Our High Country Adventure

This past weekend we decided to travel to Ocoee, TN to take advantage of a really cheap whitewater rafting offer on Groupon ($32 for 2 people). The drive took us through the heart of Tennessee’s waterfall country and past several of the more well known falls in the state – Cummins Falls, Rock Creek Park, and Fall Creek Falls.

We’ve been in TN for more than 2 years now and taking the state’s “waterfall tour” has been on our bucket list for all of that time. In 2015, we visited Rutledge Falls in Tullahoma, TN and it was absolutely stunning, like something you’d see in a movie, so when the opportunity came up to chase another waterfall, we were all in. Being the adventurous types though, we opted for a lesser known, and supposedly stunning, area known as Stinging Fork Falls.

Rutledge Falls
Rutledge Falls (2015)

First let me say, when folks talk about the “hills of Tennessee”, I’m sure they are speaking of some of the little towns in East TN along the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. We followed our deranged GPS (affectionately named Carmin) up, up, and up some more winding gravel roads, complete with switchbacks that allowed you to see the road below, until we came to something with a little bit of pavement. The road, by the way, was called Shut in Gap Road. If you travel it, you’ll know why it is called that. NO ONE would want to go in/out of their home if they had to drive this white-knuckle one-laner every day!

But I digress –

The hike to/from the falls is 1.7 miles. The first half mile in is completely flat. The next section is an area of wooden stairs (most of which are still intact) and narrow ledges. We made it almost all the way to the end but a series of large downed trees prevented us from getting to the actual swimming hole at the bottom of the falls (and obscured any attempt we made at taking a photo). Angie said the waterfall was beautiful but I never really got close enough to see it in all of its glory.

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After climbing our way back out and using Google to find a better way back to the highway, we set off for Ocoee and our first ever primitive camping experience. High Country Adventures is the outfitter that we used for our rafting trip. Behind their main building they have a rustic campground and offer the option to add lodging to your trip for just $6 per person.

I’d love to say that we spent an enjoyable night by the campfire before retiring to our tent, where we watched the stars until we fell asleep but that didn’t happen. After dinner, it started raining buckets and it didn’t stop until about an hour before we left to go rafting the next day. As I told my sister when she asked me if we had fun on our trip, fun is a relative term. Some folks might have called this a disaster but we had a blast!

Rainy Campsite

We’ve watched about a dozen YouTube videos of folks traversing the country in tiny cars like ours and actually sleeping in them along the way. We’ve always teased about trying this but never have…until now. Yes, we slept in our little Chevy Spark. Surprisingly enough, the front seats actually lay flat into the backseat. It wasn’t the comfort of a pillow top mattress (or even the air mattresses that were inside the tent we never got to use) but it wasn’t terrible.

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As for rafting, we loved every minute of it – even though it was only 72 degrees outside when we left and the water was quite cool. After the first splash though, your body quickly adjusts and it’s just fun from that point forward. I’d love to share photos of our rafting adventure but we opted to paddle instead of using the water camera and well, those pics they take along the way are great but we’re way too cheap to buy them.

Angie and I both paddled the Colorado River before we met but this was our first rafting trip together. We hope to make this an annual adventure (provided we find another Groupon next summer LOL) and most definitely recommend High Country Adventures. Their staff was awesome and even though we didn’t get to fully enjoy the campground, it was very peaceful and we’d gladly go back (and maybe sleep in the tent this time!)

The Kissing Bridge at WKU

In 2015, we spent a few days letterboxing in Bowling Green, KY. We had a blast! Since then we’ve been back for a few baseball games and once to revisit Russell Sims Aquatic Park, but we haven’t spent much time boxing…even though BG is less than an hour away and has more than 50 letterboxes. Yesterday, almost on a whim, we decided to pack up a lunch and head back to Bowling Green. Most of the boxes in BG are drive-bys or short walks so we were able to find 8 (plus 2 strikeouts) during the short time we were there.

One of the highlights of the day was walking the campus of Western Kentucky University. It is a huge campus, and with classes out for the summer, we had the place almost to ourselves. On one end of campus (near Garrett Conference Center), in the courtyard, stands Old Fort Bridge. The bridge is the only remnant left of Fort Albert Sydney Johnston (which is now recorded on the National Register of Historic Places as Fort Lytle). The bridge was used as a crossing for students during the Civil War and was owned by both the Confederate and Union armies at one point in time.

Today the bridge is famous for another reason – it’s a place to fall in love. Known as the “Kissing Bridge”, legend has it that if two students kiss atop the bridge on their first date, they will be joined for life. The current university President, Gary Ransdell, often took his girlfriend (now wife) to the Kissing Bridge when they were students. They have been married for 45 years so there must be something to the story.

Angie and I met in January 2011 on the dance floor of an iconic gay bar in Denver. We had both been dragged there reluctantly by friends and neither of us could dance. Our first date was to Olive Garden. I knew it was love when she used both a coupon and a gift card to pay.

Sometimes I like to imagine what life would have been like if we had met each other in college. Would we have stood atop the Kissing Bridge and sealed our fate? Probably not, since it would have been the early 90s and being out just wasn’t in back then. Would we even still be together? I’m not sure. Part of what makes us work so well is that we each followed a different path that just happened to lead to the same happy place…before we met one another. Regardless, it’s still fun to think about all the things we might have done together over the past 2 decades.

As a student at WKU, I don’t recall hearing about the Kissing Bridge. I only learned about it through letterboxing (which besides being fun, really is a great way to learn new things!). Though we’re no longer students and are pretty secure in how we feel about our future together, we still stood atop the bridge yesterday and gave each other a little kiss. I suppose, it never hurts to hedge your bets!

Angie@WKU

Mel@WKU

Spring Break on a Budget

The Peanut – packed & ready to roll!

