The Ann and Heather Expedition
If you are wondering how our adventure went in the Smokey Mountains, I have quite the story to tell…
(Back story) I wanted to be adventurous.. I wanted to go camping in mountains. I had been researching my family history, and found my grandpa’s family had traced back to some of the first settlers in Pigeon Forge Tennessee. Robert Shields (The guy from the cemetery later) had 10 sons and 1 daughter and lived in Sevierville Tennessee, they produced MANY offspring that settled in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana. Cades Cove is a preserved loop in the Smokey Mountain National Park where you can view wildlife and preserved cabins and churches, and one of their offspring still has a cabin in the park, which we visited. They married and reproduced with several of the other families in Cades Cove and several are buried in the local cemeteries. I wanted to take video and do research for my grandpa who turns 90 this year. Heather, one of my oldest friends, former college roommate, and her pregnant self was the only brave soul to join me. We are SO Lewis and Clark. This is our adventure.
Day 1: After much debate with my mother, she forced me to take her car instead of my “death trap” down to Tennessee. Just as Heather and I arrive in Kentucky, the “safe and reliable” car stalls out and dies..twice. Me and Heather think the only logical solution is to keep going and hope it doesn’t happen again. Because what else can you do?? We arrive in Tennessee, but somehow it takes us an hour and a half to get to Cades Cove because the GPS told us to turn off a mountain, and thankfully we didn’t listen. APPARENTLY people don’t believe in signs anymore. But, we make it and set up our tent without issue, and we drive around the cove in the sunset. We actually saw a lady walk into the one of the old churches and sang "Amazing Grace" Blissful. It was the last of the "beauty" we saw this trip..
We head back to the small town to eat. Well Boondocksville doesn’t have anything open after 9:00pm. We drive around and so as request of my pregnant companion, we stop at a dairy bar. We wait in line only to find out it only takes cash.. cool. So we eat at a down home Tennessee restaurant….Subway. It’s now pitch black, and I have to drive up the mountain back to our tent…well apparently people only go down the mountain at night, because I drove up a mountain with everyone’s brights shining down on me. Oh yea, no cell phone signal. We finally make it to the tent to find our blow up mattress has deflated.. Oh wait.. theres no cap.. oh wait… we don’t have one… So we strap a plastic sack around it with a hair tie…needless to say, we woke up on the ground. If I didn’t mention before, the ground, was gravel.
5 am apparently is the time the park comes around and empties every dumpster in the park.. perfect timing. Anyways we wake up to face the day! We are going to spend the day in Cades Cove so we eat breakfast and head over there. We have a good time, hike to some preserved cabins, see some deer, some bucks, and get pretty close. I made some educational videos for my 5th graders that have to do with early American History..good times.. Well Heather REALLY wants to see this cabin... It’s about a pregnant woman who was left by her husband and her brothers built her a cabin that was pretty crappy, then she married a guy who fell in love with her and built her the “nicest cabin in Cades Cove”. Well the cabin built out of love for freakin Matilda Shields is number 12 on the stop list. Well… we hit 13 and … wait we missed it. So, I take the cut back and go back around the loop again, at this point we are about 4 hours in. The loop back only takes about 15-20 minutes and somehow in a 30 second window Heather, MY NAVIGATOR, falls asleep..and by God, we miss number 12 AGAIN. Now, this damn park is a one way, so IM NOT GOING BACK! Heather wants to see this profession of log cabin love, so we decided to park the car and hop over a barbed wire fence and walk there. ..We have to trek through this valley of grass, which someone so graciously pointed out from their car as they passed, “Watch out, there might be snakes in there.” Thanks lady. TOO LATE.
We make it to the gravel road that “love built” and start a walkin. Now, we have a map, and apparently people don’t know how to measure DISTANCE on a $1 map! Because we keep walking, no cars are coming, and there is no freaking cabin. Heathers sweating and getting attacked by bugs, and there isn’t a human in sight…but there is a deer staring at us, that almost mockingly says with her eyes, “you aint from around here are ya?” Just as any good adventure goes, just as we are about to give up….A SIGN.. really a wooden sign. We made it. It really wasn’t that exciting, but damn it, neither is love.
Now for the glorious walk back. A truck pulls up next to us and I want to say “Yes we will take a ride back” but instead they say, “Yall know how to get back to Gatlinburg from here?” Lady, if we knew how to get anywhere, you wouldn’t find us walking on a freaking gravel road in the middle of a national forest. So we pointed in a vague direction and kept walking. Not before she said, "We got to see a baby cub!" Us: What????! So we are walking alone with a freakin cub somewhere?? We made it back to “death trap number 2” alive. We were starting to feel successful. We continued on to the other cabins and visiting and reading the local history, and by the time we are done we’ve coasted around an 11 mile loop for 6 hours. 6 HOURS.
