I awoke at 4am at Indian Boundary Campground in Cherokee National Forest to a much higher temperature and the wind kicking up…ugh. It had to be at least 60°F, which made me downright uncomfortable until I shed the extra layers I was wearing.
But that wind—it was as if the sky would take a deep breath and then exhale it all in one big long push. The trees swooshed around, and each time I’d tighten up—expecting rain to fall and get our tent all wet just before we’d have to pack it up! I’d hear pattering on the roof of our tent, thinking they were giant raindrops…but they were just leaves. I knew the wind couldn’t be too strong though, because our tent wasn’t flapping like we’ve seen before (De Smet!)—but the pattern unnerved me nonetheless!
With every gust I held my breath, because I just knew we were gonna get it…and then nothing would happen. I wished that I could see a weather forecast or even just the radar…I thought that knowing what’s out there would help me calm down and relax. I kept thinking and working out the physics in my head…I didn’t hear any thunder or see any lightning or smell that ozone smell you get when it’s about to rain…maybe it was just the way wind currents and air pressure worked coming through the mountains? My mind kept racing in circles, so I finally decided to myself that this wind was not going to bring rain right now—it’s probably just a warm front moving through and we’ll be fine.
That wasn’t much solace though. My heart wanted to go along so I could go back to sleep, but every time I’d doze off, the wind would blow hard and wake me up. I started thinking about about how great it would be to sleep in my own bed tonight. Yeah! And I could have cell service, a hard roof over my head, and I wouldn’t feel so disconnected from the rest of the world and all the information I needed to go about my business. Ahhh…yes! It felt wonderful to think such thoughts!
So I decided right then…I was ready to go home. The anxiety of rain, cold, wind, mice, cutting wood, getting stuck with green wood to burn, finding a dishwashing station, not having a clean neat place for a shower…all of that would be gone if we were at home. Home is where my heart is now, so home is where we’ll go! No stop-overs at some other place tonight, just heading straight on home after maybe checking out this area a bit…after all, we were by a lake and among mountains I had not yet seen, no need to waste that. So go see stuff, then drive home. Yeah! It’ll be great!
So when it was light and Becky woke up, we talked about packing up and heading home. She was cool with going back a day earlier than we had to. I know her face still bothered her and made it more difficult for her to enjoy herself. I told her we were only about eight or nine hours from home, but she seemed skeptical. I would have pulled up Google Maps and showed her, but well…you know.
Panos, Wind & Fire
So before we got started on packing up everything inside the tent, I set up my pano rig to get a shot of our campsite with our super-dirty car. We still hadn’t had a drop of rain, but the wind was still blowing and whipping all the trees around, wrecking my shot. I kept running over whenever the wind would die down, but the lulls would never last long enough to shoot all the way around. I eventually gave up and devoted all my energy to cooking some breakfast.
I chopped down some logs to make kindling and got a fire going…sort of. Every time I thought I had it burning, it would die down until it just pathetically smoldered. We got one round of eggs cooked, but for the second round I had to chop up a lot more kindling to get things hot enough again. I had thrown every log but one into that so-called fire and this wood simply refused to burn. I swear that the best way to extinguish any well-burning fire would have been to throw this wood into it! It was the worst firewood we’ve had all year long!!! The label said it was kiln-dried, but I had to wonder if they ever bothered to heat up the kiln…
In the midst of the firewood fighting my fire, the wind died down and just stayed that way. Weird! Thankfully I’d left my pano rig set up, so I ran back over and I think I finally got my shot. At last I can take down the tent!
A Final Farewell
So with breakfast eaten and our car all packed, there was only one thing left to do. This was the ceremonial burning of our fire-handling logs. They had been pretty good to me, and we’d used them all week. We didn’t do anything crazy…I just rearranged the smoldering wood so I could throw the logs down on top. In my mind, I thought it should be like they were Darth Vader burning on the pyre at the end of Return of the Jedi. Becky and I said nice things about the logs, told them they were good, and watched them burn.
And what a contrast! A minute or two later, the whole thing came to life because of these two little logs…we had a real campfire again! We knew this was too good to waste, so we considered roasting the last of our hot dogs. However, neither of us wanted to dig to the bottom of the car where we’d buried the hot dog skewer…so we said never mind.
Then Becky broke a stick off of a downed limb nearby and fashioned it into a hot dog skewer with her knife…and voila! Hot dog time!
