We woke up to the sound of rain early this morning. We closed down camp and got ready to roll without getting too wet. It’s a good thing we didn’t try to wait it out because we drove in steady rain for several hours before breaking through to dryer conditions around 11:00. The drive across Alabama and Mississippi brings us to Paul B. Johnson state park near Hattiesburg. We are camped on a finger of land at a nice, tree lined lake. However, as we arrived in late afternoon it was about 90 degrees and we are feeling the humidity. Still, it’s a pretty spot. We’ll probably use the air conditioner in the camper tonight for the first time since the first day or two of our trip.
We still have a week to go, but in a sense this was turnaround day. It was with a sense of sadness that we hooked up the camper and drove out of the GSMNP. Leaving that beautiful place is difficult enough, but it also marked our first step toward home.
It was just a small step though. Just south of Chattanooga in Georgia we arrived at Cloudlands State Park. I don’t know how much elevation we gained as we left the town of Trenton and began to climb but I did see the outside temperature drop from 87 down to 79 by the time we got to the park entrance. Cloudlands is a good way to ease one’s way out of the magical Smokies. We gave up an awesome place, but exchanged it for a nicer campground with water and electricity (including a bathhouse with hot showers if we want to use them instead of the camper’s). All the while we are in a deeply wooded, mountain park. We’ll look around more tomorrow, otherwise, we’re going to spend a couple of nights relaxing and maybe, just a little, start looking to reentry into real life.
Sunday morning we headed into Townsend, TN for church. We spotted a Baptist church up on a hill with a large cemetery and decided to visit there. It was a good service. There were patriotic songs in observance of Memorial Day, but then the choir sang a worshipful song and the pastor brought a solid salvation message about Jesus being the Living Water. Of the three churches we have visited thus far, this one was the most satisfying to me. There was a freedom and genuine flavor to the service that made me feel at home.
After church we returned back to the park via a longer scenic route. We drove up to Tremont Institute and then took the trail up to the Spruce Flats Falls they told us about. The trail was just a mile, but it was rougher than we expected, with scrambling over rocks and roots. Once we got to the falls it was truly beautiful. By the time we got back to the pickup we were ready to call it a day. Since this is a holiday weekend the park is packed. We had to wait through a traffic jam just to be back to the campground. Since it is full, things are pretty much the same here with lots of noise from kids playing. I have no complaints about that because it is happy noise.
We arrived in Cades Cove Campground here in GSMNP on Thursday afternoon and are set up in a nice site. It isn’t as spectacular as the one in Elkmont was, but it’s another good spot. Since this is Memorial Day weekend we have plenty of company. The ranger told me they have a “full house” this weekend. Yesterday we drove the Cades Cove loop, an 11 mile loop that features homesteads and churches from the old community and also large open fields which are good for viewing wildlife. We got up this morning and drove the loop again and saw deer, turkey, and bear. It was pretty neat. Our purpose in getting out this morning was to hike the trail to Abrams Falls. It is a 5 mile round drip and considered to be a “moderate” trail. The hike was a good one and the falls are impressive. It is a truly beautiful spot.
Sad to say I got back to the campground with a bad headache. I took some pills and lay down. That helped but I still had a headache when I woke up. After more pills and some supper I feel I am back to 75% or so. Tomorrow should be a pretty low key day for us.
Tuesday was a wonderfully lazy day. We went out to eat good BBQ for an early lunch, stopped off at the store for a few items, and then came “home” to take a nap and read a fiction book. It was such a “do-nothing” day that I had to remind myself not to feel guilty.
Today, we looked through a couple of outlet malls, ate a Krystal’s hamburger (almost as good as a White Castle!) and then rode the trolley over to Gatlinburg. We strolled through town then rode back. Jackie is doing some food preparation for the next few days and I’m keeping an eye on the laundry.
We’re preparing for another sojourn in the wilderness. We’ll leave the comfort of full hook ups and the crowded conditions of the RV park to set up in Cades Cove in the GSMNP. We’ll be back to our own devices, relying on the camper’s resources for the next four nights. Two of my purchases today were in preparation for this jaunt. First, I purchased an old fashioned coffee pot – last week we boiled water and then poured it through a filter. Now, we’ll be able to make coffee on the stove. Second, in preparation for more mountain cold nights, I bought a catalytic heater and fuel. I couldn’t resist it when I saw it in the Coleman outlet store for just $23. Normally it would run $35+. So, we should stay warmer in the “between sleeping bag hours” of evening and early morning.
