Jessica “Snuggles” Rakestraw is a total bookworm, long-distance hiker, blogger, and traveller living full time in a 5x8 converted cargo trailer with her husband and dog. Her blog dubbed “The Snuggle Diary” has been live for two years with consistent weekly posts. It is within these posts that she discusses various outdoor topics such as travelling and being a woman in the wilderness, all written with a touch of humour.
We were so close to the Smoky Mountains! It was unplanned but those adventures are usually the best ones. This was only a brief visit before the actual start of our full journey North.
My husband Darwin and I wanted to touch it, to feel this thing we had read about and researched for the last year. I felt almost a fraud to be traveling by car to this special spot. We were still several months early; I felt we had not earned the right to be here yet.
After a big breakfast in Gatlinburg, Tennessee we entered the Smoky Mountain National Park and began to drive up the steep roads through the Blue Ridge Mountains. We passed by the mountain overlooks we had seen before, climbing slowly further away from the city below.
We finally arrived at our first destination in awe, a view from which we have never considered the world. The highest point in the whole state of Tennessee, the tallest mountain in the park, and most importantly the highest point on the entire Appalachian Trail, Clingmans Dome.
From just the parking lot at the dome the view was spectacular but we climbed even further on foot. We were above the clouds when we finally arrived at the bottom of the grayish observation tower. We found ourselves surrounded by a dense Spruce-Fir Forest as we ascended the tower. Technically we had at this point, already taken our first steps on the Appalachian Trail as it ran right alongside the paved path to the dome. That dirt trail we so desired, however, would come next.
At the top of the tower we sat in silence, taking in the three-sixty views that encircled us. We breathed in the thin, chilly air lost in our thoughts. As we descended the tower it was then that I really took it in the trail; from this high it was only a small space in-between the trees. When we made it to the bottom of the tower, I stared at the thick painted line on a tree just a short distance in front of me. A White Blaze was before me, marking the Appalachian Trail.
We never said a word to each other but started down the trail heading north touching each blaze tenderly as we passed. Neither had to say it, we felt drawn by some unknown force to continue as the voices of the tourists at the dome faded away. I focused on my boots as they hit the soft damp earth. I continued further down the trail. I felt I could cry; I was home. We were home.
It was finally time to return, to make our way back to the life we had not cut ties with yet. I embraced the wooden trail sign that announced the mileage of the nearest shelters and landmarks on the Appalachian Trail; I felt I was saying goodbye to a dear friend. I could only hope that when I returned to this spot having walked here, the trail would still be willing to accept me. I would be apart of it somehow; we would be one.
How many more blazes would I be able to see then? Who would I be when I returned? What secrets of the trail would I know? I pondered these things as we drove back down the mountain. Following a paved road back to a society we were still partially part of.
You can read more of Jessica's adventures on her blog "The Snuggle Diaries".