Ep. 60 – Passing the Time in Traffic, News, and Listener Feedback

SHOW #60  April 27, 2015


This week on Episode 60 Smoky Mountains Radio, News From Around the Mountains,Time wasters in traffic, and your questions and feedback!  Let’s go!


It is Monday, April 27, 2015 and this is Episode 60 of Smoky Mountains Radio.  Welcome back to the show.  As, always, I am your host Mike, and I am here to bring my nearly forty years of experience in and around the Smoky Mountains help you have the best possible time on your next trip to the Smokies.  Whatever you plan to do and wherever you plan to go around here, we’ve got you covered.

I invite you to check out our website SmokyMountainsRadio.com to get all the information you need about your trip to the Smokies. 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 the site .  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

And now, let’s get started with News From Around the Mountains

News From Around the Mountains

It’s been quite some time since we have aired this segment.  For the most part, I do that so the content stays evergreen and relevant whether you listen to this episode today or a year from now, but there are a few news stories that have great impact or will have impact for a long period of time, so let’s get to it!

  1. After a long court battle that we have covered here three different times, the fee to overnight camp in backcountry of the Smokies has been upheld by the courts.   The fee, that started over a year ago state that to stay in a backcountry campsite the the fee is $4 per person per day up to $20 maximum per trip.  You still can’t stay any longer than one night at any one place, which is kind of a bummer.  The thing that I wish would change is how far in advance you can make a reservation.  Right now it is 30 days.  For people that make that once a year or once in a lifetime trip, that is problematic.  If you get to that 30 day window and forget to reserve it until 29 days out and your days end up taken, you are out of luck.  That is a little sad to me.  There is no reward for planning ahead, which of course, always makes sense in the mountains.  The reason that I was given is that people will make them too far out and then just not show if they opened it further.  I get that, but I wish they would at least make the window 60-90 days.
  2. There is more shopping coming to Sevierville.  That’s right, right off the parkway where the old movie theater is that has been sitting closed for a while is making way for a new shopping center.  Apparently there are no plans for t-shirt shops at this time.  Mostly, it looks like it is going to be common stores in that area, a pet shop, basic hardware, food, etc.  It appears to be non-touristy stuff for the most part, but can you imagine how much worse that will make traffic?  Construction will likely last through the year.  I am interested in how much this will affect current traffic patterns and already occurring road construction in the area.
  3. Some pretty bad storms moved through the area yesterday.  As usual when that happens, trees are down on trails all over the place and in a couple roads.  At this point it looks like the only closed road is Parsons Branch Road.  Check the official Smokies website for up to the minute updates there anytime the weather turns.
  4. Dollywood is having a job fair for seasonal employees this Friday, so if you are local, be sure to check that out if you are looking for a gig.  There are jobs in lots of different areas.
  5. After the storms I mentioned a minute ago, more than two inches of rain fell in some places.  The trails really waterlogged and some of the streams are going to be high and rushing.  Use caution out there friends.
  6. A trio of people were rescued by park rangers last week along the Spence Field area of the AT.  Apparently a thru-hiker found a person who had lost the other two people that were a father/son duo.  The group got separated apparently when they decided to hike this exposed area in the dark during thunderstorms.  Smart.  All ended up being okay having just minor injuries though one had to be lifted out due to a knee injury.  I just don’t get why this keeps happening.  Hmm, it’s dark.  There’s serious storms and lightning.  I know!  Let’s go hiking on one of the most exposed mountains in the Smokies.  Stupid.  There are shelters they could have stayed at during the storms and waited till morning.  Good rule of thumb.  If the thru-hikers aren’t out there, don’t go out there.
  7. I found this really interesting and a little sad.  National Park spokesman Brett Everitt said that there are millions of dollars of refurbishments that have not happened in the park because the powers that be keep failing to allocate the money.  Well that happens, right?  Well, in the case of the Sugarlands Visitor Center, the improvements have been put off for nearly a quarter of a century.  Wow.  That amazes me.  I wonder if we will be talking about this story in Episode 200.  Yikes.

And that will do it for your News From Around the Mountains.

