Tuesday, March 18, 2014
I've been in Florida for 5 months now. It's been 5 months of temporary housing, living out of suitcases, emotional struggles and homesickness. My husband and I finally got out of our friend's house before it destroyed our friendship, and moved into an extended stay hotel. We've now been here 5 weeks.
The cost of the hotel has eaten through our meager savings for deposits on our own place. His income isn't as much as we'd hoped, especially after we found out it would not be distributed throughout the summer. After all the deductions for retirement, taxes, summer savings and insurance, his paychecks are a little over half the size we'd expected. I was fighting so much for hours that I picked up a second job, and now I'm overwhelmed, working 7 days a week just to make 40 hours because the shifts are always so short. We are covering our bills, but only by taking a little bit out of savings each week, having to pay for the expenses of our house in Tennessee on top of our expenses here.
My husband hates his job. This is his second full-time teaching job in public school, and it's a repeat of his first experience. The teaching profession is one of emotional abuse, constant antagonism, stifling administration, and exhausting pressure. The continuous evaluations, the pressure to pass every student regardless of whether they are capable or not, the continuous testing and strict to-the-test curriculum, all contribute to the loss of the ability to actually teach. It has thrown him into depression and he's no longer the person he once was. He's lost his sparkle, his positive attitude and his sense of humor. It's like seeing what happened to me last summer happen to someone else, and it's very hard.
My transfer to a new ride has not helped my career any. My knowledge and experience are being thrown away - nothing matters except your seniority and years of service to that company. I don't particularly enjoy my job at Universal, but I adore my new coworkers. The work itself is tedious, with constant reminders that we are not trusted nor given responsibility. Leadership seems only focused on finding fault in anything you do. My second job is at SeaWorld, working on the flying coaster Manta. While I adore working on the coaster itself, in a lot of ways it is just a repeat of Universal. Impossible to move up, promotions based solely on your length of service, disregard for any previous experience, and a complete lack of trust in the front line.
To add in to the difficulties here, my mom's health is on a sharp decline. She had a stroke in November, just weeks after I moved to Florida. She lives in Ohio with my brother and his wife, who care for her. I have not been able to visit her since October, before the stroke. Last weekend, she ended up in the hospital after her blood sugar spiked out of control for no apparent reason. On Monday, when she was released, it was with the requirement of 24 hour care and a suggestion of assisted living. My sister-in-law is making the arrangements. My mother has lost most of her fine motor control, her ability to walk, bladder and bowel control, and frequently her ability to speak coherently. I need to go see her. She and I have always been extremely close, and it has been a major emotional strain to not be able to see her or, half the time even talk to her because of my work schedule. I asked for time off work to be able to visit her in April and it was denied because of spring break. I was told it would be August before I could take that much time off.
Tuesday night, my husband and I started discussing in earnest moving back to Tennessee, where we were happiest. I brought my brother in to the discussion, and he fully supported it, even offering financial assistance if it becomes necessary. He wants to be able to see me again, and he wants me to be able to come see my mom. He's encouraging me to start my own photography business and wants to see me succeed at it.
At 2 am on Wednesday morning, while my husband and I discussed going home, the fire alarm in our hotel went off. Thinking it was a false alarm, he poked his head outside, to discover the outside of the building at the end of the hall engulfed in flames. We grabbed the items of the most value (laptops, my camera and car keys) and ran. A car had inexplicably caught fire in the parking lot and caught the building on fire. We moved our cars to safety across the street before the fire department arrived. My husband's car was parked 4 cars down from the one that caught fire and luckily escaped damage. The fire department was unbelievably fast and was able to put the fire out before it damaged any rooms or spread beyond 2 cars, but the outside of the building by the stairwell was extensively damaged. The distance of the stairwell and hallway kept it from spreading to the rooms.
Seeing the building on fire was the most terrifying experience of my entire life. After parking my car, I had a panic attack (the first one in about 7 years) and begged my husband for us to go home. I wasn't able to sleep for the next two nights and inhaling the burning plastic smoke ended up making me sick.
