The Great Smokey Mountain Tourist Watch

Leaving Knoxville late at night, we stopped at a Walmart to rest for the night. At this particular Walmart, we were chancing our luck not to be towed away. Even with "No Overnight RV Parking"  signs posted, we figured it would be okay since others were more than obviously parked for the night. Safety in numbers, right!? The restless night went by and eventually I fell fast asleep.  Early in the morning, Josh woke to make our way to The Great Smokey Mountains.  Beyond exhausted, we stopped at an outdoor store to stock up on cooking fuel.  The store yet to open, Josh climbed back into bed for a couple hours to wait it out.  When we woke, the parking lot was full and Josh headed in.   He was lucky to come out with fuel as he mentioned the store was mainly for tourists with money burning in their pockets. Still bring a bit early, we made our way to a visitors center just outside the park. This feeling like yet another tourist trap, we found ourselves back in bed again.

Our excessive morning sleep caused us to head into the Smokies later than expected, but we pushed forward. Upon entering the park's main Visitor's Center, we were faced with the worst part of the only free (and most visited) National Park on the country- traffic. It's like Christmas-time traffic where everyone is busy getting somewhere, distracted and in some kind of dumb-founded bubble. Drivers aren't kind here for the most part. It took us a few circles to find parking and due to traffic chaos mixed with growling bellies and petty arguing follows suit. We finally made into the visitor center which was littered with aimlessly wandering tourists showing souvenir hunger in their eyes.  

Taking far too long study over 800 miles of trail offered, we formulated a backpacking plan: Before nightfall, we'd hike to an isolated camp where fewer would travel, move to a second camp the next day and on the third day, reserve a campsite, but hike out and sleep in our van. The third day plan was due to a forecast of rain, unsuitable shoes and needing to leave the next day for Franklin, NC.

Well, after being on the road for just over six months at that point, we knew plans weren't to be counted on. The daylight hours flew by and by the time we stopped at the overlook on the Tennessee/North Carolina border, plans changed. Since we were slow to get up that morning, we chose to forego backpack that night and hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail instead. There were a lot of people on this portion of the trail and the weaving in, out and around them wore on me. My feet felt as if they weighed 500 pounds and I drug myself up the trail. Not far in, Josh pulled me aside and I had a small meltdown. This just wasn't fun and I was feeling lost. We left Kentucky after I formed a major self-destructive attitude. I had struggled with rock climbing (mentally) and was now unsure of my abilities to do anything. Traveling was bringing my insecurities to the surface. I wasn't sure I wanted to backpack at all. Another change of plans and we traced our steps back to the van.

We found our trail head and spent the next few hours snapping at each other. Things escalated to the point of deadly boiling water. Wanting to escape our problems, we left the mountains in hopes to find a camp far away from tourists. While winding down the road in the pitch black, the van was silent. We were tired and hungry. We hit some small towns on the other side of the park... these places were creepy!  The life of these towns was obviously fed by tourism. Nothing really exists here other than hotels, motels, closed (for the night) diners and the river.

Working just on the scraps of cell coverage we could find, Josh searched for free public camping but fell short, only finding campgrounds that charged heavy fees. Frustrated and still hungry, we drove to the next town. As we were driving along the road, we became unsure if this town really existed. Sure enough, we hit the town and everything appeared to be shut down for the night. We settled for Burger King and used their WiFi until closing time; it was disgusting and pointless. Still nowhere to camp! We had no choice but to "stealth camp". We thought we would use the church method, but somehow only found churches with resident's quarters attached (with the lights on inside). This wasn't working too well and we couldn't afford to pass the same cop a third time. We would look very suspicious. Luckily we found a park & ride.  After Googling and finding out we were only 30 minutes from our next destination (and still 3 days before we could be there) we finally came to a conclusion of failure. We couldn't spend 3 nights at a park & ride. We messed up and were better off going back into the Smokies. We hoped our heads would be a little clearer this time.

I was late to rise the next day and the self doubt hadn't left. Trying to pack was a struggle. Nothing seemed to fit right and my pack felt completely off. More blowouts ensued and we ditched hiking yet again. Tense and restless, we could not sit in the van anymore! By the time we made dinner, things calmed down a bit and we headed to the guard rail to eat our soup and look out towards the rolling mountains. We were quickly interrupted by onlookers. We gathered that most people come to the Smokies to drive to every pull off in search of the "best view", snap a few pictures and proceed to the next pull off. Because we were sitting on the guard rail enjoying our van soup, people assumed we must have had the "best view".  Not only did people stand right behind us and in between us to take "the best overlook pic", we think we were in a couple of them. People would justify their invasion of privacy with statements like "Don't mind me, just keep eating your dinner. I just gotta get this picture real quick. Jeez, you guys really do have the best spot, don't you?"

