Monday, May 31, 2010

love is an ocean

I am in motion
I am blue
Love is an ocean
I'm anchored in you

And I am a dreamer
So you sent me away
Sometimes we dreamers
We just get in the way

But I've always known
Since I was a child
That the road is my home
And my spirit is wild


And I have my memories
And I've got lots of time
But I'm stoned in San Francisco
With you on my mind

I am in motion
I am blue
Love is an ocean
I'm anchored in you

Thursday, May 27, 2010

a quickie. and road food.

Yes, it has been about a week since I posted here, but I have been pretty nondescript; been hanging out at home in NJ, sleeping in and going to bed early, driving around North Jersey, visiting family and seeing a friend or two. Nothing to blog home about.

Now I am in Tennessee again. Patrick and I have tickets to see Neil Young tonight at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. We've spent the last two nights camping in Maryville. It was weird to camp in a normal campground as opposed to a national park/forest like we have before - there were, like, people there. And RVs. And right across the lake were houses. Like, that people live in. Weird.

We've been talking a lot about future plans, whether we will end up traveling together after all, where we will be in the next few weeks - but, since nothing is solid as of now, I'm not going to go musing on about it. Once we figure things out I will update you all considerably.

On a final note, my new favorite road food is Subway. This may sound weird coming from a girl from New Jersey, where real submarine sandwiches are king. But I've found, in my travels from NM to TN to NJ and back to TN, that Subways are just as plentiful as McDonalds on the interstates, and honestly, when you're hungry, they aren't half bad. The downsides are that there's no drive-thru and you have to actually go inside to order it, and they aren't easy to eat while driving (unlike, say, a double quarter-pounder), so it makes you lose time automatically. But the upside? They have real live vegetables on them, they don't make you feel totally disgusting, and for less money, you can feel considerably less gross and eat just as much as you would at some fast-food place.

Don't get me wrong. I will always, always choose my hometown Chatham Sandwich Shop over freakin' Subway any day. But when I'm rolling down 40 or 81 or 78 or any other road that you can refer to simply by spitting out two digits, I'm all about the tuna salad sub on Italian herbs and cheese bread with lettuce, onions, tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers, and mayhaps some light mayo if I'm feeling frisky.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

one day at a time

I've gotten over my little temper tantrum from the other night. Daytimes are always easier to contemplate what comes next.

My time at home so far has been pretty lazy - the most I have accomplished are two dog walks and driving my mom to the train station yesterday. Talk about productive.

The reason I had to take my mom to the train station is because she is a tutor for students who are in Broadway and off-Broadway plays, and she was headed into the city for a tutoring session. Today my mom and I are headed into New York to see The Burnt Part Boys, for which she's tutored two young actors. The show is a musical about coal mining, and seeing how music and coal mining are two of my favorite things in the world, I'm pretty excited for this.

So that's this evening. Tomorrow I will probably spend some time cleaning out my car (there's a LOT of dog food on the floor; it took me a few days to realize that Blake doesn't like to eat in the car, but, if offered food, he will take some in his mouth and drop it on the floor), which is extremely exciting, and then tomorrow evening Emilie, one of my best friends, will be in town for a few days, visiting from Montana. So that is likely to take up much of my weekend. Monday I'll head up to Bergen County, near the New York state border, to see family.

And then, come Wednesday, I'm headed back down to Knoxville. It's less than 700 miles from here to Knoxville, which is much less than I thought - so I will be able to leave here Wednesday morning and get there by Wednesday evening. Then Thursday evening, Patrick and I have tickets to see Neil Young. After that, I'm not sure when I'll leave Knoxville. My parents will be in Pittsburgh, visiting my brother, for Memorial Day weekend, so I may leave Knoxville and drive the 400-ish miles up to Pittsburgh through West Virginia and meet up with them there. Not positive, though.

I'm just taking all this one day at a time. If I think too much, I get nervous about what's next. So right now I'm just focusing on going to get dog food this afternoon and then heading into New York this evening. I'm not thinking about next week. I'm not thinking about getting to Knoxville. More importantly, I'm not thinking about leaving Knoxville again. And I'm really not thinking about the trillions of little trips I'll be taking around the Northeast to see all my friends; upstate New York, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Boston, perhaps Maine. If I think about all those I might explode.

And I'm really not thinking about how to afford all this. When I learned my trip was derailed, I did what I usually do: Spent money to make myself feel better. As a result, due to both necessary errands and unnecessary expenditures, I blew through my whole last paycheck (which included payment for unused vacation time) and then some. So I'm left without a dime at this particular moment - hence the other day's job applications.

The whole no-money thing really is my fault. I could have done it smartly, but I didn't. I've always been bad with money, and I was proud for a few months in there that I wasn't sucking as hard as I used to... Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

But for now, I need to shower and get dressed. Unfortunately, unlike Madrid, New Mexico and fly fishing camps in Tennessee, people in New Jersey expect you to be at least a little bit clean (if not impeccable) when you go into public.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

quote of the day

"A good traveler has no fixed plan and is not intent on arriving." - Lao Tzu

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

call the waaambulance, i have a waaamburger and some french cries.

"Reality" TV shows about New Jersey are all the rage right now. Of course there is the phenomenon of Jersey Shore, there's Cake Boss about some mafioso-esque bakers, and today (while indulging in some joyfully mindless America's Next Top Model reruns) I kept seeing commercials for Jersey Couture, which looks simply terrible.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about New Jersey knows that the only real "reality" show about NJ is not reality at all, but is in fact The Sopranos. But I digress.

For real, though, I am a bit notorious in Santa Fe for being New Jersey's most rabid fan. I love this state. I loved growing up in this state. I still call New Jersey "home." It's the best state in the union. America's best-kept secret. All those things.

So why is it so hard to be here?

I'm not talking the whole "oh gosh gee I actually got more used to Santa Fe than I thought!" or anything like that. (Though, the first night that I arrived home, I was following my dad to a diner and went to land a high-speed merge that I grew up with... and nearly got run off an overpass, slammed my car into the curb and ended up stopped dead in traffic for a minute or so. NJ driving fail... I bet they were all glaring at my New Mexico plates while they edged their Beemers around me.) This is a different kind of hard.

A while ago, I accepted that nothing happens by accident and that there is a reason for everything that has gone "wrong" in my life. When Patrick had to go back to Tennessee and call off our road trip, I was upset, sure - but I knew that there was a reason it was happening. I knew it would show itself in time.

I resolved to come home here to New Jersey for a while in order to relax, be unemployed, do some writing, relax, sleep, relax and relax. I was looking forward to it.

