Ep. 51 – 900 Miler, Best Deals on Lodging, and Jack

SHOW #51  January 25, 2015


This week on Episode 51 Smoky Mountains Radio, The found Jack, How to get the absolute best deal on lodging in the Smokies, and our not so Spotlight Hike of the Week (900 Milers).   Let’s Go!


It is Sunday, January 25, 2015 and this is episode 51 of SMR.  How’s it going everybody? Hope you have had a terrific week and got to get outside and do some hiking.  I know it is frozen around much of the country right now, but here in the south the temperatures have been incredible.  Mid 50’s nearly every day.  I know that won’t last, but for now, it is perfect hiking weather.

No show last week, and i’ll talk about that more in a minute, but before I do, I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com.  There you will find a wealth of information including hikes from all over the Great Smoky Mountains including length, difficulty, and a short description of what you will see and and can expect as you hit the trails.  If you are planning on staying in one of the surrounding towns, you can find information about those as well.  You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on SMR.com.  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time.  Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SmokyMountainsRadio.com

I also wanted to give a quick shoutout to my brother for his birthday.  Happy belated birthday bro.  Also, big thanks to Rob, Miranda, Hollis, Donna, Trent, and everybody else liking and following the show this week on Facebook.  Hope you guys like what you hear.  And with that,

Let’s get on with the show.

Jack, Jack, Where are You

So, I got Jack to call in from the trail, and that interview was our show for last week.  Unfortunately, when I went to pull the show from the recorder, there was nothing.  Zilch, zip, nada.  That will be a good lesson for me going into the future.  Record on at least two devices so that one is there as a back-up.  I hate that because it was a great interview.  Jack was really great with his time, and already, he has some interesting stories. He promised he would sit down with me when he reaches the Smokies, so i’ll be sure to have him on then, and maybe we can rehash some of his early experiences.

So in a nutshell, it has been a very interesting start for Jack on the AT.  He did tell me he started on the nearly 9 mile approach trail, which if you are not familiar with the AT is a pain.  It’s a tough way to start, and it’s not even part of the AT, so the mileage doesn’t count towards your total.  But it is the easiest way to reach Springer.  The other two options involve roads that are only roads in the most literal sense.  They are awful.  So anyway.  He told me that his first two nights he had no one in shelters with him, which was a little eery to get used to, but by night three, he had at least four others with him each night, which really surprises me given the time that he started.  He said that the first several days he was incredibly sore.  The first day was 8.8 miles, the second was 6 and the third was less than five.  He started building up after that, but he ran into a problem.

As he was on the decent into Neels Gap, he took a tumble.  Now his story is much more colorful than mine, but basically, on the way down…and it is a steep descent into Neels Gap.  If you haven’t been around there before, think the Chimneys, Low Gap, or Shuckstack steep.  Anyway, getting back to Jack’s Story, he basically hit a rock and his weight shifted forward.  His momentum both down and downhill hurled his backpack over his head and his balance went one way and his ankle another.  So he hobbled for about the last mile and a half to Mountain Crossings at Neel’s Gap.  He stayed at the hostel there for two days hoping for it to heal, but when it didn’t, he took a shuttle into town nearby.  That is I think Blairsville if I remember it right.  Anyway, he went to the doctor out there and luckily, it was just a bad sprain, but he text me a picture of the ankle and that sucker was huge and blue.  He took off for just over a week there in town and eventually got back on trail, but doing very small mileage.  So his ETA to the Smokies has been pushed back some, but he said he is feeling much better and ready to get back on.  Most injuries on the AT happen at the beginning and at the end.  In the beginning, your body is not ready for hiking, and your joints and muscles have to react to the new pounding and movement.  Towards the end, you get tunnel vision as you get closer to the end and a touch of summit fever.  This is often where careless mistakes happen because all you can think about is getting to the top.

Jack also wanted to tell you he did decide to pick up a tent while in town.  He says the shelters are spaced at decent intervals, unless you want to do a really long or really short day.  So, this way he can stop where he likes.  Unlike the Smokies, Georgia does not have the stringent rules about camping where you want to.  So, his pack weight is up about two pounds, but he has not gotten rid of anything in his pack lately.

I’ll put more of Jack’s adventure in the show notes and on SmokyMountainsRadio.com

Finding the best deal on lodging

It’s no surprise that perhaps the biggest single chunk of money you will spend on your trip is specifically where you end up staying the night.  Whether you opt for a motel, hotel, bed and breakfast, campground, or a cabin, you can generally expect to shell out a good amount of money just to stay.  But you don’t need to spend more than you have to.  So what is your best bet?

