This past weekend was supposed to be my ultimate getaway adventure: three days in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Now, three days may not constitute a long trip, but getting away from my job long enough to drive out of our DMA is a spectacular feat in its own right. And I was ready. Extra camera batteries and cards; rain gear; a new three-liter Osprey water reservoir; my Coleman tent and North Face sleeping bag from storage; and miscellaneous other gear — all stuffed into a Kelty pack I’ve had since my rock climbing days. It would be epic! But I should have seen the signs…
The first warning came at 5 a.m. the day we were leaving. My buddy Charlie’s truck was overheating and he wouldn’t make it up to Birmingham to meet me. “No worries. I’ll head down and pick you up,” I told him.
I did, but as we’re pulling onto the highway, “So how disappointed would you be if I could only do one night?” Charlie asked.
“Pretty disappointed,” I said. “You’re messing with me.”
“No,” he said. Apparently, a developing fiasco at work meant he couldn’t take the extra day. Warning sign #2.
About an hour North… “Aw, crap,” Charlie said.
He’d left his hiking boots in his truck. That was warning sign #3. I offered to drive back and get them, but he adamantly refused and insisted we press on toward Newfound Gap in Bryson City, North Carolina, where we’d planned to begin our hike.
Oh, did I mention the rain? From the time we crossed the Tennessee line, the rain never stopped. It could’ve been worse. It could’ve been a thunderstorm. But it was enough that we decided Charlie would need some boots after all, so we made a stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center just North of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Gatlinburg.
Finally, we were good to go! Just a quick stop by the park office to pick up a backcountry permit…
It didn’t occur to me when I was planning this trip, but apparently October is the park’s busiest month. Even on a rain-soaked Saturday, the backcountry campsites were nearly at capacity. It was much later in the day than we’d planned to start our hike (about 4 hours later), and we needed something relatively close if we were going to make camp by nightfall. We finally made it to the trail head beside this beautiful creek around 4 p.m. Eastern.
After a few photos, we hoisted our packs and headed for camp. The rain continued.
It was only about 3.5 miles to our campsite, but the rain, lack of sleep (I was running on 3 hours), and stiffness from all that time traveling in the Jeep made it feel much longer. Then there was this tiny ache I noticed in a tooth in the back of my mouth. Warning #4.
By the time we set up the tent, I was exhausted. There would be no fire. Any potential firewood was saturated by the day’s rainfall, and we hadn’t thought to pack a camp stove. But that’s OK. I was ready to crash.
After a cold breakfast, we packed up and hiked out. But I was determined to see more of the park. We fought traffic and finally made it to Newfound Gap. Then we drove up to Clingman’s Dome — hiking there had been the original plan — but the road was so packed with park visitors we abandoned our attempt to drive to the overlook. We did find some fantastic views and even saw a little wildlife.
After a very eventful two days, we made it home. Charlie made it to work, and I spent my last day of “vacation” getting a root canal on a broken tooth. Awesome.
But I did get a few good pictures, and I’m already planning my next trip. Ultimately, I’m glad we went — despite the warning signs — and even if everything turned out the same, I would definitely do it again. Sure it was a little disappointing, but things rarely go as planned, and that’s what makes it an adventure!