On Friday night, we got a call from our friend watching our house in Tennessee that one of my cats had died. We knew he'd been doing poorly, and I feared that his kidneys were failing, and it appears that is what happened. I'm upset, not because I lost him, because I knew his time was near, but because I wasn't there to comfort him. I wasn't there to show him how much he was loved in his last few days. I believe that he did know, but it still bothers me. Max was my miracle kitty, surviving a dog attack that left him brain damaged and with a broken hip at only 6 months old. He's always walked with a limp, and definitely been a strange little kitty, but he was a loveable little guy and I'm glad I was able to give him 6 years of happiness and comfort.
This trifecta of terrible events in the past week has left me emotionally drained. The fire was the sign we needed, I think, and we made the definite decision to go home. I'm scheduled to work every day for the next 16 days, and at this point I'm just plodding through the motions. We've both put in our notice at our jobs for the end of the month. I have friends visiting from Ohio the 1st of April, and our whirlwind Orlando tour will be my goodbye to Florida, helping me leave on a positive note rather than a negative one. My husband is leaving this weekend, and has already been accepted back at both of his previous jobs. While they didn't pay the greatest, he enjoyed them, once again proving that money doesn't buy happiness.
I will be spending 2 weeks in Ohio, spending much needed time with my family and friends that I haven't seen in so long. I haven't seen my sister in over a year, my mom and brother in 6 months, and many of my friends in even longer than that. I'm going to get to have some fun while I'm up there - my husband and I will be attending media day for Kings Island's brand new coaster, Banshee, something we had no chance of doing from Florida. My brother is going to help me build up my website and marketing plan for my photography business, so that I can jump in with both feet come May. I'm also going to use the marketing skills I learned at my last job to help him promote his own business, which he started last year but isn't sure how to take it to the next step.
I don't regret moving to Florida. It was something I needed to do. My last job left me so emotionally damaged that I had to run as far as I could, and Florida was the first thought. I enjoyed a lot of things down here, such as the continuous summer weather, the friends I've made, and the experience of working at 2 world-renowned amusement parks. I've also learned how overrated continuous summer is - I never thought I'd miss snow, but I definitely miss having definitive seasons. I've learned that working for one of the big parks isn't all it's cracked up to be, and that the amusement industry is pretty much impossible to build a career in unless you have a lot of time and patience. At almost 29 years old, I don't want to spend the next 5 to 10 years just trying to move a few steps up the ladder. I deserve better than that. I've learned that a slight increase in income isn't worth the loss of time with family or the emotional wreckage of a bad job.
And most importantly, I've learned that I need to have faith in myself. I know what I deserve. I know what I can do. And I know I can do it.
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
It's been two months since I left my job, my home, and my life in east Tennessee. I left behind a toxic work environment, emotionally-damaging boss and sinking economy. I also left behind some of the best friends I could ever imagine, our first home as a couple, and, at least temporarily, my cats, which are as loved as children.
I was hired on immediately by Universal Orlando as an attractions attendant on one of the most popular rides in the park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. I struggled to find my place on the overwhelmingly large crew, especially as I was back to being a front-line attendant. The adjustment was difficult, having come from being an opening supervisor that helped build a rides department from the ground up. I felt my experience and knowledge was being wasted, that the past two years had been thrown away, and that I was just swallowed up whole inside this gigantic company.
Adding to the emotional challenges, I started discovering just how far the long-term damage to my foot had progressed. The ride has a moving platform, meaning that load and unload positions are continuously walking at the pace of approximately 3 mph. Walking for long distances has become harder for me over the past year, relating to the improperly healed stress fracture from nearly two years ago. There were days that our rotations would somehow get messed up and I would be stranded on the belt for hours. Many days, the pain in my foot and knee would keep me up most of the night. After a particular rough rotation where I was on the belt for over 3 hours straight, I went to the break room and curled up on a chair, in tears from the pain. My lead found me there and we discussed the problems and what could be done. I requested a transfer to a different attraction. Normally, you must be employed for 90 days before you can transfer rides, but because this was a medically necessary change, it was approved.
I found out last week that I will be starting at Flight of the Hippogriff, a family roller coaster, this coming Monday. I've started to make friends at Forbidden Journey, so I will be sad to leave them (and the wicked cool Hogwarts school uniform I wear daily), but I will not miss working the ride itself. Between the physical problems, and the set up of their promotion guidelines (which are completely different than any other ride in the park) that guarantees I would be stuck at front line for over a year, this transfer gives me a lot of hope. Hope that under a doctor's care, my foot will be able to heal, and hope that I will be able to begin moving back up in the ranks and expanding my career in rides leadership.