Well, as we have said before, your easiest way to save money is to stay during off peak times.  Stay on a weekday if possible and stay away from October, the end of December, and around any holiday.  You can literally save as much as half of what you would spend just by doing that.  Driving along the strip, you will see lodging places that flash their rates on big signs near the road.  One day the price is 39.99 and the next it is 79.99.  That is a big difference for the exact same room.  So knowing when to go is definitely step one.

The next step is how you go about reserving your room.  By far, the worst way is simply to call and make a reservation.  You will end up with rack rates almost every time. Doing homework will save you money.  Even if it is just 10%, that adds up on a trip lasting several days.  So where do you need to go?  First, check the internet.  You can compare lodging that is similar.  There are hundreds, dare I say, thousands of hotels and motels around the Smokies. Why not shop around?  Unless you have your heart set on one place, look around.  I liked to stay at a place on the strip in Gatlinburg that was 40 dollars a night less expensive than the two hotels on either side.  The other two hotels offered nothing over this one.  They were both old and showing their age.  They both had a pool and continental breakfast.  Rooms were similar, and obviously the locations where exactly the same.  Why would you pay more for the same thing? Shop around.

Often times properties will offer deals only found on their website.  The hotel that I spoke about just a minute ago, Riverside Motor Lodge, offered two nights for one nearly year round, but it could be found nowhere else but their website.  You couldn’t get it on the phone, as a walk-in, or anywhere else.  It is kind of like flying with American Airlines.  You can book them through Travelocity, but they often post deals on their own website that you don’t see on travel aggregators.  This is true for hotels, motels, campgrounds, and anywhere else you might stay.

Try to stay longer.  One of the most common deals is to reward you for length of stay.  If you stay four days, get the 5th night free.  Stay seven days and pay for five.  You see this deal a lot with cabin companies in particular.  Cabins are most always more expensive than a motel room, but with that kind of deal, you can make the cost a wash.  Why would you stay in a 300 square foot motel room with your family if you could have a private house with 1000 feet or more in space for the same price?  Just look for those deals.  Some motels will have these as well, but they are less common.

One of the things I have joked about from time to time is staying in nasty flea bag motels when I go by myself to hike.  If you don’t like the idea of staying in a nasty motel, that’s cool, most people don’t.  Be aware that the Smokies have more run down motels in one place than I have seen anywhere else.  If you are worried about booking a nasty place, look at the pictures on the sight AND places like trip advisor and other review sites.   I have even used Youtube in the past to check them out.  Remember a lodging’s pictures online are a lot like a real estate listing.  You are going to get the pictures that make the place look great and none of the others that show you what it is really like.  If you still aren’t sure, make a call and ask when the last time rooms were renovated.  If they don’t remember, it’s a good bet they are a little rough.

In big tourist spots, one thing that can save you big is the good old fashioned walk-in.  It’s like the original version of priceline.  Unsold rooms need to be filled, and often times you can get a great rate simply by walking in.  Of course, you need to be sure that you aren’t trying this during peak times or you will simply be laughed out of the lobby, but during slow periods, I seldom will make a reservation unless the price is really low.  I’ve gotten great rates at old and new hotels and cabin rentals that you can’t get any other way.  But again, we are talking about times when they tend to be empty.  If you play that wrong, you could end up with no place to stay.  If you go this route, I would check the events information on the town website.  For example, the car show in Pigeon Forge fills up motels everywhere even though it usually happens during an off-peak time.  So if there is a massive convention or other event, you are better off with reservation in-hand before you come.

Lodging here is like everywhere else in one aspect.  Discounts vary wildly.  Some places will have a AAA or AARP rate, some don’t.  For some places the discount is only 5% while others it can be up to 40% off rack rates.  If you are a member of these clubs, it never hurts to see what your options are.  Military rates, civil servants, and many others get discounts.  The bigger the chain, the more discounts will be available.  On the flip side of that, the bigger the chain, generally the more expensive the rooms to start with.  But discounts can be found when you arrive, so it is always worth checking.  I stayed in a privately owned hotel in Gatlinburg that was offering a discount in 2000 if you promised to vote for Bush for president.  Seriously.  That’s how strange some of the discounts can be.

Just like vegas, the closer you stay to the center of the action, the more expensive the rooms.  MGM, Ceasers, and the Venitian are all more expensive, in part, because of their location on the strip in Vegas.  The same is true here.  The closer you get to the mountains, the higher the average price.  And this also applies within the town.  The closer to mid-town you are, the higher the price.  There are motels in the outskirts of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville that cost pennies on the dollar to their Gatlinburg counterparts.  By the same token, there are motels in Gatlinburg that are half the cost because they are two streets off the main drag.  The same rings true for cabins.  The closer you are to the mountains or civilization, the higher the price tag.  Cabins in Cosby and some in Townsend can’t be beat in terms of price.  And they are nice on top of it.  Compare that to your typical cabin on ski mountain in Gatlinburg or off Wears Valley Road and the savings could be hundreds.  So if you are willing to be off the beaten path, you will save some cash.

