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.

When Closed means Closed

Chimney Tops Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park reopened about a month ago. The trail had been closed since Thanksgiving, 2016 because of wildfire originally set by two teenage boys. The fire moved from the top of Chimney Tops Trail into populated areas and caused a great deal of damage.

But it seems like most of the trail wasn’t affected, so the park decided to build a platform at the new top of the trail and close off the original top. You can no longer scramble to the actual rocky top because of significant environmental damage and safety concerns. The fire destroyed so much of the vegetation at the top. There is severe erosion of rocks and soil, making for very steep slopes and drop offs.

But rumors are flying that some hikers feel it’s their right to ignore this closure and go around the gate and yellow tape. If this continues, the park may close the whole trail again. Oh no!! What part of closed don’t they understand?

So I decided to see the shortened trail, now only 1.75 miles, for myself? Today was a colorful autumn day, probably too warm for November – climate change is real.

Happy hikers at the platform

The trail was as perfect today as it had been after the Trails Forever Crew put in steps and water diversions. And just as steep. I met 24 people going up and too many to count going down.

Most understood what happened even “if they weren’t from around here” and were content to enjoy the view from the platform. I took plenty of pictures of happy people.

But there’s always a few who aren’t happy with restrictions and think they know better. A father with two adult children from the area wondered why the park had put in all those steps in the first place, why he couldn’t climb to the top, and was there always someone from the park here?

It was obvious that the family group was waiting for me to leave so they could try to get to the top of the rocks. I took their picture.

View of Chimney Tops

“There’s over 800 miles of trail in the park. Plenty of other challenges here.” But they weren’t going to explore other trails. You know the type – wearing  jeans, a cotton t-shirt, a sweatshirt around the waist and usually a scowl on their face. It seemed tempting to wait them out. But after 30 minutes on top and talking to everyone as they got to the platform, I started packing up.

They didn’t even wait for me to leave. They headed down to the closed area. More hikers came up as I started down the trail.

The trail is perfect, until the closure.

Go up there, stop at the platform, walk down to the Closed sign, if you’re curious and go back down – a perfect half-day hike.

When your Airbnb goes wrong!

What happens when something goes wrong with Airbnb? More specifically, what do you do when your host isn’t there or maybe doesn’t exist? I’ve been using Airbnb for years and have always been pleased with my lodging.

In my last post, I hinted that something negative did happen when I visited Folly Beach. I think it’s worth writing about.

I booked an Airbnb room in Folly Beach, South Carolina – two blocks from the beach and two blocks from the town center. The description of the property went on and on. It sounded great.

Coastal South Carolina

I got in touch with the owner, Beth, via the Airbnb email system – you never seem to get the host’s email, but you do get their telephone number.

“There’s a keypad at the front door and we send out the code on the day you arrive.”

That sounded reasonable, but the code never arrived. I called her number and I got a Verizon message which said that the number was not in service. That should have gotten me worried, but by then, I was well on my way to Folly Beach.

I arrived in town and started looking for the property. No number 55. I walked up and down the street and asked anyone I could corral if they knew where the house could be. No one did but my GPS stopped at a large house with a keypad.

At 4 pm, when she said I could check in, there was no one there. I called Airbnb. To their credit, someone answered within a few minutes.

“I will try to reach out to Beth,” Solomon, the Airbnb employee said.”

“Good luck with that.” We exchanged the phone number we had for her. It was the same nonworking number.

“We give the host an hour. Someone will call you within an hour. No one did.

By then, it was almost 6 pm and I was standing in front of an empty house by myself, with just a phone – and my car. No matter how technologically astute you are, in this situation, all you have is a phone and cell servive.

I noticed a conventional Bed &Breakfast two doors down and walked over. I made a reservation for three times the price but it was there.

I called Airbnb again. Now another employee said two hours. They sent me a list of other properties via email. Did they really expect me to try to make a booking from my phone on the street for tonight? What host was going to answer immediately?

“Please just make a reservation in the area and I’ll be there.”
“We can’t do that,” he said.

After two hours, Ruby, a supervisor, called. I told her about the real B&B I had booked. She said that she was refunding my money and 50% of the difference between what I would have paid for an Airbnb and the price of the more expensive inn.

The credit for my stay was applied to my credit card right away.

For the 50%, I had to wait until I got a bill from the Inn. I sent a copy right away to Airbnb.
I have to fill out a payout method, as if I was a host. They won’t just refund it to my credit card, so I gave them my checking account details. You could also use PayPal, but I wasn’t in the hosting business.

A few days later, I received an email that my host had canceled my reservation. No reason, of course. But I did get my 50% difference from Airbnb.

Airbnb hosts are independent operators. They don’t have a staff like a hotel or conventional B&B. If something happens to them – whatever – they just don’t show up.
I was lucky that an inn was just up the street and that they had a room.

I was impressed with Airbnb’s quick response. The moral of the story is that I must be prepared to act as soon as I see that there’s a problem with the host.