The Engagement Pt. 2 - Great Smoky Mountains & Gatlinburg

I love driving - particularly through the country and on highways. Cities not so much. My backup plan for life is to get my CDL license so Katie and I can become long haul truckers. So, a five hour jaunt up the hill from Charleston to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee is just a hop in the car.

The town of Pigeon Forge is just outside of Gatlinburg, and the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee. Now, if anyone knows Pigeon Forge, or Gatlinburg, I will explain my decision making process. For those not familiar, you'll catch the drift soon enough.

I wanted to rent a cabin with a nice view of the mountains, which we did. I wanted it to be quiet, which it was. I wanted it to have privacy, which it did. And was about five miles from "downtown" Pigeon Forge.

The highway that heads north out of Gatlinburg passes through "downtown" Pigeon Forge on the way to Sevierville. As of this writing, the marriage license fee for out-of-state residents is $38.50. I'm just beginning to paint the picture here, so stay with me.

We arrived at the cabin on Monday afternoon, checked in over the phone, and took the grand tour. Exactly what I wanted, and only 99 bucks a night! We arrived via what I'll call "the back way" because the route came in from the east, as opposed to the aforementioned, and more traveled, north-south highway out of Gatlinburg.

Our first experience with Pigeon Forge proper was on that evening's trip to Kroger. Meh. Kroger. At least it wasn't a Piggly Wiggly. I refuse to shop there because of the name - not professional at all! At least Ingles, the other grocery chain in the area, advertises that it's American Owned. That's all I need to put the trust of what I consume into a for-profit businesses' hands. In the apathetic words of Carl Brutananadilewski - (Look, just say Smith or Jones or somethin, there's no way you can pronounce that, right?), "It don't matter...none of this matters."  Getting back to the first Kroger trip...we headed toward town passing through Dollywood. It looked closed, but was definitely open for business and kinda scary. Either way, we decided to stay away from there. As if that decision was enough to save us from what we were about to encounter...

Following voice guidance from Google Maps we turned north towards Kroger.

Laid before us: the most monumental side-scrolling 2D video game landscape of tourist trap repetition, presented completely in real life and begging for attention. Go-kart tracks, mini golf, ice cream, laser tag, batting cages, odd museums, souvenir shops and gut-busting restaurants, repeated ad nauseam for miles. Hol-E-Crap! My worst nightmare just around the corner from where one of the most memorable days in our lives would take place. Take it in stride, Ben. Just stay in the car and lock the doors and they can't get your happiness, or your dollars.

Finally at Kroger, we loaded up on our groceries for the week but decided against tickets for Lumberjack Feud. We were definitely tempted, and I think we only entertained the idea because we had settled down from our...exposure I guess I'd call the "strip". At least back at the cabin we had quiet refuge. Picture complete!

We rented a fully stocked cabin called Rachel's Chalet, featuring a hot tub on the back deck overlooking Mt. LeConte and a sweet Jacuzzi tub in the master bedroom with a special window for looking out over the mountains. A few 6-packs of beer in the fridge later and we were in business.

Perfect size for a house! 

Let's pause here for a little story time:

“Did you guys get engaged in Hawaii?” This question was asked by just about everyone who knew we had gone. It wasn’t the first question people asked, but it usually sparked more conversation than the obligatory “Did you have fun?” With that said, Hawaii would have been a beautiful place to get engaged.

 Katie was having fun showing me restaurants that we should go to in Charleston, and ogling over Peninsula Grill’s ultimate coconut cake, I was busy plotting in the laboratory at the back of my mind.

If you have read a few Lyons In The Wild posts, or know me personally, it may be coming clear that I am opposed to tradition, especially if someone on TV tells me to do it. For example, the idea of a diamond engagement ring is just not for me. The slogan “A Diamond Is Forever” was created in 1947 by Frances Gerety, a female copyrighter who was never married. Perhaps she just collected engagement rings ;)  Let’s not forget Marilyn Monroe singing “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” in the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. That’s a double dose of advertising propaganda if I've ever seen it! “By the end of the 1950s, N.W. Ayer was pleased to announce to De Beers that its twenty-year marketing campaign had successfully influenced the American public to consider a diamond engagement ring a necessity to the engagement ritual.”  Furthermore, “It’s hard to imagine a time when diamond engagement rings were not the norm; today, even after a decade and a half of bad press about blood diamonds and working conditions in the mines, among other concerns, 75 percent of brides in the United States wear one, according to Kenneth Gassman, president of the Jewelry Industry Research Institute.” – J. Courtney Sullivan in The New York Times, March 2013. 

