Christmas at Dollywood

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Or at least here in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Christmas lights and decorations are shining bright all along the Parkway and many businesses. But there is no place like Dollywood to get one in the Christmas Spirit. It was only two weeks ago I was enjoying the thousands of beautifully carved pumpkins as I wandered about the park. But now, after being closed for a few days, Dollywood is decorated with over 5 million lights. Last night, due to temperatures in the low 40’s and a light drizzle of rain, I was one of only a few strolling about the park and taking in some seasonal shows. It was a fun night. But since I had to leave before seeing the new Glacier Ridge area I must return. But maybe I’ll wait for the rain to end. Hope my video will encourage you to make a visit soon.

Halloween at Dollywood

I don’t celebrate Halloween, but I do enjoy it. I like the pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin beer and all the carved pumpkins on display. So, Halloween night I wandered on over to Dollywood to experience the sights and sounds of the season. The skill of the pumpkin carvers was on brilliant display during the “Great Pumpkin Luminights”. And what a beautiful evening with temps around 60 degrees. I hope you can get a glimpse of all the beauty as you check out my video.

On the job….

One of the things I liked most about my previous work was the variety we experienced. We drove large ATV core drills (swamp buggies as we called them), small trucks, large trucks and larger trucks. We pulled small trailers, large trailers, boat trailers and moved heavy equipment. We operated ATV mounted core drills, truck mounted core drills, skid rig core drills mounted on a barge, crane trucks, motor boats and bulldozers. To reach our drilling site we may hike 200 yards uphill thru the woods, drive our jeep 2 miles thru the foothills of the mountains or speed along in our boat for a couple of miles up the lake or river. We carried out drilling operations on ridge tops, pasture lands, swamps, lakes, rivers and in the middle of a creek with water snakes swimming around us. Some days we would shiver while working on a hillside in sub-freezing temps while other days barely avoiding a heat stroke while working from an extremely hot steel deck barge in the middle of the lake with temps over 100 degrees. While our experiences may not have always been fun at the time we experienced them, they did make for some great stories at the next Christmas party!

Having a job that one enjoys and working with some great people are a couple of things that make life fun. I had that kind of job for nearly 48 years with TDOT before retiring. Oh, there were days when it wasn’t as enjoyable as others but for the most part it was great. Working outside in all kinds of weather across the beautiful state of Tennessee and meeting and talking with lots of different people were both educational and exciting. Our projects took us from the business districts of large cities to the most remote areas of the poorest counties. One of the most important and interesting requirements of my job was obtaining right-of-entry to peoples’ lands. This was necessary for us to carry out our drilling operations and assist with roadway and bridge design across the state. And that brought me in contact with many interesting people, from the professional business man to the rural farmer. And after conversing with people across the state for over 45 years, I found there to be lots of kind, friendly, nice people in Tennessee and very few that were not.

I was a drilling operations specialist in the Geotechnical Engineering section of the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). Our small Knoxville office consisted of a professional staff of two civil engineers, three geologists (all five serving as geotechnical specialists), and a support staff consisting of a secretary and six drill crew personnel. Our geotechnical specialists made difficult bridge and roadway design recommendations using the sub-surface information gathered by our hard-working drill crews. And our secretary was given the task of keeping up with everything going on. Even in our small office, we had people with varied interests, talents and personalities. But we had great team work and appreciation of each other’s skills and abilities. That, along with the flexibility we had in performing our tasks, was probably why we all enjoyed our jobs and got along as well as we did. Well, at least most of the time!

Watauga River near Wilbur Dam Rd in Carter County

Are You Displaying The Love Of God In Your Life?

Have you ever been in a situation where someone wants you to give 100% of yourself? Or maybe you have even been ask to give 101%. Are those requests even possible? I found this interesting mathematical formula where one may be able to give over 100%. Here is how it works.

Suppose each of the 26 letters of the alphabet are represented by a number.

