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U. S. A

Tennesse

Did I know what I was getting myself into when I agreed to a backcountry camping trip along the Application Trail? Did I think there would be spiders as large as my hand creepy around my bunk? No, I did not friends, no I did not. Yet, here is how the story goes. 

A rainy drive to Knoxville Tennessee led us to the Whole Foods and REI in order to stock up on some much-recommended bear spray, maps, bear bags and high-quality snacks that we would indeed hide from the bears. 

We browsed around Whole Foods and got in line for cash. Are you guys also amazed at how friendly the cashiers are at Whole Foods? They must love their jobs. I have frequented many a Whole Foods, but Cheryl is one employee that stood out to me. Cheryl was a story teller, and she began telling her story of her car problems at the very front of the cash line and continued chatting up 3 customers consecutive customers in until she reached us. Same story, different customers. By the time we got to cash, I imagine she was at the climax of the story, a story where she couldn’t find the time to get her car fixed and find the proper wing nuts. We smiled and listened, seriously having no clue what wing nuts were. Yet she continued talking, and perhaps the next couple in line would get the happy ending. We left with our bear supplies a little confused was glad to add the happy character of Cheryl to our 5-day hiking trip my friend Leslie and I had planned through the Smokey Mountains in Tenessee. 

Around a few turns and Smokey bends, we reached Cosby campground welcoming us to pitch our tent. The problem was the rain wouldn’t stop, and that seemed to be the theme of the trails. We slept in Leslie’s slightly roomy Toyota, and looked forward to waking the next morning with trails on the mind. 

The morning boasted dry and cool weather that proved awesome for a morning hike. Packed and ready to go we set off for the bush. The day was ahead of us, the TP and snacks were packed, and I was determined to keep bathroom breaks to a minimum in the bush. 5 miles in we saw our first hiker, solo and smelly we greeted him with a friendly hello. 7 miles in we reached the famed Appalachian Trail, the AT spans from Georgia to Maine, and if walked straight through would be a 5- month journey.

Crazy town.

We saw about 2 more people that day, and by the afternoon were completely soaked as the storms came over the mountain. The forest got dark and the trails got muddy. We were two girls alone in the forest with very little backcountry experience. Our minds were positive, and feet still optimistic even though a little wet. By 2:30pm, 13 miles in, we reached our shelter for the night. The designated overnight shelters sleep about 10-12 people on wooden slabs in a 3 walled cabin. Your food or any scented objects must be separated from the sleeping shelters, hung up on a nearby tree with specific hanging instructions. 

So now It’s 3 pm, the forest is dark as night because of the storm, and it is literally raining buckets. I’m feeling a little alone in the world. Attempt number 3 to hang the bear bag faults, so we give up and see if the rain lets out. Nope. 

We opt for nap time, I go to lay out my sleeping bag and mat only to see a brown furry spider the size of my palm looking at me. Um. No thank you. GAH!

I tell Leslie and we question our choices. Only to find one making a home on her coat!! GAH 

No no no. Not cool. 

What are our options? It’s pouring rain, in the middle of the day, no hope of hanging a bear bag and an evening spent with 2 larger than life spiders. We do only what you should do. Give up.

Okay, I know that’s not what they teach you as a child. But we needed to give up. Maybe not give up- but refer to Plan B. 

Plan B is now in effect. We whip out our National Geographic map and find that there is a road about 2 miles away. Doin’ it.

We make our way to the wet road, and see a kind hearted soul with a trunk full of snacks and water for weary hikers! How nice. In our minds, we had though perhaps she could drive us back to our car? but she was awaiting friends at the trailhead. We thanked her for the sun chips and water and went on our way down the highway. So, headed down the winding highway towards our base camp site in hopes of catching a ride with a passerby. Probably not the wisest of choices but our minds had reached a high level of desperation.

Within about 20 minutes we saw our first car… going the opposite way. Then, a ray of hope! A large gold pickup slowed down and a man and his toothy wife slowed down and kindly said to get in. We met James and his smiley wife. James sported a duck dynasty T-shirt and a uber thick Kentucky accent. He felt bad for us, and insisted Leslie drink his unopened Gatorade. James winded down the road avoiding fallen trees along the highway. He kept referring to BURS as he told stories of the highway. I was ready to ask what “burs” were when I realized he was talking about BEAR sightings. Cool story bro.

I’m glad we didn’t see any bears face to face. It wasn’t until the day after that we saw a bear, few elk, turkey and deer. I’m thankful those were in the confines of our car. 

James and his wife dropped us off at our campsite. With many thanks and God Bless yous, we left James and reflected on what just happened! We were very thankful to be back at our campsite away from the woodland spiders and dark, empty forest. We set up tent only to have another storm descend on us. We tried to think of better things, yet the wind started picking up- moving our little two-person tent from side to side. We pulled out our devotions at this point, and decided to change our minds. I chose to read the story of Jonah. How ironic, where Jonah gets caught in a storm, gets thrown overboard and swallowed by a fish. Interesting. At that moment we heard a snap right beside our heads. Omigosh!!” I think that’s a branch”, I said to Leslie. Sure enough a branch had just missed our heads. 

That was it, we bolted to the car and called it a night inside the Toyota as the storms passed. 

Adventurous souls as we are, we had our limits challenged by the natural forces of the forest. The following days in the Smokey Mountains we toured the waterfalls and scenic drives listening to Gungor and taking in creation. We hiked 15 miles up to Mount Conte with very Smokey views and tried to put the smell of wet hiking boots behind us. This was a beautiful chance to see the mountains on the East coast and come to the conclusion that hiking the entire Appalachian Trial wasn’t going to be part of the bucket list. 

Touring the little towns, Native Reservations and hikes were highlights as we headed back home to the true North. Always up for adventure, I browsed my WORLD travel guide as we drove home. Dark forests, spiders, and thunderstorms weren’t going to stop us from travelling. An element of uncertainty and fear hit me during parts of this trip. Various times I thought, we could have seriously been injured! Travelling is risk taking, especially when you don’t have international travel coverage. (Doing that next time mom). Yet thankful for the stories the friends and family that support us, and the earth that we have been given to enjoy. 

Brittany Hayward