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  • Blaine Hoppenrath

When Plans Work Out

When my plans changed and I ended up in Nashville for a week, I knew one thing to be true. I was going to Smokies. I landed in Nashville and bolted to the east. It was surreal driving on I-40 so far removed from Flagstaff and Albuquerque but I also relished in the idea that I could do a 180deg turn and be back home. The idea that our roads connect us is never lost on me and I love the connection that seems so simple and so complex at the same time.

I got in so late and lost an hour between Nashville and Knoxville that it seemed silly to drop money on a hotel room, so in very Yose fashion I slept for a few hours at a rest stop somewhere east of Nashville. By sunrise I was headed almost to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg and my expectations for these mountain towns were at an all time high. I mean they were storied towns of the AT (or at least what I thought I could remember for various books and podcasts). Except I very quickly realized that I had confused Gatlinburg with Damascus (maybe? I haven't been to Damascus yet). And Pigeon Forge was Branson on steroids, now it made more sense why one of my cousins has a second home here. While I was disappointed to find out I had stepped into *insert some type of meme* version of Las Vegas, I knew the mountains were right around the corner.

As I entered the park I headed towards Clingmans Dome. The highest point in Tennessee. The clouds broke for long enough to get some stunning views. And while the path the the lookout isn't on the Appalachian Trail (the AT), there were signs leading to it and I just knew that the trail was close.

I knew that I wanted to hike the AT (not THE AT, but some of the AT) and found what seemed like a mellow hike to Charlies Bunion. And a mellow hike it was. The expectations of the AT were met. A long, green, rocky tunnel. But the sight of all those white blazes made me want more. To keep hiking to try and find the next view point, check out all of the shelters the AT provides. And in this case, make it to the Bunion.

The trail finally opened up at the destination and there were already plenty of people enjoying their turnaround point and I was able to talk to some wonderful women about their trips to National Parks. And before I knew it, it was time to head back. Being on the AT for those 8 perfect miles was such a privilege. It is the iconic long distance trail. Don't get me wrong, I think the PCT is a superior trail, but the AT is legendary. I don't think I will be ever hike it from Georgia to Maine, but its fun to think about.

I headed back to Nashville to work for the week. And somewhere between working at a grocery warehouse and stuffing my face with all the amazing food Nashville has to offer I had a realization. Mammoth Cave was only an hour and a half away, so I changed my weekend plans to head up to the cave.

I signed up for a two hour cave tour and it was pretty awesome. This cave was a massive underground work full of slot canyons and rooms with beautiful stalagmites. One thing, that I didn't love about the cave was the emphasis on the white history of the cave. While I am no expert the NPS really glossed over any indigenous history of the cave and the surrounding land. But I am a sucker for a cave and this was no exception. Now that I have been to the three cave systems in the National Parks, I would rate them as follows: Carlsbad, Mammoth, Wind.

Then I headed back to Nashville to meet a member of my study group. It sounds nerdy but my study group has been meeting for almost a full year now. Adam and his brother met me downtown for a show and I was introduced to Mike and the Moonpies. 10/10 would recommend small venue concerts and this band in particular. The concert was a great way to end a work trip and meeting someone in person after meeting every week via zoom was pretty legit too. I am grateful for unconventional friendships with amazing people.

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