Feeling strange to be a part of the attraction, we drove to one of the park's tourist destinations, mainly to turn the tables and watch tourists. Somehow on our way up to Clingman's Dome, I became a part of the attraction yet again. I guess it's a big deal to do a 1/2 mile paved hike barefoot. Silliness. Thankfully with that being short lived, we made our way up the pavement. I was struggling to breath and something just didn't feel right. Pushing through it, we reached the man-made structure. My breathing wasn't the only unnatural part of this scene. The structure stood out from the trees, a giant, cold alien to the living, breathing surroundings. We wound our way up the observation deck to see... trees and the sun. It was not exciting to me to be up on a concrete slab with a bunch of other people looking at a less-than-spectacular view. I believed the overlook at the parking lot was far more speechless. It is possible that the view could have been amazing if one were forced to hike farther and feel the horizon in its most natural form.

A group came to the top and burst out, "look at the colors!". I immediately turn to Josh and told him it's time to go! I couldn't take the over exaggeration of the leaves changing colors anymore. I flat-out don't understand it! This isn't just due to my lack of color vision, but the fact that people tend to look past the other undeniable beauties presented by the coming of winter. Simply watching the leaves fall gracefully  and hearing them hit the ground like rain can be breathtaking. It brings another visual to the life of wind, which is not appreciated enough. I also love to see the trees bare themselves to the world, with lines of branches and knobs telling a story. My inability to enjoy the Autumn colors brings me into a depression. Could this be the reason I was falling apart in The Great Smokey Mountains?

Looking back on our arrival:  We kept passing pull offs with hordes of people staring at a hill. Yet to reach much elevation, it appeared to me these people were ogling over a small tree-covered hillside. Nothing special, REALLY! Flustered I burst out, "What the hell are they looking at!?" as if it was like Yellowstone where I am unable to see the many wild animals. Josh, with a giggle in his voice reminded me that it was fall and it just so happened to be the peak of the season. Everyone was here for the color. Even after reading this at the visitor center, I had simply forgotten.

On our way back down from the observation deck, we took it slowly. We did't have anything or anywhere to rush to. The sun was setting and as we took in its warmth our minds began to clear. A photography flow emerged and our great minds seemed to merge, as we often took nearly the same photo. The major difference would be of color. I always keep my camera set to a black and white shooting mode. Even though out eyesights greatly differ, we found ourselves drawn to a similar visual outline.

The tourists weren't done amusing us yet. As a black bear wandered out from the deep woods, logic seemed to slowly slip from the humans' brains. People flocked closer to it as the oblivious bear went along its routine. The gap between bear and humans was closing and only a few were wise enough to stay in the distance. We were waiting for the bear to be spooked and the possibilities of an attack. This would be deadly, as well as unfortunate for the bear, even though it wasn't the intruder. Eventually startled, the bear ran back from where it came, only to turn and fully observe the human creatures. I wonder what thoughts must have been running through its head!?

We spent every moment we could watching the sun set at the overlook before a ranger came to patrol. We left as soon as he pulled in to move the stragglers along. Drifting out way back to our trail head, we were much more relaxed and found a sense of enjoyment from the tourism specticals. Settling in we pulled the MacBook out to create our very own Puscifer concert. Becoming lost in the iTunes visualizer and relating out travels to the newest album- Conditions of My Parole, deep thoughts and reflections arise. We have had some amazing experiences, but we have had numerous failures and mistakes. Maybe every second isn't an adventure, but a misadventure. Meaning no matter what is currently happening, you may look back to see a bigger picture, the adventure you were unknowingly in.

The next day we filmed a few overlooks and mostly chilled in the van. My favorite moment in the mountains would come that night. Fog was rolling in and cutting off almost all light sources. After Josh returned from "speaking with a man about a horse", he mentioned that he was amazed by the darkness. Shortly, I joined him to "not" see what he had described. Gliding my hand on the body of the van, I stepped to the front of it. Lights bending and breaking their way through the fog appeared. Frantically, I called Josh over not to miss the show, we watched the car turn the corner and breeze by. It was awe-inspiring and something to make this a worthwhile misadventure.

Rain soothed us to sleep and still coming down that afternoon, washed us down the mountain. With a different outlook along these familiar roads we were off to start our Franklin chapter.

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