Piggy backing on our trip to Asheville, NC, we finished out our week vacation in Tennessee. We decided to camp in Tennessee because I had always wanted to view the stars from the mountains. We chose to camp at Windrock Park in Oliver Springs which is tucked up in the Smokey Mountains. Windrock offered camping and OHV (Off Highway Vehicle) rentals, and the park was conveniently located between Asheville and our final destination: Nashville, TN. So much nonsense happened during our 48 hours at Windrock Park. Before I get into all that, I’ll remind you quickly that during this vacation, we used disposable cameras so we could lose our cell phones and be totally present. Though the quality of the photographs aren’t spectacular, the moments were captured, and it allowed us to experience a great “disconnected” trip. Okay, on with the nonsense.
When we checked into our campsite at Windrock, we discovered that we were visiting during the off season. The VERY off season. We passed the camper area, then the cabin area, then the open campsite area, all which were completely deserted. We finally made it to our section of the campsite: The primitive camping area. Primitive camping as in no functioning restrooms, completely surrounded by trees, deep in the woods of the Smokey Mountains. We set up our tent and made a cute little base camp. We then drove down to the cabin area where there was an actual functioning bathroom. The bathroom was surprisingly pretty awesome for a campsite. It was very clean and kind of fancy in its own way. On that first day, we went for a hike and mostly relaxed at the campsite. That night, however, was not as average.
Gina and I cooked steak and potatoes for dinner, and we threw the fatty parts in the fire. Yeah, yeah. Those of you who camp all the time are calling us dumb a**es right now, I know. But hey, I figured we were going to be up for a few hours still, so the fire would burn it all to ash before we called it a night. As the fire started to die down, we began to hear the collective howl of a pack of coyotes encroaching on our campsite. The thought through both of our minds at this point was, “F* this!” We quickly scooted toward the tent, and, in the dark, I noticed something beside the tent that eerily resembled a snake. I didn’t say anything; I just rushed Gina inside. Once all zipped in, she told me that she also believed she saw a snake. That put Gina even more on edge. I didn’t know this before our trip, but apparently, Gina is tragically fearful of meeting her demise in the wilderness. At this point, she was curled up on her side in the middle of the tent because she was afraid that if she stretched out at all, the snake would bite through the tent fabric and attack her feet or head. No, I’m not kidding. Gina began whimpering when she heard the coyotes again as they got closer to our site with every howl. Part of me felt sad for her and wanted to console her, yet another part of me was trying not to laugh out loud. I eventually was able to calm her down, and we were both just about asleep when I saw something scamper by our tent. I waited a moment, and then I heard some rustling near the fire pit. Not long after that, my suspicions were confirmed by a smell…we had a skunk in our fire pit. I rolled over and placed my arm over Gina. She thought I was being cute and trying to cuddle with her, but what actually happened was I whispered ever so quietly in hear ear, “I don’t want you to freak out, but be quiet and don’t move.” And the freak out began. Any wink of sleep she was about to fall into was long gone, and she began to shake and whimper again. She asked over and over in the tiniest whisper, “Oh my god. What is it? Is it a bear? Oh my god.” I told her it was a skunk just after our scraps in the fire, but I didn’t want to spook it and get sprayed, so she needed to keep still and quiet. After a few minutes, there was an eerie silence. Not long after, we heard the skunk sniffing something incessantly…right at our heads. I peeked up and actually saw the skunk’s nose pressed into the tent fabric as it was sniffing for us, only inches from our noggins. Gina could hardly handle her life!
Quickly, the skunk lost interest in how amazing we smelled and scampered off. Not too long after, we heard the distinctive shake, shake, shake of a rattle snake tail. At this point, Gina was all but crying. Her biggest fears were becoming a reality, and she was trapped in a cloth coffin. I hadn’t even begun to try and sooth her before the rattle snake slithered underneath the tent near our heads. Needless to say, Gina didn’t get very much sleep on our first night haha. (Fun fact, the next morning, that “snake” we thought we saw outside of the tent, was someone’s tube sock haha! …but the one that slithered under our heads was absolutely real!)
When morning came, Gina cooked breakfast, and we made sure to put the scraps in the metal garbage can with a snug lid provided by the campsite. We then made our way to the little convenience store to pick up our OHV Rental for the day’s joy ride. It was rather inexpensive to rent the vehicle for several hours. We were given a crash course on how to handle the vehicle by Connie. She was very funny and extremely kind. She was the epitome of southern charm. Once we got the logistics out of the way, we took to the trails. I was ripping through the puddles and mud completely soaking both of us, trying to show off to Gina. As we drove around one of the bends, Gina pointed over to a clearing. She described it as a “giant playground for off-road vehicles”. We did observe someone pop up onto the trail from the clearing, so it appeared to be a regularly used area. In the clearing was a large puddle, and Gina begged me to plow through it. I wasn’t too keen on the idea, and I initially refused to go through it. Something inside of me just thought it didn’t seem like a good idea. Gina was very insistent, however, and I was not about to disappoint her. We locked eyes with each other. “Ready?” I said. She nervously replied she was. Oh, okay, now that I agree to go she gets nervous. Sheesh! I drove around the curve as fast as I could get the OHV to go in the short distance. With excitement in our hearts, we hit the puddle. But ultimately, the experience was like a bad cartoon. You know, like the ones where the character drives or runs over a cliff, dangles in mid-air for a moment, and then drops straight down. Yeah, that pretty much happened. As soon as we hit the “puddle”, we also hit an invisible wall and began to sink.
