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Finding peace atop the mountains - Greg Gelpi

Boundless mountain wilderness ahead and nearly as much concrete jungle behind, my vacation journey began.

No plans, no schedule and no map. That's my idea of a vacation.

Slipping into my bad habit of quoting songs, as Dave Matthews would say it, "What I want is what I've not got, but what I need is all around me."

Knowing I needed to get away, I considered jetting across the country, maybe even out of the country to Mexico. I wanted to visit some exotic place I had never been before. What I needed, though, was a simple getaway, a return to nature that would make Thoreau proud. Thoreau can have his Walden. I will take the waterfalls and rock formations of Tennessee's Fall Creek Falls State Park.

The journey to somewhere, while important was not as important as the journey inside myself.

Hopping into my compact car and meandering through the spaghetti interstates through Atlanta, I discovered the wilderness that lies just beyond the horizon.

In a visual display of the diversity of this country, only a matter of an hour or two by car separates the thriving metropolis from the untouched serenity of nature.

Vacation it hit me is the act of vacating. I vacated my apartment, my responsibilities and my surroundings, immersing myself in the mountains of Tennessee. Unfortunately, I couldn't vacate my mind as well or I would have. I did, though, manage to block out most nagging thoughts of work and other thoughts from the real world I left behind.

The mere drive, winding along sharp mountain roads and coasting down 8-percent grades, awakened a sense of renewal inside me. For a change, I actually turned off my CD player and enjoyed the silence, not silence as in absence of sound, but silence as in absence of noise.

The soothing hum of the tires whirling over the highway provided the perfect soundtrack to my journey.

A stark contrast to my home terrain, the bayous, swamps and flat land of Louisiana, the pristine landscapes nearly caused me and my Neon to careen over the side of cliffs a few times.

Forced to travel at a snail's pace on the back roads and Tennessee highways, my normally heavy foot took pleasure in the serpentine roads that reminded travelers to relax and enjoy the world around them.

Each turn around a jagged rocky mountainside unveiled a new scene from middle-class homes to towns tucked inside rolling hills in the shadows of a towering cliff.

Just getting away was enough for me. I won't even attempt to put into words my experiences of hiking along 150-foot waterfalls and steadily walking over suspension bridges.

I confess a two-week vacation in Europe wouldn't be too bad, but it's amazing what a quick sojourn over the state line will do for mental stability.

Admittedly, the scenery tempted me to stay and the rumble of the waterfalls beckoned me not to leave, but vacations are only temporary, and I knew that if I stayed I ran the risk of no longer appreciating the surroundings.

Greg Gelpi covers education for the News Daily. He can be reached at ggelpi@news-daily.com or (770) 478-5753 Ext. 247.