To the Top of the World

Hello there! As we prepare for some lovely travel experiences this year, we would love to share a short tale of our trip to, well, not the top of the world, but to the second highest peak in the state of Virginia. Whitetop Mountain, that colossus who thrusts his mighty peak up to a whopping 5,520 feet above the Commonwealth of Virginia, offers multiple hiking trails, nice picnic areas and photo opportunities, and an astounding view of three states. The view alone includes a good chunk of the Blue Ridge Mountains, beautiful farm land and mountainous wonder as far as the eye can see, and brings the sky so close you feel you could reach out and touch it. Whether you want to see Virginia, Tennessee, or North Carolina, you are in luck on Whitetop Mountain.

We started our journey, as many would, coming in off Interstate 81 at the edge of Chilhowie and driving past some beautiful farmland, climbing ever higher on state maintained roads until we reached the gravel turnoff to our destination. Immediately the thick forest closed in on the road and we rolled down the windows to breathe in the fresh air that, honestly, brings me so much joy I can never get over it. The higher we climbed, the rougher the road became, but we made it over the worst of the conditions and finally broke free of the forest to see the first of the vast views the site has to offer. Looking out over the farms and forest that surround nearby Grayson Highlands State Park (a visit for the near future we hope) we felt the awe of the height we had achieved already.

The main parking area, just short of the peak, was our destination, so we carried on up the mountain, watching as the view just got better and better. Once we reached the parking area, we were eager to get out and get our adventure moving. Despite the warm weather the air was obviously much cooler at such a high elevation, which probably helped some in the long run.

Right away we made note of just how close the sky looked to us, how intense and beautiful the clouds were, and how far we could see thanks to the clarity of the day. Amanda and I, no stranger to mountain and forest hiking, made our way through a short forest path that gave us some lovely views of the flora and fauna of the high elevation, with thick pine and brilliant green ferns galore, it was like falling into an ancient wilderness. As multiple signs will tell you on your way up the mountain, Whitetop is really its own ecosystem. There was no shortage of lovely flowers, brilliant colors, and the scent of deep forest air to enjoy high above the nearby towns and cities. As we trekked our of the forest again, we saw our immediate destination in a rock and grassy outcropping a little further down from the peak.

It was a relatively easy hike down, the shin-high mountain grass blowing gently in the cool breeze with giant cottony clouds floating just out of reach overhead. The sun played on the grass and stone as we approached our area of interest. We could see for miles, the gorgeous haze of the Blue Ridge Mountains standing broad in the distance. The clouds sent enormous shadows scurrying over the land below as they played across the bright blue sky, the colors of the world around us shining in mesmerizing clarity as we snapped pictures at first, and then just paused to admire the beauty. We explored the outcropping for a while, sidling through the tall grass, climbing stones for better views, and just breathing in the air high above the every day world.

The hike back to the vehicle was a bit exhausting once we were ready to leave. We quickly got a bit warm as the breeze died down. Thicker, darker clouds moved mercifully over the sun as we climbed back up the mountain and got closer to our return to reality. With what seemed to be a potential for a nice summer storm, a lot of the people who had been enjoying the mountain’s sublime beauty began flocking to the parking lot as we were. Many people were leaving as we reached our vehicle, taking one last look at the scenery and getting one last breath of fresh air before we started our return to the lowlands.

In short, Whitetop Mountain is an incredible destination for anyone with a passion for beautiful scenery. It can be a bit of a daunting drive, sitting at around 40 minutes outside of Chilhowie with some pretty quick changes in elevation, but it is absolutely worth the wait. While there aren’t attractions per se, there are several places to rest and take in the beauty of the natural world around you, which is honestly something we could all stand to do every now and again. We would highly recommend this trip, and hope if you all take the time to go here you will share your experiences as well. A word of caution we can offer is to remember to take account that however far you hike down the mountain, you have to come back up! It’s easy to become enraptured by the beauty of this incredible place, but don’t exhaust yourself to the point of misery. That’s no good for anyone!

With warm weather hopefully here to stay, we hope to have plenty more adventures to enjoy and share with you all, so keep your eyes open for the future posts. If you have a suggestion for a place we can go or an adventure we can leap into, share them with us! Check The Mathews Experience out on social media for more pictures and some videos of our adventures!

Celebrating Christmas in the Smokies

Hello everyone! I hope 2021 has been a great adventure for everyone so far. One thing we want to be able to do with our travel and lifestyle series here at The Mathews Experience is discuss some of the great adventures and fun times we get to have. Of course, with the current climate, work, the seasons, and general lack of time, travel just hasn’t happened much so far this year. So, to remedy that, we want to take some time to talk about some of our past adventures. The most recent one we had took us to one of our favorite places in the world; the Great Smoky Mountains!

Amanda and I left from our mountain home around the middle of December and went to our mountain home away from home to celebrate the Christmas season and get a nice break from everyday life. The trip began with a fantastic drive, with plenty of great holiday music and fun conversation. Once we arrived in the Smokies we were immersed in the season, with lights on every available space they could be strung or placed, and holiday music coming from every speaker in existence. Despite not having a fresh blanket of snow on every surface we looked at, it was a Winter Wonderland.

