"God's boredom is infinite. Surely we humans, even with our etiquette and our institutions and our mothers-in-law, ceased to amuse Him many ages ago. What sustains Him is the satisfaction, far deeper than we can know, of having created a few incomparables - landscapes, waters, birds and beasts. He takes particular pride in the stars, and it pleases Him to breathe havoc upon the oceans. ... And the bear - ah! He used both hands when he made the bear. Imagine a bear proceeding from the hands of God!"
~ from The Ancient Child, by N. Scott Momaday

fitting that i should come across those lines in a book i was reading while on our trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week. many times as we stumbled upon new, gorgeous vistas, and especially when we wandered into garish Gatlinburg (shudder), i thought about the impossible beauty of nature and how man can never hope to create anything so wholly incredible.

and incredible the trip was. some stats:
~ we hiked about 30 miles
~ burned approximately 10,000 calories in the process
~ no showers for 5 1/2 days
~ ate 3 summer sausages, beans 6 days in a row, and drank the equivalent of about 50 bottles of water
~ drove on 3 'unimproved' mountain roads that just about took out the undersides and suspension of bf's car
~ came upon: 3 elk (one male that we almost hit in the road), 5 bears, 7 snakes (all on one hike! more on that later), 3 turkeys, soo many fireflies and butterflies, 4 deer, horses, a cow in the road, salamanders, and a dragon's tail.

there were no partridges, nor pear trees.

here is the much asked-for synopsis in pictures and stories, day by day because that makes the most sense :)

Day One: Saturday - I-95 forever
we drove up from Miami, FL to Wingate, NC - 12 hours, due to a mind-numbing traffic jam as we entered SC. thankfully Prairie Home Companion was on the radio, so we Garrison Keillor kept us company while we sat and sat in traffic. eventually made it to bf's parents' house and talked with them for a bit before crashing.

Day Two: Sunday - Google fail!
the drive from Wingate, NC to the park was almost uneventful. we passed lovely places like 'Bat Cave', 'Graduation' and quaint 'Maggie Valley'. once we were through Maggie Valley, Google had us turn onto 'black camp gap road'. initially this seemed logical enough, until the pavement gave way to a gravel road with the most intense potholes i think i've ever seen. the Mazda 3 handled it like a trooper until we came upon what appeared to be a lake in the middle of the road. at that point we gave it up for a lost cause and consulted a map to find the actual entrance to the park. later research revealed that the road doesn't actually go through, and i find myself wondering if google was playing a joke on us. finally made it to the campground, after dark and almost hitting a 10 point antlered elk in the road, and passed out.

Day Three: Monday -Things Grow on Balds
A hike! we got up in the morning and decided to hike to Andrew's Bald and Clingman's Dome (the highest point in the park) for a total of 5 miles. on the way to the park we drove on a really neat 'unimproved' mountain road, that added an hour to the drive and a whole lot of adventure. absolutely lovely.
Andrew's Bald:

me resting at Andrew's Bald:

the view from Clingman's Dome (there's a reason they call it the smokies):

it rained a bit as we left Andrew's Bald, so i got to use my awesome child sized poncho that my staff gave me. thanks BE ladies!
on the drive back down from Clingman's Dome we saw an adolescent bear climbing up over a rock by the side of the road. very neat :)

Day Four: Tuesday - Flat does not mean easy
sooo tired when we got up Tuesday! sometimes sleeping on thin blowup mattresses takes a little getting used to. so we decided to do a local hike before heading to our next camping area. Flat Creek was a fairly easy 3.2 mile hike - and then i gave us an extra .5 for all the goofy scrambling we did trying to get closer to the waterfalls. up and down by the riverbed. strenuous stuff!

at the top of the hike is a little picnic area that is one of the best places to watch a sunset in the park. unfortunately we were there around 2 in the afternoon, so no sunset, but here we are at the overlook. starting to look a little dirty but not too bad:

look! he caught a butterfly!

we caught one of the last three available camp sites at the next place we chose, made cornbread on the fire and played in the creek a bit, and crashed early.

