Four years ago, somewhere in Virginia along the Appalachian Trail, I became Mudfoot, my trail name and traveling alter ego. But my wanderlust and habit of having muddy feet got their start more than 30 years ago further south in the same mountain rage.
My parents are really to blame. For they are the ones who took me on my first trip to the mountains, which most likely is where my uncontrollable hunger to set eyes all the worlds’ great geological wonders first began.
I was just three-months-old when they strapped me to my father in a backpack and ascended the Ski Lift to the top of a mountain ridge during a trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn. It was there my tiny eyes got their first glimpse of the majestic hazy Smoky Mountains rolling away to the horizon.
I of course, don’t remember it, but something deep inside must, for I have never known a time when I did not have the yearning to experience that majestic inspiring beauty again and again.
We did plenty more hiking as a family in my youth, and almost all of my sisters took their turn in the backpack as a small child. We shared long summer weekends camping across the Midwest and South, and took many jaunts through the woods of our farm. But the mountains always seemed to be calling me.
When I was sixteen, I spent six weeks exploring the mountains of the Northwest. I choose a college tucked in the foothills of the Appalachians and when the time came to start a career I couldn’t turn down the offer for work in an eastern Kentucky mountain city.
There is simply nothing more humbling and inspiring than drinking in the world from a mountaintop. No matter what part of the globe I happen to be staring out across from my perch, my soul always feels as if it is soaring across the vast landscape beneath me, even though my muddy feet are anchored to the ground.
There has always been something special though about the Smokies and the lush green chain of Appalachian Mountains they belong too. I’ve made many pilgrimages to them in the more than three decades that have followed since that first fateful trip, sharing them with friends and loved ones along the way.
Most recently I traveled to Gatlinburg, Tenn. for a long weekend with several of my husband’s oldest friends, their wives and children. It was the first time we had traveled with many of them and the first time we had all been together anywhere.
We spent our days exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the other attractions of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and the evenings cooking large communal dinners then we laughed and talked into the wee hours of the morning long after the kids had succumbed to the exhaustion of being over-stimulated and over-sugared.
It was a wonderful, memorable trip. There in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains, old friendships were reinforced and new ones forged.
That’s what made this trip special; the joy of sharing the journey and the views with loved ones.
My parents taught me that on my first trip, which they have never grown tired of recollecting.
I have a feeling my most recent one will be the same way, and may, like that first journey to the Smokies, spawn more repeat visits.
Smoky Mountain Getaway:
Gatlinburg, Tenn. – Local couple Steve and Debi Akers own two beautiful mountain chalets outside of Gatlinburg, Tenn., which they rent to vacationers. Sky Harbor #371040 and #364895 can be reserved through vrbo.com. Both sleep 11 visitors comfortably.
Fontana Village, North Carolina – Fontana Village Resort is a great place to stay on the eastern side of the Smokies. Accommodations include The Lodge, Poolside Cabanas, a campground and cabins. The village contains a marina, a swimming pool and lazy river, restaurants, a general store, disc golf, and daily scheduled activities including dances, narrated nature hikes and evening campfires.
Great Smoky Mountain National Park – America’s most visited National Park, offers something for the whole family. The park straddles the North Carolina and Tennessee border and is renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life. Take a drive on one of the scenic roadways watching out for wildlife along the way, visit the top of its highest peak, Clingman’s Dome for the opportunity to see miles upon miles of mountain vistas, explore its historic grist mill, visit one of several mountain churches or take a walk along one of its many mountain streams to a thundering waterfall.
Bootleggers Homemade Wine – Founded by “two country winemaker” sisters, Bootleggers is located in the heart of Gatlinburg. The winery offers free tastings of its selection of fruit and grape wines. Don’t miss the blackberry wine.
Smoky Mountain Brewery – This family-friendly restaurant and microbrewery is a great place to grab a meal while the adults enjoy and a few cold microbrews. The restaurant serves classic American foods including burgers, pizzas and sandwiches.
Smoky Mountain Brewery offers a selection of more than a dozen beers, each crafted in small batches without chemical preservatives, additives or pasteurization. Growlers are available if you want to take home your favorite to share.