A couple noteworthy things happened during my last 24 hours in Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
First of all, I met Trevor. He is only 2 parks away from visiting every single national park. That’s incredible! I was able to ask him a ton of questions about his journey thus far and gleam some wisdom.
Secondly, I volunteered at the Tremont Institute, an environmental education center located within the Smokies. Throughout the summer, they have regular citizens (such as myself) show up in an attempts to monitor and assess bird populations. The staff and interns are incredibly passionate about their work. It was refreshing to chit chat with people who dedicate their lives to studying the ecology of a national park.
Cades Cove is a pretty neat little place. Long before the Smokies were established as a national park, settlers moved into the valley and created homesteads. Life was difficult, but these folks sure knew how to work hard, build community, and enjoy life in the mountains. Their daily routines revolved around feeding their families, heeding their religion, and, of course, keeping those moonshine stills running. Despite living miles apart and lacking good roads, the Cades Coves settlers made it a priority to get together for good ol’ fashioned parties (typically involving some type of work, mind you).
Life was simpler back then, but I’d still miss WiFi.
For 5 days in a row, I spent most of my waking moments in the great outdoors. After averaging about 6 miles of hiking a day, it’s incredible how accustomed I became to being in nature. I appreciated the solitude that comes from hours of meandering and exploring through the woods.
And so it felt odd to remain indoors for a couple of days. My legs felt listless and time seemed to move at a slightly different pace. While the average American spends 93% of their life indoors, I have come to learn that I function best when I can traipse along trails or sit quietly in a meadow observing what’s going on around me. I have a theory that most people would be much more centered if they simply let themselves be outside more frequently.
As my buddy John Muir once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
The Smokies are perfect for those seeking deliciously satisfying views. There are numerous drives, hikes, and strolls that take you to fabulous summits.
A popular destination within the Smokies is Clingman’s Dome. It’s a simple half-mile walk up a paved inclined trail that lands you at the base of an observation tower. On Monday, I trekked upwards along with throngs of tourists only to be disappointed by the hazy, crowded overlook.
On Thursday, I did a much more strenuous 2-mile hike to the summit of Chimney Tops. This hike was a test of endurance, grit, and quad muscles. Not only was the view astounding, it was so much more rewarding because I felt I actually had to work for it.
The easy way to the top wasn’t the best way; it was the effort and labor I invested in my Chimney Top climb that made the end experience so much more worth it. (Hopefully you’re understanding the life lesson in here).
No, I’m not talking about that convenient spigot full of fluoride-infused water that most Americans take for granted – I’m talking about rivers, streams, runs, brooks, creaks, and “cricks”. Great Smoky National Park is full of running water, flowing rapidly (yet sometimes leisurely) from the mountain crests.
I’ve been pretty spoiled to be able to hike along numerous streams, observe waterfalls, and even camp next to a river. The sound alone of cascading water is enough to make you feel like everything is all right in the world. I have come to the conclusion that running water is crucial, both to the various ecosystems dependent on its flow and to my own well-being.