Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Chattanooga Hiking Trip (TN, GA)

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This weekend M. and I drove down to Chattanooga, with little agenda other than to explore. We got into town early afternoon Friday, and drove up the scenic climb to Rock City Gardens on the Georgia side of the state line. Winding up the hill it almost reminded me of Hawaii, with a quaint community nestled atop the peak, surrounded by tourist trap souvenir shops and parking attendants directing traffic into the designated pay lots. We stopped briefly and considered taking the guided tour, but with a two and a half hour wait we decided to hit the road and find a trail so we could better stretch our legs.

We only drove about ten or fifteen minutes before arriving at the Cloudland Connector Nickajack Trailhead in Rising Fawn, Georgia. The trail itself was pretty straight forward, with little diversity in the scenery, but the range in fungi along the path was really interesting. It was a hot day, and we turned around after a couple miles, deciding to check into our hotel and figure out plans for dinner.

Saturday morning we decided to head back over to Georgia to give Cloudland Canyon State Park a try (the waterfalls we saw in the photos looked beautiful), but as we pulled into the park entrance we were greeted by an attendant who let us know that the park was already at capacity, and it’d be a few hours before they’d let anyone else in. Not wanting to kill the bulk of the day by waiting around, we wound back down the winding road that led us up the mountain before heading back to Chattanooga, where we ultimately landed at Prentice Cooper Wilderness Area.

The hope was to follow the Cumberland Trail on the Mullens Cove Loop, which would land us at a spot where we could catch a beautiful view of the Tennessee River Gorge. Things didn’t quite work out that way. Early on the trail was ripe with large rocks and boulders, making for an adventurous hikeā€”that first mile and a half, or so, from our starting point was gorgeous and challenging. The terrain was smooth from there, but wildly hilly, continuously ascending and declining, before we were spit out at a spot with no clear marker announcing a way forward.

As we mulled around trying to figure out what to do we crossed paths with a trio coming from up a wide soggy clay road that looked to be used for off-road vehicles. Back and forth, we followed their directions, then retreated in the other direction after collectively agreeing that it felt like we were heading the wrong way. Another few minutes later, and another couple came walking up the same clay road. This time we asked for more details. They said keep going past where we’d gone last time and we’d couldn’t miss the path.

This led us to a stream, with no clear crossing point, with semi-curious “paths” on both sides. Neither looked quite right. We crossed the stream and wound up another wide rocky clay path, which ultimately turned into shale and dissolved into the side of the hill. We’d reached our end.

We’d already hiked around four miles at that point and once we made it safely back down the hill and across the stream, we stopped for an apple break before returning to our trail and heading back. That first climb up the wet clay was tough, and when followed by a steep hill my legs told me turning around was the right thing to do even if my heart was set on seeing the overlook. No sooner did we plateau before thunder approached. It seemed distant when we were at the stream, but within minutes we heard wild cracks in the distance, echoing loudly throughout the canyon. On came the rain jackets moments before the sheets of water began to fall.

Just as we made it back to the rocky garden portion of the trail, we ran into the couple who last gave us directions. They, too, got turned around. For a brief stretch of the walk we talked over where we might have missed the trail, though I’m still not sure where we went wrong. Before long, we made it back to the parking area safe and sound. The journey itself is the destination, right? Later that night we sat outside our hotel room as a family lit off round after round of fireworks in the parking lot. Other hotel guests joined in as well, watching the vibrant bursts of light pop off in the air. All was well until a rogue firework took a sideways turn and shot back at the family, lighting up the area about twenty feet in front of M. and I with a cascade of white light. No one got hurt and we all laughed off what could have been a serious party fowl. That’s as close to firework as I think I ever want to come.

The first night we had dinner at The Feed Table and Tavern in downtown Chattanooga. M. and I walked around the city while waiting for a table, talking about the different places we imagined ourselves landing if the opportunity to move presented itself. Once seated back at the restaurant, we watched The Mighty Ducks on the TVs around the bar area, and I shared a little of how I’d tried getting back into playing hockey a few years ago. Being in Minnesota and playing hockey with my old team seem like memories from another lifetime now, looking back.

Saturday morning we ate at Maple Street Biscuit Company, and we both had a biscuit smothered in sausage gravy with an egg and a piece of chicken sandwiched in between. It wasn’t bad, but the maple flavored coffee was probably more memorable than the meal. Sunday morning, we sat riverside at The Blue Plate, across from the aquarium, and shared Aretha Frankenstein’s pancakes and what is probably the best tasting breakfast burrito either of us has ever had.

Last week I’d agreed with myself that I need to spend more time reflecting, and that’s what I’m trying to do now, looking back on the trip. It’s strange to be an adult without much experience in relationships… There’s a strong sense of gratitude in hindsight, but now I see many moments along the way where I felt like I had to create memories and fill space. As if the burden of manufacturing a successful was somehow my responsibility (let alone anyone’s).

Later in the day after returning home I was spacing out on Instagram and came across a video of a father teaching his son to box, to help him build confidence. Starting out, the boy begins to crumble, tears coming to his eyes, down on himself due to his inability to immediately grasp the movements. The video then cuts and jumps ahead three years, showing the boy older, having developed the skills to become an efficient striker. The comment below the post reads, “May we all be encouraged to change the way we view progress and have patience with ourselves through the process!” Little moments over the course of the weekend now stand out to me: Memories of where I wasn’t thinking clearly before speaking, or ideas of how I could have “better” planned the adventure. But what got me about that video was the graciousness surrounding “the process.” Think of everything going on in life right now, let alone my life. Even when I tell myself that the whole goal is to explore, and to spend time with a person I care deeply about, the ability to maintain patience with myself is something that is still a work in progress.