Pickett & Pogue (Melo-transcendentalism)

Do you ever get envious of some of the adventure pictures and stories you see on the web? I know I do. “What a life!” I always think. “Must be nice to do that for a living instead of being a slave to the establishment.” I can admittedly be a bit melo-transcendental at times (and yes, I did just make that word up). Oh, to travel – to experience and inspire!

“What if that was me?”

If you aren’t careful, seeing folks that have somehow managed to live that lifestyle can force you into a rut.

Don’t you let it.

Amanda and I have been hiking Tennessee trails since before we ever met. We’ve also been lucky enough to hike in some incredible places across the Southwest, and even across the world (though we haven’t been out of the country together, yet). We may not live in a van or a modified school bus featuring a composting commode or solar shower, but we do escape on occasion to sleep in a tent for a few months, as long as there’s a nearby bathhouse so we can still look presentable at work.

And even with all the time we’ve spent in the woods locally, we still come across treasures we couldn’t have imagined in this part of the country. We came across one such treasure yesterday, which this blog’s title eludes to.

Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon. Within an hour and a half of Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Harriman, and yet we (as avid outdoors enthusiasts) had never even heard of it. In one place, you get the largest canyon I’ve ever seen in this state, natural arches and bridges, caves, and even waterfalls. The difficulty of the trails ranges from super flat and relaxing to walk on, to challenging even for the most experienced. It was a place with so many options to explore that we’d have had to camp there for a week to even put a dent in them. We fully intend to.

Our first trail (below) led us to Hazard Cave.

The trail was pretty mild most of the way, with a few steps and stones to traverse during the final descent.

Of course we had to play with silhouettes and lighting once we’d arrived.

And I never miss an opportunity to kiss my perfect wife.

The cave is to the left of this photograph. I tried to run and climb to join Amanda for the picture, but couldn’t do it in the ten seconds my phone would allow before snapping the shot. 
…It would have taken me at least 14 seconds. 

After the cave, we decided to head over to the park’s Natural Bridge. On the way, we saw the amazing root system below growing over a stone ledge.

And then we saw actual arches! In Tennessee! There are several throughout the park which we are intent on returning to find. Some of our favorite memories are at Arches National Park in Utah, where we cowboy camped and listened to a Native American man play a flute during a melancholic sunset. Arches are much more rare in our neck of the woods, and especially ones of this magnitude!

There was a staircase to the top of the bridge, which seemed to condone crossing it. In the Southwest, this is often a no-no.

Amanda wanted to blend in with all the trees, so she pulled this one out of her yoga-repertoire.

 

If you want to see us in our element, you’ll never get closer than the picture below. We walk our own individual trail in a lot of ways (I’m the idealist, she’s the rationalist; I’m emotional and empathetic and she’s a walking calculator who only shows her truest soul to yours truly). 


Hiking together is a great metaphor. Sometimes the trail is easy, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s literally impossible to do alone. But you still hike the damned thing, no matter what. And more often than not, you’ll find us with honest smiles like the ones beneath this text.

As we continued our hike, I was so happy to see (but mostly to smell) so much pine, which is very nostalgic for me as a South GA native in my childhood years. If you want, Amanda has managed to capture the fragrance astoundingly with her Pine or Cedar scented candles, which you can learn more about at The Gypsy’s Store.

Pickett State Park featured super nice bathhouses and campsites, some of which were right on the water.

There was a bouncy bridge that, while well constructed, made me feel a bit odd.

Both Pickett and Pogue are participants in the International Dark-Sky Association, which you can read more about in the photographs below.

To help support the many efforts of the State Park, we purchased a couple of t-shirts from the clearance rack in the visitor’s center. I’m especially fond of mine, which features John Muir. If you haven’t heard of him, you should definitely do some research on the guy. He’s right up there with John Wesley Powell as an inspiration and a hero, but to be honest I need to do a lot more research myself as well. Essentially, all I know is that he had an amazing journey, advocated for the outdoors, and had one hell of a beard.

It was funny how it happened; While we were at Hazard Cave with no cell signal, our mutual best friend and hiking pal messaged us about an amazing place he’d found that he needed to show us. He sent a picture of one of the rock faces he was looking at, and Amanda and I had only seen one place like it in TN. The one we were at! No prior discussion, no planning at all, and we both selected the same park to hike on the same day, coming from different directions that were over an hour from Pickett. Once we returned to cell service, we managed to link up (it took all of five minutes – we actually found his car before any of the texts went through).

He then took us to Pogue, where I got the shot below.

She’s so stunning.

Background isn’t bad either.

Our buddy (Steven) said that the view paled in comparison to the final overlook, but we were sadly losing light and had a long drive home.

