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Backyard Tourists: Waterfall Edition


I’ve lived in Tennessee my whole life. Actually, I’ve lived in one county in Tennessee my whole life, and if you want to get real technical I’ve lived in the same city for 98.2% of it. City is also a very liberal term when used in context with where I live. Although we do have a Dollar Store, so that has to count for something.

But in the 31 years that I’ve lived in Tennessee I’ve actually seen surprisingly little of the state. I’m pretty well acquainted with the Gatlinburg area, which is beautiful but so crowded that it doesn’t take too long to get tired of waiting on the family of seven in front of you to all work their way through the fifth hole at the putt putt course. Seriously, let us play through if you have a four year old trying to make a shot up a 30 degree ramp into a spinning wagon wheel. It’s the right thing to do.

I don’t mind visiting Gatlinburg every now and then, but we’ve been there so much between vacations and work trips that I’ve seen and done most everything there is to do. Luckily Tennessee is full of state parks, historic sites, museums, lakes, rivers, mountains, and just generally cool stuff. And I think it’s about time to start seeing some of it.

Since we don’t know when we’ll be able to start traveling or where we’ll go we think some day and weekend trips around the state are in order, hence the name of the post! I’ll try to make this a series, as we explore somewhere new I’ll write about it and hopefully give you some ideas of new places to visit.

This idea actually came up on the way home yesterday from our first actual trip in the Turtle. We haven’t taken it on the road since we moved here in early April, other than to get to high ground after the Great Flood of June. Our last trip (which I think we can all agree was fairly unsuccessful since we spent the whole time driving and I got pleurisy) was originally a tent camping trip that ended in a hotel room. So this time we planned a five day adventure with the Turtle on the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee. We packed up in a little under an hour and off we went.

Luckily for all involved this trip was so much better. Seriously, it’s in the running for the best trip yet. There were a couple of kinks, but without any kinks it’s just not an adventure, don’t ya think?

So without further ado, here’s a brief rundown of our spectabulous trip to Fall Creek Falls State Park and Burgess Falls State Natural Area.


First off, let me just tell you that if you’re going to Fall Creek Falls there are only two entrances leading into the park, and seventeen possible ways to get to those entrances. Sixteen of those appear to be perfectly fine routes with divided highways that a 36′ RV just loves to ride on. One of those routes should come with a series of Burma Shave signs warning campers to turn back before it’s too late. So obviously our GPS took us that route. She (the GPS lady) dumped us off the interstate at the first possible road leading to the park, which fairly quickly turned into what felt like a 58 mile trek straight uphill. And by straight I mean curvier than my slouch socks in elementary school. And by 58 miles I mean 5 miles, but it felt much longer pulling eight tons behind us. The truck was whining, I was holding my breath, and the shoulder of the road must have already realized it was in the wrong place and left. But we made it eventually and passed the sign welcoming us to the North entrance to the park. For your future reference the North entrance is not where you want to be with a camper.

We found out a few days later that had we stayed on the divided highway we started on for another 8 miles we would have sailed right into the park on a nice flat two lane road. Live and learn. At least it was an adventure.

IMG_20130731_153003_017Fall Creek Falls is the largest state park in Tennessee, and definitely the largest one I’ve ever seen. It’s like a city all of its own, with a hotel and restaurant, olympic size swimming pool, 58 miles of hiking trails and five campgrounds. Unfortunately, like a lot of state parks, the campgrounds were put in when RVs were small and quaint, not house sized. With a bit of finagling we were able to wiggle around a cul-de-sac and into our spot though, and it was so nice that after scouting the other four campgrounds we decided we’ll want the same one next time. We were surrounded on two sides by beautiful mature forest, there were other campers around but the direction we were facing was quiet and peaceful, deer were just wandering about like a Disney movie. Absolutely beautiful.

Without a trail map it’s a little tough to find everything with the park being so big, as we had already been warned. So we parked, set up the camper, and took off for the Nature Center to get a map. Of course it had closed 10 minutes before we got there, so we decided to wing it.

IMG_20130731_165007_868There are two trails leading from the Nature Center, one goes to an overlook over Cane Creek falls, and the other goes to the Fall Creek Falls overlook. The first is a short walk and a pretty view, so after we did that of course we wanted to see Fall Creek Falls, I mean that’s part of the reason we’re here. So we take off down that path, and are almost instantly met with a suspension bridge hanging over the creek. I can’t find an exact height anywhere but I would guess it was 30-40 feet above the water. Or from my point of view 600 feet above a roving pack (gang? conglomerate?) of circling piranha. Have I mentioned I’m terrified of heights? I also have some sort of condition that causes me to think I’m going to flail myself off of whatever tall thing I’m standing on. That’s perfectly normal, right? My dad has the same thing, and he says it’s normal. So I’ll take that.

After much internal debate and a little coaxing I finally made it across the bridge, and since this is my blog I’m going to leave out the part where I hyperventilated and refused to look anywhere but straight ahead. I also won’t mention there might have been some squealing. No need to go there. I’ll just say that I did much better on the way back across, and that I even crossed a taller, longer bridge the next day. With slightly less hyperventilating and only 10 minutes of coaxing.