While on this trip we found ourselves staying on the Gatlinburg parkway, so close to most of the attractions we were interested in we didn’t even move our vehicle to get to most places. Walking on the parkway was an enjoyable experience. There was quite a crowd most of the time, but the vast majority of people we saw were wearing their masks and making at least some effort to maintain distance from anyone they weren’t with. From the smells of food coming from every restaurant, to the sounds of Christmas, and the decorations surrounding us, we were definitely greeted by that mountain holiday feeling we were looking for.

While trying to cram as much Smokies experience as we could in our short trip, we decided to go to Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and see the fish and fun there. We managed to arrive at a time when the aquarium was almost empty, and were one of the few customers wandering the aquatic wonderland. The whole place was decked out in holiday decorations, with ornaments and lights everywhere, even in several displays. It was very easy to take our time and look at all the various exhibits without being rushed – or being held back by crowds. This was, perhaps, one of the most peaceful aquarium trips either of us had ever experienced. The only down side being that we did not get to see the beautiful Green Sea Turtle, Sally, despite making our way through the Shark Tunnel twice. No matter! We saw plenty of awesome sea life, including a couple of baby Bonnethead sharks, so our trip was a great one.

Not to play favorites among the Ripley’s attractions nestled into the foothills of the Smokies, we also made our way to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum to see the wonderous exhibits there. This attraction also did not disappoint. Though a little more crowded, most everyone in attendance was sure to maintain a respectful distance and be cautious with their masks, which is something you really can’t be too careful with during such a time. The displays, however, were a little surprising in that some of the interactive ones were still uncovered and in working order. Some of the more hands-on ones were, of course, roped off or closed to the public, but there were several exhibits that had a button or switch you could use to turn this light on or uncover that bizarre fact, etc.. and several of them were nowhere near a sanitizing station. We also did not notice many employees coming by to clean as often as we would have expected, but we were more than prepared with our own wipes and sanitizers. None of that took away from our trip, but it was worth noting. The entire museum was enjoyable to us, particularly the large matchstick model of Hogwarts, and (for me at least) the shrunken head exhibits and the Devil and the Damsel rotating statue, based on the German epic poem, Faust.

The highlight of our trip, and reason behind it, was Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas. The day started with a nice breakfast at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp and such a massive amount of food that much of it went home with us. The quality of the meal was very good, and the environment, made to look like a novelty lumber camp of the 1800s, was quite appealing to me. From there we made our way to the park to bask in the down-home holiday traditions of those amazing mountains. From the second we got to the entrance to the park we felt the spirit of the holidays and the happiness of the park everywhere. Despite the cold, we were in awe at the millions of lights and fun displays that adorned the buildings and trees, filled the windows, and lit the park with every color imaginable. We started our Dollywood experience with a classic ride through the mountains on the Dollywood Express. Once a free for all, now the conductor requires tickets to board the train, which you can get from an employee for pretty much any scheduled time through the day. We felt this was a definite benefit and a way to, hopefully, help people maintain distance by limiting the amount of people who climb aboard the old passenger train.

Following along behind that old steam engine, we got to see the massive park from all angles, catching glimpses of rides in progress, lights on display, even the newer developments that are almost always happening these days. It was a great, if frigid, way to start our Dollywood day. Most of the rides we wanted to go on were either down due to the weather, or had some very long lines, but we were able to cover nearly every inch of the park – and I’ve got the photos and video to show it! We were very impressed by the level of professionalism shown by the in-park retail locations and restaurants, many of which seemed to have one door designated as an entrance and another as an exit only, which kept the lines of customers flowing in one solid direction for the most part. We stayed in the park from opening (around 2) until after dark, loving the lights and the holiday celebration, but absolutely wore ourselves out walking around the park. Between grabbing a bite to eats at Red’s Drive-In and finishing our day by buying a little Dolly-approved merchandise, the park was absolutely fantastic. With the changes that take place from one year to the next, I think we will be happy to return year after year to see the wonderful Christmas displays and experience the warm Christmas spirit.

One of the last things I must mention about this trip was our great dinner at Dolly Parton’s Stampede. It had been years since either of us had ever been, but the show did not disappoint. This was one of the few places we ran into people who were a little reluctant to follow mask regulations, but it did not ruin our experience by any means. With a fantastic four-course Southern meal and a heart-warming show filled with positive messages and good, fun comedy, it was a great night for us. Overall, the trip was one that we will not soon forget and will hopefully only improve upon as years go by.

January is nearly over, which means we will hopefully have some warm weather to travel by soon, so keep your eyes open for more content. Follow our social media pages, and see the flashbacks of our past trips continue to roll out as we prepare for plenty of new adventures. In the meantime, feel free to share any great experiences you all have, or places you suggest we add to our list!