With our completely dry tent in our completely packed car and with our fire now burning brightly…while we roasted our last hot dogs on our last campfire of the season on what was probably our last campsite of the year…a light rain finally started. We were both very happy that it held off just long enough for us not to feel one bit rushed! In spite of our mishaps, the whole week went pretty well overall, and the whole year had brought us a lot of camping in a lot of places and with a lot of friends. It was a fitting finale.
Indian Boundary Lake
While this moment brought a great deal of contentment, the day was not over yet! The rain only lasted a minute or two, so we ate our hot dogs, put out the coals, and moved along to visit the camp store and check out the lake.
The Indian Boundary Outpost was thoroughly stocked. While not large, it had everything a tenter or RVer would need if something was broken or forgotten—food, firewood, snacks, utensils, air beds, and of course souvenirs. Best of all, they had tons of maps and the lady running it was super helpful at identifying hikes, drives, and waterfalls in the area. She helped us decide to stop at Bald River Falls, a 90-foot waterfall that’s on our way to Tellico Plains and I-75.
We then drove out of the campground to the beach and picnic area on Indian Boundary Lake. It’s not a big lake, but the beach was nicely maintained. There’s a boat ramp and fishing pier across the lake, with beautiful mountains rising beyond.
Bald River Falls
We drove back out to the Cherohala Skyway and cut over to River Road/Forest Road 210, which is a narrow old logging road that follows the Tellico River. Just a couple miles east, the road crosses the Bald River on a bridge offering a perfect view of Bald River Falls. There’s a sign next to the road so you don’t miss it, and a small parking area beyond. It was Saturday, so there were lots of motorcycles, several photographers, and a healthy number of people here.
Things were a bit congested, but still nothing like we experienced at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was able to shoot some stills and a 360° panorama just before the crowds built up and the rain started again. Rather than cutting straight back over to the Cherohala Skyway/TN-165, we followed behind a few motorcyclists on River Road/FR-210 as it wound alongside the scenic Tellico River.
On The Road Again
The terrain certainly flattened out as we came into Tellico Plains. The town looked like an interesting stop, but we couldn’t see that much of it since the center is located off of the state highway. Outside the national forest with the mountains behind us and just hills ahead, our cell signal returned. At this time it was about 1 or 2 o’clock and I fired up my navigation app. We could head up I-75 and I-71 and get home by 10pm…awesome! Becky was relieved to find out how close to home we truly were. (I told her so!)
As we came back into Knoxville, we stopped at a Food City grocery store to pick up some more of the local cider and beer we’d discovered down here. We stuffed everything in the car and drove across the street to Buddy’s Bar-B-Q for lunch. Buddy’s is a local fast food chain with locations in and around the Knoxville area. Today they had a couple of TVs tuned into the University of Tennessee football game against Alabama.
After our short break, we got back on the freeway. I took an alternate route through Downtown Knoxville to get a look at the city. There were a number of cranes in the air, but not many big buildings that looked high enough to be considered a skyscraper.
Driving across the countryside in Northern Tennessee and Southern Kentucky was especially scenic! I-75 climbs up and along the mountaintops with some incredible views of the brilliantly colored trees! We stopped to refuel in Berea, Kentucky, just south of Lexington. Becky took over behind the wheel here, since she was up to driving for the first time since the wood incident three days ago.
Here Comes the Flood
This was when the rains came…and came…and came. Our 10 o’clock ETA slowly crept backwards even as we continued north. The downpour was so heavy that it was impossible to drive at full speed without excellent tires. The best we could do was below 50 miles per hour for a good amount of the way from Berea to the other side of Cincinnati. We got to admire the Cincinnati skyline as we passed through, but there was no time or desire to stop while the downpour continued.
I took over driving at a rest area halfway between Cincinnati and Columbus. We still couldn’t go full speed until almost Mansfield, where the rains finally subsided. We would need gas again by the time we got home, so I pulled into the Love’s Truck Stop by Lodi. We were under 40 minutes from home, but it was already past 11pm. I am not interested in eating fast food when I can avoid it, but nothing we had at home was thawed out. We were both so tired and starving that we bought sandwiches at Hardee’s before we got back on the road.
Home Sweet Home
From here everything was smooth sailing, and we finally got home at about 12:15am. It took us two hours longer than we’d expected, but we arrived safely. We got everything unloaded, careful to make sure we took on no more rodential residents in our car and home!
In spite of our mishaps, we enjoyed our camping trip…but we were super happy to be back under our roof and back with our bed again! We were too wound up to fall asleep though…so in our typical fashion, we fired up Netflix and fell asleep on the couch to The X-Files.