IMG_20130801_110905_343The hike to the falls was totally worth the risk of flailing myself to an untimely death though, it’s a beautiful 3/4 mile hike through the woods that ends in a platform overlooking the waterfall. We hadn’t planned on going for a 2 mile hike as soon as we got there, but we didn’t realize how far it would be until we were far enough along that we might as well keep going. The ironic part was when we emerged from the woods on the other end of the trail to find a parking lot and lots of non sweaty people meandering around the overlook. Evidently there’s a scenic motor trail that takes you directly to the top of the falls, no hiking required.

It turned out great though, we hiked back and then spent the whole next day exploring other trails, including the one to the base of the falls. That trail is more a collection of fallen rocks that you climb around and over to make your way down the side of the cliff to the falls, but again it’s absolutely worth it.

IMG_20130802_095757_514Day three was spent visiting my parents in Newport Tennessee, as well as a quick stop along the Highway 127 Yard Sale which runs from Michigan to Alabama. Originally the yard sale was the whole reason for the trip, but once we got to the park and realized how much there was to see we just weren’t that interested. Which was fortunate, because the few places we stopped thought an awful lot of their knick knacks and had them priced accordingly. The stops were worth it just to catch a glimpse of this lovely couple here though.

Day four we ventured out to Burgess Falls, which is about an hour away from Fall Creek Falls. The park there is super tiny, basically a parking lot and a trail to the waterfall, but if you’re in the area the waterfall is a must see. We hiked to the bottom of it too, despite the sign saying Very Strenuous Hike. Apparently they had never been to Fall Creek Falls, because the Burgess trail is nothing in comparison.

Burgess Falls

Burgess Falls

By day five I was trying to figure out a way to live in the nice cool forest on the Cumberland Plateau, but it didn’t pan out and we had to come home. This time on the big easy road, not the curvy adventuresome one. The only real glitch on the three hour drive home was  the brake connector wiggled loose from the truck as we were switching from one interstate to the next and we had no trailer brakes. Luckily Marty’s a really good driver and got us to a stop so we could reconnect it. It’s a good thing I’m not in charge, because my only reaction was to put my shoes back on. I hate to be barefoot in an emergency.

Since this post is already long enough I won’t bore you with any more details, just a quick summary of what I learned this time around. I’m already planning the next trip, I can’t wait to share it with you!

Adventure Tips:

  • If the GPS tries to send you through downtown Murfreesboro, just shut up and go. It’s probably better than the alternative.
  • Whoever invented State Park fire wood was a genius. The stuff absolutely will not burn, which should drastically reduce the risk of forest fires.
  • If you convert a cabinet into a dog cage be sure to lock it with a bungie cord if the ride is going to be bumpy, otherwise they might both be standing at the door when you get there.
  • After your impromptu two mile hike to the falls be sure to wander to the other end of the park where the buffet is. Even if you have a camper full of food.
  • Fall Creek Falls = Breathtaking views, tons of amenities, miles of hiking.
  • Burgess Falls = A way cooler waterfall than Fall Creek Falls.

No Regrets

image source unknown

image source unknown

You often hear people who have had some sort of near death experience talk about seeing things in a new light. Suddenly their priorities are much more clear, they’ve realized that ‘life’s too short’ isn’t just a great t-shirt design. They start climbing mountains, running marathons, starting businesses and becoming charitable members of society.

That’s great. Having a new lease on life is never a bad thing, especially when you’ve had a chance to renew the old one. I’m sure the simple things become magnificent. The sun on your face is probably like God smiling on you, chocolate tastes like some sort of angelic nectar, and the sound of a baby’s laugh rings like choir bells. Marvelous, really.

There’s just one inherent flaw in the whole situation.

I don’t want to have a near death experience. That sounds horrible.

image via

image via

I want to enjoy my life before I’m reminded of my own mortality. I want to at least try to be the person I knew I could be when I was a kid, not the version of us we become when we grow up and start paying bills.

Most days I’m able to be that person to at least some degree. Some days it’s harder, but I always try.

Sometimes, whilst dancing exaggeratedly in my car, I realize I don’t have tinted windows anymore. People can actually see me doing the sprinkler while driving down the road. Shortly after that I almost always realize that I don’t care. I think the world would be a better place if more people put less stock into what others think*.

In the end it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you, except for you. Believe it or not that’s also true in the beginning and the middle.

I know the fear. The fear that you won’t be accepted, that you won’t get the job or be invited to go. Get over it.

Conforming to become someone you’re not only serves to keep you from being the happiest version of yourself, whereas being the most true version of yourself could actually open doors that didn’t even exist before. You might even inspire someone else to do what makes them happy, and we could have some sort of happiness revolution. That sounds much better than the zombie apocalypse.

So go do the things that make you happy. Dance, sing badly, draw or write or take an acting class if you want to, laugh at a totally inappropriate time, go for the dream job or move to that new place.

