Some of my travels are intricately planned, with every night’s accommodations reserved, every day’s excursions planned, and every moment’s highlights captured for posterity. Others, like a recent voyage from Louisiana to South Dakota happen this Friday, and ready, set, go! My first journey to the Great Smoky Mountains fell into this latter category. On a Tuesday my egocentric boss (one of two in the past decade) decided to cancel all my hard work without even notifying me. On Tuesday night I decided to take the rest of the week off since I wasn’t needed. On Wednesday, I was on the road to North Carolina. Besides the route there and a hotel reservation, I’m winging this trip.
I discover US Highway 441 from this side of the national park to that side of the national park is dealing with downed trees, or a rock slide or some obstacle that prevents me from taking the primary route through the Great Smoky Mountains. No worries, I’ll just go around the end, approach the park from its flank, and enjoy an alternative experience. I discover the early spring outing has yet to benefit from the arrival of the next season, or replenish from the one departing (see Water Fallen from March 2021). The colors are muted, the temperatures are brisk, and the crowds are absent, and I make the most of whatever this outing becomes. I feel idle in nature rather than useless at my desk, so this is preferable.
Grab Life By The Tail
I skirt around the southwestern end of the Great Smoky Mountains, through the Chattahoochee National Forest, following small county roads to the Foothills Parkway. I find myself on a road likely to be covered in motorcycles, if the ambient temperature didn’t hover near freezing. Dubbed the Tail of the Dragon, this crooked, winding, wisp of a road hides its next curve behind thick woods, even despite their lack of leaves to blanket the next bend to the left or bank to the right. The speed limit reminds those who dare follow the creature’s flopping extremity that scooting above thirty miles per hour ought to be done at ones own peril. Thankfully, for me, I am in no hurry – there is no urgency waiting for me in my travel, or at my desk.
Roads get passengers from place to place, and for most, they serve this purpose without a thought, but offer little more than a straight line between two points. For me, I discover the hefty tip of this lizard’s vertebrae and I savor each bony bump, none of which I might be enjoying were it not for the obstruction on the main artery. No, these hidden capillaries, whether avoiding a road closure, or getting me to my forty-nineth state (see Ad Placement from November 2011), offer unassuming routes where the journey absolutely exceeds the destination. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park might be the epicenter of the region where all the tourists congregate, but the blockage on the mountain leads me somewhere better, and I’m grabbing this beast by the tail.