Day 37: Stranger Things in a Place Called “Tennessee”

What THEY Want You to Think

When I went to elementary school, THEY told me “Tennessee” is a real place. THEY even gave me a wooden puzzle of the United States with a piece called “Tennessee.” THEY in the MEDIA will broadcast stories that supposedly happened in “Tennessee” or sporting events with the word “Tennessee” in the team names.

That all may be true in books or on maps, but out on the trail, there is no such place.

Evidence = Proof

Consider: Every single time THEY put up a sign indicating the supposed “Tennessee” border, I’d soon discover I was back in North Carolina. Or I’d pass another sign telling me I was now leaving North Carolina. Without ever leaving “Tennessee.”

Need more proof? THEY also make up songs about a place called “Rocky Top, Tennessee.” But I was there. It was neither rocky nor at the top. And it wasn’t until the next day that I passed a sign telling me I had finally entered “Tennessee.”

More Evidence = More Proofier

More? Even I still believed until yesterday when the following incontrovertible truths finally opened my eyes:

  1. The AT had no significant climbs or descents over 22 miles today and I averaged just over 3 mph for the day. Clearly, I was not in a real place on the AT.
  2. I started out walking in deep fog through grassy fields with farm gates and stiles. Obviously, that only happens in England, not in the Appalachian forests.
  3. I met someone claiming to be “Wheels.” The real Wheels is at least 100 miles ahead of me by now. The fake one had been briefed to spread some story about catching Noro at a hostel, but I recognize a cover story when I hear one. Plus, after I passed the fake one, she never caught up. A real Wheels would have passed me in minutes.
  4. The 18 miles I walked in “Tennessee” were foggy, rainy, and miserable. But when I reached another one of those state border signs, the sun immediately came out. Coincidence? I think not.

The Proofiest Evidence

I’d seen Yogi leave TN91 last night after getting dropped off by the Boots Off Aqua Blaze shuttle. He said he would camp just a little way up the trail. But I left at 7:00 am and never saw him…until I got to Virginia. That’s right, not in “Tennessee.” After one of those “border signs.”

As if that wasn’t proof enough, he told me a “Tennessee” story about a bear chasing him down the trail. Yes, yes, I know. A “Yogi” bear story. Northstar pointed that out to me, because I’m too obtuse to make up such a pun on purpose.

Yogi’s Bear Story

Yogi claimed to have passed two bears, one quite large and another smaller one, each on different sides of the trail. He stopped to take a blurry, Sasquatch-quality photo before quickly moving on.

I’ve seen the photo and it’s everything I’ve described it as. It shows a lot of wet green woods and an obvious brown smudge that is clearly a bear. Or wet blanket. Or his thumb. Regardless, the photo is compelling enough for a History Channel unsolved mystery special. But I digress.

After making his escape, Yogi looked back to discover that the large bear was following him down the trail, huffing and grunting as it upped its pace to keep up. Steeped in bear repellent lore, Yogi turned to face the bear, made himself look as large as possible, and yelled, “F*** Off, Bear!” He said he tried different pitches, tones, volume, and emphases, but to no avail.

The big bear would stop when he stopped, but after he yelled, it would keep coming. As an aside, once he told me where this occurred, I recalled hearing yelling in the distance at about that time but couldn’t make out the content. I also explained to Yogi that perhaps in bear-world, “F*** Off!” signifies more of an invitation than a warning. You never can tell with bears. Especially in “Tennessee.” But, again, I digress.

Yogi then tried a less subtle approach but was foiled by a sudden lack of rocks or sticks along the trail. Once again, only in “Tennessee” would a hiker be unable to find rocks along the trail. Everywhere else, they line the trail to trip us or twist our ankles. Eventually, perhaps because he was near the Virginia border, he found a suitable rock and pitched a grounder at the bear, bouncing one right off its nose.

Somehow, that worked. Or perhaps the bear decided Yogi didn’t mean what he’d said, or he was simply far enough away from the smaller bear, and it disappeared into the woods. To be safe, Yogi carried two softball-size rocks for a full quarter mile down the trail. And it worked. The bear never returned.

If I hadn’t seen the brown smudge on his picture for myself, I’d have thought he made it all up.

Virginia, An Actual Real Place

Once I escaped “Tennessee,” not only did the sun come, the trail went downhill (gradually!) for four miles, my oldest son called and had enough cell reception for a conversation that got me all the way to Damascus, at which point I saw Yogi only a few yards ahead of me. They’d even put up banners and party flagging for us.

I’d told Northstar to park near a cheeseburger and I’d find her. She did and so did I.

Note that all this good stuff happened outside of “Tennessee.” Just sayin’.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: TN91 (Mile 449.1)
  • End: The Damascus Diner (Mile 470.8)
  • Weather: Miserable rain then sunny
  • Earworm: A previously unknown fifteen note stanza composed by my addled brain. Weird.
  • Meditation: Jn 19:15
  • Plant of the Day: Flame Azalea (with fruity tumor thing)
  • Best Thing: Leaving “Tennessee”
  • Worst Thing: Being soaked through for hours

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Comments 11

  • thetentman : May 17th

    So you are deducing the truth about ‘Tennessee’. It will be not long now that the AT Police will come for you. Tennessee is a secret they work hard to protect. You are not safe. Be very careful. Trust no one.

  • Melanie : May 17th

    If there is anyway we can help/support you in Central Virginia, please let us know. We are 40 minutes from Rockfish Gap, Southern end of Shenandoah NP.

    • Jon : May 17th

      That is so nice! Thanks & we’ll keep that in mind.

      • Nyk Campbell : May 18th

        Very confused on how Tennessee supposedly isn’t a real place even though I have lived in Tennessee my whole life😂😂

        • Jon : May 19th

          This conspiracy runs deep. How do I know you’re a real person?

  • Jamie Compos : May 17th

    Welcome to Damascus!

    Virginia is a real place, be prepared to stay awhile.

    • Jon : May 17th

      Thanks, Jamie. Wanna come hike a bit of it?

  • Robin Clark : May 17th

    More pictures please 😀

    • Jon : May 19th

      Hi, Robin. I post most of my pics and videos on Facebook and Instagram “The Incident on the AT 2023”. I’ll try to figure out how to get more on The Trek, but I’ve been having trouble with their portal’s upload size limits. Thanks for reading.

  • Melissa : May 17th

    You are hilarious! I’m a native “Tennessean” or so I was told. My paternal grandmother was born in Foscoe, NC. Growing up I spent many hours with my dad exploring and visitin folks between NE TN and WNC. Most of my life I wasn’t sure if I was from TN or NC.
    Your assessment is correct. I guess it would make sense that you aren’t sure there is a Tennessee since we were part of NC initially. Blessings on you and your family. Stay safe!

    • Jon : May 19th

      LOL. Thanks!


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