My husband stayed in Tennessee for two months after I came down. The distance was difficult on us, and certainly contributed to the extreme homesickness I felt until recently, but our relationship stayed strong. He was offered a full-time position teaching chemistry in his first week down here. The pay from this job will be enough to cover all our monthly expenses, including maintaining the house payment in Tennessee until we are able to move all our stuff and find renters. We're hoping that my income will be able to go straight in to savings so that we will be able to purchase a home in Orlando in the next 2 to 3 years.
Right now, we are staying with friends in Kissimmee, which means a bit of a commute for both of us, but I've been doing a lot of online hunting for rental condos and houses that has brought up a lot of potential. We should be moving out into our own place within the next month - which we are both quite happy about, as are our friends, who are ready to have their couch back!
I'm also ready to have my own kitchen, where I can cook my own food (I've eaten out, either fast food, or from the employee cafeteria, for every meal since I came down here), have my own refrigerator space, and get back on track with my eating habits.
The good news about being on such a physically active attraction is that I've dropped some weight since coming down here. I don't know how much, as I don't have access to a scale, but I'm down a pants size and working on a second. I've cut out soda again to save money (water's free, after all!) and because we are on an extremely limited budget, I'm not snacking or eating extra meals. The down side is that I'm really limited on what I eat because I try to spend so little daily. We eat a lot of pizza and Taco Bell. I'm really looking forward to being able to cook all the delicious varieties of baked chicken that I love!!!
So, there is definitely good and bad with this move. I'll definitely have an update once we are settled into our own place. I think once we do that, I'll have no problems getting into the groove again.
Thursday, October 17, 2013
My last post was in March. That seems like a lifetime ago. So much has changed since then. Most of it bad, but some of it good. Stress has been the overwhelming theme of my summer, and that certainly isn't slowing down right now. I've been fighting re-gain guilt for months now, and that's prevented me from coming on to Spark as much as I should. I know that other Sparkers won't judge me for my slip-ups and sometimes complete failures, but it's hard to read through everyone else's success sometimes when you're feeling so low yourself.
Not long after leaving my job at Dollywood (which is still a difficult subject for me - in many ways I'm glad I left as the things I hated about it have gotten worse, but I miss working on a coaster so much) I got another job, as a ride supervisor at a new entertainment complex in Pigeon Forge. I spent 6 weeks training on how to run a 200-ft tall giant observation wheel (different from a Ferris wheel in that the gondolas are fully-enclosed and climate controlled) and generally learning how to build a small park from scratch. I adore my coworkers, especially my counterpart and co-supervisor Brent. He is one of my best friends now, and everyone assumes we must be related because of how well we get along. Most would never guess that we had never met in person before April, but we just really clicked.
In April, my husband and I bought our first house. The potential at the Island seemed unlimited, and we planned to be here for the long haul. We bought a small starter home, put down 10% and are paying an exorbitant interest rate thanks to our awful credit. But it's a cute house, and the important part is that it's ours and no one can complain about our growing herd of kitties (we're up to 6 now!)
I spent the spring working with Brent to build our team, designing operating procedures and figuring out how our daily operation would function, training our new attendants and dealing with all the unexpected issues that arise when you're trying something for the first time. The hours were long, often 60+ hours a week. The week that the Island opened to the public, I worked a 16 hour shift on my birthday, missed my 10-year high school reunion and put in a total of 83 hours in 6 days. After we opened in June, Brent and I spent the next two months working 6 (sometimes 7) days and 70 or more hours a week. In August, I reached my breaking point and told my boss "no more." I loved the money from the overtime but I mentally and physically could not pull off those weeks any longer.
On top of the stress of the long hours, I learned just how emotionally damaging a bad boss can be. Before we opened, he wasn't that bad. Demanding, distant, but mostly respectful. He gave Brent and I a list of tasks to complete and free reign to do them as needed. I remember many pre-opening days of being handed a credit card and a shopping list for Staples or Walmart. He gave us guidelines of how he wanted things done but basically allowed us to develop our own operation plan and tweak it as needed once we saw how customer flow would actually work out.
