Right now, writing from a window full of slightly-warmer Florida sunshine, it doesn't seem that long ago that we had our first dinner night in the RV (woot woot!) parked in the Smokies foothills near Knoxville, TN. (Some milestones are best marked with homemade quesadillas anyway ;) right?) And in the intervening months - lots of work miles, an accelerated remodel, and a massive downsizing to mobile minimalism. It all started last September. If you've already seen some of these, bear with me as I backtrack!

Our original whirlwind trek took us through Tennessee, the Carolinas, Georgia, & Florida, before a stint of work on the western Gulf Coast, giving this whole freelance-gig lifestyle a try for the first time. The first real chance at sightseeing came with a Highway 441 drive, through the heart of Smoky Mountain National Park. (If you haven't had a chance to watch the Ken Burns documentary on the National Parks, please do it!)

The drive was originally planned as a scenic bike ride, since we had the Harley in tow, but this was out-voted by sketchy rain/mountain fog in the morning. So, Moby (our beast of burden at the time), trucked us up & down 441 for the day trip. This scenic highway enters the National Park through the Eastern Cherokee Nation, in (you guessed it) Cherokee, NC. There’s a historic center and a souvenir shop on every corner, but hardly a Cherokee to be seen (except for one young dude on a skateboard). Lots of bikers & enough classic cars passing through to qualify as a show. On the other end, we did stop at the visitor center in Gatlinburg to get maps, but the main drag was so crammed with people it was a little too horrifying for a stop.

The "441" is truly one of the most awe-inspiring highways. The whole Park route is beautiful & immaculate, start to finish. The road is smooth and gently sloped, following the meander of the Oconaluftee River, with frequent pull-off areas at major trailheads & overlooks for some of the highest peaks.

The break in the weather on the trip back gave us an awesome window into the overlooks & heights of the park. But I enjoyed most venturing into the river valley, where the richly-oxygenated forest air and ambient riparian sounds drowned out the white noise of civilization. You could easily lose yourself in the lushness of a completely natural & pristine river valley, water flowing pure, surrounded by sensuous textures of mosses, ferns, and glossy river stones, in the tranquil glens guarded by a mountain's silhouette and the thick understory of rhododendrons.

And the last sight of the Smokies? Elk crossings, at the state line. Traffic bottlenecked as sightseers leered from windows & truck beds to glimpse the herd, casually patrolling the roadside, with this bull elk sending a shrill howl echoing through the wind.

While our hearts may belong to the ocean, I say to the Smokies...we'll be back; this first meeting was far too brief. Keep your buzzing resort towns on the fringe of the hills, where people crowd to see your heights from a distance. One day, when the noise and distraction of the civilized world start to wear thin, we'll find refreshment in a climb to a more remote place, and wash our souls in some crystal river water, and find refuge where the tall mountain stands watch like an ancient lady shrouded in a veil of white mist.

Enjoy mountain photos? This first batch of shots from my Nikon is part of a "test run" for a set of postcards & prints. You can find a few of them on my brand-new RedBubble store here (including the happy little shroom pictured above). More coming soon!