If you’re anything like me, you’re constantly on the search for new adventures. This past weekend I took the adventure of a lifetime. A longtime item I had harbored on my bucket list was checked off as I drove a mile into the sky, defeated gale-force winds and stood in the ice and snow for an experience that literally blew me away.
I’m not originally from Tullahoma. I grew up in a Smoky Mountain town called Johnson City. As a part of the tri-cities, Johnson City was an hour and a half from Gatlinburg and 45 minutes from Ashville, North Carolina. I lived on the side of a mountain and seeing the sunset over the Smokies was one of my favorite things to do.
However, my grandparents lived in Tullahoma, and I remember making the drive every so often when my mom was able. When I was a little older, my grandfather passed away, and my mom and I moved to Tullahoma to help my grandmother through her toughest time. I still remember the drive away from Johnson City being one of the saddest times in my life. I sat in the front of the U-Haul, held my mom’s hand, and I watched the mountains I loved so much disappear in the rearview mirror.
I visited my family back in Johnson City every summer. I just couldn’t stay away from the mountains. There’s something about them that never really leaves you. My weeklong trip home became my most anticipated vacation. When I became old enough to drive, I began to make the trip as often as I could. Each time I visited, I took new hikes or discovered something new. Adventure is in my blood I guess.
Two years ago, I made my way back to Johnson City for a short visit. As usual, I sat down with my family and talked about the things I wanted to do while I was in town. We decided on taking a trip to Boone, North Carolina, which was only about an hour away. In Boone there is an amusement park, a Mast General Store that was built in 1883 and my favorite thing of all, mountain views.
We made the drive to Boone on a spring day in 2016. It was just warm enough to wear a short-sleeved shirt and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. While driving through the mountain roads, I remember seeing a bridge connecting two mountain peaks. The bridge was so high up I had to squint to see it. I leaned over and pointed the bridge out to one of my family members. It was then that I realized I had to make it to that bridge.
Grandfather Mountain is one of the highest mountain peaks on east of the Mississippi. It reaches a mile into the sky. Connecting one peak of Grandfather Mountain to the other is a 228-foot swinging bridge and the adrenaline rush of a lifetime. The middle of the bridge is exactly 1 mile above sea level and the panoramic view is truly spectacular.
While the first time I set eyes on the bridge was in 2016, I’ve kept it high on my bucket list as a priority to check off. Over the past two years, life has gotten a little crazy with a toddler, graduating college, enrolling in graduate school and overall just working my way through adulthood. I haven’t been able to make as many trips back home as I would have liked, so when the opportunity presented itself this past weekend, I made sure it was going to happen.
I pulled into the driveway of my family’s home at 11 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2. They were waiting up when my daughter and I walked through the door. I sat down and the first words out of my mouth (after the hugs of course) was, “Tomorrow we are going to conquer the swinging bridge.” We made our way to bed, but it was impossible for me to sleep. I was already so excited about the next adventure.
I woke up and checked the weather for Boone. The high was in the mid-40s. Not terrible. Next I checked the weather for Grandfather Mountain. The high was 26 with extremely windy conditions. I felt a chill roll down my spine, but y’all, I had to make it to that mountain.
We packed the car with all our winter gear. We almost felt a little silly because here we were comfortably standing at home in short-sleeve T-shirts. We had gloves, hats, face masks and very thick jackets to keep us warm from the below-freezing temperature awaiting us.
We began our ascent to Grandfather Mountain. It was crazy to me how I could watch the environment change right before my eyes. In the mountain towns, the leaves on the trees are all bright, beautiful colors changing with the season. However, as you drive up the mountain, the trees are barren from the wind and the noticeably cooler climate.
I felt my adrenaline begin to pump as I drove up the very steep, winding road to the top of the mountain. The sun was shining and the sky was clear. However, the wind was beating my off-road, mid-sized SUV to death. I was almost hesitant to do what I was about to do; but then it happened. I pulled up to the top of the mountain, and I saw the swinging bridge that I had been dying to cross for years.
I began to open my door and a gust of wind jerked it away from me, causing it to fling open to the point I thought it would break off its hinges. My family and I bundled up in our winter gear as we stood and looked at the snow-covered trees before us. The wind howled and was so strong it could have pushed a small child over. I set my eyes on the bridge and pressed on.
The second I stood in front of the bridge almost ready to cross, I could see that the cables were covered in ice. The 228-foot bridge is made of galvanized steel which was, of course, also covered in ice. I stepped onto the bridge and started to make my way across. Within the first couple of steps, I could feel the bridge beneath me start to swing. I was a mile high in the air, in frigid temperatures, battling gale-force winds, slipping on ice, all while having the adrenaline rush of a lifetime as the bridge swung beneath me.
I made it twice across the bridge, and I made sure that I took a quick stop in the middle to take in the view. You sure can see a long way when you’re a mile high. The views were breathtaking, but then again, that could have just been the frost-bitten air making its way into my lungs.
As I made my way back to the car, I took one last look from the ledge of Grandfather Mountain. It truly was one of the most spectacular things I’ve done in my lifetime.
If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend taking a trip up the mountain. Boone would make an excellent weekend getaway for those of you looking to explore more of the Smokies. Boone is approximately two and a half hours past Gatlinburg, and it’s well worth the drive. It’s the perfect spring, summer or early fall get away as Boone is higher above sea level, making its temperatures extremely pleasant.
Check out Tweetsie Railroad and the Mast General Store while you’re there. Don’t forget to stop in at Tony’s Diner for a huge banana split, either!
Faith Few can be reached by email at email@example.com.