Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Journal of the Smokies: 27th Birthday

Has it really been a month since I've turned 27 years old? I suppose so. It's funny how I've noticed time flying now, each year getting shorter and shorter as my relative sense of time expands. When I was a kid, days dragged on forever. Now, I actually have to utilize to-do lists or nothing gets done and I've wasted the day away. This is one of those lessons, I think, everyone learns but can't adequately be described until you yourself have experienced it.

I chose to spend my 27th birthday in the Smokies since I needed to get away from my routine. March 24th is a precarious date for weather; last year there was a blizzard and I spent the day snowed in. Had I the time and money available, I would have spent my continuous celebration of marching into adulthood in Yosemite or Colorado. By no means is the Great Smoky Mountains a poor mans anything, so welcoming another year as spring came to the Smokies seemed like a good alternative. It gave me something to look forward to after a painfully long and solitary winter. Also, I never have big important things for my birthday - usually, they tend to be ho-hum affairs with little if any fanfare. My golden birthday, my 24th, I spent going to class, then to work, and then going to bed at 8:00. If I've learned anything in the three years since it's that I want to make memories, and I want special occasions to be special because these moments only last now.

Andrew and I have already chronicled some stories and locations we visited on our most recent trip, and honestly my birthday itself was just what I need: a slow day of relaxation in the mountains. Barring the FFA convention going on in Gatlinburg, there really wasn't a sense of overcrowding (at least, I didn't feel it so much.). Having woken up earlier than everyone else I decided to take a short walk with my new camera. I found myself on the edge of Gatlinburg where the National Park meets the town's borders and so I ventured down the Gatlinburg Trail, a 2 mile walk to the Sugarlands Visitor Center that connects the town with the park for hikers and joggers.

I only managed to make it in about a half mile though, as I didn't have my phone with me and I figured I should probably not just make plans to hike indefinitely without others knowing my whereabouts. See? I AM maturing! As I walked side by side with the river that led me back to town, I felt more calm and balanced than I have in a long time. It really is remarkable how a walk through nature really lifts spirits and patches together those pieces of us that were tearing apart from stress, boredom, monotony, and inconvenience.

Walking back through town, I passed  the NOC (or, Nantahala Outdoor Center) store that's on the edge of town. Gatlinburg boasts a variety of tourist spots that could appeal to every kind of visitor that comes to the resort town, but NOC is my favorite place to be. I love looking at the gear that they have and thinking about hiking the trails or camping with it, and plus they have a really cool suspension bridge in the store.

When I arrived back to the hotel room, everyone else was finally awake and starting to get around for the day. One thing Gatlinburg does not lack is pancake houses; the town has at least three or four on their main street and I imagine others are tucked throughout. I have an unashamed and unconditional love for pancakes and so it was fitting, although I was supposed to be trying out the paleo diet at the time, that one should herald their late 20s by stuffing their face with carbs. I regret nothing. If you find yourself in Gatlinburg before the breakfast rush around 10:00, I highly recommend trying out a place and getting a homemade shortstack for yourself. 

The rest of the day was spent touring the park; a quick once-over of Cade's Cove to look for bears and an old homestead I had heard about on my first time hiking the Cove (neither were found), and a trek up to Newfound Gap to enjoy the clear view. While up at Newfound Gap we saw a couple of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers emerge from the trail to wait in the parking lot for a ride into town. Next year, that'll be us. 

Back towards town we made a stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to hike the nature loop; it really brought back memories of family hikes in Forest Glen with laughing and talking and just family time. A delicious meal at Smoky Mountain Brewery, and a few beers with the brothers later and I accomplished my mission: ringing in 27 on my own terms, in my own way, where I wanted to be - with the people I love surrounded by nature. 

No comments :

Post a Comment