Cherokee, North Carolina
As we’ve travelled across the states the scenery has definitely changed, as well as the culture. It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what is different in each place because it’s usually just a million tiny things. Sometimes it’s differences in grocery store selections, like only 2 options for coffee but lots of ways to buy pork rinds. Instead of fruit stands like in Washington, its little road side shacks labeled “boiled peanuts” that look like they closed for business decades ago. We’ve gone from areas where “yes, ma’am” is a condescending insult, to where it’s the expected show of respect. We’ve been where old ladies at the gas station refer to me as “baby”, and confederate flags are flown nearly as often as the US flag. And we’ve encountered both wonderful and not wonderful people everywhere. But apparently, there ain’t no grumpy like Appalachian grumpy.
“I know how to spell Wenatchee” she interrupted, when I started to spell my hometown for her at the registration desk. “Oh wow, that’s unusual,” I replied, over-the-top sweet. “How do you know of Wenatchee?” “Well I happen to be a well travelled individual” was her reply with an eye roll. An eye roll was her basic response to every comment or question I had. “How was your drive?,” she asked, a rare seemingly-thoughtful question. “Oh fine, just some twisty roads that scared me, but it was fine,” I answered with a smile. Another eye roll. “When you’re in the mountains, you’re gonna have curvy roads.”
The woman who managed the campground where we stayed in Cherokee, NC was an angry, annoyed, huffy person who seemed incredibly bothered by each and every conversation, which apparently to her was just a slow revelation of each individual’s inadequacies.
“Would you rather have site 43 or 18?” she asked, as if I had any idea what either of them were like. “Is either of them one of those very steep sites we saw near the entrance?” Huge eye roll. “No,” she sighed. “Those are only for my seasonals.” She cautioned me to drive the exit road once without our trailer to see if we wanted to exit that way, as many other customers choose to leave out the entrance road instead because they “don’t know how to drive” When I got back in the truck with the family I said, “Ok everybody – important life lesson…sometimes you meet people who are just rude and angry for no reason. And what do you do? You just kill them with kindness.” (Thanks, Caryl!)
We visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which is the most visited NP in the US, before the busy season hit. The out of season park didn’t offer what it does on all its glory – no ranger led programs, no wild flowers, and only bare trees. But I could see how it would be a Garden of Eden in summer months, with thick forests & bushes & trees all around ready to bloom into colorful displays in a few weeks. The park has a very high concentration of black bears – 2 per every square mile! But we visited at the tail end of hibernation season, so even though we statistically should have seen about 41 bears, we saw zero. The best thing about visiting before peak season is that we explored the area without fighting crowds. We checked out the mountain farm museum at the visitors’ center to learn about the way people used to live in the area. We saw an old mill for grinding corn and wheat. We went on several short hikes to waterfalls.
We also hiked a portion of Appalachian trail, being sure to chit chat with any through-hikers we passed. We met a couple who began walking in mid-January in southern Alabama, and another group that began in mid February in Georgia that included a mom hiking with her 5 year old son! The parking lot seemed to be a popular place for through-hikers to refuel. There were trucks and vans full of supplies – granola bars and oranges and water and fruit snacks- parked in the lot with drivers dozing in the front, waiting for their hikers to appear.
The girls made some great friends at our campground – a group of 3 siblings. Each time we arrived back at our campground they played with them on the playground for hours, sometimes even skipping meals to maximize their time together. So while the grumpy old lady who managed the campground put a damper on the general mood of the place, she couldn’t ruin the fun by any means.
Brad tried being overly friendly to her on our first afternoon at the campground, “I heard you guys had some bad storms come through last night.” “Yep,” she relied. “We got the electricity back but, we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Guess that’s just what happens when you’re living in the fast lane.” So I guess living in a small RV park in rural Appalachia is much more intense than you’d think. We left out of the entrance.