Sunday, March 23, 2008

Back From Vacation

You know who are a couple of great people? Carl and Shayna, that's who! They invited Jen and me to come join them in Gatlinburg to share their vacation. And it was fantastic! Over the six days of our visit, we waged epic battles in mini-golf, board games, and card games. We shared some absolutely amazing meals. And we proved our sturdiness on a hike undertaken in, shall we say, less-than-ideal conditions.

First off, the meals. Even though Gatlinburg's The Peddler has long been a favorite of my grandparents and other family members, I had never eaten there until last week. Now, it has at least tied Perini Ranch (in Buffalo Gap, Texas) as my favorite restaurant. The place has a massive salad bar to get you started off, then a staff member wheels slabs of beef by your table so you can choose your own cut, which they make right in front of you. The ribeye I had there ranks among the best I have ever eaten, and everything else about the place (particularly our seats just above a creek) was tremendous. We also ate a fine meal at the Bear Creek Grill, another creek-side place on the north side of town--I highly recommend their garlic bread (rolls coated in butter, garlic, and parmesean cheese) and their grilled rainbow trout. For a great (and cheap) local breakfast, check out the Mountain Lodge Restaurant, just north of downtown on the parkway.

If you've never been to the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg metroplex, you might be surprised to know that it is a Mecca for mini golf and go carts. Last week we played a couple of different courses and had a great time on one of the go cart tracks. I highly recommend Ripley's Davy Crockett Mini-Golf--it's the best, most entertaining course I've ever played. You might also want to check out the nearby Hillbilly Golf. But really, there are any number of excellent putt-putt courses in the area.

Now, for any of you who are Spades players, I have to tell you about the incredible hand that we played on night on the trip. Carl and Shayna had been handily whipping Jen and me (partly because Jen was just learning how to play), so they were on the cusp of victory and we were more than 200 points behind. I bid "blind-nill," meaning that even before I saw my hand I was committed to trying not to take any tricks--and we would get 200 points if I was successful. Shayna, seated to my left, also bid nill. Jenifer, meanwhile, in order to give us a chance to win in the event that Shayna made her nill bid, bid "ten-for-two," meaning that our team had to take ten books without any help from me because of the blind-nill bid. Carl bid three. When I looked at the hand I'd been dealt, I was holding the Ace, King, and Ten of Spades, as well as the Ace of Diamonds. Even though I was permitted to give my highest card, the Ace of Spades, to Jen, that was still a plethora of high cards which would make it very difficult to avoid taking any books. Carl ended up taking the first three books, meaning that if Jen and I were to have any chance whatsoever, Jenifer had to take all the remaining books. And, lo and behold, we miraculously pulled it off!! Somehow, both Shayna and I avoided taking any books, Carl met his bid, and Jenifer pulled of the "ten-for-two," all in the same hand. Jenifer and I ended up winning the game by forty points.

As for the daring hike, we decided to try to climb up to the top of Mt. LeConte, via the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. The weather in Gatlinburg had been excellent for the previous few days, and it was forecast to be beautiful on Wednesday, the day of our hike. But when we got up to the trailhead, the mountains were socked in with clouds and the temperature was hovering in the low fifties. As we ascended the mountain, the temperature dropped quickly, and the wind picked up precipitously. Poor Carl had only brought along a t-shirt, so he would get cold very quickly whenever we weren't moving along at a brisk pace. By the time we reached the Alum Bluff Cave at over 5000 feet, frigid rain had been pelting us and the clouds were thoroughly obstructing any views we might otherwise have enjoyed. Much as we hated to be quitters, we decided the wisest decision was to head back down to the resort.

So thanks again to Carl and Shayna for inviting us down and being such wonderful hosts and companions! We thoroughly enjoyed our vacation and we look forward to many, many more with our friends.


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