But then, in late June something began to change. He began showing anger issues, lashing out at whoever was nearby when he was unhappy with a piece of news or a situation. I had to step in between him and an employee several times to keep him from firing the employee on the spot over a misunderstanding. He no longer trusted Brent and I (or any other supervisor on the property) at running things on our own, and began taking responsibilities away from us and belittling us when we made decisions on our own. Employee morale started taking a nose-dive and fell into an irreparable pit when he cussed out one of my employees on the loading platform in full view of guests. The day he cussed me out while I was operating the wheel was the day I told him I'd had enough and either things changed or I was leaving. That was in in mid-August.
It's now two months later. Very little has changed. The cussings have stopped but the anger issues, mis-trust, belittling, and verbal abuse have gotten worse if anything. A month ago, 6 supervisors and managers went to the vice president of the company to reveal the problems to upper management. That was when the cussings stopped, but I have seen very little additional change. Now he also makes baseless accusations. Getting accused of stealing when nothing has actually gone missing does wonders for a girl's self esteem, let me tell you.
It took me a long time to recognize how the toxic work environment was affecting my life in every way. I felt like a wimp for being the one to complain about it all the time, but my stress levels have been through the roof. I've gained back every pound I worked so hard to lose and then some. The pain in my knee and foot have gotten infinitely worse because I do absolutely no physical activity anymore. I spend my days hiding in a variety of offices throughout the property from my boss, because if he's not face-to-face with me he can't yell at me. I avoid being in my own office because then I'm in front of a work computer where I have to see his demeaning emails, constantly telling me I'm wrong. My avoidance of my boss has led me to avoid doing my work - after all, since I'm constantly being told anything I do is wrong, I have no desire to try to do anything. I spend my days as a glorified bathroom breaker, waiting for someone to call me to a ride to ask a silly question or take their lunch break. I'm not being a good leader or supporter for my crew. Because my shifts vary between mornings (9-5) and nights (5-midnight), my sleep schedule is impossible to figure out. Most nights I sleep 4 to 5 hours. I've gotten so used to it that on nights that I have time to sleep (like tonight) I wake up far too early and can't get back to sleep. I have very little motivation to go to the gym; in fact I've only been twice since April. I have very little motivation to do anything.
Two weeks ago, I hit rock bottom. My first wedding anniversary was 10 days ago, and I was miserable. I didn't want to be around my husband or friends. I have a long and colorful past with depression and anxiety, and I haven't experienced it this strongly since high school. It is affecting my marriage, my social life, my health, everything. I came home from work in tears every night, unable to cope with the constant antagonizing. My husband, my wonderful, amazing, perfect husband, saw the truth. He saw that it was the depression talking. He's seen me down but never this far, and he knows exactly how to pull me back up.
We started talking. We started planning. We are finding a way to get me out. Yes, I've only been there 7 months, but in many ways it's been 7 months too long. As poorly as things ended at Dollywood, I began considering trying to fight to go back there, because anywhere is better than here. He talked me out of that, because I wouldn't be any happier. The economy in this area is hurting, as we're heading into the off-season and few places are hiring. I know in the Sevier county area I will not be able to find anything comparable to what I have now in pay and hours. Most jobs are minimum wage and seasonal. My husband hasn't even been able to find a teaching job. They simply don't exist here.
There has been a couple positive over the past year, besides the house. We bought a new car in early August, before I hit the bottom. My husband's car died back in May, and we couldn't keep up the one-car-family lifestyle anymore. With all the overtime I'd worked, we were able to put a nice down payment on a low-end 2013 Chevy Equinox. I love it, and it makes me happy. Sometimes it's the little things in life - driving a new car is one of the few shining points in my life right now. It's my reward for this past summer. My husband sometimes grumps good-naturedly that I'm a new car hog, but he also understands that I feel like it's the thing I can point to as the result of how much I gave of myself this summer. It's what I got back.
Another shining point in my life, a recent one, is that I'm getting out. 5 days ago, last Friday, I put in my notice at my job. I don't have a back-up plan right now, but then, I didn't when I left Dollywood either. I'm honestly a bit terrified. We have a house and a new car to pay for. My husband works two part-time jobs with irregular pay and hours. That's why we made the decision we did.
In two weeks, I will be in Florida. Orlando, to be exact, home of sunshine and theme parks. I've got applications in at 2 of the 4 major parks in the area and a tentative offer from one. The growth opportunities in the industry are practically unlimited in Orlando, and since it's in this industry I want to stay, it makes sense. My husband, who has spent 2 years seeking a full-time teaching job in Tennessee (he's licensed in high school science) has had more success in 2 weeks of searching in Florida than he has since he got his teaching license in Indiana 5 years ago.
