By Mike Steely

Sometimes you just have to get away for a day or two. My wife and I did that recently after both of us were stressed out and neither of us in good health.

We hooked up our little pop-up camper, reserved a camping spot on the Little Pigeon River, and drove over to the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Only forty minutes away but far enough that it gave us a different view and a different mindset.

My wife made a comment as we pulled into the campground that our little pop up unit was the smallest there.

We put the camper up, hooked it up, and went to Gatlinburg for the evening. It was during a weekday and prior to the leaves changing so the crowd wasn’t huge. We were looking to get a front car tag custom made for her and found a place. While the tag was being created we walked the street and people-watched.

Many of the cars there were from North Carolina as those folks were seeking shelter from the hurricane and flooding in their state. There were also folks from all over the Midwest and South and even a few from Europe who were walking and speaking British English, French, German and other languages.

We stopped by several candy stores, especially those featuring chocolate, and bought a few things. We sat on the benches along the street and remembered being there shortly after the Gatlinburg fires. Most people didn’t know that the fires never reached the downtown section.

There are lots of things to do in the Smoky Mountain communities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Kodak without spending a lot of money. There are several things that, at first, seem free until you hear the details. Barkers along the street lure you in by offering a free trip to Dollywood or other attractions but you’ve got to tour their vacation venues and sit through a sales pitch before you get any free offer.

We recalled the same pitches in our past visit to Las Vegas when we were lured to a home-pitch before we were given tickets to see Debbie Reynolds perform. So we don’t get pulled in by those offers.

After Gatlinburg we dined out and returned to camp. We soon realized how small our little camper is and discussed trading for a larger pop-up or tagalong that has a bathroom. But the campground bathrooms were clean and nearby so we settled in.

I had forgotten my fishing rod and we had stopped and bought an inexpensive one on the way back to camp. The evening was warm and we sat outside, my wife reading and I walked down the bank to the river and fished a bit. Across the narrow river a great blue heron was on the bank, watching for fish in the waters, and the sun was just right for a photo. I had a few bites and the campers next to us caught a large carp. Fishing isn’t a sport for the impatient so after a half-hour I gave up and joined my wife in our camping chairs.

The couple camping on one side of us came over and offered us hamburgers they had grilled and we learned that their big camper was always housed in the storage area there and they called ahead when they were heading there and had the big unit pulled to their site. They told us they had never pulled the camper and how convenient it was for them a couple times a year to have it there and ready for their use.

The evening was humid and we ran the roof air conditioner we had repaired before we left home. As the evening progressed we found we needed to turn the AC down and we watched a favorite old TV show on DVD.

The next morning we ate breakfast and stayed around camp until noon. Then we headed out to Pigeon Forge to visit Alcatraz East. The attraction was busy and interesting and I took lots of photos for a story. We had taken a tour of the real Alcatraz years before while visiting San Francisco. We had also toured other former prisons out west and recently at Brushy Mountain closer to home.

That evening we dined out again, because we seldom eat out, and returned to camp to sit out the evening. Wham, in the middle of the night, a nasty little thunderstorm rocked the camper, soaked everything we’d left outside, and it was scary for about 15 minutes.

The next morning we dried as much as we could, had breakfast, and closed camp. We headed home without incident, realizing that although we were not far from Knoxville the little trip was worth taking.

Sometimes a day away can be a blessing. Just changing environments for a brief visit can refresh the mind and aid the spirit.