Day Five: Wednesday - Straight up, now tell me..
this is the day that makes me question a bit whether we are good influences on one another. we got up in the morning having decided to do the Alum Cave trail - 2.3 miles each way, fairly strenuous elevation change, but rumoured to be really nice. the trip up there was lovely. lots of moments like this as we crossed back and forth across a river on foot bridges:

and when we got to the top someone suggested we go a little further, so we did and came across places like this:

that brought the roundtrip hike to 5 miles. but when we got to the bottom we were still feeling pretty darn good, so we decided to find another hike and keep going! the next closest hike is a 2 miler each way to "the Chimneys". suuuurree we thought.. we can do that! so off we went, not quite realizing that a 1500 ft elevation change would really suck after having already done 5 miles of another strenuous hike. but we did it! we did the whole hike and then climbed the slate rock at the top.

the climb back down was rather harrowing and there were many comments of 'if my mom knew i was doing this she would not be happy...' 8 hours, 9 miles and over 4,000 calories later, our chili mac could not cook fast enough once we got home.

Day 6: Thursday - Hiking bites
Thursday was another moving day. we had decided to stay at three different campsites as we worked our way across the park, so we got up in the morning, packed up and headed to Laurel Falls - a very popular nearby hike. the whole path was paved and there were tons of people, but it's easy to understand why:

on our way we drove through Cades Cove - a grassy valley in the middle of the mountains - and we saw bears!

and then stopped to take a picture by the field, with bees buzzing around our ankles:

our second hike that day was along Abrams Creek. there were lots of notices about bears and we were told by a ranger not to feed or harass them, because people had been and they were getting ornery. turns out bears were the least of our worries. we went off on the 2.5 mile hike and the trail ended at a waterfall:

and on the way back, i decided it was time for more sunscreen. we hiked up a bit off the trail to a nice little rocky bit and i sat down to slick up. i chose a fairly big rock and was enjoying swinging my sandaled feet, looking around at the trees. bf came back from taking a picture and i heard, 'oh! snakes!' and instinctively pulled my feet up. turns out that underneath the rock i was sitting on were at least 3, maybe 4, napping Copperhead (read: poisonous!!) snakes:

my feet were less than 1 foot away from those little cuddlebugs. we saw 3 other, much less threatening, snakes on the course of the trail. bf offered to pick up the docile Ringneck, but i requested that we not do that experiment.

a the trailhead was another short path to an old settlement, so we took that little jaunt, bringing the day's mileage up to 8.6. our drive to the next campsite took us on another unimproved road, so the car got a little workout too!

Day 7: Friday - the Tail of the Dragon
got up in the morning and somewhat sadly packed up our gear to get ready to go. last days of vacation are always a little sad, but we had one more hike and a bit of a drive to go, so we got moving before 10 am.

one of the things the guidebook mentioned in passing was that a nearby stretch of road, US-129, is referred to by locals as the 'tail of the dragon'. what they didn't say is that it's a biker destination because it has 318 curves in 11 miles. that means that every time you come out of a curve, you go right into another one, pretty much in a left, right, left, right motion. hence dragon tail. now, some of you may be aware, and some may not.. but i am prone to motion sickness. so when we got onto the road and realized how curvy it was, i knew i was in for trouble. partway through we noticed that there were people sitting at curves taking pictures of people driving past, and realized that it must be a thing. so i joked that if i made it without tossing my cookies, i'd get a t-shirt if they were available to be had. well, i made it, and did get a t-shirt! unfortunately i don't have a picture, but know that it is sufficiently rad :) here is a picture of us in bf's faithful mazda 3, on the tail of the dragon. if you look you can see that there are at least 3 curves in the picture:

after resting for a while, we decided to do an abbreviated version of the hike we'd planned for the day. motion sickness is exhausting so i didn't have much in me for it, but am rather stubborn and insisted on at least doing something. so we hiked along a trail that cris-crossed a stream and pondered what it would be like to ford horses along it.

after the hike, we spent the rest of Friday driving back to bf's parents' house, where we eventually took delicious showers, ate lots of good food (mmm buckwheat pancakes!) and slept a lot before driving back to FL on Sunday. we stopped in St. Augustine for some BBQ and QT with tara and zach, made it through 4 of 5 discs of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy audio book, and arrived home to crash into bed at about 11pm.

so there you have it. thanks for reading! i hope you enjoyed all the pretty pictures. i promise most of the rest of the posts won't be so long!