Last summer, I lived in the Gateway to the Smokies—Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg is unique, to say the least. The people, the location, the environment—every bit of it. When the opportunity for me to go on a summer mission arose, the Smoky Mountains were not originally my first choice, simply because I knew nothing about them.
There’s a reason Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the United States. According to National Geographic, GSMNP brings in 10,000,000 visitors annually, which is twice as many as the second most popular U.S. National Park—the Grand Canyon. Needless to say, I was convinced.
I applied for the Smoky Mountain Summer Mission and within a few days, I received a call that I had been accepted. I began raising support, and through faithful friends and family, my summer in the Smokies became possible.
“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir
I hopped in my ‘98 Volkswagen Passat at 3:00 a.m. on May 25, 2016, and began my 12-hour journey to the eastern border of Tennessee. I had no idea what I was in for, but I was excited for what was to come.
In Nashville, I picked up a girl who was also a part the summer mission. I was a little nervous to be finishing the road trip with a complete stranger. Plus, I was jittery from my second energy drink and we still had five hours until we would reach Gatlinburg. Little did I know, she would become a dear friend of mine.
We arrived in Gatlinburg along with thirty-four other college students. None of us aware of the connection we would form, or the impact we would have on each other that summer.
I fell in love with Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains. I was blessed with an amazing job and amazing coworkers. I experienced wildlife I had never experienced before; pileated woodpeckers, salamanders, and bears to name a few. I grew immeasurably as an individual and learned to see beauty in new ways.
The name of my blog, “Tomorrow Tennessee”, originates from a tweet I posted the day before I made the 12-hour road trip from my hometown to Gatlinburg. It didn’t mean anything significant to me at the time, but now that my summer in Tennessee is over, it stands as a reminder that adventure is always out there. You don’t have to be comfortable. You don’t have to stick to a routine. It’s okay to hop in your car, drive 12 hours to a new place with new people, and allow yourself the opportunity to grow.