: the first from HMV and the second from Polygram/MIL, a collection of songs that he had sung for his films. I also discovered how much the American propensity for air conditioning had tempered my system when I walked out of the car into an evening furnace of 95F. A shower made things better.

Things to take away from the splendid vacation

* Have your equipment ready

* Fewer is better

* Rafting rocks

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