You know those little towns where you stop and ask for directions and they reply with,
“Just keep going around the mountain til you come to Big Daddy’s. Hang a left, and then a right at the pharmacy. You’ll cross the railroad and see the river. Keep goin. When you come to the old cemetery on your left and the little white Baptist church on your right, you’re there!”
..I think those little towns are America’s best kept secrets.
Day two off the grid, just Dottie and me, and I've uncovered several of America's little secrets already. Met some unforgettable characters, had conversations that stuck, and maybe met a hidden secret or two of my own I didn't know were in there.
Day One: Jasper, TN. Dottie and I stopped at Shellmount Park for the night. Engulfed in trees, views of the Tennessee River and Nickajack Lake. Everything was perfectly quaint and serene. We made camp and for the first time in years, I had an amazing, long, unbroken sleep. It was incredible. I fell asleep naturally at 7pm and woke up at 6am. Absolutely amazing. I’ve never felt more rested. And waking up to the sounds of nature, rather than a blaring alarm clock was beyond comforting. In fact, I’ve made a strict no alarm rule this trip. I want to go to sleep when I’m tired, and wake up when nature calls. I think that makes sense. It’s in our nature and produces quality energy and sleep. The first day though, I found myself anxious, almost stressing to get it all done, get it all in. Do every little thing on that first stop. Looking at the clock, making sure I could hit all the to dos, each hiking spot, and places to see along the way before on to the next. It almost seemed like work. I got it all done, my heart beating a little too fast. I keep having moments of, “What do I need to be worried about/managing?!”….and “…oh yea. Nothing.” I could feel myself beginning to feel anxious about getting something done, and I would actively remind myself, “You have nothing to worry about. There is nothing to do. No place to be and no time you have to be there.” And in each of those moments, I looked back at Dottie, cool as a cucumber, just chillin, rollin. And I'm like... she gets it. See, take a lesson from your friend Dottie.
I viewed the edge of Nickajack Cave, before Dottie and I unexpectedly rolled into and stood in three states at once: Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. We even got photobombed by a herd of wild cattle while I snapped a photo of Dottie. #classic
We walked along breathtaking views of the Tennessee River and Nickajack Lake. I hit stop number two, a pit stop. Moccasin Bend in Chattanooga, TN. Beautiful hike just on the edge of the water, as well. I started to slow down a bit and became more aware of my rushing and anxiousness, and put in an effort to loosen the grasp and let it fall. I finished my hike and treaded on towards the Cherokee National Forrest. We stopped in the Ducktown, TN area. An unexpected overflow of campers—I should have known, it being the weekend and the height of Fall. No campgrounds in the area had any open slots. I pulled off to boat overflow parking where I saw two other RVs. Two older couples--super friendly people from Florida. They told me to park close and offered me some chili :) They’re retired and own homes in Florida, but said they live off grid in their camper during the winter months and on their house boat during the summer months. #dreams
It was kind of a blessing in disguise, the lack of openings in the National Parks. We got to sleep in the middle of the Cherokee National Forrest. Trees surrounded us, and a perfect view of the Ocoee River peaked through the Fall leaves. I’ve never slept so deep in my life. I was completely out from 8pm to 8am, when I woke to the rustling of those colorful leaves in the gentle wind. Truly wonderful. And it was a deep sleep. I’ve never felt so in touch with rest in my life. I got up and hiked the Clemmer Trail in the National Park. Great trail that led to Rainbow Falls. That entire walk I thought about time. Becoming even more aware of the fact that I had still been looking at the clock and why. I thought about that scene in Pocahontas (I know, lol) when she asks John Smith what his watch is. He explains to her that it tells time; tells them when to be where. And she’s baffled. You’re a slave to this?
I think somehow we’ve created a society of people that are slaves to time. Always in a hurry, rushing onto the next. It’s either “I’m late!” or “I’ve got to hurry!” or “I better run now so that I can get everything done!” Our entire day revolves around time. Our entire lives do. Rushing to and from, never enjoying the ride or walk there. It’s not about the journey anymore, it’s always about the destination. We can't rest until we arrive. We can't breath, laugh, or feel until we get to the stopping point. It's "WHEN I do this" and "WHEN I get here", when we have THIS much of THIS, THEN we can settle down and be happy. What about the in betweens? What happens on our way to work, or on that road trip to the vacation, or while we’re earning the money to buy that house, or killing ourselves to pay those bills? What about all of those times? Speaking for myself, I think I spend far too much time in my car with my shoulders tensed up, looking at the clock every 2 minutes, biting my nails, hoping I’m not late to my next meeting/class/client/party/outing/event. And not nearly enough time breathing, enjoying the view and moment without looking at the clock. And it was on that hike that I made a choice to not look at the clock so much this trip. It’s natural every now and then. But for the most part, I’m keeping my phone off. Which is easy because I haven’t had service 95% of the time on this journey anyway. I’m using it to take photos and pictures, to let my family know I’m still alive. But I don’t want to be a slave to time. I want to live authentically in the moment, enjoying the journey, thriving on the ride. Finishing up that hike in the Cherokee National Forrest, I felt my shoulders were a little less tense. My heart was relaxed, my body felt very much comfortable in its own. I walked on and felt that I had shed a layer. Hopefully the first of many on this trip.
And again, I got back in my Jeep. I looked back at Dottie, who's always enjoying the journey. Steady and sturdy as she blazes trails in style. She rides her own path. Effortlessly stands out and makes people watch :)