I have to admit, I was not fond of you at first. I wouldn't say it was an active dislike, as that would be a step too far, but as I wandered my way through the Smokey Mountains, weaving my way between you and North Carolina, I did notice two things that were a bit troubling. First it was the gnats- scores of them, descending on my head, buzzing in my ears. But they weren't biting gnats, just irritating ones, and small enough that a stiff breeze would knock them away. Consequently, I started eating my lunch in windy areas: problem solved. But the second thing I noticed about you was not a problem with a solution, but more of a statement of fact: you don't have privies at the shelters. Now, please understand that this in and of itself was not an issue, but since the AT was weaving in and out of North Carolina you can imagine how one (namely, me) might start to compare you to your neighbor to the East. And in my defense, when comparing a privy to a 'privy area' (which was a steeply sloped area littered with tampon applicators, underwear, and toilet paper), even the worst privies I've visited (such as the ones that faced the trail or the ones that were starting to get full) were still easier to navigate and more pleasant.
However, after the Smokies you started growing on me, Tennessee. I'm not sure when it was that I first started liking you; perhaps it was just shy of Erwin, when, exhausted after a day of humidity and heat, the early morning rain brought the smell of wet dirt and a feeling of freshness that lifted up my soul and propelled me into town. The low mileage days out of Erwin also helped- meandering and moseying my way across your topography really allowed me to stop and appreciate your views, and, to be honest, your lack of views as well.
The Beauty Spot is known for its views. I think I preferred the lack thereof.
Coniferous forest on the top of Unaka Mountain, with the barely visible trail.
By the Roan Highlands I was madly in love. The gentle rolling balds, with their resident goat population and tremendous views took my breath away.
Pictures don't show the beauty of the highlands, or convey
the degree to which bubbles of joy were emanating from my throat.
The path among the grass reminded me of South Africa.
But it's not all the views, Tennessee. It was your hostels, your gritty, honest towns, your lakes, your rivers, your bridges, your waterfalls, and your butterflies. It was the neon green of your forests, and the explosion of spring that met me every time I descended into your valleys.
If I had a hundred lifetimes to live, I'd spend at least one in Tennessee.