Nine bears. That’s how many fake bear statues line the tourist strip in Gatlinburg, Tenn. I’m surprised at this low number–it felt like three-times that many. I say this because my travel partner somehow made it a rule that I had to have my photo taken with every one of these bears, posing in real life in the manner they were posed for perpetuity. Even the bear holding the camera. Even the bear down on all fours at the busiest intersection in town. For whatever reason, I felt like this was a reasonable request and went along with the game.
After another winter storm, I was at my indoor-cooped-up breaking point. A quick check of the weather and confirmation of a place to stay sent me packing for the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The plan was a few days of writing, hiking and a little bit of moonshine-sample tasting. (It’s the moonshine samples that led to the wooden-bear photo shoot, I believe.)
The mission was accomplished, providing a five-day adventure that reminded me I don’t have to get on a plane to explore a new place, have new experiences and take embarrassing photos. I hiked two trails–one covered in snow and ice, climbing high to Alum Cave Bluffs in the central part of the park; the other its opposite, a winding, not difficult trail in a lush valley with no snow, leading to Henwallow Falls. I actually spent time working, too, which is so important for me as a writer and a traveler to be able to do my job anywhere. And the people watching and free-sample having was fun, too, of course.
I came home no happier to see winter but enlivened with the experiences of sitting on the Tennessee-North Carolina line, looking down on snow-covered mountain peaks while wearing a T-shirt, doing a little yoga at the base of a waterfall and being creative in a different environment. It felt like breathing again.