Goodbye 2020

Happy New Year, everyone! 2020 is coming to a close and, as the last 8 hours or so wind down, I just want to say that I have huge hopes for 2021. This year gave us all several challenges and honestly changed the face of every day life, possibly for good. From natural disasters, to celebrity deaths, to a global pandemic, none of us could have predicted the way things would look this time last year. I hope that each and every one of you have made efforts to remain safe and healthy through the year, and that you have plenty to be proud of coming out of it.

Personally, I can easily say, despite the hardships, this year has been one of the best of my entire life. In addition to surviving such trying times, I am glad to say I am coming out of this year as a high school english teacher, a dream I have chased for quite a while. In addition to this, I have recently published my first full novel, Moonlight, which is getting great response so far. If you are interested in purchasing, it is available internationally here, and for anyone with a U.S. address who would like to purchase directly from me, you can do so here.

Most importantly for me, this year has made me the happiest man alive because this is the year I was joined with the most amazing woman in the world. Early this year I was engaged to the love of my life, and we got married over summer. Being able to call this woman my wife is one of the most satisfying blessings I have ever received. I can not thank God enough for every happiness she has brought into my life and for how amazing this year has been with her. If not for the love and support we have been able to provide one another I have no idea how this year would have turned out for me.

As we burst into the new year with high hopes and higher expectations, I just want to take the time to wish you all a fantastic 365 days. I hope everything you could want for your lives comes true and I hope you don’t lose sight of the blessings and the important things you have each and every day. As 2021 blossoms with fantastic intentions, move ahead with gusto and intention. List your priorities and your goals and strive toward them. Keep them realistic, but make sure they matter to you. Not just to your parents or to your neighbor, your grocery store clerk or your mail carrier. Make sure they matter to you and they are something you will be proud of. Every small step is a step toward a completely happy you, so make it count, guys. As always, feel free to reach out to me and give me feedback or just say hello. We’re all in this together, so we should all be more than happy to keep each other going! Have a great end of the year and don’t let anything hold you back!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!! I know this year has been difficult, and the holidays can sometimes be stressful, but I hope you will all take the time to cherish the good things today and every day for the rest of this year – no matter what holidays you celebrate (or don’t).

Personally, I have had an excellent Christmas with my wife here in our snowy mountain home. I am beyond ecstatic that our first Christmas as husband and wife has been a white one and a happy one. All things considered, the blessings we have been able to enjoy this year have given me so much to be thankful for.

Our Christmas adventure has shown us a lot of excitement, a lot of smiles, and a lot of joy- and it isn’t over yet! Tomorrow will be yet another happy day of celebration for us. I know a lot of people haven’t been able to celebrate with their loved ones this year, and many traditions have been put on hold or altered to meet the current state of affairs, but I hope everyone has been able to draw a bit of joy from the holiday. With luck next year will bring a return to the things we have enjoyed in the past, hopefully with an added sense of appreciation and love for those traditions.

Whatever your holiday brought to you, however you were able to celebrate, I sincerely hope love and peace met each and every one of you. Do your best to enjoy the rest of this day and this last week of 2020!

The Mathews Experience

Hello, everyone! I have some very exciting news that I am ecstatic to announce here. My incredible wife and I have decided we are going to start sharing some of our awesome adventures both here and on social media platforms. We absolutely love going on exciting adventures, visiting new places, trying new products and just generally enjoying life. Often we find ourselves looking at the advice of people who have been to those places or tried those products before us to see if there are any helpful tips that may assist us in enjoying ourselves that much more. So we thought, why not try to offer the same advice and assistance to others?

We will focus mainly on our travels and our love of the Appalachian region to begin with, with most of our posts centering on events or attractions in that region. I may occassionally do a retro blog about something we have done in the past just to help provide information about those areas or events, so keep your eyes open for those as well! Amanda and I really love our life and the awesome things we get to do and the places we get to go, so we are very excited to have an opportunity to share tips on ways to make the most out of life with anyone who is interested in hearing what we have to say.

I hope to get these posts going fairly regularly ASAP. Of course, not a lot of travel has happened this year, with COVID-19 running rampant the world over, but we will have plenty of content for anyone who is interested. We have a ton of ideas lined up for the future, but we are also eager to hear what you all may be interested in. Is there a place you’ve thought of going, but aren’t sure if it will really be up your alley? Or is there an event you’d like to attend, or a product you’d like to try that you just aren’t sure will work for you? Feel free to suggest it to us and we will add it to our list. We would love to have as much interaction on this as possible, and we look forward to hearing what each and every one of you has to say.

I also want to make sure I’m clear that, in addition to the blog posts and social media posts we will be making, we are also going to start vlogging a number of these expereinces, and we would love to have you all join along in that. For anyone interested, the link to our YouTube channel is; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UChAKcKB7kPH0GQA1Q4uAV3w

Our Instagram link is: https://www.instagram.com/themathewsexperience

Our Facebook link is: https://www.facebook.com/themathewsexperience

You can also find us on Twitter at: https://www.twitter.com/mathewsxprience

Our TikTok link is here, too https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMJp4bn1Q/