I travel back east a fair amount and I am usually juggling family time with working on cars but this trip is a little different from the norm. I’ll start off with the first and main reason for this trip… my sons 21st birthday.
This is always a milestone in your child’s life and you want to make it special, like most kids about to turn 21, my son initially wanted to go to Vegas, party central, but when I tried to set everything up he didn’t seem interested and said he would rather do something different because we will be in Vegas for SEMA the following month. My son & I are not big drinkers, in fact hardly at all, but the stereotypical 21st birthday en tales getting your child so drunk they cannot stand up. When you think about this, it’s kind of an oxymoron to the responsibility about drinking that you try to teach them, but being a single parent and having full custody of my son since he was a boy, he is my best friend, we are very close and through the years he has proven to be responsible so I was willing to go with whatever he wanted to do.
The hardest thing I had to come to terms with is the fact the the little boy that was by my side for the last 20 years, building cars, riding motorcycles, going to shows, racing, and my main supporter through thick and thin was about to be 21. Where did all those years go? They grow up way too fast and I am sure every parent can attest to that. As you get older in life they say your memories fade but I can see the smile on his face plain as day when he was 3yrs old and we just fired up the 70 Camaro he helped me build, or when he was 3 and wouldn’t climb a hill on his first dirtbike, a Honda Z50 until I paid him $5, or the time at age 6 when he was popping wheelies on a skidloader in the driveway when he was supposed to be spreading gravel. Time goes by way too fast and it seems like we all keep saying this but we don’t know what to do to slow it down.
This is something I have been struggling with for a long time now, slowing down my world to pay attention to the little things, the important things that can make a difference in someones life.
Since my son would not tell me what he wanted to do other than “It’s just another birthday dad, we don’t have to do anything special”, I figured I would brainstorm and try to come up with ideas, I talked with friends and got their input, called travel agencies, talked with just about everyone I could think of and at first I was focused around doing the irresponsible parent thing and making it about drinking and partying…checked trips to South Beach, Caribbean, but the weather was killing any chance of a good time there so I needed to think outside the box a bit. Years ago I used to go to “Deals Gap” in the Smokey Mountains and ride at least a couple times per year and Ray Jr mentioned a while ago he would love to go there sometime.
Since this idea was more geared to who we are and what we enjoy doing, I had the beginnings of a plan. Next was to try and fit in as much adventure in the few days he has off from college and hope the weather would hold out. I wanted to surprise him so I gave him a list of things to bring for the trip and didnt tell him where we were going. I knew that not far into the trip he would figure it out since one of the main ingredients to this trip were motorcycles and we didn’t have any here, we had to rent them. I ran into my first snag, unlike some states, in Tennessee you have to be 21 to rent a motorcycle where as some states allow 18. My nephew offered up his GSXR1000 and a trailer and my sister handed over the keys to her H3 to pull it (special thanks to them for offering up the goods to make this trip memorable). This meant I was only going to get about 15 minutes into the trip with him guessing what we would be doing since as soon as he saw the bike loaded up he would know where we were headed.
After he saw the bike and guessed “Deals Gap”, I was like a school boy telling his best friend that he saw the hottest girl in school nekkid! I spilled all the details because I was so excited to be going on this trip with him. At this point I kinda forgot I was the father and it felt more like a college road trip with your best friend.
I booked a private cabin in the hills with Bluff Mountain. It was about 15 minutes from Pigeon Forge Tennessee which is the heart of where everything is. Our cabin had an amazing little layout with a loft, hot tub on the private back porch, and all the amenities you could ask for.
We arrived about 3am and had to be up bright and early to rent a Harley for Fridays adventure, the Gap. Despite the rainy weather all up the coast and through the hills this day proved to be a great one since the sun was shining and it was 90+ degrees. We rode all day through the Gap, the Foothills Parkway, Gatlinburgh, and Pigeon Forge. We stopped for pictures along the way and even stopped at the Dam where Harrison Ford jumped off in the movie “The Fugitive” which was filmed at the beginning of the Gap, also known as the “Tail of the Dragon, 318 turns in 11 miles”. I have been here about a dozen times I guess and always on a sportbike breaking every land speed record made so it was nice to take in the beautiful scenery through the Smokeys on a Harley Davidson Street Glide.