Passing the Time in Traffic

I’ve said it before, there is no way around it.  Eventually, everybody get stuck in traffic when you visit the Smoky Mountains.  With 10 million annual visitors, there are always lots of people coming in addition to those that live there.  There are alternate routes, back roads, and bypasses to help keep you clear of the hoards.  There is strategic planning on what time of year to go and what time of day to be out and about, but in the end, you will eventually get stuck.  We all do.  So then what?  This segment was inspired by listener Beth about how to pass the time when you do get stuck in traffic.  If you want to learn how to best avoid the traffic, go back and listen to episodes 1 and 7 and there are some good details.  But like I said, eventually we all get stuck.  The Facebook rants from locals during busy times alone tell you that there is sometimes nothing you can do.  So let’s pass the time with some sanity.

The first tip I have for you is to stay calm.  Now, some of my listeners have known me for years and know that is in some cases a “do as I say and not as I do” advice.  But truly, losing your cool is not going to help you.  You’ll get there eventually.  But let’s mitigate the frustration and road rage that you feel when you are bumper to bumper.

First tip, don’t change lanes.  If you have ever seen the excellent movie office space, you will remember the opening scene when Peter is stuck in traffic trying to get to work.  Traffic in the lane beside him starts moving.  He quickly moves into that lane only to have it come to a complete standstill.  The lane he left begins moving, and his frustration builds.  That is the Smokies roads in a nutshell.  However, I do have tips for you.  If you are on a six lane road like in Pigeon Forge, drive in the middle lane.  It is the fastest.  The people that turn off to the left and right won’t slow you down and make you hit yet another red light.  If you are on a four lane road like in most of sevierville, Cherokee, and Townsend, stay in the left lane.  People turning off in these areas actually makes the traffic move faster.  Gatlinburg is a little different.  Generally, the right lane is the best in Gatlinburg is the best because the left lane turns don’t have turn lanes so you could end up backed up for many minutes while the guy in front of you waits for an opening to turn unless you are at a stop light.  It is actually more advantages to change lanes in specific places in that town, but I won’t go that in depth here unless somebody really wants me to.  If you stay in the right lane, you will be better off generally in that town.

Perhaps another good tip is to NOT leave the road for any reason once you get into a town.  Getting back in can be a nightmare.  So if you can avoid it, wait for those restroom stops, gas fill ups, and snack or lunch breaks until you get where you are going.  In some places, there are no lights to get you the right of way and it is rare for someone to wave you into the flow of traffic.  This is the south, and generally southern people tend to be hospitable, but that tends to change in these mountain towns.  Stay on the road if you possibly can.  If not pull off on your right so you can more easily get back into traffic.  If i’m in Pigeon Forge and feel like McDonalds but Burger King is on the right side of the road, i’m going to Burger King every time.

Okay, so you have done all that and still you are stuck.  Now what?  This is where I put some of the comments I got and things I have done in the past to work.  Well, to start, people from all over the country come to the Smokies.  It has been around for decades, but the good ole license plate game still works.  It will pass the time, and you will probably get closer than you think to all 50.  Our record is 38.  Sometimes we count how many of each state we see.  The sheer amount of TN and NC plates are hard to keep up with.  Again, it passes the time.

Handheld devices are also great for this time.  Whether it’s Candy Crush and Angry Birds or DS and PS Vita, all these help.  Especially if you have kids, don’t leave home without it.  If you have dvd capabilities in your vehicle, by all means, use it!  Pack a few movies.  You may end up getting through a whole movie before you get there.  Not sure if that helps or hurts your stress level.

Pictures can also be fun here.  Since everything is moving so slowly, you can get really good pictures of everything on either side of you without the blur of moving by quickly.  Sadly, I have been able to take a picture of every business along Pigeon Forge and put them together as a single….very long picture.  It happens.  But that is a good way to pass the time.

Try to guess the peaks you see in the distance in those huge mountains.  These change depending on where you enter from, but it keeps your mind and focus on the mountains….where it belongs!  If you know the peaks, talk about them in the car.  Again, a good way to turn a negative to a positive.

Perhaps my favorite….you should have known it was coming….count the t-shirt shops.  My wife and I did this several years ago when we sat in traffic.  It is hilarious when you realize how many there are.  I’m not going to spoil that one for you, but if you don’t see more than 30….you are way…way too low.