It's a scary move. I feel like I just jumped off a cliff with no safety net. We don't have the credit or down payment to buy another house, and don't have enough equity in ours to sell it without losing everything we've put into it so far. We have 6 cats, and no one rents to that many animals. We've made the tough decision to try and part with some of them and find 3 of them new homes, solely because it will make finding a rental easier. It's a heartbreaking decision, but even giving up some of my furbabies is less emotionally damaging than staying at my current job.
My husband is on contract at one of his jobs until the end of the year. Then he will be joining me down there, hopefully with a full-time teaching position already secured. The fact that mid-year positions are plentiful gives us a ton of hope - mid-year positions do not exist in most places, but Florida is notoriously hurting for teachers and he's a well-qualified one. He's waiting on some paperwork to go through and his license will be officially transferred there. In the mean time, I will be down there securing us housing, settling in and hopefully starting to work my way up at Universal (where I've got tentative offer, pending relocation).
When I put in my notice at my job, I learned how much my coworkers and crew love me. It brought back a little of my sparkle to know that it's just the one person making life so miserable. I honestly had been feeling like I was just a terrible employee and would never succeed anywhere, but the true outpouring of love since everyone found out I'm moving has been overwhelming. Two of my managers have offered to write me letters of recommendation. One of my coworkers asked me to help him find a job down there because he trusts me and has been wanting to relocate, and figured if I could do it so could he. Many of my crew members have begged me not to go. Two of them resigned as soon as they found out I was leaving, as they recognized that I was frequently the buffer between them and the hellfire raining down from the upper rank. My cohort and close friend may be going with me, especially as he knows he'd have a convenient roommate to help him share expenses and he is just as unhappy and beat down as I am. Tonight, the marketing director took me out to dinner as a celebration of getting out.
Things have been better for the past 5 days. Part of it is because everyone except the boss from hell has shown me that I really was good at my job, even though I never felt that I was. Part of it is that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. When I get a snarky email, or am antagonized over something he thinks my crew did, it just rolls off now. "Not my problem" has been my motto this week, because it isn't anymore, and that's a relief I never could have imagined.
This has been overwhelmingly lengthy, but I feel like I need to get it out. I've bottled everything up this summer, because I spent all of it feeling like a failure. The weight gain and embarrassment of gaining back everything I'd lost, falling back to old habits, and sliding back into poor health has kept me off of SparkPeople because I didn't want to admit to it. I didn't want to be "that person" that had done so well and then failed so miserably.
Orlando will be a fresh start, and not just in a new job. It's a fresh start on my adult life. I feel like after 10 years of searching, I finally know what I want out of my life and how to get it, and I'm actually on the correct path. I've never felt as happy at my job as I am when I'm working a ride, and I think that's a big sign of where I need to be. It'll be a fresh start for my health. I'm fighting hard to keep from gaining anymore, and so far have succeeded. I fluctuate over about 5 pounds, with no dramatic gain or loss, and for me, that's good enough for now, until I get my head back on straight.
Some time over the summer, I developed what I believe is a bone spur in my heel, likely as a result of the fact I now slightly limp on the foot I broke over a year ago. I'm afraid it's sunk my hopes for being able to run as it hurts too bad when I attempt anything high impact. It hurts when I'm just walking. The weight gain has also made my foot and knee pain return full-force. I'm hoping to be able to finally seek medical advice in the next few months (I haven't had insurance in several years) on the best path for recovery, especially for my poorly-healed foot. In the mean time, the elliptical will be my friend, just as it was on my first journey. Once I'm no longer working this insanely variable hours, I will make the time and find the motivation to go to the gym. By the way, the two visits since April? They've been in the past week. See, it's starting already.
If you've made it this far, thank you. Thanks for reading my rambling thoughts, my concerns, my hopes, my fears and my dreams. I've never met any of you in person, yet I feel like everyone here is a friend. Even though we may really have no contact, every single comment, every "way to go" or "you're doing great" has a huge effect. I love seeing comments, I love knowing that people have cared, and it helps me feel like maybe I'm not such a failure after all.