For example:
A=1, B=2, C=3, D=4, E=5, F=6, G=7, H=8, I=9, J=10, K=11, L=12, M=13, N=14, O=15, P=16, Q=17, R=18, S=19, T=20, U=21, V=22, W=23, X=24, Y=25, Z=26

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E       (11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+ 5)  would equal  96%

H-A-R-D-W-O- R- K         (8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11)  would equal  98%

A-T-T-I-T-U- D-E       (1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5)  would equal  100%

Now, let’s assume your life displays the love of God :

L-O-V-E- O-F- G-O-D    (12+15+22+5+15+6+7+15+4)  would equal  101%

Therefore, one can reasonably conclude with mathematical certainty that while Hard Work and  Knowledge will get you close, and Attitude will get you there, it’s the Love of God that will put you over the top!

A Pat Summitt Recruit

Guess who was one of Pat Summitt’s early recruits?

It happened during the 1975-76 season. I was officiating a high school game between my alma mater, Fulton (which was terrible) and Bearden (led by Holly Warlick – now the head coach of the Lady Vols). Pat Summitt (Pat Head at the time) was there to watch Holly play. But I was the one she recruited that night. So, just to be clear, I was recruited before Holly!

Following the game Pat came to my dressing room while I was still changing clothes and ask if she could talk with me. “Sure” I said, and offered her a seat. We chatted briefly and then she asks if I would be interested in officiating her Tennessee games. They didn’t use an officials association at the time and each school was responsible for game officials. So I accepted her offer and was one of her referees for that year. The next year all schools began using a college basketball officials association and my short career came to an end. But our friendship didn’t.

This was only Pat’s second year at Tennessee and she had the worst record of her brilliant career, going 16-11. But she did receive her master’s degree in physical education that year. In Pat’s first year she earned $250 monthly and washed the players’ uniforms – uniforms purchased the previous year with proceeds from a doughnut sale. The next year, with Holly as her point guard, she was 28-5 and made it to the Final Four of the AIAW Tournament (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women), and the wins became a norm. It wasn’t until the ’81-’82 season that the NCAA sanctioned women’s college basketball as a sport.

I recall one day following a game Pat invited me back to her office to see a gold medal she had won. I can’t remember if it was for the World Championships or the Pan Am Games but she was so proud of it. And so was I. It wasn’t until that summer that she played in the Olympics. Her office at the time was a small dark room stuck way back in the old Alumni Gym. Game attendance was usually between 15-20 people but she was having fun. Pat was only 23 at the time. We seemed to lose touch with one another after several years but she has remained my favorite coach of all time.

Thinking of retirement…

Do I really want to retire? Yes, no, yes, maybe, I don’t know! For me retirement is not a chance to get away from something but a chance to do something different. I like my job a lot and have no desire to get away from it. I like working outside in many different places. I enjoy traveling and staying out of town one or two nights a week (mostly in Nashville). I cherish the contact with many co-workers both in Knoxville and Nashville.  And I must admit having a payday a couple of times a month is kind of nice.  But I want to do more fun things with my time and with my grandchildren while they are still available and I’m still able.

So, I think it may be time to give it up, move on, or hang up my boots as some say. Like I said, I like my job and after 47 years it has obviously become a big part of my life. But, my two oldest granddaughters, Tiffany and Kristen, will be 15 and 12 this summer and I have a desire to spend a lot of time with them doing fun things before it is too late. I want to take them hiking, camping, biking, swimming and do anything else they think will be fun and create some great memories. I want to have an impact on their lives. I may even teach them to drive! And even Ainsley (3) and Jake (2) will enjoy hanging out with Papaw and their two older cousins and going to Dollywood and Splash Country and eating hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts and drinking chocolate milk! So, if I can convince my wife that having me around a whole lot more won’t be too difficult on her and not having that thing called a “paycheck” arriving on a regular basis isn’t a sure sign of starvation, then, bring on retirement!!!

Crater Lake National Park Tour

Oregon Coastline – California Redwoods – Crater Lake
August 4-14, 2004

What an amazing bicycle tour! Joined by the rest of the” Mad Dogs” touring team I rode down part of the Oregon coastline, thru one of California’s redwood parks and spent a couple of days and nights at Crater Lake National Park. Except for one drizzly, windy day the weather was great, and the scenery was spectacular. This was the first time I’d flown to a ride and shipped my bike, but everything worked out well, although it sure made it a lot more expensive. It was also my first trip to the west coast and to see the Pacific Ocean. And I just had to go swimming in the Pacific at least once. It was cold…and this was August!

One highlight of the trip happened while we were at Crater Lake. A park ranger was having a special stargazing program one night. He had a couple of large telescopes set up for viewing the stars and mentioned we may see some meteors flashing across the sky. It was a dark, clear night and the sky was beautiful from atop the mountain. We laid on our backs looking upward in anticipation of seeing a couple of meteors or shooting stars race across the sky. But for half an hour we saw only the beauty of the bright shining stars. No meteors. Then all of a sudden, the show began. At first it was one or two every minute or so. The excitement grew as more and more meteors shot across the sky. Many were only seconds apart. An hour quickly passed by and we had to board the bus taking us back to our campsite located a short distance down the mountain. Once there we grabbed a blanket and headed over to the amphitheater where once again we laid on our backs and watched the spectacular meteor shower taking place overhead. It was a night to remember.

The next day was a layover day and some rode their bikes around the lake and some of us decided to do a little hiking on nearby trails at the top. We were astonished to find snow still on the ground in the month of August. Nothing like a snowball fight in the middle of summer!

Another highlight was the day we rode into Crescent City, California. Just east of the city was Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We rode our bikes among the gigantic redwoods and were amazed at their size! To me, seeing these trees was a dream come true.

This was a great week with a bunch of fun people. It was a long, hard ride with three days near 100 miles a day. I rode a total of 631 miles over 9 days with one of them being a layover day. The ride was organized by Cycle America and they did a fantastic job in making it a most enjoyable experience. Now, the anticipation and excitement begins as we consider another Mad Dog tour for next year. Any ideas?

My August Mileage

Cycling Along Lake Michigan

Michigan’s Shoreline West Tour
July 26 – August 3, 2003

It had been six years since I first rode Shoreline West, but I still had fond memories from the ride. And I was anticipating this year would be even better with cycling friends from Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan agreeing to join me there. Experience has taught that bike tours are more fun when ridden with friends. Julie and I met Friday afternoon at Indiana Dunes SP and Myrle joined up with us on Saturday morning. The three of us had a nice 25-mile ride and picnic lunch at the beach before driving on to Michigan and meeting the rest of the gang.

The tour began in Spring Lake, near Grand Rapids, and proceeded north along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Each day’s route would take us through beautiful small towns with colorful flowers and along the waterfront and harbors with their pretty sailboats. Each town provided us with ample opportunities for snacks, lunch or an afternoon ice cream. Several days, as the route would follow along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, we would face the temptation to stop peddling, park our bikes and go for a cool swim or take a stroll along the beach in the soft white sand.

Nightly campsites were usually located within walking distance to town where we could hangout with old friends and meet new ones. We saw spectacular sunsets over the lake and ate some of the best ice cream available anywhere. Breakfasts and dinners on this tour, included as part of the registration fee, were very good and a couple of times outstanding, like the night we had large steaks cooked on outdoor grills. The layover day in Traverse City was great and provided us with several options.

Some of the highlights of the tour were Cherry Point Market, Mac Woods Dune Rides, Sleeping Bear Dunes NP, the Pie Factory, Charlevoix, the Tunnel of Trees and Mackinac Island. In summary, this is a great tour with lots to see and do and should be a “must do” on anyone’s list.

Mountains to the Sea

Cycle South Carolina
June 22-29, 2003

Having previously planned on riding Bike Virginia during this week I hadn’t considered the Cycle South Carolina ride until sometime in May. I wanted to take my wife along and Virginia didn’t offer indoor camping and South Carolina did. And that was one of her requirements. Also, non-riders were free on CSC, another nice incentive, since she is a non-rider.