It is Spring Break here in our little community but for us, Spring Break sprang a few weeks earlier. Before all of the college kids and families started hitting the highways and beaches, we set off to break in “The Peanut” on its first official road trip. Destination – Florida (or home as I still like to call it).

Spring Break = Spring Broke for a lot of people but not for us…thanks in large part to gift cards, cashback rewards, and discounts. For our 7 night/8 day trip that included stops in Savannah, GA, Daytona Beach, FL, and Fort Myers, FL, we spent an out-of-pocket total of $745.29. Of that, $136.50 was spent on gas, $414.74 on lodging, and $123.29 on food.

Day 1: After a full day of driving, we made a planned overnight stop in Savannah, GA, where we stayed in a KOA Kamping Kabin ($59.85) with a great view of the lake. The next day we visited Oatland Wildlife Center ($5/pp) before driving down to Daytona Beach. This was our second visit to Oatland and we highly recommend it as one of the best wildlife rehabilitation parks in the Southeast. Note: If you do visit Oatland, bring bug spray! I’m still recovering from a battle with no-see-ums.

Sunrise view from our cabin

Day 2-3: Daytona Beach was one of those places we never made it around to visiting when we lived in Florida. Now I know why. Aside from drinking (which we don’t do) and driving the strip, there’s not much to do in Daytona. The beach is nice but it was very windy while we were there so we spent most of our time letterboxing. We stayed at the Lexington Inn, a decent hotel with a hot breakfast and terrible wifi reception, located on the beach in Daytona Beach Shores. ($121.89 for 2 nights with a $20 discount through Hotwire)

Letterboxing in Daytona

Day 4-6: Despite our horrible experience with AirBnB in Baltimore last fall, we decided to take their $50 apology gift card and give them another try. This time we rented an upstairs apartment in Fort Myers. I’m not sure AirBnB is fully redeemed in our eyes but the rental turned out to be better than expected. The furnishings were brand new and clean. My only complaint was that the hostess was less than friendly. Okay, maybe that wasn’t my only complaint – the leaning staircase was a little scary and so was the palmetto bug on the counter. ($190 for 3 nights with a $50 gift card)

We spent very little time in the AirBnB though. We were out adventuring in our old home place. We stopped in to see our favorite owl, Luna, at the Peace River Wildlife Center ($5/pp), took in a Tampa Bay Ray’s Spring Training game ($38 for tickets, $11.50 for snacks), and spent a lot of time on the beach. We also managed to make two trips to our favorite produce store – Detwiler’s Farm Market – where we stocked up on dried fruits, melons, and the most out-of-this-world fresh salsa that money can buy.

Day 7: The last night of our trip was probably the most eventful. We arrived at the Forsyth, GA KOA just a little after 8 PM and checked into our Kamping Kabin for a very Hotel California-esque experience. (You can check out any time you like but you can never leave…) After unrolling our sleeping bags, Angie reached for the door handle to go back out to the car. It wouldn’t budge! The deadbolt had gotten jammed in the lock position and we were stuck inside our tiny camping shed, after office hours, with no way to reach a single camp staff member. A faded note on the wall read: “In case of emergency after 8 PM, please call 911”. So that’s what we did…after 20 minutes of fiddling with the door, of course. Three fire and rescue squad members came with a pry-bar. They released the pressure on the lock so we were able to turn it and get out. Yes, we stayed the night and yes, we slept with the door unlocked. I figured, we were in a campground where people slept in tents so the lock wasn’t that much of a necessity anyway. This delightful experience was bargain priced at only $44.10.

We were supposed to stop by World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta on our way home. We had two free tickets. After our lock-in, we decided that the only stop we wanted to make that next day was home. (If you live in Atlanta and plan on going to World of Coca-Cola before 3/31/17, let me know and I’ll happily email you the tickets.)

For our trip, we had a $25 Walmart gift card, which we used for snacks and breakfast groceries; a $25 Panera gift card, which covered lunch one day and coffee another; a $50 AirBnB gift card, a $20 Hotwire coupon, and $67.54 in Capital One cashback rewards, which was applied toward paying for gas.

ICE at Gaylord Opryland Resort

Wednesday was our first official “free day” in my new work schedule so we decided to make the most of it by taking our great-niece to see ICE at the Opryland Hotel. This year’s theme is Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Though she’s still too young to understand the story of Rudolph or Christmas for that matter, we thought she’d enjoy the bright colors and huge characters made completely out of ice – about 2 million pounds of ice to be exact. We were right! From the moment she saw the first larger than life Christmas present, she was over the moon with excitement.

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At first we were apprehensive about taking her. It is, after all, only 9 degrees inside the exhibit. But after reading a few “mom forums” we decided that as long as we all bundled up, we’d be fine. Ever try putting 2 pair of pants, 2 pair of socks, 2 shirts, and 2 jackets on a 17-month old? You get something that looks (and walks) like a miniature version of the Abominable Snowman. Inside the giant blue parka that was provided by the ICE attendant, she does have gloved hands LOL.

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ICE is not a cheap date. Regular adult admission is $28.99 (and the full tour takes only 15-30 minutes). Being the frugal folks that we are though, we got tickets during Gaylord’s Black Friday Sale for only $12.50 each. (There are also discounts available through AAA if you missed the sale). Children under 3 are free with a paid adult admission.

This was Angie’s first time to visit an ICE exhibit and she had just as much fun as the baby. I took Addie’s mom over a decade ago. I don’t remember the theme of that year but I do remember she was no less amazed than Addie was. ICE is a definite “must” at least once in a child’s life. Their smiles and laughter alone are enough to make it worth the admission and if that doesn’t put you in the holiday spirit, nothing will.

Happy Holidays!!