We could not believe what just happened. Before we could get our seat belts off and swim out, the water was already up to our waists while sitting in the OHV. My only thought in that moment was, “We are so f***ed.” I started to get out of the OHV and clomp over to land while curling my toes as to not lose a shoe in the mud. Gina started screaming because she was afraid that a snake was going to get her in the water. It was one of those moments when you’re completely not having a good time, but you hope to laugh about it later. Once we got out of the water, Gina had the bright idea to try and “MacGyver” the OHV out by shoving logs under the back tires. That was no good. We eventually gave in and called down to the little store. Connie answered and told us she would call their trail maintenance to come help us out. As soon as the maintenance worker drove around the bend and observed our situation, he had the greatest reaction that immediately became our favorite catch phrase. In the thickest southern accent you can imagine, spoken slowly and deliberately, he exclaimed, “WHAT. IN. THE. HELL?!” Because the trail maintenance man was so appalled and dumbfounded by our situation, we made it as easy as possible on him to help us out. Gina, because she’s a bad a** woman, waded back into the POND and hooked our OHV up to be winched out.
Later in the day, after we drove back to the bottom of the mountain and hosed off our radiator, we continued on our adventure. Every puddle on the path now seemed questionable as we had some mild PTSD. The views along the trail were beautiful, and just like driving in the mountains around Asheville, there’s something about getting way too close to the edge whipping around the curves that gets me all fired up. We set up with lunch just off of the trail (G1) on a flat boulder hanging over a cliff before we continued to the top of the mountain – and eventually back down.
Fast forward to when we were back at camp ready for bed, err, tent. It was a quieter night, and I passed out about as soon as my head hit the pillow. Before I knew it, Gina was shaking me out of my slumber. She said she had been up all night and was now scared because she heard heavy footsteps which sounded like a person. We stayed still and listened for some time. Soon, we heard several light footsteps crunching on the vegetation as if something was pacing back and forth behind our tent. Quickly after, we were startled by something banging on the campsite-provided metal trash can which was positioned at the end of our campsite (the opposite side of whatever was pacing behind our tent). Loud screeching noises accompanied the banging on the trash can as if something was scratching it. Our vehicle was positioned near the end of the campsite by the garbage can, so I hit the panic button on the key fob in order to scare off whatever was near. As I did so, the lights on the vehicle flashed, and I was briefly able to make out a large figure near the trash can…standing on its hind legs, larger than life, was a bear. The noise and light of the alarm proved to scare the bear off, but only temporarily. When it returned and began attacking the metal trash can again, we were reminded of the creature making the quiet foot steps behind our tent. Up close and personal, we heard the scream of a mountain lion. That was it for Gina. She had already been in the middle of the tent curled up shaking when the noises began, but now, she was balling and rocking back and forth chanting, “I don’t want to die…” Everything made sense. The bear was hungry for whatever was in the trash can, the mountain lion was hungry for the bear, and Gina and I were in the middle of the battle field. I hit the panic alarm a few more times on the vehicle to try and scare the predators off, but it was only a minor hindrance to them. Gina finally couldn’t take her fear anymore. She looked at me, wide-eyed and crying, and asked if I would be offended if she called the police. “Will you be mad if I call the police because you are the police?” I exhausted all efforts to calm and comfort Gina. Nothing I said or did could stop her from imagining herself between the jaws of a bear or mountain lion.
Gina dialed the non-emergency number for the police and spoke to a very friendly dispatcher. The dispatcher tried her best to calm Gina down, though what her reassuring voice said was, “Okay, I’m going to get the police to you, but I have to put you on hold because our radios are not working. I have to call the officer on his cell phone.” ARE YOU FOR REAL? How insane that sounded! Shortly after, the police arrived and lit up the campsite with their squad spot lights. Of course there wasn’t a bear or mountain lion in sight because “white coat syndrome”. One officer seemed to be holding back laughter as he said, “Well, we have some pretty large ‘coons.” No, sir, that certainly was not a raccoon! Gina was happy just to be out of the tent and in her vehicle, “safe”. The police left, and we drove down to the bathroom area. We took the opportunity to star gaze for about 10 minutes, and then returned to our campsite. Upon returning, we couldn’t believe what we saw. The bear came back to give it one last go at the trash can. This time, he succeeded in ripping the lid off and scavenging whatever what was inside. The lid was on the ground next to the can, the can was completely dented and gnarled, and there were clear claw marks ripped into the can.
But here’s the greatest part of our trip yet. Are you ready? Boy, you’ll be glad you made it this far…
Gina decided she was absolutely NOT sleeping in the tent that night. Though I protested, she begged for me to sleep in the car with her. As she sat in the driver’s seat trying to get comfortable, she gazed over to me lovingly. I, however, seized the moment in the best way that I knew how. I stared right past Gina out the window behind her with the most convincing look of sheer terror and panic I could muster on my face. I let out a shaky gasp and pointed beyond her, and she immediately began screaming. Without knowing what may be behind her, she suspected the worst. She screamed as she stared at me with wide-eyes and then slowly turned toward the window in full anticipation that a bear was breathing heavily on her window. When she realized that nothing was there, she punched me in the arm and screamed, “You’re such a f***ing asshole! I just pissed myself!” HAHA!
*Overall, I would recommend the campsite. There were some attractive options for keeping busy including a shooting range and ATV/Other off road vehicle trails. At the top of the mountain, there was a windmill farm with an incredible view. The staff was friendly, and there were very clean and modern facilities.