Loved having Tampa
with me on this ride!

The ride was much smaller than I expected, with only 140 riders, but that had some positive points. There were no shower lines, at least by the time I got in, short food lines and the opportunity to get to know more people. The ride began in Walhalla and ended at Edisto Beach, hence, the mountains to the sea. We had overnight stops in Anderson, Greenwood, Edgefield, Aiken, Blackville and Waltersboro. Food for the week, always a high priority on my list, was very good. We ate at Miller’s Bread-Basket in Blackville and was served some excellent food by the Mennonite family that owned it. The little town of Springfield served us a variety of pimento cheese sandwiches for lunch one day which was a nice treat. Our end of ride party was on Saturday night and was a barbeque supper consisting of three different styles of barbeque. We then had fried chicken with all the trimmings at an end of ride picnic upon arriving at Edisto Beach.

The little town of Edgefield was one of our favorite places. We had an excellent lunch downtown at an old house which had been converted into a very nice restaurant. This small town has produced ten of South Carolina’s governors. We visited with the town potter and the woodcarver and found them very interesting. We also saw the statue of Senator Strom Thurmond located in the town square. That night, the Senator, who was in the Edgefield hospital, died at the age of 100.

my new friend, April

 It was fun to ride with Linda again, a friend from Gainesville, Georgia who joined us for the week, and to meet April who is originally from South Carolina but now lives and works on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona. April, who had very little road biking experience, did her first century on the second day of the ride. And she did it on a mountain bike with knobby tires! Way to go April!

 Overall it was a nice ride of about 385 miles and another fun week on tour with my wife and friends.

More Than Just A Bike Ride

One of the things that continue to fascinate me about cross-state bike rides is the variety of people that do them. There are 7 year olds and 70 year olds. There are very small people and very large people.  Some are very fast and some are very slow. There are singles, couples, families and teams or groups.  And they bring all kinds of bikes. There are road bikes, mountain bikes with knobbies, hybrids, recumbents, tandems and three seaters pulling a tag-a-long. But they all have one thing in common. They have a lot of fun!

One might say indoor camping
is a little crowded!

In June, 1999, I was privileged to ride in my third BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia). We began in LaGrange, which is about 20 miles from Alabama, and rode across the state to Savannah, a total of 435 miles. We began on Sunday morning and finished on Saturday afternoon.  The weather was unbelievable for this time of year with overcast skies keeping the temps mostly in the 70’s while we were riding. We had overnight stops in Columbus, Thomaston, Perry, Dublin, Metter, and Statesboro. BRAG is a family oriented tour, not a race. It is recreational, social and in some ways, educational. We traveled at our own pace along a set route and at the end of each day, tent camped at a local college or high school. There was even some indoor camping in the gym if you wanted to sleep with about two hundred other people! Everyone was responsible for his or her own meals but most choose to eat breakfast and supper in the school cafeteria. And I found the food to be really good. Sometimes the lines are very long but this gives people time to talk to each other and make new friends. During the afternoon and evening there were various activities and entertainment. And some of the towns we visited went all out to see that we had a good time. In Thomaston they closed the streets around the Courthouse Square for a party and dance featuring The Platters. At Fort Valley State University there was a large tent set up with numerous food vendors, entertainment and an invitation to swim at the pool. West Laurens HS in Dublin was a great stop and the football coach there was from Lenoir City, TN, my home town! In Metter, there was another street dance with CC and Company. The ride ended by going around Savannah’s historic Madison and Monterey Squares and through historic neighborhoods with large trees full of Spanish moss draping across the streets.  Our final destination was Daffin Park where we ate a great BBQ lunch and had all the free beer we wanted (and were willing  to stand in a long line for).

One of the things I’ve noticed about these kinds of rides is that by mid-week you have lost track of time and don’t even know what day it is…and really don’t care. You just ride your bike, meet lots of people, eat lots of food and have lots of fun. Lord willing, I hope to do these kind of tours for years to come!