The point, though, is this. If you can find places like that on short day trips (which you always can), it makes returning to work the next week a lot easier. I still get disillusioned, no doubt. All we want is a few acres to ourselves. A log home, some chickens, and a garden. Rain water and solar power and a German Shepherd. Space. Peace and quiet, to truly focus on the things I need to write and the messages I need to leave the world. To just focus on each other.

Those things will all happen in time though, and being inspired by places like Pickett and Pogue will ensure that it does.

You know what’s funny? Sometimes, when I point people toward the blog they didn’t know we had, they ask me if hiking is my job. When I tell them it isn’t, they ask “How do you do it, with work and all?”

And that answer is one of the simplest of all.

I do it because I must.

Love ya’ll. More to come.

A Wedding Speech

I recently had a very magical wedding ceremony with my wife (who I legally married in January) at the Grand Canyon. My best friend (a historian) officiated the wedding, using concepts from the middle ages and ancient Latin language, and it was one of the most magical moments of my life. I’m forever grateful to all involved, and wanted to share the words I wrote for my wife. What’s the point in freelancing if you can’t express thoughts from your personal life while doing so, and use the work to honor those you love? A few of the day’s photos are included below the text.

“Steven recently asked me if I had anything that I wanted to say during this ceremony, and I realized that there is a huge difference between “Not having anything to say,” and “not having to say anything.” Since that time, I decided to write a full-length speech about not having to say anything.
 
If you know me well, you know that public speaking and crowds are my greatest fears, and I chose to say these words not because they needed to be said – I know that this moment is as sacred to Amanda as it is to me, and nothing could change that. I chose to say them despite knowing that I’d probably get emotional because this without a doubt the single most sacred moment I’ll ever live through, and I want to honor it with authenticity and vulnerability by sharing it with all of you.  

Since the moment I met Amanda, she has always understood me and accepted me for who I am – accepted how I came to be this way. That may sound like some innocent, puppy-love statement, but the truth of the matter is that life and its lessons will always leave scars behind. You’ll rarely meet a person of compassion who hasn’t been denied it, or a person who advocates for others who hasn’t been beaten down by them.  

From the outside, the world sees a couple that met during a college field trip and returned the following year to take the plunge. They see pretty Instagram pictures and read adventurous blogs about hiking and the outdoors. They see love. And there is an indescribable amount of that shared between us, or I wouldn’t be standing here. But there’s so much more than that. 

What the world doesn’t see are the things we’ve overcome together, and the things we have yet to. They don’t see a medic who wakes up in the middle of the night, screaming from nightmares that torture the mind but paralyze the body. They don’t see a man clinging to the hope that there’s still goodness in the world, and kindness. And they don’t see the days where I lose that hope and plummet into a darkness that I have to scratch and claw my way out of. 

Yes, I’m a gentleman and I can be charming. Yes, she’s stunningly beautiful and wicked smart. Yes, we’re ferociously loyal to one another. But there’s a negative to balance every positive, destruction balances creation, and yin balances yang. I used to have so much noise in my head, and it doesn’t matter to me if anyone here can relate to that. When I’m in the presence of the person I trust the most in this great and terrible world, the noise goes away. I try to be aware of projecting, not to be too dependent, and not to cling to the comfort she gives my soul, but I always end up losing that fight and just appreciating the fact that she’s there and chose to love me back. And I think the thing that makes that okay is that she somehow feels the exact same way about me. 

We’re two humans who were so sick of the world that we were just about ready to move on to the next one, but instead, God – the universe – whatever synonym you choose to use…”The powers that be” decided to grant us the mercy of each other. Of friendship. Of a life where your inner voice becomes the outer one, and you know that your person would follow you into the pits of hell, but that they won’t have to because you met in those pits, where you’d each learned to survive alone, and together, were resurrected.Persuasive writing, empathy, and intuition have always been strengths of mine, and I have to say that it’s been utterly refreshing not to have to convince, explain or justify anything to Amanda. Any emotions this speech has invoked are baseline compared to what each of us see when we simply look at each other. Our connection has been so organic and natural since day one – a connection fostered by living in a tent for the first three months of our relationship. Unconditional love is an increasingly rare gift – but that’s what we have for each other.

On the surface, I’m the emotional one. I choose to wear my feelings openly, on occasion, to prove that the human experience is not a shameful thing, but one of beauty. Nothing is more beautiful than the moments when I can connect to her emotions, though. To her spirit. To a thing that is so well sheltered because the world is such a cruel place. And it’s not that I break down walls to get to it, it’s that she trusts me enough to break them down for me. I promise that, until my last breath, I will dedicate every tool that I have to making her world one of beauty, and comfort, and trust. Thank you all for being here to witness our enlightenment – our Nirvana. For two souls that have been tormented by their lifelong separation have at last been reunited into one.”