I know there are plenty of folks who head to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park and surrounding area and never take a hike or go for a walk. I have seen them. I have overheard them mock folks like me in my muddy hiking shoes and backpack looking disheveled after a long morning navigating a mountain trail. Little do they know that I ALWAYS look that way! (Disheveled – not muddy. . .) I have watched in amusement as they have baled out of an easy walk in the woods because of all of “the bugs and dirt” or because they “don’t do nature?!?!?” I grew up in a family that proudly went to national parks and state parks – but DROVE around in them rather than hiking or walking in them. . . (Oh – the shame and the horror!)
Not me. Not Jason. We would never drive – if we didn’t need to in order to survive life in the modern world. Walking and hiking are our preferred forms of mobility. We walk and hike a fair bit even in a biggish city like Louisville. And honestly – walking and hiking in a city (any city) isn’t what makes our hearts sing. We are both tree hugging – nature nuts who live in a city because that is where the work – I love is . . .
Hiking and walking in the woods and walking and hiking in nature. . . These feed – restore – and revive my soul. These are essential vacation pursuits.
Sometimes we walk and hike with the ENTIRE family. And sometimes we hike and walk just the two of us. Both are delightful and joyful and filled with blessings – BUT they are very – Very – VERY different pursuits. So different . . .
Hikes with the whole family start later in the day. Often significantly later! All 4 Louisville McFarlands are morning people. But not all of our beloved – extended family members are morning folks. A few of them are very – very firmly planted in the “night owl” camp! (Vacationing with our extended family reminds us of the importance of compromise and accepting others as the good Lord made them! We hope they feel the same way about us.)
And these family hikes are hilariously chatty – chattery – teasing – joking – storytelling – NOISY reminiscing affairs.
We play the “Remember when game . . .” Remember when John hid behind that huge tree up there and jumped out at scared Linda so badly – she screamed? (John does this a lot.) Remember when Will was so small Jason wore him in a backpack carrier the whole way up and down the mountain? Remember when we saw all of the rattlesnakes? Remember when Katherine (one of the dogs) laid down in the trail and refused to walk another step? (Yes – she does that EVERY year!)
There is A LOT more cajoling – coaxing – encouraging and general persuading. Some in our clan are still in the training (brainwashing) stage of this whole hiking business and spend FAR too much time during these hikes lobbying to quit so we can go to the arcade . . . or play in the river for a month. (They often win on the river but NEVER on the arcade. Arcading only happens AFTER the hiking is done and dusted!)
We don’t see a lot of wildlife on these hikes (our extended family IS the wildlife). But we do make so many memories and we laugh and catch-up and listen and enjoy being together. We delight in the blessings of family and God’s creation.
We do savor these times together.
When Jason and I hike together. It is so – So – SO much quieter! We start much earlier. We often set off before anyone – but Will and his Mimi are awake.
And we almost always choose a trail “less traveled.” We have a greatest hits list of favorite trails that are much less popular with those folks who don’t really know the National Park very well. We tend to skip Laurel Falls and the Alum Cave Trail and the Trail to Chimney Tops because those trails are jam-packed with hikers. They are lovely trials. We have hiked all of them multiple times – but so is EVERYONE else in the universe these days!
Experience has taught us that there are much – Much – MUCH better options for us. Options that suit our need for peace and quiet and solitude. Options that offer far less humanity and far more stillness.
My current favorite trail is the Schoolhouse Gap Trail. It meanders by a mountain stream for a while and isn’t particularly popular with other humans. I think we saw 4 other hikers on the trail the entire time we were out.
And the very first time Jason and I hiked this trail we saw twin bear cubs! (So – the nature sightings have been awesome on this trail!) We didn’t see any bear cubs this hike – but we saw so many other wonderfully beautiful – nature-y sights.
The rhododendron bushes/trees were blooming.
The raspberries were ripening (probably why we saw bears back this way . . .)
The ferns were lush.
The wildflowers were lovely.
And the moss – I love moss!
I never wanted to leave – but Jason said I had too . . . Something about having a 9-year-old son we needed to finish raising and a mortgage and 3 cats and a big-girl job?!?!?! (He can be such a meany-pants . . .)
Anyway – nature and hiking and hanging out in the woods is my happy place! What is yours?