Great Smoky Mountains NP (Day 4)

It was finally sunny on Day 4 !!! I drove through Cades Cove to get to the Gregory Bald trailhead on Parsons Branch Rd. This is the shorter path, which is only around 8.5 miles. The road ended up being closed, though, due to the runoff from the rain. That meant I had to start from the Gregory Bald Ridge Trail, which roundtrip is about 11 miles. It starts off pretty easy, just walking through flat terrain and crossing streams.

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A burying beetle hanging out on a Ganoderma lucidum. 

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This trail !! Oh boy this trail kicked my ass. I’ve definitely done harder trails, no doubt, but this one went on forever. It’s definitely more than 11 miles roundtrip (my phone said 14). The trail starts to incline at a certain point, to where you’re gaining about 500 feet per mile. The path is always inclined and it’s curvy, so there’s a constant looming feeling that you’re almost there. I think the last two miles were the hardest, because every “just around the corner!” was a lie. Actually reaching the top was soo relieving.

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Just like the day before, I was the second person to reach the top. The people before me were leaving as I was arriving. For almost 8 minutes, I had the 10-acre meadow to myself. I didn’t expect this at all, but something kinda cool happened.

When I was a kid and I got really stressed or sad, I would imagine a “happy place.” I had a bunch of different ones, but one that followed me into adulthood was a big meadow. The grass would be green and soft, so I could lie in it. There would be no one around, no fences, and only the sound of the wind.

It took me a couple of minutes to notice it, but when I did, it was amazing !! I sat down in the grass to test it, and yeah, I was in THAT place ! The place I had always wished I was at when I needed to get away. I started to happy cry for only the third time in my life. I got back up and walked around a little more to take it all in.

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The only azaleas that had bloomed haha. I was too early.

After taking it all in, I laid back down in the grass and relaxed. My heart had never felt so totally at peace. I remembered how I felt on Mauna Kea, and how I wished that I would take the time to slow down and enjoy things. I made sure to do that here. When another couple arrived, I got up to leave.

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“Best day of my life!” Selfie

The way back down was also long and tiresome. My legs started hurting about five minutes into the decline (guess yesterday’s 11 miles wasn’t as easy on my body as I thought). On the way down, I realized that there was nothing else in the park that I could do that would top this. I had still wanted to do Chimney Tops, but I also realized that my legs weren’t gonna be functional the next day. I considered leaving, but figured I’d at least try to see Clingman’s Dome. Four days in and I still hadn’t seen it!

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