top of page

Taking the City out of the Girl in the Smokies

I’d like to begin this entry with a story of me as a kid. It was summer time, which for me meant two things: going to a day camp instead of school and bearing the miserable Texas heat. I found both of these things excruciatingly awful. One particular summer, when I was ten or so, my day camp would go out for field trips every Tuesday, first to the park and then to the swimming pool. I would bring my book, determined to be miserable and rage against the idea that kids should play outside with excessive whining about “how much longer” and pointed sighs into my book. I mention all of this to give some understanding of just how much I hated being outdoors as a kid. Outdoors was bugs and humidity and sweat and sunburns.

If you knew me at this age, you’re likely puzzled that our plans for this trip include lots and lots of camping. The thing is, people change. I was blessed to grow into someone who actually loves being outside. I’m moderately cool with bugs. I’m somehow more comfortable in my skin when it’s covered in a thin layer of sweat and dirt. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I became an outdoors-y person. Maybe it was when I bought my hiking boots. Honestly, it was probably when I found my favorite insect repellent.

This was the person—not the red-faced, frizzy-haired and miserable kid—who drove down Highway 441 through the Smoky Mountains on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, grinning ear to ear at the idea of camping out and praying we wouldn’t get completely rained out of our hikes. I hold a particular affinity for any tree-lined drive, so the road through the Smoky Mountains was like a dream.

Everywhere in the park, any way you looked held a different beautiful view, like being in a panorama of lush green. Overwhelming without being overstimulating in the way only nature can achieve. This is mostly how I remember those few days, as the camping and hiking blur into one experience.

A few things in the chronology stand out: the tiny white butterflies fluttering daintily in piles of horse dung, playing chess and drinking champaign from the bottle in the tent the first night, horseback riding the next morning soaking wet from the rain and river crossing, and waking to soggy sleeping bags as we finally got rained out on the last night.

The only other stand out experience that I could tell in narrative form was of our hike in Rainbow Falls. Located in the northern region of the park, it was about an hour drive to get there (three hours if you stop at all the lookouts and visitors centers to collect stickers and check the map like we did). By the time we arrived at the trailhead (the correct trailhead, that is), it was a few hours from sundown. I was nervous. Hikers on our way up were warning us to not “let it get too dark.” And when I say up, I mean way, way up. It was a concentrated fourteen hundred feet in elevation that I, it being my first hike, had not prepared for. I carried a twenty pound backpack with an assortment of heavy items too embarrassingly unnecessary to name; I used absolutely nothing in the fifty pound backpack except for the sandwich we’d packed for dinner. I would be lying if I said I didn’t doubt I was going to make it to the top. Ultimately, the fear of missing out and need to prove my naysayer days were behind me won out and I made up my mind that I would not quit or turn around until it started to get dark. By the time we made it to the waterfall at the top of the hike and I’d shirked off my eighty pound backpack and started on the PB&J, my feeling of pride superseded the beauty of even the waterfall itself. Don’t get me wrong, it was stunning (nature can never really disappoint). Though in addition to learning that my hiking boots must be laced all the way up unless you want a shoe full of dirt, I learned that I prefer overlooks to waterfalls in terms of beautiful and fulfilling hiking destinations (spoiler: we’ll see some incredible overlooks in Virginia’s Shenandoah Park later in the week). Some sentimental part of me really feels like I became a different person in a lot of ways in hiking up that mountain, a sort of christening of my new, nature-loving self.

Regardless, on the much shorter hike back down the mountain, the backpack did not feel nearly so heavy. I even climbed the big rock just off the trail that Grace had climbed on the way up. When we drove back to camp, it was indeed dark out. But we took the Greatest of Garth Brooks with us and had a wonderful drive basking in the endorphins of the hike, shadows of the forrest, and newly-appreciated simple joys of southern culture.

31 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page