As of recent I’ve had some significant life changes come about my way. Truthfully though they may have come about at the right time. I won’t speak directly of what they are just yet because you only need to know that they have humbled me and given me a second chance to venture even further into a life of what I cherish. When I was young I believe I started on a walkabout of sorts and simply put I’m seeing now that it may never be completed. Theres so much out there within this country (and beyond) that it would be an injustice to simply live stagnate and never explore it. Keep in mind this could simply be a walk to the store or a hike through the forest you pass ten times a day, just seeing it first hand and being within those moments I feel you’ll find that sense of reality, adventure and a deeper appreciation of life.
Last week my Father retired from his 30 year position in law enforcement and corrections (congrats old man!). Naturally I felt it would be a great opportunity to celebrate in his achievements. I listened to stories of past occurrences and indulged in a delicious lunch that was provided to us with a lot of people I recall meeting at a much younger age. It’s funny because some of them didn’t even recognize me today. Later that evening App State had a football game against Ga. Southern and we continued the party in true App State fashion. Being that the game was held at home in Boone I knew we would be in the mountains and in a place that I honestly felt drawn to for some reason. The whole experience was stellar, we pre-gamed with a slue of shots and my Floridian ways came about with Coronas and oranges (naturally). The temperatures began to plummet into the 40’s and then the fog and light rain emerged making for a rather chilly adjustment to life in the mountains in the Carolinas. I gained access to the field through my cunning and harmless ways. The images that followed I personally feel would give any ESPN photographer a run for their money, but thats just me..
after the game we ventured onward to the “Troy House”. A hidden gem of sorts. Nestled away in the mountains nearby. Night made it difficult to appreciate the magnitude and beauty of the place. Morning was upon us, several more drinks chatting with the guys and some oven baked pizzas led me to comatoseis. After some statistical chat on ASU’s achievements that morning our goodbyes were said. We shared some laughs as we set out towards home.
The drive home was immensely beautiful, with each turn I felt all of the heartache and pain back in Florida releasing its grip from my mind and soul. The radio was almost near silent and with the window open I gazed at the gin clear river carved along the roadside as the cool crisp morning air grazed my face. The sun had just peaked over the mountains, with rays of light racing through the fog occasionally defeated by tree limbs. The mornings light illuminated the landscape like something one would call “The shire”. It was curiosity that fixed my attention on each of the rifles and calm waters found behind the statuesque boulders. The earth protruded from the underwater world I longed to see and embrace. It’s almost as if they were tired of being in the cold frigid waters of a realm I respectfully refer to as “white water”. My father glanced at me and said “I feel tired but I’m not, I can’t really explain it”. I responded moments later with the only logical thing I could think to say at the time, “Same here, It’s relaxing, no worries at all, I believe its called relaxation”. within this moment we both agreed and silently smiled.
This afternoon I spent time with my some of my distant NC family; Mother, Father, Aunt, Uncle and niece. It was great just to be in the company of wholesome like minded people that I have missed for so long. The therapeutic benefits were priceless. Although my face hurt from laughing and smiling I knew this was a welcomed pain and it continued into the evening. The next morning I was confronted with the solo portion of my journey. It was intended that Nate and I were to meet Friday morning at my parents house, however he had family coming into town that Sunday and had some final preparations to make before their arrival. Truthfully, we really didn’t have a dead set destination planned, I somewhat winged it as I knew I’d be sleeping within the comforts of my Jeep. For all intensive purposes I knew I could simply park someplace and go to sleep if needed.
The original thought had always been to see the Smoky Mountains, and did I ever.. Pictures never seem to give the full feeling and sense of enormity as actually being there in person. The morning was a chilly 27 degrees, knowing my heat in the Jeep never really worked the greatest I kept my clothing heavy. A quick stop to top off fuel and grab some coffee proved to be just what the proverbial doctor ordered. with my destination set I was on my way. The rambling of the days past events and moments still rang in my mind and the music seemed to drone out the sound of the wind and noises Toto (my Cherokee) creates at highway speeds. Not long into the trip I came across a large section in the median of the expressway that was home to an abundance of sunflowers. It seemed as if the cold front had made them wilted and they looked very callused to life on the cold expressway median. I took a couple of quick pictures and headed on knowing I had quite the journey ahead.
