It hasn't been scientifically proven, but I think there is a strange correlation of humidity and hills to how many mason jars there are present in Knoxville that can make its inhabitants get a little crazy-eyed, a little hillbillier, if you will. If you stay here long enough, and allow it, it will get you, and you may find yourself walking around outside barefoot or jumping off a thirty or fifty foot cliff into water-filled quarries. During a full moon, it can pull a person all the way to the mountains.
I've ridden the 11-mile loop in Cades Cove three times by bike, but never in daylight. I've only done it at night during a full moon.
The first time I went was about three years ago. I met up with the group I was going with in Maplehurst. I immediately stood out in the crowd with my athletic looking attire. Everyone else was in plaid shirts, jeans, everyday clothes, and they were packing large amounts of liquor into their backpacks and saddle bags. All I had with me was water. It was going to be a different kind of ride than I had expected.
The first time you ride the loop in the moonlight, you may feel a whole range of emotions. For me, it was, "This is the greatest thing I've ever done," to, "We're all going to die." If everyone turns out their flashlights, your eyes adjust to the moonlight. You can see the road pretty well, until you enter a patch of road covered in trees. Then you're just winging it. You may hear the thumping of fast-moving hooves (or paws) next to you, and you hope it's a smallish baby deer. The second time I went, my group lost Max, and I was certain he had been eaten by a bear. Thankfully, he was waiting for us at the car when we finished.
Three years ago, the road was full of pot holes. Thankfully I had a mountain bike. Some of the hills are excruciating for an ever novice like myself, but you make it to the top, and without effort, coast down the following hill, out into the moonlight. Fields and distant mountains are detailed in a way I can't describe in words.
The last time I went was this past Tuesday. The weather was perfect and the road has recently been paved so I took my road bike this time. It was a little cloudy, but beautiful. Our group stopped in at some of the churches and cabins, settings at night that are eerier than any other place I've been.
The hills were still hard for me to climb this time, sadly, but everything else cancels that out. In the daylight hours, sitting at my office desk, I wonder when the next time will be when I can feel that cool mountain air tousle my moon-kissed hair as I descend a long winding stretch of road on my bike.
Photos 4, 5, and 6 are by Kat Campbell