East Tennessee is really one of the most beautiful parts of our country. I'd say "on the planet," but I haven't been all over the planet. But I have visited 45 states, so I feel somewhat qualified to make such a judgement.

Gatlinburg, like so many other small towns in the region, has so much to offer...including the opportunity to see a bear or two.

Now, I'm not saying that's a goal for anyone because, well, we're talkin' bears here. And we know it's always a real possibility; just how many signs warning us not to take our trash out alone or too late at night ARE there in Gatlinburg?

And you know from reading stories on this website that bears have been spotted by a great many members of our audience.

But...not by me.

No, all I've seen are raccoons. Lots of raccoons. And three, in particular, that created the kind of moment that will live on forever in my life as a great story subject.

Back in 2007, my family and I took a trip to Gatlinburg and rented a condo for the week. I had to come later and didn't arrive until Wednesday.

When I got to our room on the fifth floor, I looked across from the balcony at three raccoons that were perched in a huge tree and just staring at me. No shocker there. The woods and raccoons kind of go hand in hand.

The next morning when we left to go sightseeing, there they were again, inseparable, and once again on their favorite limbs.

That night, I went to get something from my car. When I got off the elevator and proceeded to head down this walkway toward the parking lot, those three raccoons (yes, I'm assuming they were the same three since they seemed to hang together) were standing side by side all the way across the sidewalk.

And they were very carefully spaced out, too. Like they knew what they needed to do to not allow me to pass. And I didn't. I don't need to get bitten or swiped by a raccoon on vacation.

So I walked through the pool house where the lights were off. What I thought was a big blue mat on the floor was actually a full hot tub and I walked right into it, fully clothed. And it freaked me out.

I mean, when you think it's the floor and it's water, that messes with your mind for a few moments.

So I got out of the hot tub, got what I needed out of my car, and went back up to the room. Drenched. And the raccoons were gone.

Their work there was completed.

So yeah, no bears for me (don't want any, either, just so we're clear). But three very cagey raccoons who, if I didn't know better, planned that whole thing.

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