“What do you think about Tennessee?”
My words hung on the line for a moment, as if they took an extra couple of seconds to zip across our home state of New Jersey. To put it frankly, my fiancé, Jenelle, and I, had both been in New Jersey for far too long. It was the longest stretch we’d spent there in years. Being pretty adamant travelers and van-lifers, stagnation was never really our thing. New Jersey was our home turf after all, but we both had a very palpable love/hate relationship with the garden state.
The running joke remains that New Jersey has everything, but not the best of anything. We loved the variety of terrain and the people. There are certain gems like local summer (September-November) that I wouldn’t trade for anything. However, in the thick of April, the death rattle of winter was blowing through and our cold weathered bones were ready for a thaw.
“It sounds warmer than here.” my silver-tongued wife to-be replied.
The two of us are photographers and, along with our mini Australian shepherd and 1987 Chevy van, we run an Instagram handle @togetherweroam. This is reason enough to set out on the road and see something new every so often. We’ve ventured as far west as the stone clad beaches of Mexico and the foggy mountains of Alaska, but we’ve never done the heart of America justice. Growing up as close to the shore as we did, I suppose we both have an affinity to keep the water within eyeshot. The idea of being landlocked seems so—stagnant.
I can’t explain why, but something in Tennessee and Northern Georgia seemed different and that pesky whispering call of adventure seemed to be gingerly chirping in my ear recently. Every couple of weeks I’d find myself humming along to a new up and comer out of Nashville or I’d see an Instagram image of a Chattanooga based outdoor outfitter that blew me away. There seemed to be a beauty there that I hadn’t considered. It seemed timed to go check it out.
“We’re free next wee-” I almost got all of the words out before Jenelle jumped in, “sounds great!”
What we ultimately experienced was as much of an adventure as any other; fully equipped with smiling faces, Odysseus-worthy campfire stories, hang gliding, and some very powerful bluegrass.
Through a roundabout connection, we met the folks of Live A Little Chatt, a tiny house resort up in the mountains on the fringes of the Tennessee-Georgia state line. While staying with them, they introduced us to the wonder that region holds - showing us the deep, adventurous hikes and bringing Jenelle and me into the world of hang gliding, something I don’t think either of us will soon forget.
We were a mere 12-hour drive from our ice crusted home state, but we quickly felt our achy bones beginning to loosen up. As we laced up our boots (Jenelle in the Mountain Pass Rio and myself in the Mountain Light) we may as well have been 12,000 miles away.
For us, it was a humbling adventure. It was something we needed. To be connected to this endless expanse of interweaving asphalt does not mean that you need to drive as far and as fast as you can. You have that option, but you can also drive slowly. You can leave yourself time to breath, time to explore—time to thaw.
PARKER HILTON and JENELLE KAPPE are east coast based photographers and travel writers. For a period of time each year the duo spend their time traveling the globe to photograph weddings near and far. During the off-season they can be found wandering with their mini Australian shepherd to wherever they feel a pull to visit.