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Ben Olson on the road: A good night’s sleep can be hard to find

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By BEN OLSON/for The Herald  —  It has been our experience on this trip that motel rooms cost more on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s not because the circus is in town or Irma and Troy are having all the cousins in town to attend their mega-wedding. Sometimes the motels are actually less busy because the construction crews that like to stay at the same places we do are home for the weekend.

This is only a theory, but I believe motels charge more on the weekends because they can. Prove me wrong, if you’d like.

So that the money lasts until we get back to Oakridge, we have spent quite a bit of time camping. I have had to relearn the art of sleeping with only a thin mattress of sorts between me and the cold, cold ground. It has actually been delightful. We have stayed in some lovely and mostly quiet state parks and national forests and even one private campground where almost all of the other campers were seasonal, leaving their RV or trailer there at the site for regular weekend use.

I said most of the campgrounds were quiet, but a few nights ago, I confronted a group of youths who were being way too loud after what I, and most of the other campers there, would consider to be “quiet time”. Their boisterousness was perhaps fueled by beer. They were taken aback when I appeared out of the dark to let them know what I thought of their revelry and why it needed to stop right then.

My son correctly chastised me when I got back to the tent about how my anger was not the right way to handle the situation. They were, however, quiet after that, and I’m certain that all the other campers would have thanked me if they could have done it without getting out of their sleeping bags. 

With a delightful sunny weekend forecast, we planned to camp in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park which straddles both North Carolina and Tennessee. Through an online booking app, we managed to secure the last available campsite in the entire park, and that was only for Friday night- Saturday was booked up. It was a quiet place 12 miles up a dead-end road. It’s been a while since I’ve camped where you couldn’t hear the whine of a distant semi or the rumble of a train.

We leisurely decamped on Saturday morning with the plan to go to Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in Tennessee. I had a sense when we got down to the main road going through the park that this was no ordinary Saturday. Halfway through the park we arrived at the turnoff to the 8 mile drive to the Clingman’s Dome parking area. It was about a half mile walk from the parking area to the observation tower atop the Dome. I had last been here about 6 years ago.

About a mile from our destination, the traffic slowed to a crawl. There was nowhere to turn around and we proceeded, a few feet at a time, to the parking area, where we found no parking space, and then drove back down the hill. It seemed that everyone in the tri-state area had the same plan as us. Seeing the vibrant fall colors on a sunny weekend is a great plan for those who don’t feel compelled to stay at home and watch football. The peak of the colors, though, was still several weeks away, and much of the view had a greenish summer hue. Resigned to the fact that all the trailheads in the park had cars parked a half mile in either direction, we decided to head to the north exit of the park and travel through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Leaving the park and entering the main street of Gatlinburg, I knew I had made a serious error of judgment. It took an hour to travel three miles through town. The sidewalks were as full as the road. I grew up in a tourist town, but even on the busiest 4th of July weekend, I never saw anything quite like this. We managed to get down the road, away from whatever it is that tourists were out looking for and found a relatively clean, somewhat reasonably priced room where the roar of the passing semis lulled us to sleep. We stopped at Mammoth Cave today, although it was way too nice of a fall day to spend much of it wandering around in a cave.

Tomorrow we’re scheduled to appear at a jam session just outside of Indianapolis and on Tuesday a return to my brother’s place in Wisconsin to regroup, repack and play a few gigs before the return drive to Oregon.

Ben Olson, musician and Oakridge Resident, with his standup bass Ben Olson photo

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