I’ve been saying for around a year that we’ve lived in Knoxville for two years, but we’re now less than a month from two-and-a-half years, or 30 months, in Knoxville. The thing I like most about living in Knoxville is the proximity to the Smoky Mountains and Great Smoky Mountain National Park. Knoxville is only 45 minutes from the National Park (at least the beginning of the Tremont and Abrams Creek areas; an hour to the Cosby area; and an hour and change to the Elkmont area). Before I forget, I wanted to try to quickly record for posterity some adventures-most with family, some solo, and some with friends-over the last 30 months.
June, 2018: my brother and I backpacked a few miles in from the Abrams Creek trailhead, and woke up the next morning and ran to Abrams Falls. After setting up our campsite, an elderly man wandered in in the pitch black; he had driven from the Northeast to explore the Smokies, as he said he had for many years. I admit we were worried at first, but as the night and time has passed, it became a part of a memorable first trip.
December, 2018: good friends drove to Knoxville to join in a weird, cold, 33-mile one-day run from Abrams Creek trailhead to Gregory Bald and back. We had to ford Abrams Creek at the end after losing sight of one another on the last trail, an watching the sunset from the Rabbit Creek trail.
June, 2019: Katie, our little one, and I hiked about halfway toward Abrams Falls - a beautiful, perfect day, and our longest hike with the little one (and one of the last in which he let us carry him in a backpack carrier).
July, 2019: An overnight trip with a neighbor who has hiked every trail in the park (and so is a part of the 900-mile club). We started at Newfound Gap, above 5,000 feet, hiking to Charlie’s Bunion, and then down the North Carolina side of the mountains to the low-lying Kephart Shelter. I saw a bear around 100 feet ahead of me on the first trail down from the ridgeline.
December, 2020: My friend Kevin meeting me in Cosby. We hiked to the Cosby Nob shelter on a warm day, and decided to set off for Mount Guyot, the fourth-highest peak in the Eastern U.S. (above 6,600 feet) and around 6.5 miles away, starting around 5 pm. We sort of made it; it’s a long story.
March, 2020: My parents, visiting right before and then for awhile during the pandemic, hiked with me and the little one to Spruce Flat Falls from the Great Smoky Mountains Institute in the Tremont area while Katie worked; a tough, fun hike, one that started the pattern of us carrying the little one on our backs without a carrier.
April, 2020: Katie, our little one, and I hiked to backcountry campsite 18 from the Schoolhouse Gap trailhead. The site, cut in half by a stream and crossed by a log bridge, happened to be filled with butterflies, delighting the LO and us. We snapped a picture with our LO looking down into the stream from a log bridge that I now use in professional presentations.
May, 2020: Katie, our little one, and I hiked the Middle Prong Trail on one of the last days before LO’s daycare resumed. This trail has became a favorite.
September, 2020: I camped overnight at backcountry site #18, hiking up a ridge before going to sleep. I had the thought that the Smokies were filled with more wildlife diversity that I could imagine, and then heard something step on a stick, after which I quickly walked back down to the site.
There were others, too: two with Katie and the little one on the Middle Prong Trails; two trips with my friend Alex visiting from Virginia, one from Abrams Creek and one on the West Prong Trail; a run with my friend Sam, visiting from Chicago, on the Middle Prong Trail; a family trip on the Schoolhouse Gap trail; an overnight solo trip at another backcountry site in the Abrams Creek area; and multiple quick trips to the Abrams Creek area. Perhaps at this point I should stop trying to count.
In part because of the age of our child (at first, only a few months; now, around two-and-a-half), in part because it takes awhile to become familiarized with a new region, and then because of COVID, these trips have been our primary form of recreation; we still haven’t been to, for example, Chattanooga or Nashville, and don’t have plans to-for now! We have explored other places locally (the outdoors around Knoxville are really special), especially the Big South Fork and Obed Wild & Scenic Rivers, and the under-rated Frozen Head State Park, where the little one and I camped together for the first time. Those are all a part of the Cumberland Plateau-they’re not a part of the Smokies.
I don’t really have much more to say, other than that I’m extremely grateful for this incredible place one which people, the Cherokee, first, lived on and in for generations (and still do, though in numbers that are a fraction of those who did for generations), and which was taken from them by White settlers who colonized Tennessee (and, earlier, western North Carolina), and then which was taken and also given by the governments of North Carolina and Tennessee to the federal government to establish the National Park. I hope our family and others around Knoxville and the region can care for it in as respectful and responsible way as possible so that others can as we have.
/end sappy post