So why is it that I applied for four jobs tonight?

We are each the architect of our own destiny, but I can't seem to get my buildings to look like the blueprints. I wanted to live in the moment and be introspective, but all I can do is think about the future and the outward influences that will shape my next move. I wanted to take it easy, but I'm getting swept back into the current of being the stressball that I have been for the last forever-many-years. I have spent 10 years trying to lose weight and resolved to do so this summer (my excuse was always, "I'm too tired after work to go to the gym!"... well, what about when I don't have work?), but my grand kick-off has been foiled by a broken toe and, if the last decade is any indication, this time around may not go so well. It's hard to stay positive when you've been dealing with it for almost half your life.

So here I am. I'm not hungry, but I want to eat. I don't want to work, but I am applying for jobs. I want to take time to figure out what I am doing next, but I already have my heart set on moving to Knoxville. I want to travel a bit more and see a few more friends this summer, but I don't want to even begin to think about where the money to do so would come from. I just want to go to sleep, but I'm writing a stupid blog entry.

Maybe that's an indication that I should shut the hell up and go to bed.

It rained all day today - rain like I haven't seen in years. I missed rain. I missed water. I should go see the ocean. I should let the faucet run and not worry about it.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pictures 11: Youth rodeo in Harmony, North Carolina

After a wrong turn off of I-40, I stumbled upon a youth rodeo in a small town in North Carolina. I got a ton of amazing pictures, which is a damn good thing, because I ended up paying $102 to see this rodeo; a $6 admission fee and $96 to replace the flat tire I got in the parking lot.

Click any image to see it bigger in Photobucket.

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This kid was cool.

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Listening to the preacher beforehand... Don't they look enthralled by the word of the Lord?

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Warming up the horses... it was DUSTY.


18 more pictures below the jump...

Pictures 10: Abandoned house on the Blue Ridge Parkway

I have always had a thing for abandoned houses. A few years ago my friend Jessica and I drove cross-country from NM to NJ and went to some amazing houses in Colorado and Kansas; ever since then I have had the bug. I go into every house I can find. As I said in the North Carolina entry, I may someday pay for my adventures, but it will be worth it.

This house was just north of Groundhog Mountain. Judging by a calendar on the wall I judge it's been empty for about 29 years.

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I first went to poke around this old barn, when I heard a clunking noise from inside. I called out to see if anyone was there, and...

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...Someone was!


9 more images after the jump...

Pictures 9: Blue Ridge Parkway landscapes

Over bits and pieces of two days (Friday, May 14 and Saturday, May 15), I drove about 150 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The whole parkway is 469 miles long, so I have a ways to go til I can claim to have done it all.

There are countless overlooks off the highway, and I only stopped at the particularly impressive ones (cause they're all at least a little impressive).

I also came upon an abandoned house along the BRT, but that will have an entry to itself.

Click this map to enlarge.


Click any image to see a larger version on Photobucket.

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Now entering...

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The first day was a bit hazy, which in the beginning made for a nice contrast, but eventually became too overpowering.

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Woe is Toe

We have reached that point in the pictoral story where I break my toe by giving a curb in Knoxville a healthy kick.

To see the damage, click below. To skip the damage, don't click below.


Pictures 8: Tennessee Fishing Camp

Patrick's dad and his friend Brad learned about this fishing camp through a Google search; Brad looked for camping on the South Holston River, and this site was "like, the 200th result" (Brad said). It is a small farm in Bristol, Tennessee that a farmer allows fishermen to use, whether to park their car for the day or to camp overnight, on an honor system of paying whatever they think is fair.

The farm is beautiful, and it is also full of a bunch of weird-ass Americana stuff that this guy must have been collecting for decades. I didn't meet the farmer while I was there, but I did become acquainted with his cows. Or his neighbor's cows. One or the other.

Click any image to see a larger version on Photobucket.

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Our little Hooverville

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The river one rainy afternoon when the mist was coming off the water

35 more pictures after the jump...

Pictures 7: North Carolina bridge

I freaked out when I saw this bridge from the road. I pulled over and got out to explore. I've never had any fear going into abandoned buildings, though people always warn me about squatters and rotting floors and broken glass and stuff like that. I can't not go inside. If someday I crash through a floor, it will be my repayment to the universe for a lifetime of seeing amazing abandoned houses.

This bridge was located just outside Cherokee, NC, along Route 19 (I think).

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Pictures 6: North Carolina countryside

These were mostly taken in Graham County, the poorest county in North Carolina. However, it is also one of the most beautiful. Patrick and I camped at Snowbird, an area of the mountains named after an old Cherokee settlement. The county is home to the Cherokee reservation, amazing nature trails, and tons of little towns.

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This moth landed on the inside of my car window.

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Patrick stopped by a gas station and store that he goes to every time he visits Snowbird (I believe it's located in Robbinsville, or close to it); but clearly, gassing up was not an option.

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Downtown Robbinsville

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Unexpected realization about unemployment #2

I thought I would take a short break from pictures to share with you another fascinating musing about the life of the jobless.

When I am unemployed, my dog is a better dog.

My pit bull, Blake, is a bit of a neurotic creature. I adopted him at about 10 months old (he is now about 6 years old) from the animal shelter, and since I've had him he's always had separation anxiety issues, and when he was about 2 to 4 years old he developed dog aggression (which is rooted in anxiety). So, in short, he's a bit of a handful. Don't get me wrong - he's pretty much the best dog in history and I wouldn't trade him for the world. But he can be difficult.

Blake, in addition to being neurotic and too smart for his own good, has also always been very tuned-in to my emotions. When I'm stressed, he's stressed. When I'm relaxed, he's relaxed. He usually has his worst "episodes" (whether it's biting another dog, which he hasn't done - for lack of opportunity - in nearly 2 years, or whether it's destroying the house) when I'm in a stressed-out place in life. When I've switched jobs, had to move, or had a particularly difficult event in life, he's at his worst.

But now that I don't have a job, I'm not worried about anything, I rarely know what day it is and have no need to be anywhere at any particular time, he is like a totally different dog.

When we were at the fishing camp with Pat's dad, Darrell, and his dog Zoe, I thought it was going to be a catastrophe. Zoe is a boxer, and Blake especially dislikes other bully dogs. I kept Blake on leash, but otherwise left him in the car (it's like a giant, luxurious crate, as far as he's concerned). And in all the time that he encountered Zoe, he never once acted aggressively.

Admittedly, his MO is to think he wants to play until he suddenly bites the other dog, and since he never got the chance to go after her, I suppose I don't know whether he would have gone after her or not. But I know my dog well, and he never showed any of the signs he typically shows before he bites. While we were all down at the river, he even stood calmly right next to Zoe, and even tried to lick her face once. I was flabbergasted.

Additionally, when I was loading bags into my car in Statesville, I had to make two trips - and I closed the door mostly over and left Blake in the hotel room while I brought the bags to the car. Usually this would be WAY too much for him; when he's in an unfamiliar place, he needs to see me, if not TOUCH me at all times. But when I came back to the room after about 20, 30 seconds of putting bags in the car, he was still sitting calmly on the bed as if nothing had happened.

When I am calm, he is calm. He has never been this calm. Have I ever been this calm?

Pictures 5: Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest

Joyce Kilmer, which is part of Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina, is the oldest old-growth forest East of the Mississippi. There is an easy 2-mile loop (well, figure-8) trail that takes you past some really amazing trees. It was a little drizzly and rainy, but it made for very comfortable hiking weather.

What else is very cool is that many of these old-growth trees are deciduous, as opposed to the conifers in the West.

Somehow my auto-stabilizer on my camera got switched off for this hike, so many of the pictures I got were a little blurry. I only posted the good ones here.

Click any image to see the larger version on Photobucket.

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That big thing hanging over is a rhododendron. We have what I thought was a big rhododendron in my yard in New Jersey, but this thing was massive.

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12 more images below the jump...

Pictures 4: The Cherohala Skyway

The Cherohala Skyway, which runs from Tennessee to North Carolina, is a beautiful road - in the daytime. But Patrick and I drove it at dusk in the rain and fog (this would be Monday, May 3). It was still pretty awesome.

Here is a map - click to enlarge.


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5 more pictures below the jump.

Pictures 3: Great Smoky Mountains National Park settlements

I had no idea that much of the GSMNP was once settled; Cades Cove in particular had a population of more than 700 people in 1900. When the park was established in the '30s, its remaining residents were forced from their homesteads. Many historical buildings are preserved as exhibits.

Click any image to see the larger version on Photobucket.

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The "Primitive Baptist Church" from behind; it's "Primitive" as opposed to the later-established Missionary Baptist Church further down the road.

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Patrick, JD and Emily on the path around the graveyard

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Pictures 2: Great Smoky Mountains National Park landscapes

I will actually have two entries of the Smokies; one of landscape-type shots, one of settlements.

So this is the former.

These are primarily taken along the Cades Cove Loop road. Here's a map; click to enlarge.


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People were totally blown away by deer in the fields. I invite them to New Jersey, where they are as plentiful as rodents.

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Driving around the Cades Cove Loop.

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Pictures 1: New Mexico to Tennessee

I left New Mexico on May 7, 2010. I spent my first night in Conway, Arkansas, and arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains at about 6 pm on May 8. Here are some pics from that drive.

And yes, I did have some crud on my lens that I didn't notice... But this was pretty much the first time I ever used my new camera, so I think it's forgivable.

Click any image to view the full-sized version on Photobucket.


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Newkirk, New Mexico. This is not the first time I stopped for gas at this little "town." A few winters ago my friend Clare and I drove cross-country, and we stopped here just after an ice storm had blanketed all the grass white and prickly. It was nice to explore in better weather. This is the old church.

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The functional gas station is north of I-40, this one is south of I-40.

10 more pictures after the jump...

home again

I'm home now, after an uneventful drive from Hagerstown, Maryland to Chatham, New Jersey. I'm in my parents' house, sleeping in my old bedroom, sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee my mom made and eating bagels my dad bought. We went out to dinner last night with our neighbor and I had good old NJ diner food. Life is pretty good when you don't have to pay for anything. And when you're home. But mostly when you don't have to pay for anything.

Last night when we were getting ready for bed, my mom said, "Oh, shoot. Your bed isn't made. But the sheets and mattress pad are clean."

"GOD DAMN IT, MOM!" I exclaimed.

We both burst out laughing. I like being home. My dad even made me a sandwich yesterday while I sat at the table and did nothing.

It's May 17, and in a little more than a week I will be heading right back down to Knoxville to see Neil Young with Pat on May 27. I can't wait. But til then, I will hang out here in NJ, rest, clean my car, do my laundry, walk my dog, and generally enjoy myself.

Last night and today I spent a bunch of time uploading a sneak peek of my pictures to Facebook (if you're not my friend there, you should be - though my real name admittedly is not Chantal Bonney - that is merely my road name. Patrick's is Jackson Steel), and today I got the last of them uploaded to Photobucket. I divided them into albums based on location and will upload them here in separate entries.

So stay tuned.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

the laws of harmony

After leaving Patrick at the decidedly un-romantic location of Waffle House, I headed down through Pigeon Forge and the Smokies to get to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 9: Blue Ridge Parkway Landscapes).

I’d wanted to be able to say I’d driven the whole BRP. It’s only 469 miles, so I was like – psh, no bigs. But drive that thing and you start to understand why it’s a bit of an accomplishment to have driven it, never mind hiked it. Especially the first stretch, which is through the Cherokee Indian Reservation and Nantahala National Forest, and it is windy as HELL. Not windy like blowing, windy like switchbacks. Windey?

My first stop for my dorky little passport stamp was the Waterrock Knob Visitors Center, where they had a board updating travelers on the conditions on the BRP. I saw that the road was closed from Elk Pasture Gap to the Carolina Arboretum, a distance of about 10 miles starting about 65 miles into the highway. I didn’t write down precisely why it was closed, but nearby there were a ton of trees blown down, so I’m assuming the road was blocked. I went as far as I could on the highway, but soon found that it was getting hazy due to some incoming storm systems, and since I didn’t even start driving the Parkway til nearly 3 pm, it would be getting dark soon – and I didn’t see much of a point of driving the BRP in the dark.

So at around 5 pm, I took the exit near Elk Pasture Gap, which is NC route 151 – an incredibly windy/windey road down through the hills all the way to 19/23, then to I-40. I got on 40 again and was pretty disappointed to be back on a boring old interstate, but I made do. I was supposed to take I-40 to 77 to 81, and as I neared Statesville, I took note of the 77 south exit. And then…. for some unknown reason… I didn’t take the 77 north exit. I spaced out, I was thinking about something else, I have no idea – I just didn’t take it.

I whipped out the atlas quickly while driving (yeah, I’m skilled), and saw that if I stayed on 40, it would hook up with Highway 64 west, which would connect to NC 901 north, which would eventually bring me diagonally northwest to 77. So 64 it was.

The drive through the small North Carolina towns was beautiful. Really and truly beautiful. People say these kinds of towns don’t exist any more, and who knows, maybe they just appear close-knit and comfortable and full of people whose families have lived in those mountains for generations. But if it was a fa├žade, it sure had me fooled.

As I was going up 901, I came across a rodeo in a small arena just off the road. I first drove past it, then turned around and doubled back. A seriously sweet woman in a purple leather fringed Western shirt, who was taking admission, said it was $6 to get in, and there was an ATM back where 901 met 64, about four miles back the way I came. I told her I would be right back.

So I went to the gas station with the ATM. I asked the woman behind the counter, “Where’s y’alls ATM at?” – yes, New Jersey friends, I seriously talk like that now, apparently.

She said, “Right over here. But it don’t got no money.”

I guess I made a really disappointed face, because she burst out laughing and told me she was kidding – “Nah, sweetie, it’s got money. I think. Try it!”

It did indeed have money in it. I took my cash booty back to the rodeo and paid the woman $6.

“Park your car over here next to this barn, ‘cause I know you’ll wanna leave your dog in there. I can watch it and make sure no one messes with it,” she said. Seriously, why aren’t people in the rest of the world this nice?

When I pulled my car in next to the barn, I heard a THUNK under my tire. Fack! I must have run over a rock, I thought. I cracked the windows and told Blake to be good and went to the arena.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 11: Youth Rodeo in Harmony, North Carolina).

I got there at about 7:30, and the rodeo wasn’t set to start til 8 pm. When I arrived, the crowd’s attention was on a preacher who was sitting on the rodeo gates with all the contestants lined up at the fence behind him and the spectators sitting on the bleachers in front of him. He was talking about sin and virtue – and honestly, that’s all I can remember. He kind of babbled on and on and on, as preachers are wont to do. I was busy taking pictures of the horses.

After he was done preaching, he asked for prayer requests – first off was Jordan’s mother, who has cancer. Next was a request from a teenage boy on the bleachers to pray for Matt, who works at the Circle K (people on the bleachers nodded – “Yes, I know Matt”) – who was in a car accident and will not be leaving for the Marines next month because he has six broken ribs, a punctured lung and brain damage. A little boy on a horse at the far end of the rodeo rider line raised his hand and asked to pray for the families who were hurt by the tornadoes in Kansas City, and to pray for “our rodeo family.” Heads nodded.

Ay-men.

The preacher wrapped it up and the riders got to warming up their horses. Some walked in circles, some galloped back and forth with quick turns (they must have been the barrel racers), others cantered figure eights.

I became suddenly very jealous of the girls riding their horses in the ring. This was the Tri State Youth Rodeo Association, and all its contestants were between ages 3 and 18. So these girls were in high school, with their tiny waists and blow-dried hair and their horses whose manes the girls braided that day to prepare for the rodeo. Crocheted crosses hung from the horses’ martingales. One little girl sat in the saddle cross-legged, comfortably as if she were on a classroom floor. Three girls walked their horses abreast and laughed and gossiped and reached across saddles to swat each other on the arm at a particularly sassy comment. What I wouldn’t have given in high school to have been in their place – to have a horse of my own, girlfriends who had their own horses, friends with whom to ride on weekends.

The sun was on its way to setting when the rodeo finally began. After the flag ceremony, a boy rode a bronco for “a little over a second” (he later came and stood near me on the fence with his family – “it was more than a second, gosh”), and then it was mutton butsin’.

I’ll tell you, either the North Carolina sheep are calmer than New Mexico sheep, or the mutton busters are WAY better on the East Coast. The kids had to be able to ride the sheep for at least four seconds, and probably six out of twelve made it that far. Some of the kids fell over to the side of the sheep and rode along the sand with their head on the ground and their feet wrapped around the sheep’s ribs, one leg under and one leg over. After all the little kids were done, some of the older little kids rode calves.

At this point, the sky, which was glowing cobalt, was really threatening to the West. The announcer declared that they weren’t calling the rodeo off, but they were simply pressing pause until the storm blew over.

It was nearing 9 pm by this point, and I wanted to get to Virginia to sleep (Harmony is approximately 50 miles from the Virginia border), so I thought I’d cut out even though the rodeo wasn’t over. I went back to my car and thanked the woman in purple again for watching my car. She said thank you for coming, and urged me to come by again and come to another rodeo – they hold them about once a month. She gave me a brochure and wrote her e-mail address on it so I could get a schedule. And the weird thing is, I kind of wouldn’t mind going to another one, and if I’m in the area again when a rodeo is scheduled, I might make a point to go. It was just that nice.

So I climbed in my car, started her up, pulled out of the parking lot, and… Okay, what’s that? Something’s not right. At all.

I pulled back into the parking lot and checked on my tires. Yup – the front right tire is shot to shit. That “rock” I ran over was actually a hunk of 4x4 in the tall grass.

My fancy tires have their own 24-hour roadside assistance, so I called the service and relatively uneventfully was able to get a tow truck sent my way.

After a few minutes, I received a call from George Cardin, who runs a 24-hour emergency roadside service in the Statesville area. He said that a big rain was coming, and he was going to drive toward me, but if it started to rain hard, he would stop and then start driving again once it passed. “And I’m not talkin’ spittin, now,” he said, “I’m talking like you get outta the car and you look like you had a shower.” I said it was totally fine, and that I’d just wait. The sky was starting to drip in Harmony.

I sat in the car and waited, and soon people began flowing out of the arena and getting into their cars and driving off. The rodeo had been called off after all. I stayed put in my car while pickups flowed out of the lot around me, and soon, Cardin showed up.

At first it seemed like he was pretty irritated to be there. I wasn’t sure what I was doing – I had never had to deal with my spare tire in my trunk (my car is a 2002 Ford Focus, and the tire was still in the well with all the original Styrofoam around it), and when I didn’t know how to turn on my back dome light and didn’t know that there was a screw in the middle of the tire holding it in place, that was not what Cardin wanted to deal with. Blake was barking at him through my car window and my car was too low for the jack to fit under it and I couldn’t get my spare out on my own and he seemed pretty exasperated with the whole situation.

“I just wanna get you out of here and get me out of the rain,” he said gruffly.

“I wanted to sleep in Virginia tonight. I don’t want to be here either,” I replied.

I guess he realized that we were in the same shitty, leaky boat, so he softened up after that.

The rain let up a little bit, and Cardin did too.

“Let me guess: You’re gonna want a cheap hotel that takes you and the dog.”

“Yeah, I thought I’d find a place on 77,” I replied.

“You want to stay at one of them tourist hotels, or you want a good deal?” he asked.

“I want a good deal.”

“Okay. You follow me. We’re going back to Statesville.”

I followed him through the rain, which was coming down again, and we headed back to Statesville. He called me again and again on my cell phone as he arranged a hotel for me and asked me how I would like my tire to be fixed. He offered to call a friend and have him open up his tire shop to get me in and out with a new tire so I could be back on the road that same night, or he could get me that cheap hotel room and arrange to have my tire replaced the next morning. I chose the latter.

I followed him to the Masters Inn in Statesville. He’d had his wife call ahead to get me a good deal, and sure enough, I got a bargain on a room for me and Blake. The woman behind the counter was sweet, and at the end, she said, “Do me a favor – take these and read them.” She handed me Awake, the Jehovah’s Witnesses publication. Will-do, I said.

At this point, it was raining. And I’m not talking spittin. It was pouring. But of course the trunk of my car was all disheveled because I’d had to dig through it to find my spare, so I had to bring a whole bunch of bags into the hotel room to reorganize them. Sure enough, by the time I had all five or seven or however many bags in the room that I needed, I actually had to wrap my hair in a towel, it was so wet.

Once I got into the room, life was generally uneventful. I wrote my last blog post, I organized my stuff, I took the band-aid off my toe and snapped some really gnarly pictures.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Woe is Toe).

All I could do all day yesterday was smile. Even this morning, when it turned out that even my spare was flat, all I could do was smile. Even when some chick started screaming obscenities at 8:30 am and, consequently, some dude in a doo-rag smashed a bottle of malt liquor outside my hotel room door and two cop cars later showed up, it was all I could do but smile.

I’m not worried. I’m not stressed. I have good karma. I have a good life. Traveling is great. I am in this sultry weather, I have the best dog in the world, my new tire was put on my car in less than a half hour and I was able to go take pictures of piles and piles of honeysuckle growing behind the Statesville Walmart.

Today was fine – uneventful, all things considered. I drove another chunk of so miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, explored an abandoned house along the way, and tonight I write this from a hotel room in Hagerstown, Maryland. Tomorrow I will be home.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 10: Abandoned House on the Blue Ridge Parkway).

Tomorrow I will be home, and I’ll spend a little while there before heading back down to Knoxville to see Neil Young with Patrick. Then I will spend more time at home. I will think. I will think a lot. I’ll figure things out. But first, I have to get home.

Friday, May 14, 2010

she's leaving home

I'm presently sitting in a hotel room in Statesville, North Carolina with a broken toe and a flat tire and rodeo dust all over me and my camera. But that comes later.

Last night Patrick took me to downtown Knoxville. We drove down by the University of Tennessee, where all the college students hang out, then went downtown to Gay Street and Market Square. The neighborhood was great. It wasn't big, but it was bright and crowded (on a Thursday night) and sultry and humid and beautiful. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to Blake and the parks were all full of grass. (I guess that last thing isn't so unusual, but after living in the desert for six years, you would freak out too.)

I saw a lot of stuff I wish I'd had my camera to take pictures of, but naturally I left it in the car because it was humid and I was (am) a little sunburned from Bristol, so carrying things by straps was bound to be uncomfortable. But I'll be back in Knoxville soon enough - I got Patrick and me tickets to see Neil Young on May 27. I'll do everything then.

I miss cities. I miss that musty dirty city smell that comes out from under cars and up between the cracks in the sidewalk. I miss being with someone you love in a city. There are few better things than being awash in this sea of people but knowing there's one person there who only cares about you, who only wants to be with you, and for whom all these extra people are just that - extra.

I've tried to keep the puke-worthy adolescent babblings to a minimum here because I'm an adult and adults don't do that kind of thing. But seriously, whatever. Later that night, back at the hotel room we got so that we'd both be well-rested (him for a job interview, me for the drive out), he looked right at me and said, "I want you here." And I knew I wanted to be there. I don't want to leave Madrid, I love Santa Fe, I love New Mexico, but I need to be where he is.

I know that's terribly un-feminazi of me. But there's nothing wrong with love, and admitting you're in love, and believing in love to the exclusion of anything adverse to love. I have always been the type to leap and to trust that the net will appear; and my life, the way I have lived my life, so far has provided those nets. Whether it was moving to New Mexico at age 18 or adopting a death-row dog when I had no idea how I'd be able to afford or keep a dog or whether it was quitting my job and subletting my house and falling head-over-heels for someone with a ten-ton anchor in Knoxville, Tennessee, I just do things and think about the consequences later.

But you know what? It has always worked out. I have always been blessed. I came to love Santa Fe, that same troublesome little dog is currently curled up next to me on these slithery hotel sheets, and I know that I will find a way to be with Patrick and that I will be happy however I do it... Because that is just how my life goes.

All night we left our computers to download stuff, and I finally uploaded all my blog entries. The joys of internet are such that when I have them, they're great, but when I am without them, I breathe just as easy. I figure - everyone who knows me well enough to know what I would consider an emergency has my phone number.

So after a great night's sleep, Patrick and I packed our own things into our own cars (we'd combined some stuff in my car to go camping and got rid of my superfluous stuff in his car, which we left in Strawberry Plains). All was well until I was rushing around, trying to put things in their proper place, and I didn't see the big concrete curb. Or maybe I did, and decided to give it a big healthy kick with my flip-flopped foot.

Holy shit. You know how, when you stub your toe really hard, you feel like you're gonna puke? That was me. Oh man. It hurt so fucking bad. I could hardly breathe. My whole leg was full of stabbing pains. But we had a lot of crap to do, so I slapped a band-aid on it and kept going. For the record, my toe is now all kinds of pretty purple and red colors, and is quite shiny to boot. I'm thinking it's broken. I've had broken toes and this looks like it.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Woe is Toe).

The hotel was right next to a Waffle House, and, in case you didn't know, I freaking love Waffle House. So we went to Waffle House. I got us brunch and did really great, even though I knew I would be leaving after we ate.

Everything fell apart once I got outside. Leaving... Leaving sucks. So much. But I don't know how to not do it. I left New Jersey at 18, I left New Jersey again and again until I finally left at age 20 and knew it wasn't the same kind of home as it used to be. And I felt the same way leaving Santa Fe this time; not like I wanted to stay after all, because I'd made it impossible to back out of my plans - so instead that feeling which would otherwise be wishy-washy just translated to an intense, dull sadness - not a cut, but a bruise, a seeping just under the skin.

And this morning I found myself leaving Knoxville. I know I'm going back in less than two weeks (more on that later), but leaving... ugh. Leaving. I hate leaving. I especially hate leaving a person. And this morning I was leaving Patrick again.

But I knew I needed to get home. I knew I needed to get back to New Jersey. I need to go home.

I want to write about everything else that happened today - the Blue Ridge Parkway, the wrong turn, the Christian family rodeo, the flat tire, and how I'm now in a hotel run by Jehovah's Witnesses in Statesville, North Carolina - but I need to sleep. Letterman is telling me to sleep. Sleep.

More tomorrow.

Ouch, my toe.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

contemplating my next move

Patrick and his dad are fishing back in the woods, and I’m sitting at the dead-end of River Bend Road in Bristol. There’s a house here that has an unsecured wireless network. And I didn’t connect! Just don’t feel like it. How’s that for weird?

I fancy myself a pretty adaptable person. When I moved to New Mexico at age 18, I was miserable for a few years until I found the right niche and found my footing in the community, but I made it. Now it may be time for me to leave Santa Fe, and I wonder if I will adapt to wherever I go next.

Patrick has not outright asked me to move to Knoxville, but when I offered to do so, he didn’t object. It certainly is different from Santa Fe – and I may like it better, in a weird way. People here don’t seem as self-absorbed as they are in Santa Fe. People move slower but they do know how to move fast – they just choose not to. In Santa Fe, when people move slow, it’s because they have no idea how to function like a normal human being. City Different, indeed.

But I do love Santa Fe. I do love Madrid. I love the art and the landscape and the creative people and the through-and-through acceptance of just about everyone.

That would be my main fear moving out here. I don’t just lean to the left – I’m pretty much running in that direction. And obviously, people here are not that way. I have heard good things about Knoxville as a metropolitan area, as far as being hip and tolerant is concerned, but I’m not holding my breath. Could I live in the South? Could I handle it?

There is only one way to find out. That’s the bottom line here; there is only one way to find out and if I don’t find out I will always wonder.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Unexpected realization about unemployment #1

I sweat less.

I have always been a sweater. Call me gross, call me Polish, call me whatever you want, but I sweat a lot. As a result, unless I am very careful, I don’t always smell so great. So you can imagine my concern when I learned that, when traveling and camping with Patrick, I wouldn’t be showering every day like I usually do. I wasn’t looking forward to stinking.

But now, I have pretty much no stress. I have nothing I’m worried about. I have nothing to sweat about. I’m not running through the office, trying to get to interviews on time, trying to answer all my emails – I’m not breaking into a cold sweat when I realize I have done something really, really wrong. I just sweat so much less. That’s all there is to it. So not showering isn’t as awful as I thought it was.

I also have much less opportunity to be vain, so that contributes to being okay with not showering too often. There are very few mirrors in camping, and when there is a mirror, it gets only a cursory glance to make sure I still have a reflection before I leave it again. No vampiric qualities? Okay, I’m good.

Fly Fishing Camp

Edit: See photos related to this entry here (Pictures 8: Tennessee Fishing Camp)

The men are under the tarp with kerosene lanterns, tying flies. I’m in the car with Blake (I would let him wander the campsite but Darrell’s camp dog Zoe the boxer is here, and Blake is no good with other dogs), writing this. Pat put on Astral Weeks, perhaps the single best summertime album of all time. The air is getting a chill.

Today the men didn’t leave to go fishing until about 11:30 am. We woke late, hung out around the campsite, and when they left I decided to stay back at the campsite with Blake and the computer. That was when I wrote the previous two entries. When it began to drizzle, I got in the car and went into Bristol to the Food City and picked up some toilet paper and Clorox wipes to stock the bathroom.

The farmer who owns this land asks campers to donate whatever they think is fair, so I thought cleaning the bathroom and stocking it would be fair on my part. Not that it was dirty – it is very well kept-up, and the farmer even dropped by yesterday and left us a stick-on light bulb for the electricity-less outhouse. Nonetheless, I filled a garbage bag with old spent toilet paper rolls and some random antifreeze jugs that were lying around, and left a big economy-sized canister of Clorox wipes in lieu of hand-washing (though there is a sink in there, it isn’t hooked up to anything).

Back at camp I remembered that the guys had talked about how little they like doing dishes, so I went over to the pump near the outhouse and did the dishes as well.

It’s a small thing like doing the dishes in a river, or using an old-school water pump to fill a bucket for your shower, or dipping your car floor mats in a creek to clean them that just makes me feel like life is better than I thought it was and that there are a lot of things left for me to do and love. Call me weird (it wouldn’t be the first time someone did that), but I like doing things some weird modern version of an old-fashioned way. I don’t want to churn my own butter or spin my own thread or anything, but when I spilled coffee on my floor mat yesterday, I knew it would be fine to dip it in the lagoon and let it dry on the hood of my car. When the shower ran out of water when Pat was showering, he said to just dip the bucket in the river and fill the cistern with river water. I feel more full this way; I feel like there is so much less that I need. Of course, it’s a bit of a false feeling of simplicity (that shower plugs into my car to function; the dishes I’m washing are my $25 coffee press from REI), but don’t tell my heart that.

The water, however, is definitely cold. Later, Brad told me that trout start to die at 60 degrees, so pretty much anywhere that there’s trout fishing, the water will be cold. News to me. I think of the lake I camped at as a kid, Lake Absegami in South Jersey, and it was temperate as a bathtub. No trout fishing, I guess.

I cleaned up the campsite, talked on the phone, took some pictures, wrote some more. That was my day. When Pat, Darrell and Brad came back, they didn’t comment on the dishes or the lack of trash or the filled shower cistern, but that was okay – they repaid me with a huge load of brown trout, dipped in a mix of flour and garlic and salt and what-have-you and fried in Crisco. Brad showed me how to eat the fish without getting bones in my throat and Darrell urged me to eat the tail – it’s like a potato chip. (It is.) They brought home too many fish, though, so Zoe got a huge plate to herself.

So now, here we are. Tomorrow the men will go fishing again, and Pat and I will head into Knoxville and get a cheap hotel room for the night. Patrick has a job interview at 9 am Friday morning, so he wants to be clean and pretty and well-rested for it – hence no camping Thursday night. I’ll hang out in Knoxville while he does that, maybe find my way downtown, and we’ve yet to figure out when, precisely, I will leave here.

I would like to make the drive back more scenic than was the one to Tennessee – I was so desperate to get here to be with Pat that I didn’t want to stop too often. But now I can take a little more time, take a few more pictures, maybe see some sights. Now that I’ve learned traveling on my own isn’t as sucky as I thought it was going to be, maybe I will take some time.

Take some time. Since when do I do that?

old growth

Had to end that last entry because I was writing outside, and it began to rain.

We woke up to a chilly morning in North Carolina. After dressing, we headed to Joyce Kilmer, where a 2-mile loop hike took us through the oldest old-growth forest East of the Mississippi. A few days ago my dad told me that The Last of the Mohicans was filmed in the area – since the film takes place in what is now upstate New York long before it was New York, only upstate New York no longer looks anything like it did before it was New York, the producers chose North Carolina and Tennessee, because it is one of the few Eastern forests largely untouched by man.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 5: Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest).

Walking the trail at Joyce Kilmer, I almost laughed to myself a few times thinking, “Wow, this is just like the Bronx Zoo” or “Wow, this is just like Disneyland.” I had the same experience in parts of Santa Fe and the mountain town of Eze in the south of France – experiencing the real thing is just like an authentic experience of the fake thing. It would be like going to Egypt or Jordan and being entranced by how similar it is to the Indiana Jones ride at Disney.

At Joyce Kilmer there were various bridges over rocky streams, rhododendron bushes towering higher than any I’d ever seen before – and of course, trees so huge that most families couldn’t join hands all the way around. Information boards at the forest said that, when logging companies were in the area, even the logging employees were so wowed by the trees that they saved that area for last – and luckily, the portion of forest was chosen for preservation before the companies could get to it.

Leaving Joyce Kilmer, Pat knew his dad was fishing in northeast Tennessee for two weeks, so we decided to head toward where he was so Pat could fish and I could eat said fish.

We first drove down through Graham County (particularly Robbinsville), North Carolina, and a variety of other towns (Cherokee, Maggie Valley, and so on) where I stopped the car often to take pictures – where of ivied buildings, rusted train trestles, abandoned barns, that kind of stuff. The patina of old buildings never ceases to amaze me. Anyone who can walk by a rusty train track and not gasp just doesn’t see things correctly, I think.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 6: North Carolina Countryside).

My favorite stop along the way was a bridge just outside Cherokee. As we wound down through the green hills, I saw the bridge and cried out – “Oh, god. Oh, god, right there! That!” Patrick cracked up at the Roadside Americana Orgasm and waited in the car while I grabbed the camera and trekked on down an old access road to the tracks over the river, not to mention an amazing abandoned building in the woods right next to the tracks.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 7: North Carolina Bridge).

I love the smell of creosote. I love the smell of river water. I love the sound that old broken glass makes when you step on it with flip-flops. I love the kinds of things to find in the tall grass next to the road – old cars, cast-iron stoves on their sides, faded plastic rocking horses. I love when old houses have newspaper underneath the plywood on the walls. I love how you can see the ground way below when you walk on a train trestle over a river. I love the way the river runs over and around pilings. I love looking at the river underneath you and feeling like you’re moving when you’re not. I wish I didn’t ever have to get back into the car.

We drove through the evening in North Carolina and Tennessee and came to Patrick’s father’s campsite just outside Bristol, Tennessee. The town is small, and if you continue past the town center and turn onto Emmett Road and then Piney Hill Road, then River Bend Road, there is a farmer who allows fly fishermen to camp on his land on an honor system.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 8: Tennessee Fishing Camp)

The land buts right up to the river in a beautiful little valley. There are cows in the field nearby. The farmer has a shower and an outhouse with a flush toilet (!), and Pat’s dad also has set up his own camp shower, the pump for which plugs into your car cigarette lighter. The second we arrived at the campsite we both took showers. It was Tuesday evening, and I hadn’t showered since Friday morning – possibly the longest I have gone without a shower since pre-adolescence. It was a glorious, glorious thing.

Patrick’s dad Darrell and his friend Brad showed up just before nightfall. We spent the evening talking and eating, and we turned in around 10:30.

Cades Cove

I ended that last entry kind of in the middle of nowhere because I fell asleep. Being jobless now, I stay awake like I mean it and sleep whenever I want to. It’s a good life – I never have to pretend to be awake and with it when I’m not. If I want to lay down, I do. You can’t do that when you’re a 9-to-5’er.

After Pat, JD and Emily got back from the Chimneytops hike, we went back to the campsite, packed up, traded the kids off to Pat’s ex-wife in town, then Patrick and I went back to the campsite. By that time it was getting late, so we turned in around 9 pm. Naturally, turning in early didn’t ensure we got an early start, so we crawled out of bed around 9 am and by 10 am we were back on the Cades Cove Loop, checking out the other historic sites along the way.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 3: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Settlements).

Since it was a Monday morning, we’d have thought it would be quiet, but there were a surprising number of cars on the loop – not to mention approximately one trillion kids on a school field trip at the Cable Mill. But we made the best of it – I could often wait until people had moved out of the way to take pictures.

When we stopped at the John Oliver Place, there was a volunteer ranger there to tell some of the history of the building and some of the park lore. When John Oliver, his wife, and their infant daughter moved into the cove in late November in about 1820, they would have starved to death had nearby Indian tribes not left them five bags of food (the ranger said it was three bags of dried pumpkin, a bag of chestnuts and a bag of corn – not sure who thought to record that fact, but it’s pretty cool that they apparently did, and that that much food was enough to sustain a family of three through a Smokies winter).

He also told the story of the only Civil War-related killing in the Cove. This part of Tennessee was sympathetic with the North, since they did not have any large plantations and no real need for slaves. The Rebel troops, however, would often come into the valley and steal livestock from the inhabitants. The townsfolk of Cades Cove devised an early warning system where the girls of the town would go into the woods and watch for Rebels, and when they saw them, they would signal each other via animal calls and get word back to town so that the farmers could hide their livestock. When the Rebels found out who devised this plan – a Reverend – they killed him. (There’s some Southern hospitality for you.) The Reverend’s gravestone, which is in the graveyard at the Primitive Baptist Church, notes that he was killed by Rebels.

Patrick and I drove around the Cove, exploring the old houses and taking some great pictures. We’ve decided to go find an old farmhouse, fix it up, get some horses and live happily ever after. (Not to mention hot in the summer and cold in the winter ever after.)

Once we finished at the Cove, we headed into town to bring Patrick’s car to his daughter Chrystine. We were headed to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest in North Carolina, part of Nantahala National Forest, and we only needed one car. After passing his car off to Chrystine in Kodak, we hit the road.

