Our first stop in the Smokies was at Cades Cove. We drove the loop and saw lots of wildlife, including a black bear. Good thing we were in our car and there were park rangers standing guard so I felt completely safe. The bear could have cared less about the dozen or so people taking pictures of him from the roadside, he was probably too busy foraging for food.
We drove up one of the mountain roads and went on a short hike.
Just look at that view!
It was my brilliant idea to stay in a tipi. Ebert grew up camping and has wanted us to camp together for sometime but I haven't camped since I was a kid so I wasn't as excited about it...tipi camping was our compromise. I was truly excited about this experience though. All of the reviews raved about what a magical experience it was. The tipi was decorated with cute vintage furniture, had a full size futon mattress and came stocked with everything you need. The hosts even bring you fresh homemade bread, hen eggs and milk for breakfast. I was even excited about the outdoor shower and composting outhouse. Can you believe that? Everything about the tipi sounded so unique and lovely!
But the one thing we didn't think about, and that none of the reviews mentioned, was that a tipi doesn't have zippers or nets so anything creepy crawly can come in and anything creepy crawly did. I can't be certain because I was half-asleep but I think something was on our bed that I kicked onto the floor. I vaguely remember feeling the weight of something by my feet and the second after I kicked it off there was a sound on the tipi rock floor. At first I thought maybe it was the comforter but then I kicked the comforter around and there was no way it could have moved the rocks enough to make any kind of sound. There were other noises outside the tipi we weren't sure about and even Ebert got a little nervous. He would hear something, sit up in bed and shine the flashlight around but we never saw anything. He finally figured out what the sounds were, or at least he thinks he did. He says they were moths flying between the flaps of the tipi and the sound was their wings brushing up against the material. I'm not so sure about that, but at least he was able to fall asleep. He tried to reassure me by saying that you get used to the sounds of the forest after a night or two. You might be thinking that I'm too accustomed to city life and not used to being in nature but Ebert did have to brush a few beetle like bugs off of him so there were definitely creepies in the tipi. I think if we had the safety of a zipper, even though a tent zipper isn't really going to protect you from anything big it just gives a sense of security, I would have been able to sleep but sleep evaded me that night. I would try to sleep but as soon as I'd turn the flashlight off the pitch blackness (and my imagination) would cause all of this anxiety. I'd have to turn the flashlight back on to calm myself. Ebert told me I could sleep with the flashlight on but even that didn't help so I stayed up all night reading.
Once the light of day appeared I was finally able to get a couple hours of sleep. It was really a disheartening experience for me, I felt like I was ruining our vacation especially since this was all my idea- Ebert assured me I was not. But here we were surrounded by the beauty of nature making breakfast on the camp stove listening to the babble of the creek and the birds chirping and it was so serene, but the magic wasn't there for me. What was I missing? Why was I so nervous being isolated from the outside world? Maybe I'm not as adventurous as I thought. And if that's true then what does this say about me? I'm probably putting too much thought into this, trying to find a bigger life lesson here. It could just be that I don't like camping or bugs crawling on me and that's perfectly fine. I am, however, willing to try camping again but it will have to be in a tent and without the creepy crawlies.
We still wanted to explore more of the park so after breakfast we went off to see what we could see .
We did a short one-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail.
If you're looking for a good book to read this summer then I highly suggest A Walk in the Woods. It's Bill Bryson's story of his adventure walking the Appalachian Trial. It's a great combination of humor and history. I haven't finished reading the book yet but I know for certain that the one-mile we walked was enough for me. I just found out that a movie version was made. I think the cast is great so hopefully the movie is as good as the book.
We came across a fallen tree in the middle of the road. It was a fun afternoon exploring.
And the Smokies are beautiful.
However, I really couldn't handle another sleepless night so at lunch I proposed an alternate ending to our trip. Thank goodness Ebert agreed. We left the Smoky Mountains and arrived back in the Nashville area just in time for this picturesque sunset. We're so thankful for our friends who were kind enough to let us spend the last couple of days of our trip back at their lake house. It was the perfect way to end our vacation...and critter free!
Of course, the next morning we awoke feeling great! A full night's sleep, without the fear of something crawling on you, makes everything better. We enjoyed a leisurely morning on the deck eating breakfast, drinking coffee and reading. Our activity for that day was going to be either a hike or kayaking. Ebert and I both really wanted to kayak but the weather report said there was a storm coming so we decided to go on a hike. We figured if we got caught in a storm it would be better to be under the protection of trees rather than in the middle of a lake. The hike was more rigorous than we expected- it's quite steep in some areas and in no time at all I was huffing and puffing. It's also a very dense trail. The path is along the lake but is so full of trees that we couldn't see the water even though we were just a hundred yards or so away. And because of the overgrown vegetation we had to watch out for ticks and poison ivy. Ugh! Then there was the posted sign at the trail head warning hikers about the venomous snakes in the area. Double ugh! Needless to say I was a little worried throughout the hike but luckily we didn't encounter anything and since I survived unscathed I can say that it was a nice hike.
After our hike we had a picnic and went swimming in the lake to cool off. We didn't get to swim for very long before the predicted storm came through, but we did sit under the cover of the trees for a while enjoying the rain sprinkling down on us.
Our route home was through the backroads of Tennessee and Kentucky. It was fun meandering on these roads seeing all the lush, green farmland. But somehow we missed a turn along the way and as we were making our way back to the right road we saw a sign for an artisan cheese shop so we had to stop. We ended up at Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese and it was the best detour ever. First of all, the cheeses we sampled were amazing! They were so good that we had to buy 3 different kinds to bring home with us. The other great part about this experience was just how friendly Jeanette, the manager of the cheese shop was. She took us back to where they were making cheese and gave us so much information about cheese-making and the history of Kenny's Cheese. It was a lovely stop along the way. And, luckily for us, Kenny's is sold locally in a few shops around Chicago.
Even with one anxiety-ridden, sleepless night we still had a great vacation. These past weeks have been like a mini-summer retreat. But I'm definitely ready to get to work creating my happy!