After a night in the Balsam Mountain campgrounds in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we give up on sleep as soon as there is enough light to see. Watching the lightness of the sky increase through a rain fly is not actually very exciting. So much of the campgrounds is still asleep that I try to lay there as long as possible, not wanting to disturb the quiet. We whisper to each other, wondering what time it is. Pat has an uncanny ability to tell what time it is; he usually guesses within 2 minutes of the actual time. But today, he is operating on little sleep and he guesses it’s only 5AM. Since I have been getting up at 4AM, I know that the sun doesn’t rise until after 6AM, so I guess it’s sometime after 6AM. We lay there contemplating whether we could possibly go back to sleep, But then our nearest neighbor’s baby starts crying again and I decide it’s time to throw in the towel. For the second time since going to bed, I unzip the tent and head down to the restrooms.
This time, I take my toiletries with me and a camp towel. I wash my face in the cold water and wish there were a way to take a shower. After cleaning up, I walk back to the campsite where Pat has gotten up and started putting our gear away. He has also checked the time and we are both surprised to learn that it’s almost 7AM! I get out the park maps we’d collected at the visitors’ center the day before and we quietly discuss what we’ll do today. Amazingly, we hear our neighbors on two sides still snoring in spite of the noisy children. The neighbor to our left has a large, multi-room tent with a screened “porch” area that we can see through. We see their dog sitting alert, watching the squirrels that keep chattering from the trees. We didn’t know they had a dog with them until just now–it hasn’t made a single sound. The dog sits silently amusing himself by creature watching, moving only his ears and head, patiently waiting for his people to wake up. What a great dog to camp with!
We decide we will drive towards Cherokee and find a place to eat breakfast and then drive up to Clingman’s Dome to see the view and hike along the Appalachian trail as far as we have time for. Pat amends our plan to add that he wants to find a hotel for the night–he’s not up for another sleepless night next to noisy neighbors. We decide we will head North through the park after our hike and find a place to stay in Gatlinburg. Our plan settled, I go about making a cup of coffee on our camp burner while Pat heads down to the restroom to get ready. Unfortunately, I discover that when we were packing, we grabbed the mug that did not have the coffee filter stored with it. Since morning coffee is something that I can’t live without, when Pat returns, he helps me look for the other cup with the filter. Having no luck, Pat shifts into MacGyver mode. He suggests making a filter from a Wet One, a sock, and a mesh sack, but I prefer not to strain my coffee through something icky and opt to just put the grounds straight in the cup. After stirring and waiting for the grounds to settle, I sip carefully so as not to disturb the grounds on the bottom. This actually works better than I expect–especially since you can’t drink coffee too quickly from a Titanium mug, it transfers too much heat and will burn your lip.
Now fully awake, I join Pat in tearing down the campsite. We take the rain fly off the tent and turn it over, spreading it on the picnic table to give the condensation from the night a chance to dry. We un-stake the tent and flip it over, exposing the damp bottom to the air so it, too will dry. We pack away all the other gear and wait, our tent and rain fly still damp in the humid air. There are heavy clouds and no rays of sunshine to help dry our gear. Eventually, we dig napkins out of the glove box and dry off the rain fly as best we can, tired of waiting. I make a mental note to make sure to get the gear out again when we’re at home so it can dry properly–I don’t want to have to deal with a moldy tent.
Having packed up, we stop at the restroom one last time on the way out of the campgrounds for a post-coffee brush of our teeth. The same two rangers pass us as they start their morning rounds and we exchange enthusiastic smiles and waves as if we see each other all the time. After finishing up, we head back down the road for the final time this weekend, hoping to see our friend the elk on the way out, but he has disappeared into the woods. We do see an entire flock of wild turkeys with nearly a dozen young ones following their parents on a grassy slope.
Near Cherokee, we find a restaurant serving breakfast. They have a buffet, but when we look at it, we decide to order from the menu. Since we have a cell signal again, I’ve taken my iPad in with me to get my daily blog post done. The waitress comes over, sees my iPad, and says, “Oh! I want one of those! If I had one of those, I would read all the time!” I think she would do a lot more than read, but just smile and agree–I contain my enthusiasm for my iPad and stop myself from launching into a spiel about all the wonderful things you can do with it. Pat gives me a look that indicates he is grateful for this–he often tells me I should work for Apple. Breakfast comes and we eat hungrily, shoveling down eggs and bacon, toast and hashbrowns without attempting to savor it. It’s not the best breakfast I’ve ever had, but it’s hot and we’re hungry.
We decide to go to a grocery store while in Cherokee and get some provisions for a day of hiking. We find a large Food Lion not too far from the park entrance and wander through the store collecting apples, bananas, trail mix bars, beef jerky, and water. We had prepared a gallon jug of filtered water to bring with us, but discovered it didn’t make it into the car when we went to refill our day-pack water bladders. That task accomplished, we head back to the road to make our way to Clingman’s Dome. I look forward to this–the last time we were in the park it was December and the road to Clingman’s was closed for the winter. Although it’s overcast and visibility was poor on the way to Cherokee, I hope for clearer skies and spectacular views.