I leave my job October 25th. I move to Florida November 1st. That gives me 6 days to live it up here in east Tennessee. With the National Park reopened as of yesterday, that gives me 6 days to choose from to finally tackle Mt. LeConte. We were supposed to hike to the summit (we've been halfway) for our anniversary last Monday, but the shutdown meant all trails were closed so we had to postpone. I want to do it. I want to say I've been there, I've done it, I conquered it. And I will!
Thanks for reading everyone. And I love love love love comments! :)
Friday, March 15, 2013
Hey there Sparkers.
This is kind of a hard post for me. One of my main goals this year was to be able to climb the lift of Wild Eagle without being so worn out I was useless for the rest of the day. Last Friday, I got the chance to test it out and see how far I'd come, and I'm happy to say that my workouts have been a success. I made it up and down all 235 steps to the top without any trouble at all. In fact, I managed them far better than some of my coworkers, whom I thought were in better shape than me, did!
However, it is bittersweet because as of Tuesday, I no longer work for Dollywood. I don't want to go in to details here, partially because it's too involved, but mainly because it's in the past and I've moved on. I'll just say that on Monday, an incident occurred which made me realize that my passions were in the wrong place, and that the company really wasn't the right fit for me and so Tuesday morning I turned in my resignation with a heavy heart.
I do have some great memories, and in many ways I will really miss my job, especially my amazing coworkers. I wish things hadn't ended the way they did, but sometimes you just have to pay attention to what the world is trying to tell you, and it was telling me that it was time to move on.
I also have some great pictures from the summit of Wild Eagle's lift and I thought you guys would like to see them.
I sure felt right at home up there!
The highest point in the park makes for a spectacular view of the Smoky Mountains.
205 feet up and looking straight down.
That's 235 stairs to the top. I counted them myself!
I'm glad I took my camera up there, because I didn't know at the time that it would be my last trip up those stairs. From now on, I'll just enjoy the view from a seat on the train. That doesn't mean I'm going to stop all this hard work though! I'm very proud of myself for my accomplishments with my fitness, and now I'm going to realign my focus away from just trying to be able to do stairs efficiently. I want to run a 5k, and by golly, if I can climb 235 stairs without stopping, I can work up to a 5k too!
Saturday, February 16, 2013
Something that I've always wanted to do is a lot of hiking. I learned yesterday that I'm not quite in the shape I need to be to do as much hiking as I'd like! Even though we got home after dark, soaked, exhausted and sore, it was worth it for a day I will never forget. I got some amazing photos and some amazing memories!!
My husband and I started the day off early, when we were both awake before sunrise. I wanted to go shoot the sunrise, and the best place I could think of was the Gatlinburg overlook. This is a scenic outlook on the bypass around downtown Gatlinburg, which overlooks both the city and the sprawling mountains, up to the height of Mt. LeConte. The vertical contrast is the largest in the Smokies at a difference of over 1600 feet. I got some great shots of the sun peeking up behind the mountains, casting beautiful colors and sun rays across the clouds.
After the sun was up, we stopped for gas in downtown Gatlinburg, had a fun chat with the nicest gas station cashier ever, and headed into the park. I've been wanting to visit Cades Cove for awhile now, and I'd always heard it was beautiful in the early morning, with lots of wildlife activity and Nick was completely game for it since he's been wanting to explore as well. Since it's February, I was hoping that it wouldn't be too crowded. I got my wishes on all three accounts - we saw tons of deer happily roaming the fields, few cars, and some absolutely beautiful scenery.
We hiked the 1.1 mile round-trip mostly flat trail to the Elijah Oliver homestead, exploring the barn, farmhouse, spring house and other out-buildings that have been preserved for visitors to see what life in Cades Cove in the 1800s was like.
We also stopped in the visitor's center and explored the restored Cable homestead, which includes a cantilever barn, sawmill and former boardinghouse turned farm house.
After leaving Cades Cove and returning to Gatlinburg, where we intended to eat lunch, my phone started blowing up! I hadn't had signal on it in several hours, and my friend John, who I take a lot of photography classes with, was trying to meet up with us to go hiking. We finally met him for lunch, which was completely not in my diet (pizza and cheese sticks from a local eatery in Sevierville) but I figured with as much activity as we were planning for the day, they'd balance each other out. Once we finished lunch, we loaded up into John's Cadillac and drove about 20 miles to Cosby, TN (near I-40 and the North Carolina state line) to start on the Gabes Mountain Trail. Our intended destination was Hen Wallow Falls, a 90 foot waterfall 2.2 miles from Cosby.