Of course, this means no Internet for awhile. I’ll keep writing and will post updates as I can. Meanwhile, we’ll focus on enjoying the beautiful mountains. That’s what brought us here in the first place.
The expense of living like this constantly takes me off guard. We intend to keep this as light as possible on the bank account, but money flows at every turn. As I just described, I made a couple of purchases in preparation for the next few nights. Right now I am doing three loads of laundry. The cost will come in just under $10. While we are camping, we want a camp fire each night. That means we purchase firewood. The cost of that is around $3 a night. Even doing stuff like this on the cheap is expensive! I’m not complaining though. We are thankful we can stretch a bit and enjoy this, our first major break in over eight years.
We had never tested our Casita’s dry camping ability, so our three night stay at Elkmont was an uncertain one. The report card comes out pretty good. On the third evening we ran out of fresh water. Even though we ran out of water, if we were careful we still had room for one or two more night’s waste water in the holding tanks. Therefore, I carried water from a drinking fountain across the campground in one gallon water jugs and poured them into the fresh water tank. Propane and battery power held out just fine. The conclusion is that we can be fairly liberal with the Casita’s resources if we are willing to hook up and move to a dump station and refill with fresh water every two days. If we are careful and have a fresh water source we can last for, barely, four days. On the “thoughtful” front, I can’t help but note how priorities change when one is out in a small camper like this. At home, such as I just described never enters my mind. I think it’s a good thing once in a while to “unplug” from many of the things we take for granted and let other things (like: how will we keep warm without a furnace) take over. It’s good to be without a cellphone or TV and resort to building a campfire for both warmth and the evening’s entertainment. Somehow, I need to find ways to incorporate that realization into my everyday life.
On the other hand, we moved from the beautiful Elkmont camp with no hookups into Walden’s Creek RV Park in Pigeon Forge. I backed into the site, and had everything from sewer to electric to cable TV ready to hook up. However, I also have neighbors a few feet from me on all sides. No quiet mountain scene, no river rapids outside my door and privacy a bit hard to come by. Instead of waterfalls and wildlife and trails we have outlet malls and restaurants and amusement parks nearby. Those things aren’t bad. In fact, it’s a nice contrast. Still, this isn’t the “sabbatical feeling” I am looking for.
We’ve been dry camping in the national park in one of the most beautiful spots imaginable. However, last night we ran out of water. I have carried some water back to the camper to get us through another night but we’ll move back out to civilization tomorrow. We won’t be in such a nice spot, but we’ll have a few more creature comforts. I guess all of life has trade offs, even camping.
With the sun shining and things warming up nicely, we drove into Gatlinburg and then up another park road. It is a beautiful drive and we stopped to hike a mile and a half up to Grotto Falls. What a gorgeous spot. We sat and ate a snack and soaked up the view before returning back to the pickup. From there it was back through the traffic jam called Gatlinburg and back into our entrance to the park. The rest of the day will consist of watching the whitewater just behind the camper, reading, and just maybe a nap! If the camper battery, water, and gas hold out we may just stay here an extra day rather than returning to civilization on Monday.
Yesterday we moved from the Ela campground near Bryson City, NC over the top of the mountains to the Gatlinburg, TN side of the Smokies. We are now in the Elkmont camp in GSMNP. That means there are no hookups and it also means that we are about as beautiful a camping spot as you’ve ever seen. We have a flowing stream just a few feet behind us and wonderful green mountains all around us. When we got here it was cold and spitting rain. The night was a cold one, down to around 40. Our camper has no on board heat, but we were able to keep things comfortable using the stove. That isn’t the best way to heat, but we kept a couple of windows open a few inches for oxygen, and when we went to bed we shut it down and crawled into our double sleeping bag. We slept great, although when we got up we could see our breath! Once the stove was lit and some coffee was made it was just fine again.
This morning we hiked a short trail to Juneywhank Falls in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Bryson City, NC. It is a terrific spot. At the time we mistakenly thought there were some other nearby falls so we didn’t stay there as long as we would have otherwise. After leaving the falls we hiked on up the trail for about a half hour before deciding we had had enough for the day. I walk a lot, but, since we live in the flat lands, the up and down mountain hiking works the leg muscles in an entirely different way.
It’s a good thing we got our hike in this morning, as we have a drizzly, lazy afternoon going now. We have the awning up and are sitting outside enjoying the 65 degree mountain air. Tomorrow we head up into the GSMNP for some camping. That means no Internet, no cell phone, no electricity. It also means quiet, majestic beauty. It sounds like a good trade to me.