Its about 4pm, and we head down to Gatlinburg to find my 6th great grandfather’s grave. Heather googles it and we go down some backroads and pull into what appears to be a small cemetery. Well, as we roll over the hill, the 5 grave cemetery turns into a 5,000 grave cemetery.
Don’t these things have grave maps? We look up his gravestone online, but it gives no help other than its one of those that lays flat on the ground….awesome. So due to Heather’s persistence, we broke it up into sections seeking out Robert and Nancy Shields graves. We knocked off section by section, finding other Shields, but not the ones we are looking for. At some point it starts raining, and I think to myself, if I get struck by lighting in a graveyard… that’s some baaaddd karma. Long story short (too late) we have narrowed the ENTIRE cemetery to 1 small section. At this point I’m afraid we have missed it, but as I say out loud. “Come on, please let us find you.” Ahhhhhh. (that’s me singing angelically) I see an old Shields headstone, so I follow over to it and ta da! We found it!
It was a great feeling, and it was another feeling of accomplishment. We are quite the adventurous tag team, so whenever you need to search a graveyard in Tennessee, you know who to call! Just call us McSwain Semon… actually.. don’t call us that.
We then headed back up the mountain and on our way into town earlier, this rag tag team stopped at the local camp store to find something to close the cap on our air mattress. We did try to buy $10 ducktape, but we must of looked pathetic, because the owner, just ripped us off some of his duck tape and said, “That should be enough…even incase you mess up.” Thanks for the vote of confidence Park Ranger Bill.
Well we jammed out to static music and headed up for the last peaceful night under the stars, duck tape in hand. Well we set up shop and duck taped the crap out of the mattress hole AND put the plastic bag over it with the hair tie. Ahh… peace and… WAHHHHH! STOPPP!!! NO! NO! NO! NO! AHHHHHH!
Me: “What in God’s name is that!?!”
AHHHHH! WA! WA! WA!
Heather: “Is that a person?”
Me: “Is that like a baby bear crying!?!?”
Heather: “If it gets any louder, I’m going out there.”
Me: “No, what if we witness a murder?”
Heather: “We are going” (That is SO Clark of her)
NO NO NO NO AHHHHHHHHHH!
We pass by our camping neighbors and I ask them politely WTF the sound was. His response, “Oh its just a youngin cryin”
Heather: “Are you sure?”
Man: “Just a younin, its alright.”
Whatever. Crybaby Youngin must have jumped in the fire drenched in gasoline for the way their screaming. Alright so screaming aside, we have an AIR MATTRESS whoohoo! We lay our selves down, close our eyes… ssssssssss….sssssssss. The duct tape lasts about 30 minutes. Back to the gravel again.
5:30 am we wake up, because LETS GET OUT OF THIS HELL HOLE. Err.. I mean…we miss our husbands. It is still really dark out, but we walked to the bathrooms and got ready. I left Heather in the bathroom, and headed back… alone… to pack up. I, being guided only by the light of the moon, come across our campsite..and there is my moms car.. and the driver side door is standing wide open.
I freeze. Am I at the right campsite? Why the hell is it open? Is there someone still there? Did they STEAL MY PHONE!?!?! I cautiously walk over and look inside. Everything is still there…the GPS, my phone, my bag…. Then it hits me, this irrational fear my mother somehow instilled in me, where these guys hide under girls car and cut their ankles, severing their tendons, then kills them…AHH! So then what? There’s thankfully no one under the car, but where is Heather? Is there a crazy baby killing, door opening, mountain, serial killer on the loose? Does Heather still have her tendons? Just as I am about to have a heart attack, a shadow crosses the road… Its Heather. Thank GOD! She is walking and her ankles aren’t severed. Whew..crisis averted. So we pack up and head on home.
We really just want a bed and a shower. On the way home we admire the women of the frontier and discuss they various horrible things they would have to go through (in vivid detail) and we hand them our respect. We agree that if we were pioneer women, we are a LITTLE too sarcastic, outspoken, back-mouthy, pushy, dominant, and sassy to have EVER married. We decided we’d probably be the local teacher and nurse old maids that no one would marry and we’d have to live together and ..essentially die on the frontier. ..alone. Good news ladies and gents, its freaking 2013 and we don’t live on the frontier. We are two 26 year old women trying to camp in the wilderness…and damn it we succeeded.
|The old maids|
The car died again in Greenwood, but we made it home. I came home to a new/unexpected job and also a spot on a Mission Trip to West Virginia.. unfortunately I had to turn it down due to the new/unexpected job and I now have a classroom to set up… so that adventure ended, a new one came about, and in turn squashed a different adventure…
Like all good adventures that end in tragedy, I’m going to seal this with a bottle of wine.. the whole thing. May your travels be just as frivolous. All you need for a good adventure is a great friend and a great place...let life handle the rest.
Below are some other videos we took from the park: