“Noooooooo Tom, tell him to stoooooooooop!!!!!!” her voice screeched out like skidding tires before a crash. “No, Noooooooo Tom, tell him he can’t go up there; we’re walking down this instant!!!!”
In the summer of 01’, I traveled 581 miles south, with my family, to Gatlinburg, TN. It was the type of vacation nightmare Freddie Krugger would have feared. I had already endured one week of hellaciously cramped quarters in an 80’s era Winnebago. We had suffered a mechanical breakdown 2 hours into the trip and driven through a riot in Cincinnati. For all intents and purposes I should have bolted from the Winne and hitchhiked home, as this was clearly a precursor to the pain and disappointment I was about to encounter.
We had agreed upon and looked forward to a family hike. It would begin just outside of Gatlinburg in the heart of the Great Smokey Mountains, where the trailhead to Chimney Tops lies. A mountainous mascot to the national park, it’s one of the most recognizable peaks and popular trails to hike. Though the trail is easily accessible and moderately challenging, the view from the top is what everyone is after. But getting to the top is a bit tricky. Signs warn you of impeding risk, danger, and a climb. Ahhhhh yes the climb. Though the walk up to the summit is fairly simple, it’s the peak that offers the big reward with its beautiful endless view. There is only one way to the top if you wanna rock n’ roll, and the only way you’re gonna get atop this rock is a 50 foot, 65 degree intimidating climb up bare slate. To break it down: base of the rock= no view and waste of hike; top of the rock = glory.
My family and I just completed the 2 mile 1300 vertical hike to the ALMOST pinnacle of the Chimney Tops trail. The hike is scenic, engaging, and fun for most folks of average athleticism. Unfortunately, I was a disproportionately chubby 14-year-old in tan corduroys, ill-fitted cotton shirt, and blue liberty spikes in my hair. To me, 2 miles and 1300 vertical feet is like the god damn Thunder Dome. Factor in an unseasonably hot Spring in the south, with swamp ass inducing temperatures, and I didn’t just think I deserved to make it to the summit, I expected a fucking Griffin to lift me upon its mythical wings and float my chubby buns straight to the top.
So here I stood, under a canopy composed of the last few remaining feet of trees before the trail takes a steep turn up and its slate rock summit jets high up into the Tennessee sky. . . People were frolicking up the rock side and into the sun. I stood next to the last sign of caution before I sprinted and climbed to the top alongside them. I had almost made it. I won. All was hanging before me for this single moment. I. . . I . . . “Stop right there Evan, you are not going up there!!!!!!!” I . . . wasn’t moving a foot passed that sign.
I stood frantically, confused as my stomach dropped and my hopes crashed— My mom continued to wail away, insisting I not take a step further then the caution sign I had my back up against. It took a small glimmer of defiance in my eye to turn my mom’s panic into my father’s demand. “EVAN, you will NOT be going past that sign; it’s too dangerous.” Whether my mom’s frantic words of hysteria drove him to say it, or the visions of his athletically challenged son toppling towards immanent doom off a rocky cliff made him I’ll never know, but my dad laid the hammer down on any possible attempt I thought I had. Defiant eyes soon filled with disgust, as I stammered my feet and made it vocally known that I had the worst parents in parental history. To really drive the point home of how pissed off I was, I did what any badass 14-year-old could do at that time. I dashed passed them and walked back down the trail by . . . my . . . self, that’ll teach ‘em!
(Disclaimer: I may have ran out of breath halfway down and become slightly lost to the point that they caught up, but that was noooooowhere near my intention. They were lucky they found me, and I totally could have made it down alone.)
And for the last 12 years, that view haunts me. It’s like taking the key component from some of the best psychological horrors films out there, not seeing what it is you should be fearing, and letting your mind run wild. What’s atop that brilliant peak? A heart pounding view? Happiness? Jimmy Hoffa???? The last decade of my life has been one long Blair Witch Project-esq mind trip of what greatness lay above.
So a few weeks ago, I traveled back south to Tennessee under the pretense I was in need of some family time and a little R&R, when really all I sought was pure mountainous redemption . . .