Thursday, August 08, 2019

The Great Smoky Mountains Adventure Day 6 - Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!

[Composed 7/14/2019]

Today was supposed to be a hiking day, but given the nearly 12 miles of hiking the kids have logged, we thought we'd pick another main activity. Shira had just the activity in mind: zip-lining. We both knew the kids would love it, but would my fear of heights get the best of me?

This prompted us to search for a zip lining experience with an unusual criteria: we wanted it to be super tame. We thought we found a winner in Zip Gatlinburg. Talking to the clerk encouraged me more: while there are 9 zip lines, every other one lands you on the ground. If you need to bail out, you can do so at this point. However, in all the years he's worked in the store, he's only heard of one person not completing the course, and even then it was due to heat stroke, not fear. I was sold.

They loaded us in our harnesses, and took extra care with D's insulin pump. We then took a 10 minute bus ride around the corner from main-street Gatlinburg up the side of a hill. They took some group photos, and before we knew it, it was time to zip. The first zip line was a short, maybe 10 foot, affair. I've had some zip lining experience before, so I hoped that what I'd learned then would help. I shifted my weight to the harness and then pushed off into the abyss. In just a couple of seconds, I found myself at the next tree. I did it. We all did it. We were zip lining!

We had two guides taking our group of 10 folks or so on the course. They couldn't have been more relaxed and low key. I asked if I could pop-out my cell phone to grab some pics. Sure, one of the guides responded, knock yourself out. Just put it away when you're zipping.

With our first short zip line out of way, things got way more real. The kids and Shira tackled the long one without issue, and before I knew it, it was my turn. Again, I cautiously shifted my weight to the harness and then launched myself into the great unknown! Thanks to the secure hug of the harness, I was never overtaken by panic. I dare say, I even enjoyed myself! Once we were on third platform, the second guide needed to come over and join us. He leapt from the platform and spun around so as to zip upside down in a Spiderman hanging position. Whoa.

As we progressed through the zip lines the kids became more and more relaxed. And before I knew it, we'd done all 9 zip lines. By the end, both D and J were doing tricks as they zipped by, not a care in the world. As I looked back at what we completed, it all seemed so small.

As adventure experiences go, this could not have been more perfect. It challenged all of our comfort zones, and yet, we were able to all rise above and enjoy it. I'm sure if you're a seasoned zipper this course would seem like a joke. But for newbies like us, it was ideal.

Once on solid ground, we made our way back to the Great Smokey Mountains for another drive-through adventure. This time we toured the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. This was a sort of Cades Cove lite. While we didn't see bears, we caught beautiful views, picture perfect streams and explored a number of historic buildings. It was also far less of a commitment in terms of driving, which I appreciated. Fortunately for all, the well known hike to a waterfall in the area was closed for maintenance.

By afternoon we were back at our Airbnb chilling out. Playing cards were busted out, and before she knew it, Shira was teaching D the finer points of Blackjack. We're talking the statistically optimal playing strategy and proper hand-gestures. She didn't cover card counting, I assume that's the next lesson. D was picking up the info as quickly as Shira was laying it down. Lord help us when he's old enough for Shira to take him to a casino.

Meanwhile, J and I were upstairs playing pool. The pool cues were too large for D and J, so we had dispensed with them and were hand rolling the balls. This prompted J to teach me a game he and his cousins had come up with: Spin. Here are the rules:

  • Spin is a game played by at least two players, though conceivably, you could have two teams.
  • Players stand at opposite ends of the table. The two corner pockets closest to the player are his to guard. Each player guards the corner pocket to his left.
  • The object of the game is roll balls into your opponent's pockets, which of course, your opponent is guarding.
  • The game is played asynchronously: all the balls are in play at the beginning, and each player is simultaneously defending his pockets and trying to score on his opponent.
  • The 8 ball must be sunk last. Sinking the 8 ball while other balls are in play causes an automatic loss.
  • Assuming the 8 ball was sunk last, the winner of the game is determined by points. Each ball a player sinks is worth 1 point. The 8 ball is worth 2 points.

The game is pure chaos, with balls flying in every direction at every moment. The adult in me was horrified by this: were we going to damage the pool balls or table?! The kid in me was elated. Given that pool balls are designed to strike each other and the table at high speeds, I figured our game was no different. I threw caution to the wind and savored the game play.

At some point Shira and D came up stairs. D quickly wanted in, and I had him join my team. Shira was mortified by what she saw: someone will get hurt! As I was telling her that she overreacting, D's finger got smashed between two balls. Ouch. He was fine, but Shira's point was made. We suspended our game of Spin. Man that was a fun time!

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