We forgot a full faced helmet and Jr was so mad because he felt like he was in the “Biker Boys” movie wearing a half helmet. haha
Gotta love those padded half helmets! haha
It was just our luck that there was a huge annual car show going on in Pigeon Forge. “Shades of the Past” is in it’s 30th year and a show that brings thousands of people from all over the country. It reminded me of growing up and going to a show back home called the” Hot Rod Nationals” where after the show spectators lined their folding chairs along the main 4 lane road to gaze at the bumper to bumper, rows of classics and customs. Be prepared to sit in traffic for hours just to go a few miles in both directions. Jr and I walked for miles checking out the cars each evening and talking to some really cool people. The biggest thing we both commented on was the attitude of the people. The locals and tourists alike were so laid back and genuinely pleasant. It’s a nice feeling when people smile and say hello as you walk by or hold a door for you when you are walking into a restaurant. They are all here to enjoy the beauty Tennessee has to offer. I travel around the US a fair amount and I can tell you first hand that there are not many cities like this anymore.
I booked an ATV tour for Saturday morning, I know what you are thinking and it was my thought as well….any kind of atv “tour” is boring and you end up with a guide that goes too slow and it is not really enjoyable so I contacted Cindy at Bluff Mountain Adventures and explained our concerns. After talking about our riding experience and the type of ride I was hoping for, she suggested a “Custom Tour” for 3 hours. I figured what the hell, if it isn’t trailblazing fun then at least the view would be great since part of the tour took us to the top of the ridge mountain. Turns out we had one of their veteran guides, Dennis. He put together a Kick Ass ride for us and the speed was perfect for the terrain, moderate with a few stops to check out the views. I wish I could have taken more pictures and videos..mainly one of us riding down the hill through a rocky waterfall…absolutely beautiful!
They have some 6000 acres and 150 miles at least of trails to accommodate any kind of riding style, from beginner to advanced. I couldn’t recommend this tour highly enough and not just because of the views, the people involved with this company are one of a kind and they jump through hoops to make sure you enjoy your vacation. I can gauarantee we will be back the next trip we take to Pigeon Forge. Oh, I almost forgot…..Jr and I learned something funny about male and female trees….if you want to know, then you have to have Dennis guide you to some of Smokeys most unique places you can only see on their adventure!
By the time we finished our atv ride it was starting to sprinkle rain so I was worried that the next leg of our adventure was going to be cancelled. Fortunate enough for us the rain didn’t matter to Fox Fire Mountain because as we waited to start the next adventure it started pouring pretty hard. I have never been on a zip line before mainly because I am not good with heights and no real control over what is about to happen…which is the main reason I won’t skydive, although I am reconsidering it now!
We were told by many of the locals that Fox Fire has the best zip lines so if you going to do something you may as well go big or go home as we always say. Fox Fire was no disappointment because they offered a package that included 7 zip lines that stretched up to 1500’+ in length a couple hundred feet high and could produce speeds of up to 60+mph.
The older you typically get the less you want to do silly shit like this but I figured what the hell…if I squealed like a little girl the whole way then at least my boy would get years of laughter out of it.
They started us off on a “baby zip line” to get us used to what was about to happen and by the last zip line you almost feel like a pro. The staff here was funny and safety always came first so it was easy for me to relax and forget I am afraid of heights when it came time for my first real zip line. The instructor started off his with a back flip so I figured I’d give that a try…turned out to be addicting…I wanted to do stupid shit every time I took off!
Most of the people in our group were not happy about the pouring rain because it made it hard to see and a little more fearful if you never zipped before but they kept good spirits throughout. The views were amazing…waterfalls, rocky valleys, blasting through trees hundreds of feet above streams. It almost made me feel young again, Ray Jr was not so willing to act like a fool as I did…lol. He doesn’t do well with heights either but he too looked like a pro by the end.
I had one more “1st time” adventure planned, but due to the weather and how late it was it was cancelled. We will definitely do this next time though! It’s called ZORB. For those of you that have never done this, basically you crawl into a 12′ round clear ball, they toss in some water and kick you over a cliff and you roll for somewhere around 900′ straight downhill! I can’t wait to give that a try!
That evening we did some more walking around, checking out cars and had dinner at a really cool spot. J.T. Hannah’s, this place had amazing ribs and fajitas and the service was nothing short of the normal southern hospitality. If you are ever around this area stop here for some grub, you will not be disappointed!
As Jr and I made our way back home on Sunday we reflected on all of the cool things we enjoyed in Tennessee….I hope it made a lifelong impression on his 21st birthday as it has on how great it is to be a father of a son like him!