I timed getting out of bed with the opening of the Starbucks across the street from my hotel. 5:30 a.m. I gathered my things and walked out into the dark, wet morning. After getting the proper provisions of a Venti Dark Roast, cranberry scone and a banana, I set my phone's GPS and headed east. Supposedly the Smoky Mountains were out there somewhere although I hadn't seen any sign of them in my two and a half rainy days in Knoxville.
I drove through the dark for 30 minutes on the Lamar Alexander Parkway. All the while I was haunted by his horrible presidential campaign sign slogan... Lamar! My Venti fueled sense of humor couldn't stop saying it... Lamar!
The road started to climb, eventually hitting the small town of Townsend and then the sign for Smoky Mountain National Park. Left to Gatlinburg or right to Cades Cove. I had no real plan. The Johnny Cash line from A Boy Named Sue came into my head and I sung it out loud "Well, it was Gatlinburg in mid-July And I just hit town and my throat was dry". Gatlinburg was where I wanted to go, but it was three times as far as Cades Cove and I had a schedule to keep. I turned right. In a mile, it started snowing in the predawn light.
The road gained more elevation and became a spectacular tunnel through white and black lines of trees covered with wet snow. It was still too dark to photograph, but beautiful none the less. Cades Cove was a dead end with the road still closed for the season. I turned around and when the light broke, I stopped to make a few pictures.
I had told myself that I needed to start heading back to Knoxville by 8:00 a.m. Once it got light, time flew by and then was gone. Just a couple of hours later, I was in the airport and trying to get home with all the other business travel schleps.. Knoxville to Detroit. Sprinting between terminals on a Friday afternoon to make a tight connection. Detroit to Boston. A lost bag and Route 1 bumper to bumper traffic. Barely 12 hours later, here I sit editing photos and writing this post from my house in New Hampshire. Its hard not to feel like sometimes it all moves a little too fast. I just traveled half the Appalachian Trail in half a day. Where did the Smoky's go? But, I know I'm lucky to pack all of this living into a day.
Which reminds me... A great colleague of mine is retiring on March 18th. He'll fulfill one of his life's dreams when he starts the Appalachian Trail on April 1st. It will take him six months. Good luck Ray!