I’ll put more info about this in this week’s show notes and on SMR.com

Spotlight Hike of the Week (900 Miler)

As I mentioned in the opening, this week’s Spotlight Hike of the Week is a Not So Spotlight Hike of the Week.  Huh?  Our Spotlight Hike of the Week is…..All of them!  More confused?  This week’s Spotlight was inspired by listener Hank who asked, what exactly is a 900 miler?  Well, doing it all.  Every last hike in the park.

All total there are nearly 900 miles of trails in the Smoky Mountains.  That is a lot of trail.  And to say you have done them all is quite the accomplishment.  No, i’m not going to review every hike this week…..dear lord, could you imagine how long that show would be?  But I am going to put it into perspective for you.

You can get the 900 milers designation along with a fancy little certificate of accomplishment simply by saying so.  It is on the honor system, much like saying you hiked the entire AT.  Some blue blaze or yellow blaze (we’ll talk about what that is another time), so the accomplishment is only somewhat true.  But to be a 900 miler here in the Smokies, it means that you have hiked every last inch of official trail.  And that is where it gets interesting.

I’ve been hiking in the Smokies for decades as most of you know.  I’ve logged thousands of miles in these mountains.  Just going up and down Mount LeConte over the years, i’ve put in more that 150 miles.  But that is not what counts to the 900 miler total.  It is all the different trails.  Every trail from LeConte to Shuckstack, Rich Mountain to Rocky Top, and all of them in between.

The problem is, some of the trails in the Smokies are not trails you would likely ever set foot on.  Why?  Because they are simply connector trails.  They don’t offer any great feature like a waterfall, overlook, historical site….you name it.  The simply get you from one place you are going to another in the middle of a hike.  Trails like Rough Creek, Camel Gap, Goshen Prong, and about two dozen others.  There’s over a hundred miles of trails that are simply connector trails like these.  And the other kicker is that for the most part, they are not accessible by road.  What that means is if you want to tick these trails off your list, you have to hike another hike first to get to it.  For that reason, I don’t know if i’ll ever get through every inch of the park, though perhaps the competitive, OCD, and some would say crazy part of my personality may force me to do it at some point.

I went through my own notes over the years and it looks like I have done 528.6 miles of the total of 900 in the Smoky mountains.  It was also a good look back in time to see what I apparently like the most.  Since I have been keeping track of the hikes that I completed nearly twenty years ago, I have done the hike from the start of Alum Cave Trail to the top of Mount LeConte the most.  I have done that 10.5 round trip hike 34 times.  Apparently I really, really like that hike.  Too bad it’s closing for such a long time.  But I digress.

I’ve got nothing but respect for those that have done every inch of the park.  I think it is a terrific accomplishment.  Perhaps one day I will join the ranks.  Will you?  Is that distinction something you are remotely interested in achieving one day?  Have any of my listeners done it?  I would love to hear from you either way.  If you have done it, I would really like to get you on the show.  Get in touch with me and we will definitely make it happen.  But regardless whether you have done 900 miles or 2 miles in the park, I think it does change you and makes you want to do more.  I can honestly say with all of the hiking i’ve done, I have never left any hike thinking it was a waste of time.  Some were perhaps a little bit of a let down.  I though Henwallow Falls was going to be a massive waterfall the first time I went to it.  Not so much!  Still, I love it and have gone back more than a dozen times.  Other trails are surprising in other ways.  Yes, i’m going to bring up the Low Gap Trail again.  I thought that was going to be a simple way to reach the Appalachian Trail.  To this day, it is among the toughest miles I have ever hiked.  Glad I don’t have to do that one again any time soon.  Others are just so unexpected that they end up wonderful.  The Baskins Creek hike is one of those.  The first time I did it, I hiked it because I ended up lost.  There is some great stuff along that hike.  I didn’t even mind how far out of my way that trail put me on Roaring Fork when I got done.

Hope that answers any questions you might have had about being a 900 miler in the Great Smoky Mountains.

I’ll put more info about this hike in our show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com


Well everybody, that is just about it for this episode.  I am excited because now one of my duties at work, coaching basketball, has come to an end, so hopefully that will give me some more time to do the new segments and interviews that I have been wanting to do.  I will have a video up on the SMR Youtube page this week, and I hope to get more and more of those up soon.

Thanks to everyone for checking out this episode of Smoky Mountains Radio. Contact me on SMR.com to leave me a question or comment about the show or if there is just something you would like for me to cover during the show in the future.   So until next time, have a great week!  And the best way to do that?  ……go take a hike!


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