At the Cades Cove Loop Lope

I’m not a spectator – not basketball, not baseball and certainly not football. I don’t see the point of watching other people play. But I volunteered to help out at the Friends of the Smokies Cades Cove Loop Lope. I was going to watch other people run and even walk around Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Dolly, a serious runner

Holly Scott Jones, Director of Community Outreach & Strategy at Friends of the Smokies, was the race organizer.

It’s not easy to close a section of a national park. It involves a lot of planning, regulations and staff. The day went off perfectly.

Like the New York City marathon, the date was carefully chosen to be the day of the time change.

The last time (and only time) a race was held in Cades Cove was in 2010 as part of the 75th anniversary celebration. It was the most requested event, Jones said. “We never thought we’d bring it back. It was such a joyous event.” 

My assignment was to be a course monitor at the intersection of the Cove Loop and Hyatt Lane at about the three-mile marker. I was supposed to make sure runners stayed on the loop and didn’t venture on the cut-through and shorten their course. I also had to encourage them to keep going since the runners had seven miles to go.

Loop Lope

“You’ll report at 6 am and someone will take you to your station,” one of the many emails instructed.

I packed for a winter hike – water, snacks, fleece, hat and rainjacket – since the run was going to happen rain or shine. Unlike a hike, I was just going to stand there, or sit, since the amenities included a chair. But it was a warm day, more appropriate to June than November.

The race, limited to 500 entries, was a sold-out event.

In addition to over 50 volunteers, there was a sea of park personnel, including many law enforcement rangers who checked parking permits. Volunteers could park at the beginning of Cades Cove; runners had to take a bus from Townsend.

Finally at 7:30, the race started. The first runners were past me in a flash.

But as the slower runners and walkers came by, they thanked us, highfived us and even were willing to stop for pictures. They weren’t loping anymore; they were walking, jogging and even pushing baby carriages.

Some even wore small day packs.

This was their way to enjoy Cades Cove without cars or even rushing bikes. Here’s Acting Superintendent Clay Jordan and his wife, stopping for a picture.

Why didn’t I think of this? I would have walked the Cove. I think I could have finished in three hours, the alloted time. At 10:30, ranges opened the gates to let cars in.

I looked up the word, lope – a long bounding stride.  I also noted, Sunday November 4, 2018, for the next Loop Lope. I hope they do it again.

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