Just exactly what is the worst that could happen?

*Disclaimer: I don’t mean do bad things, or hurt people just for the fun of it, or steal or lie or anything else you know you shouldn’t do. Don’t be a jerk. If any of those things make you feel good you should probably seek some sort of counsel and stay away from the general public. 

It’s That Time Again – Project 333 Season Finale


This will be a two post day as I try to catch up from last week. I’ll post an update on our air conditioner situation and some other things shortly!

The end of June marks the end of my first go at the Project 333 challenge.

In case you haven’t been keeping up with my clothing inventory (And why not?) I decided to try Project 333 after we made the move to the Turtle. After going through our closet to declutter and then move I started to realize I was not the minimalist I originally thought, and it looked like a fun experiment.

So in the beginning of April I laid all my clothes out in the bedroom and painstakingly narrowed them down to what I actually loved and wore. The rest was packed away in a tote and taken to storage. For the last 3 months I’ve worn only 33 items of clothing including my shoes, purse, hats, and superhero costumes.

This first three months have been full of a lot of different temperatures, and I’ve cheated a few times, but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve spent so much less time deciding what to wear, and my closet has never been more organized. And in a bit of an unexpected turn of events I’ve actually learned a few things about myself.

I don’t actually need 33. There were several things that were barely worn this time around. I’m not sure how many, but I’d be willing to bet I actually only wore 25 items on a regular basis. That gives me a little confidence in how little I can get by with.

Choosing wrong isn’t the end of the world. I made a few mistakes when I chose my wardrobe the first time, and the weather wasn’t quite right for certain shirts and dresses. The last few weeks it’s been warm enough, but next time around I’ll save those things for the ‘summer’ cycle. But even though I’ve cheated a few times, nothing bad happened. Courtney Carver didn’t come busting out of the closet and cuff me. It’s just a challenge meant to make you look at part of your life more objectively, to reevaluate your needs. The number almost doesn’t even matter, it’s the process and intention that counts.

The second time was much easier than the first. Part of that might be the similarity in the weather between these two cycles, most of my clothes from last time were already warm weather things. Part of it also has to be that I’m a little more confident in knowing the things I actually wear now. I’ve learned what I really need on a regular basis. The first time around there was an odd amount of fear that I would choose wrong or that I would want the clothes I was putting up. This time was pretty simple… I made sure about half of my shirts were comfortable t-shirts and the other half were nicer looking. I kept out my jeans and all my shorts, and added another dress that would work for a little nicer event.

My spring/summer wardrobe is getting there. I put a few shirts that just weren’t quite right into a donate pile and the rest of my non-33 warm weather stuff went back into the tote headed for storage, but this time it was only a few things. A pair of flip flops and a few t-shirts I might like more for fall than summer, plus a pair of overall shorts I’m not quite ready to let go of yet. I’m hopeful that by next year my 33 will be my actual wardrobe for the season. That might be a bit harder to do for fall and winter, because I have lots of sweaters and boots, but at least I’m narrowing down half the year.

Having a self imposed limit is perfect for me. I tend to hold onto things that I kind of like, or that I might like later on. It really helps to put a cap on that, it makes me re-evaluate every piece I keep out. It has to fit just right, be the right color, not be uncomfortable at all, and look pretty damn good. Otherwise in the tote it goes.

Today marks the start of the next three month cycle, and it was a no brainer for me to keep going. I was actually excited to go through and reset the closet, so I pulled the tote out on Saturday afternoon and chose my next 33 a couple of days early. I’m curious to see what I actually wear out of the bunch, so this time I also turned all my hangers around as I put things up. When I wear something and put it back I’ll turn it’s hanger around the right way and at the end of 3 months it will be obvious what’s been used and what hasn’t.

Here’s what I’m starting with:

1. Aviator sunglasses
2. Brown purse
3. Under Armour visor
4. Strappy brown sandals
5. Reef flip flops (I’ll have to replace these by next year… they’re mostly just decorative at this point)
6. Sneakers
7. Jeans
8. Cutoff denim shorts
9. Regular denim shorts
10. Capris
11. Nike running shorts
12. Hangout t-shirt
13. Jack Daniels t-shirt
14. Yellow Old Navy t-shirt
15. Nike t-shirt #1
16. Nike t-shirt #2
17. Green tank
18. White shirt with leaves
19. Shirt with cool back
20. Blue tank
21. Blue strapless dress
22. Coral sundress
23. Pink dress
24. Blue plaid peasant top
25. Red t-shirt
26. Black floweredy dress
27. Grey kitten heels
28. White shirt with blue flowers
29. Lacy t-shirt
30. Nike t-shirt #3
31. Life is Good t-shirt
32. Green v-neck t-shirt
33. Grey racerback tank

Swap items:
1. White strapless shirt
2. Green flip flops (In case the others don’t make it till next year)

If you haven’t heard of Project 333 you should check it out or create your own version… it’s a neat little challenge that might help you simplify your life a little more. Or at least your closet!