Friday, July 3, 2009

Laurel Falls, Tennessee

Last week JB, Olivia, and I took a much anticipated vacation to Tennessee. We spent the first half in Johnson City with the Biers (Marian's brother Tommy and his family) and then drove 4.5 hours to Nashville for five days of festivities surrounding JB's brother Austin's wedding. (Yes, apparently weddings are more than a one-day event in the proper South.)

We did many things, so there will probably be several posts about Tennessee.

Today's post is about our hike to Laurel Falls, a 55' waterfall along the Appalachian Trail near Elizabethton, TN. We set out with Uncle Tommy, Aunt Rhonda, Lydia, Nathan, and their cousin Kyle. Apparently there are two ways to get to the falls. The first way is a more circuitous way, and the Biers took cousin Sarah and Dave on. We spiced things up and took the other trail, which is shorter, but more arduous. Much of the trail was pleasant and easy, and very picturesque, like this:

I liked this because JB was carrying Olivia in a pack on his back and this seemed a safe, reliable route. At one point we walked across this narrow bridge. The mom in me was nervous about JB and the babe, though JB seemed to have no fear. Even though his feet were this close to the edge of the bridge:

Horrible scenarios kept running through my mind of him tumbling off some edge like this, or off into some ravine, with little Olivia getting crushed by JB (who would get beat to pieces himself) and impaled with branches and brush. I trusted that this would not happen, but I had to be prepared mentally.

As we neared the falls we could hear their loud rushing waters. It was very neat. As we hiked closer and closer, the falls got louder and louder. But the trail still had us walking way above the falls. Then came the hike down to the falls. According to an online brochure, it is a 1/4 mile going straight down. There are stone steps along the way, some seemingly placed there, others seemed carved out of the mountain. I am kicking myself for not getting a photo as evidence. Uncle Tommy counted the steps on the way back, and there are around 277. And these are not evenly-spaced ones that you'd find in a building. They're mountain steps.

It was a crazy hike down, and my legs felt like Jell-O at the end. But it was cool. Especially seeing the falls at the bottom. So we had a packed lunch, and then JB and the kids decided to hike to the top of the falls (look for then at the top right of the falls):

Aunt Rhonda, Tommy, O, and I enjoyed the view from the bottom, until Olivia decided to drop a deuce. Try changing a baby when there are nothing but jagged rocks to lay her on! Aunt Rhonda was nice enough to offer her lap. Shortly after this slight fiaso, the kids returned from the top of the falls.

"Where is JB?" we asked them.

"He's not here?" asked Lydia. "He left before us a while ago."

I thought that she was joking.

She wasn't.

JB had left about five minutes before them, but there was no sign of him, or their dog Greta, who went with him. We tried calling him, but the falls were too loud for our voices to travel. I had prepared myself for my husband and daughter to get broken to pieces in a ravine, but not for solo JB. I began to wonder if this was a serious situation, but my heart of hearts knew that he was okay, but we just didn't know WHERE he was okay.

Then he appeared.

Apparently the trail back to the bottom of the falls was not clearly marked, and JB got on some hairbrained path that went up some other part of the mountain, then down this very steep hillside/ravine, etc. And on and on until he somehow found his way back. His legs to got bruised and cut, and at one point he had to carry the dog, because she wasn't making up the mountainside herself.

By the time he returned to us, it was time to hike back. Back up the 277 steep mountain steps. I had been quite sick with headaches on our trip, so JB decided to haul Olivia himself again.

Only crazy people choose to rehike this after their first adventure! Biers, you are crazy!

Remember my post about JB outwalking my sister and I on our trip to East Grand Rapids? Well, you add my headache and Jell-O legs to the mix and I was walking really slowly on the way back from Laurel Falls. JB walked right with me on the way back. He did not race ahead. He did not lead the pack. He even had to stop a few times to rest. But in the end he made it to the top, with his bruised and bloody legs, and an extra 22+ lbs on his back, which included a crying, then sleeping, baby. Olivia is not one to sleep when in a social setting, so she hadn't taken a nap yet that day and hadn't slept well the night before. At some point coming up the stairs her little baby body gave out on her and she passed out in the pack. And if you didn't know this, a sleeping baby is much heavier than an awake baby.

I love going on hikes and I loved this one, but I think that once is enough for me. Those stairs are not for the faint of heart! Though perhaps I should return to photograph the steps, if anything.


The Contemplative Mama said...

Hi April,
It was great seeing you guys this past weekend for the wedding and Bier family reunion...and especially to meet your darling Olivia : 0 I love this post! The pictures are gorgeous and I'm determined to do this hike the next time we're in Johnson City!

dave and sarah o said...

Great pictures!!

Michigan Girl said...

I'm glad you guys had such a nice time in Tennessee--I too would have been scared on that hike!