If you have time wasters in the car, send them my way at mike@SmokyMountainsRadio.com

I’ll put more information about this in the show notes and on smokymountainsradio.com


I heard from our good friend Randy again this week and i’ve got a great resource for those of you that are hiking to our South.  I know i’ve got many appalachian Trail listeners on this show and I think this could be a great resource for you.  Randy has been taking people back and forth along the starting point of the AT for some time now.  However, he has now decided to make it an official way to get to and from the trail from several points early along the trail in Georgia.  If that applies, be sure to check him out.  He is on Facebook.  Just look for Trail Tripper.  More specifically, check out Trail Tripper taxi and you will be sure to find him.  He offers you a ride on a variety of jump on/jump off points along the way at a very low cost.  You aren’t going to do any better I assure you. I think that one of the things that concerns people about shuttles, taxis, hitchhiking, Uber…..you name it, is that you don’t really know who is picking you up.  Be assured, Randy is a stand up guy.  He’s been in law enforcement for decades.  I don’t think it gets much safer than that.  Be sure to check him out, and i’ll link to it on the website and in the show notes.

I heard from a great couple this week that were taking their first trip to the Smokies….awesome!  Dexter and Kellie came down just this week and had an excellent time.  We talked back and forth over the last week, and they packed quite a bit into their trip.  Lots of hiking and eating (my personal favorite), and from all appearances, they liked it all.  They ended up doing Laurel Falls (as you will remember, it is the hike I recommend starting with AND hating at the same time) and went onto the Alum Cave trail and did quite a bit of that one as well.  Terrific.  You’ve got two of the marquee hikes under your belt in just the first trip.  Make sure you get your patches from the visitor centers or buy them online.  It’s cheesy maybe, but something I have always liked doing.  They listened to a ton of shows, checked out hike info, and made it work for them.  So excited for you guys!  Thanks for all the compliments about the show.  Much appreciated.  On you last email I saw a question about cell service in the Smokies, and I did cover that a little bit in Episodes 52 and 53, but I will do a feature in the future about specifically where service is the best and worst in different areas in the park.  I’ll try to pull together some info about different service providers since the only one I really have experience with is Verizon.  I’ve been with them for more than a decade, so I can’t speak to some people’s experience with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or the others.  There is a big ATT tower close by, so maybe that is okay.  If you have experience with other providers, please email or call in and let me know.  The service maps on the websites are not a reliable gauge of service as i’m sure you all know, so we’ll see if we can get everyone a more reliable gauge of what to expect.  The only other thing i’ll say about that is I have a tougher time these days finding places without service than areas with it.  Maybe that’s just me.  But thanks for writing in.  Good to talk to you this week, and i’m really glad you both had a good time.  Hope to see you guys on your next trip out.

The last bit of feedback is from last month…sorry about that Trudy!  But Trudy wrote in asking about places to take off-road vehicles in the Smoky Mountains.  Let’s start with the bad news.  There is no place to inside the park boundary that allows off-road vehicles.  It’s probably not terribly surprising considering how they want to make sure to preserve and protect the natural environment in the area, but there it is.  I confirmed that with park officials this week.  Do not lose hope though, there are plenty of places right in the foothills of the mountains that are on privately owned land that have it.

There are places in Pigeon Forge, Townsend, Wears Valley, Cherokee, Cosby, and Sevierville that offer you places to ride, so you are not far at all from the Smokies.  Places like Bluff Mountain Adventures, Big Rock Dude Ranch, Smoky Mountain Adventures, and Bear Crawler Adventures all offer this experience.  The downside for you might be that they are guided adventures, so you won’t be able to go off on your own or at your own speed.  In addition, when I checked in with these places, they also require you to use their vehicles and not your own.  The one is Cosby will let you bring your own, but there is a lot more paperwork and extra fees for the experience.  There is also a place in Maggie Valley you can bring your own, but repeated calls to them to find their policies was not returned, so I can’t be helpful to you there.  It is also a lot farther away than the rest.  My suggestion would be to give these places a call and see which one fits most closely what you would like to do.  Hope that helps you out.  Have fun and thanks for the question and for listening to the show!



It’s wrap up time here on the show.  Wait…don’t tune out yet.  You might miss something important or groundbreaking.  Be sure to check out SmokyMountainsRadio.com for all your Smokies needs. Contact me all the ways on the website.  I’m glad to hear from each and every one of you.  Perhaps you won’t miss anything groundbreaking.  Okay, so I know I don’t have a new Spotlight Hike again this week.  There was just too much to cover.  It’s on my list for next week, so I can bump another segment next week to make sure we get to it.  In fact, I’ll go ahead and record it when I finish this one just to be sure that it actually gets done.  But really…Do you need a new reason to go hike?  I don’t think so.  Hike the mountains because they’re there!  That’s good enough! ….GO TAKE A HIKE!




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