This seems a promising start to our trail!!
The trail we were planning is rated as "moderate" by both the National Park Service and HikeMySmokies.com. The hardest trail I'd attempted before was Laurel Falls trail, which is an easy trail rated at a 2.93 difficulty by HMS. Gabes Mountain Trail is rated as a 6.20, with a vertical climb of 900 feet at a rate of 400 feet per mile.
The trail started off rocky and uphill, but nothing too treacherous. This was the average steepness for most of the trail, though we went through intermittent areas of rocks and tree roots so thick you could use them as stair steps. About a half mile into the trail, we started hearing the sounds of a waterfall. John explored a side trail and discovered he could easily get to a nice vantage point for photos, so Nick and I followed down the steep and rocky terrain. The view was worth it. This unnamed waterfall on Crying Creek is not listed anywhere on any maps, so it was a very nice bonus.
After returning to Gabes Mountain Trail, we continued on our journey, passing many returning hikers coming back from the falls, all of whom said the trail was a bit strenuous but certainly worth it. A little over a mile into the trek, it started raining. As we continued climbing in elevation, the raindrops turned to sleet, quickly soaking through our clothes. I got out my windbreaker I'd packed in my camera bag to try and keep moderately dry and warm, but it was pretty much a hopeless cause.
The trail took us across many incredible sights, which I didn't take any photos of because it was raining and I was trying to keep my camera dry until we reached our destination. We crossed three log bridges across creeks, passed several small waterfalls, even walked across rocks at the base of one of them, went under and around many very neat rock formations and kept going up and up and up!
Finally, when I thought I could make it no further, we got to the split off Gabes Mountain Trail that would take us to Hen Wallow Falls. The last tenth of a mile was the most treacherous, with a steep downhill grade that was now muddy from rain and very little in the way of tree roots or rocks to balance on. Finally, we arrived at Hen Wallow Falls, and it was beautiful!
The rain was coming down very hard now, and unfortunately it didn't take long before my camera lens, even with a hood covering it, was covered in raindrops which started obscuring my photos. I took a handful more and then called to Nick and John and asked if they were ready to go. They both were, as we were hoping to get most, if not all the way, back to the car before darkness fell. At this point we had about an hour and a half before sunset, the rain was getting harder and the temperature was dropping.
We made the return trek in hard rain and sleet, stopping whenever the canopy was thick enough to create a dry spot for a water break. Most of the trip back was downhill, but it was more challenging as puddles formed and the mud and rocks got slick. I relied heavily on my hiking stick to find safe stepping places on some of the downhill sections, and we all went much more carefully across the bridges.
At about a mile from the end of the trail, twilight was quickly approaching. I was worn out but ready to get back into the dry car. By this time, all three of us were completely soaked through and the rain was starting to get snow mixed in. We stopped for one last water break at a trail split with a mile marker, and increased our pace for the final stretch.
About a half mile before the end, full darkness fell. Since it had crept into the woods slowly, all of us decided to forgo flashlights and depend on our night vision, which had plenty of time to adjust and be pretty clear. The last third of a mile was very rocky, and took the longest to get through, as I used my walking stick much in the way a blind person would use a cane, checking for rocks that would stick up and trip me or twist my ankle, or large steps down that I might miss and come down to hard on.
Finally, when I thought I was about to collapse, we made it to the end of the trail!! We all clambered into the dry interior of the Cadillac, blasted the heat and turned the heated seats on high, stripping off our wet jackets and sweatshirts. On the ride back to Sevierville, we laughed about our crazy adventure, deciding that the next time when the Weather Channel said 30% chance of rain we'd plan on it being a downpour!
As soon as John dropped us off at home, we both changed into warm comfy PJs and curled up in bed, exhausted from our amazing day. As insane as it was, and as crappy as I felt afterwards, and as sore as I am today, it's not something I'd ever trade the experience of. I'm proud of myself for completing a hike that I thought beyond my ability, I'm proud of the amazing photos I was able to capture, and I'm proud of making it through the dark, wet and cold, keeping pace with the rest of the trio that is in much better shape, pushing through til the end.
Now I'm planning for our next adventure. Let's see where it will take us!
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