Katie never once expressed opposition to my aversion from traditional engagement rings. She would say, “I will marry you with a pebble and a paperclip.”

So, my idea was to incorporate this saying into the engagement ring, and have it crafted by two of our friends who are incredibly creative and talented. Fortunately, Heather liked the idea and agreed to take on the project. With equal fortune, Heather’s husband Dennis got to inflict his absurdly precise attention to detail on the ring as the deadline approached. Check out their work!!

The week before we left on the trip I had the ring and a nice little hand carved wood box to put it in. It was perfect – beautifully crafted and holding so much meaning!

A silver band, etched to look like the markings on a paperclip, supports three pebbles. In the middle is a light green peridot, the birthstone of August, because of the significance the month holds in our relationship. We met in August, went on many memorable vacations in August, the engagement trip would be in August, and even our tentative wedding date is going to be in August 2015. Peridot also symbolizes love, truth, loyalty, prosperity and growth. On either side, protecting the love and prosperity of the peridot are two smaller blue topaz stones, my birth stone. The topaz is associated with friendship, releasing tension and balancing emotions. This ring is exactly what I wanted to give to Katie.

Deciding where to propose was a different battle. Having never been to the Smoky Mountains, I searched Google Images for a perfect place and came across a beautiful mountain meadow called Andrew’s Bald. Appalachian balds are mountain summits that are covered in dense grass and shrubs in places that would normally be forest. They often provide scenic vistas in many directions. The Andrew’s bald hike was preferable because of its proximity to Clingman’s dome, the highest point in Tennessee – and easily accessible by car.

Of course the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry...

Getting back to the trip - the next day was beautiful with bright sunshine and wispy clouds streaking across the sky. Just a bit of coolness was in the air thanks to the altitude - always welcome in the summers down South. We brought a picnic in our day packs and headed into the park up to Clingman's Dome. From the parking lot a paved path lead to a concrete corkscrew shaped outlook that gives hikers a panoramic view of the forest and mountains in all directions just above the tree tops.  

Clingman's Dome Observation Tower

View from the Observation Tower

One thing to add about places with paved paths - it's easy for people to get to whatever attraction is at the end! I prefer the less traveled paths so I can get to the end and have some time to quietly reflect on the journey, without having to jockey for position. The observation tower was particularly crowded on this day, and that should have been an indicator for what was to come.

We quickly got off the observation tower and headed toward the Andrew's Bald path near the parking lot. 

Andrew's Bald Trail

Now this trail was more my speed! I was in my element and Katie was enjoying herself too. The 1.7 mile trail from the parking lot to the bald gave me plenty of time to go over exactly what I was going to say. 

Andrew's Bald - Looking South
We emerged from the woods onto the bald and I began surveying the site for the best location. There were a few people hanging out in what seemed to be the best sitting locations, just taking in the view. Damn - not as private as I would have liked. Then Katie, as sweet as she is, was immediately swarmed by black flies - attracted only to her, not to me. They continued to follow her everywhere we went as soon as we left the trail. She knew that I really wanted to be there and tried so hard to find a place they weren't swarming. I could see her frustration building and knew this wasn't the place. Time to abort the mission! Commence plan B...

We hiked back to the parking lot with raised spirits just from being in such a beautiful place. Katie was never aware that she narrowly avoided my first proposal attempt. Oh well!

Back at the cabin we put up our feet and had a delicious peach beer. I perched the ring in it's box atop the roof over the hot tub, waiting for the right time should it arise. And arise it did!

Enjoying our drinks and looking out over the mountains I started with, "I love you Katie, you're the sweetest girl I know." Her response was to be expected; a long drawn out, "Go aaaaaaaawn," as she put her chin in her hand. "The past few years have been the most amazing I could imagine," I said as I reached up to grab the ring box on the overhang behind us. "Will you marry me?"

Katie's Engagement Ring
A note about the stones hidden below the ring inside the box.

I'll pick up with the rest of the story later so everyone can collect themselves after all that romance and adventure!

See the first part here!


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