By this point it was already about 4 pm, and it was starting to get cloudy and rainy. We took the Cherohala Skyway into North Carolina, and the fog actually made for some gorgeous pictures, as opposed to the flat light a beautiful day would have provided.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 4: The Cherohala Skyway).

It was late by the time we arrived at Snowbird, a campground Patrick often goes to. We went to the very last campsite down a long dirt road, known as the Junction, probably because on the left side of the road is a spring that flows into a river on the right side of the road.

We set up camp in the dark and crawled into the tent shortly before it started pouring. Between the heavy rushing river to one side, the waterfalls of the stream to the other and the rain all around us on the tent, it was the kind of night’s sleep you only experience a few times in your life.

Like I said to Pat that night – “I wish I could just press Pause and stay here for a really, really long time.”

Sunday, May 9, 2010

best-laid plans

When I told my co-worker Rani about my situation, she smiled and said, “What is that saying? ‘If you want God to laugh at you, make plans’?”

I’ve been saying that for over a week now as a form of comfort, or explanation, or excusal, for what happened.

Backing up a bit, the basic fact is that my trip, as I knew it, is canceled. I was going to make the drive with Patrick, the man who inspired me to do all this in the first place. But on April 27, about two weeks before we were to leave, he had to leave New Mexico attend to a family situation in Tennessee, which would keep him in the Knoxville area probably indefinitely. I was either going to make the trip by myself, or not make it at all.

My first thought was to call it off all together. I can’t do this alone, I thought. More importantly, I don’t want to do it alone. I figured I would just head straight home to New Jersey and convalesce at my parents’ house in Morris County.

But then a few days went by and Patrick and I spoke and we decided I should go to Knoxville. If he has to stay in Knoxville, and if we decide to try to make our relationship work, I may look into moving to the area, so I figured I should at least get a feel of the place before I commit or don’t commit.

So here I am. I am presently in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, sitting at the trailhead of the Chimneytops trail, hanging out in Patrick’s car while he and two of his kids hike. No dogs are allowed on the trails, so rather than leave my dog alone in the car for four hours, I decided to stick around here and get some writing done and sort out my brain.

One thing I can say is, this park is as busy as Six Flags on Memorial Day Weekend. It’s the most-visited national park in the nation (10 million people each year), and on a cool May weekend like this, I believe it. Cars are everywhere. You creep down roads at a crawl. Last night we drove the Cades Cove Loop, which is about 11 miles, in 2 hours or more. Sure, we got out to explore on occasion, but we spent most of our time rolling along slowly behind a line of cars or waiting in a traffic jam where a bunch of idiots were getting out of their vehicles to get a picture of the bear just off in the woods.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 2: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Landscapes).

But none of that takes away from the sheer beauty of the Smokies. Living in Santa Fe for six years and spending the majority of that time amidst juniper and pinon trees, scrubby sage and chamisa plants and harsh desert landscapes (beautiful as they may be), I was totally unprepared for the sight of Cades Cove in early summer. The trees are so green, they glow. Some roads are so covered by foliage that it’s hard to tell what time of day it is. (Driving to the Sugarlands Visitors Center today, Patrick said, “I think it’s nice out today.” I looked up and realized – yeah, it’s hard to tell with all these trees in the way.)

The Smokies aren’t just a forest, like I thought they would be. Cades Cove, where we are camping, in 1900 had a population of 700 people – about 125 families. So sprinkled throughout the valley are graveyards, old houses, primitive churches, rustic barns and cabins. The Cades Cove Loop took us past a few churches, some of which we stopped to photograph, and a walk into a sprawling meadow brought us to a tiny graveyard (maybe a dozen graves) with no other buildings even remotely nearby. Some park rangers say that some of the churches were moved from their original location, and these random graveyards in the middle of nowhere would lead me to believe that’s true.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 3: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Settlements).

I have had a ball taking pictures with my new camera. A few days before I left, I bought my friend Jason’s old Canon Rebel XT. It is heaven. I have been wanting a camera like this since I was a kid (seriously, at nine or ten years old, I was asking my dad for what I called a “manual camera”), and it’s just the greatest. I’ll crouch down by a fence and take pictures focused on the landscape, then focused on the barbed wire. It just doesn’t get old.

On the way out I stopped a few times to take pictures – in Newkirk, New Mexico, Clinton, Oklahoma, Okemah, Oklahoma (Woody Guthrie’s birthplace), and Jackson, Tennessee. There may have been a few other towns in there. Newkirk and Clinton were my favorites. I have always been mesmerized by abandoned buildings, so many of my pictures are of old edifices I stumbled upon (there certainly are enough of them on the High Plains). Now here I am, and I got some great shots of graveyards and churches yesterday.

Edit: See photos related to this part of this entry here (Pictures 1: New Mexico to Tennessee).

I thought driving by myself was going to suck. I was prepared to stop often to rest. But it was actually great. There was no one to tell me to hurry up, no one to complain “But you just peed 50 miles ago!”, no one to say I was taking too long photographing some old broken-down stand at the Casey Jones village. Traveling by myself (well, with the dog) is actually quite glorious.

But one of the reasons I enjoyed traveling, albeit by myself, was because I knew I was moving toward Patrick. When he left New Mexico two Tuesdays ago, I was devastated. I knew I loved him, but I thought I would be able to let him go if I had to. I learned this week that that is probably not true. Being with him again is perfect. This isn’t going to be easy – especially if he decides to stay in Knoxville (judging from the number of McCain stickers and the pickup I saw with ‘Way To Go Arizona’ soaped on the back window, I don’t think I will fit in very well here) – but I am willing to try to make it work. Whether that means dealing with something long-distance or moving to Knoxville or Asheville is yet to be seen.

When it comes down to it, I doubt Patrick will want to leave Knoxville again, as much as he loved living in New Mexico. To see him with his daughter Emily is like watching a bell ring. Emily just turned 3 years old in March, and between loving camping, wanting to go fishing and being game for anything outdoors-related, they are a match made in heaven.

We’re presently out here in the Smokies with Emily and JD, Pat’s son, who is 15. Pat had wanted to (and I suppose still wants to) hike the Continental Divide Trail with JD, but staying in Knoxville would make that difficult.

All told, the kids are great. I mean, sure, the less-than-24-hours I have spent with them is just that – less than 24 hours – but I’ve had a great time. I could see spending an extended amount of time with them, and, if Pat has his way, living with JD.