My wife, Kathy, and I celebrated Valentine’s Day the weekend before the big day this year. Our timing could not have been better. On Friday morning, we woke up to a light blanket of snow gracing the middle Tennessee landscape. Early afternoon found us headed east where we encountered more snow as we approached the Cumberland Plateau. A heavy blanket of snow, having fallen the night before, still clung to the trees, creating a winter wonderland on the stretch of highway between Cookeville and Crossville. It was nothing short of breathtaking. I cannot remember a more picturesque setting. I was tempted to pull off on the side of the road and soak it all in. But, alas, Gatlinburg was calling.

By the time we reached Knoxville all the snow was gone, but the forecast called for more snow that evening and the next day at our destination.

For many years our lodging of choice was the River House Motor Lodge located on River Road in Gatlinburg. Unfortunately, the River House was lost in the devastating Gatlinburg fire of a few years back. Since then, the managers of the River House and the landowners have not been able to negotiate a re-build.

The River House afforded its lodgers with rustic, stone fireplaces along with an abundant supply of seasoned hardwood. We miss the wood fires on cold, winter nights in Gatlinburg.

Fortunately, the managers of the former River House own another property in Gatlinburg which goes by the name, River House at the Park. Located on the east end of town, its rooms have the exact layout as the old River House. River House at the Park offers stone fireplaces furnished with gas logs. Nice, but not quite the same as the ambiance afforded by burning hardwood.

The staff there is friendly, and courteous, and rates are very reasonable, especially in the off season.

Saturday morning I rose early to find light snow falling. Gatlinburg was still sleeping as I headed to the Log Cabin Pancake House on Airport Road. I have found over the years to arrive early at the Log Cabin unless I want to face a long waiting line. The atmosphere there is great, the food good, and the service even better.

After breakfast I was looking to take along walk.

Approximately 200 yards from River House at the Park the Gatlinburg Trail begins to wind its way toward the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The sign at the west entrance to the trail reads 2.1 miles. On this winter’s morning I decided I was up to it. The air was cold and warned of coming snow as I began my hike.

Rounding the first turn in the trail I was met by colder air shrouded under a canopy of tall, heavy pines. To my left the Little Pigeon River, fed by streams high in the Great Smokies, was running clear and cold. On this frosty morning I found the sound of its icy waters crashing over smooth, round stones nothing short of exhilarating. My pace quickened as I forged ahead. Then, the snow came.

Upon its first appearance the snow was light, but as I continued my hike it grew heavier. And it was coming right into my face. I thought of the song, “My Favorite Things.” There were “snowflakes on my nose and eyelashes.” I smiled as I began to climb the only hill between me and the Sugar Land Visitors Center. After covering a long stretch of the trail I was relieved to see I had covered 1.7 miles. The last four-tenths of a mile went smoothly. The visitor’s center was a welcome sight.

After resting at the center for a few minutes I came to realize the only way I could get back to our place of lodging was to walk 2.1 miles AGAIN! I considered calling Kathy to come and get me.

But, alas, I headed back toward Gatlinburg. It’s funny how a return trip sometimes seems shorter than the initial trek. Two miles passed quickly. When Gatlinburg started coming in sight, I began to feel like a young horse mule on his way back to the barn at the end of a long day of hard plowing. I covered the last 200 yards in a lope.

Snow fell heavier later that day, but was gone by mid-afternoon. Over the next couple of days, Kathy and I enjoyed great food, a little shopping and some much needed rest. There is something to be said for taking a nap before flickering flames.

Legend has it that once upon a time the apostle John was criticized for spending time on a leisurely endeavor. To which he replied, “The bow that is always bent will soon cease to shoot straight.”

Sometimes you just need to get away.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a writer, humorist and motivational speaker.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a writer, humorist and motivational speaker.

Hartsville resident Jack McCall is a writer, humorist and motivational speaker.

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