Once I reached Asheville the mountains began to make their appearance once again, and were they ever welcomed. Two hours later and I was amid large cutaways through the mountains. Occasional tunnels and some downshifting here and there due to the steep grades I came across a sign that read “Great Smoky Mountains National Park”. On a whim I decided to check it out, Enter the Foothills Parkway.
I really wasn’t expecting this random stop to be anything of stature but given the location how could it not? It was an amazing introduction into what was ahead. The mountain ranges seemed to roll on forever and their beauty was shrouded in a blue haze of sorts, I suppose thats where the term “Smoky mountains” came about.
The sun was high and the temperatures climbed into the mid 40’s. enough for me to shed my jacket down into a long sleeve shirt. windows down, music cranked up and I found pure bliss. Toto and I made it, and it felt great. It was in the minutes sitting at the Foothills Parkway that the name of my Cherokee came about. As I sat there on the roof of it staring out across the mountains I mumble to myself, “Were not in Florida anymore Toto”. like a lightbulb in my head I knew it was meant to be, for nearly the last two years I’ve pondered names for this truck and none ever seemed to fit it. At work we have named our trucks so it was only a mater of time before the personal rigs were named as well.
I rolled into Historic Downtown Gatlinburg TN. and quite honestly I had mixed emotions about it. I embarked on this trip in some part to free myself from large cities and tourist traps and here I was over 800 miles from home, smack in the middle of one again (Palm-to-Face). This place seemed interesting though, with the shops ranging from breweries to outdoor sporting shops it looked like a place I could enjoy spending a day walking about. This day however, was intended for mountains and wilderness. I didn’t have too much free time and every turn was calculated so that I could find my way to a camp spot my good friend Lj informed me of. Nestled in the Nantahala Forest (about 2.5 hr’s from my current location) I knew I wouldn’t have much time here in the Gatlinburg chain of the smoky’s so I attempted to “sponge myself” into this unknown wilderness.
I entered the park and was immediately overwhelmed with the amount of like minded people visiting the park. The welcome center was over maximum capacity and the road to the summit and other attractions like cling mans dome was a wait that honestly didn’t have the time for (kinda sad to say but, this will require another trip, hopefully with my friends to experience much more extended and in depth trip). After sitting in almost two and a half hours of traffic between downtown Gatlinburg and the road through the park I had to turn around and find an overlook to enjoy for a little while. I helped a few couples get pictures marked off their list and had several ask if I wanted my own picture. I respectfully declined and replied “nobody wants to see my ugly mug” we shared in laughter and awkward silence for a few moments before I found my way back to Toto for a beverage. With my shiny red and blue can of energy in my hand I fueled my mind and headed out to search for camp in the Nantahala Forest.
On a side note I missed the correct location that I was pointed towards and found myself on the wrong side of Nantahala. By the time I realized this I was over an hour and ten minutes out of my way and that much further from finding my camp for the night. With the GPS reconfigured I embarked on backtracking through one of the most ridiculous and insanely beautiful drives I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. Everything from the elevation changes and tight narrow switchback turns looking over the side of gaurdrails to sheer 400+ feet drops into canyons was spectacular. The sun was setting over the mountains and the moment seemed unreal. As I exited the apex of a blind corner I found a lonely overlook that looked as if God himself placed it there for me to see. I pulled over and willingly waisted another 30 minutes embracing the spectacle unfolding before me. With Dallas Green playing melodies in the background It only solitified the foundation and reason for why I do these things.
They’re never guaranteed and often unknown until that moment arises but when it does I know deep down in my heart this journey of mine through life isn’t for nothing. I have a future ahead to share with my Two wonderful children, family and friends that no amount of money, pain or struggle could hold me from. I’ve said it a thousand times now I’m sure but, Life is what you make of it. Work hard, stand for what you believe in and love like nobody else on this planet.
until next time,
Christopher & Toto xoxo.