We had the wheels turning by 9:30am this morning after some difficulty in negotiating an exit from our campsite in the very tight "D" loop at Smokemont Campground. I was anxious to get underway and focus on the drive up Newfound Gap Road, over the summit, and down into Tennessee on the other side. Our "Mountain Directory East" book describes the North Carolina side of the hill as 8-1/2 miles of 7 to 8% grade. The Tennessee side, the "down" side for us, is 13 miles of grade that varies between 6 and 8%, with several 20 and 25 mph curves which are not always marked.
There's an old truckers adage that says "you can go down a mountain a thousand times too slowly, but only once too fast." The idea is to take it easy, keep the speed under control, and just pay attention. We've experienced mountain driving in the West but mostly on larger, wider roads. Newfound Gap Road is narrow, with virtually no shoulder, although there are numerous pull-offs to allow faster traffic to pass. No commercial traffic is allowed on this road, so the tree and brush trimming effect of passing 18 wheelers isn't a factor and we know we'll be making plenty of foliage contact along the way.
Together with the old Blazer "toad", we weigh about 35,000 lbs. including Dar's pet rock collection. I was confident the turbocharged Cummins would get us up -- that part will be easy. The trick is in the techniques of downshifting, using the pac-brake (a compression brake that uses engine compression to slow things down), using the air-brakes sparingly, using good speed control, and putting it all together so it's smooth and easy on all the equipment too.
As I expected the climb up was quick -- turbochargers are wonderful things. But I found the other old truckers adage that you should go down the hill in the same gear you went up really doesn't apply with turbocharged engines. I needed to use one lower gear than used on most of the uphill side. The downside was also more twisty and turny with several tight long curves. The secret is to just find your pace, get the equipment balanced, be patient, and keep it smooth.
|From Crossing to Tennessee|
In retrospect it all went very well. Each additional drive like this helps the confidence of the driver in the equipment and the techniques. It also helps the confidence that the passenger (and "Safety Director") has in the driver.
After exiting GSMNP we made sure to take the bypass around Gatlinburg. Unfortunately, there is no similar road around Pigeon Forge or Sevierville, which is just another 10 miles or so of more touristy stuff... which doesn't interest us in the least.
At I-40 we found a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor Store which has a Fish Company Restaurant alongside. Since it was lunch time Dar wanted to eat there, and we had the best lunch we've had in a long time. The Blackened Salmon Linguini special was top-notch and a surprising value for only $8.00. Dar's Smoked Salmon Ceasar was of similar quality. We were back on the road by a little after 1pm for the short drive to the Escapees Racoon Valley RV Park north of Knoxville.
We'll be here through the weekend and maybe longer depending on the worsening forecast for next week.