I Want to See the Mountains Again…And then Find Somewhere I Can Rest

“Unlocking the Mind (from ‘The Theory of Everything’)” by Samuel Bohn 🎵

No one should model overwork – it’s bad for business.

Regular PTO challenges teams to fill knowledge gaps and test each other. People around you won’t take vacation, teams won’t know if their escalation and delegation systems work, and things break more when teams don’t take it. So 👏 take 👏 vacations 👏. When I’m off I remove myself from escalation – my byline is “If the skybox is falling, delete me from active directory.” I still meet people who think burnout is the way instead of knowing through lived experience it to be counter productive to efficiency and releasing games (a topic that requires an entirely different blog). I’ve seen leaders who struggle in that they want to be and are proud of their reachability – they design their lives around it because they don’t feel they can delegate. That scares me. They then model this. They fear getting in trouble when something breaks because they were not there to hero and the consequences of them not heroing – instead of teams learning from you not being there – and you growing and feeling safe knowing reachability was the test with which to find gaps to address. Companies have to model it across the board and try.

I’ve adopted a pattern in my life that works for me with the mental model that: I don’t want to be the hero and I don’t want to model that even if it feels good – and I don’t want any one person to feel like they have to be one all the time. I am unhappy when I see engineers who are put in that position after having removed themselves from escalation paths. I put in hard physical separations so I must delegate and must trust – and even though I did check in once yesterday in a few DMs (hah!) even my own team will tell SHAME (you are right!). This week I went into the middle of nowhere and began tackling the rest of my Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala bucket list. No internet except to occasionally send a few pictures to a handful people who I knew would appreciate them. People who really like being alone when it counts because they know it makes the difference for them and for those around them.

Needmore Rd & The Little Tennessee River

Some do not visit Nantahala National Forest because they don’t know it well – often travelers stay in Gatlinburg. We stay near Bryson City instead, where it’s more remote and the views are all breathtaking. It’s also cheaper to stay near Bryson City, NC while letting visitors have access to areas so remote they don’t even have names.

Driving from Georgia to Bryson City and Fontana Lake is an enjoyable journey of its own. You can go up through Highlands and see a 250 ft waterfall (Cullasaja Falls, still on my bucket list) or up through Franklin – it’s completely up to you. This time we decided to go through the area near “Needmore Rd” which runs along the Little Tennessee River and only a few parts of the road are paved (appreciate the puns of this area). The mica in the sandy water shines like glitter and the water is shallow enough for children to wade in.

Chimney Tops & Road Prong Trail (Great Smoky Mountains National Park)

Normally we do Deep Creek tubing – it’s the perfect mix of dangerous and beautiful within a day of arriving. It is about $8 for the full day to white-water tube; however, the water was low and in that condition it’s more like rubbing yourself over a bunch of rocks. After putting our hands in the water, my husband and I looked at each other and loaded our backup list of trails…

Chimney Tops trail was the scene of a terrible forest fire a few years ago and thus travelers can only do the first part Road Prong Trail (the first 2 miles) while the longer 8 mile trail returns to normalcy which will take years. Real life is breathtaking. Walking this trail was a series of bridges, creeks, waterfalls and a full Lord of the Rings meets Skyrim experience. Blessed with the world’s best parking spot we got out of our car, headed out on the trail…and this is what we saw.

I’ve done a many trails in Atlanta, North Georgia, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, trails in Hawaii – stood at the apex of Clingmans Dome, but the beauty of this trail kicked everything I’ve ever done out of first.

Upper Nantahala Cascades (Nantahala National Forest)

After a day in Chimney tops we decided we wanted to follow the Nantahala river next. The upper Nantahala Cascades are accessible by car. Most people stop at the Nantahala Outdoor Center to go kayaking or white water rafting after riding the trains leaving Bryson city; but you can actually follow the river past that into a remote area of the world where there are many waterfalls, cascades, no signs, and hidden alcoves under pull-offs. There was nobody anywhere in sight for most of our 45 minute journey (Wayah Road and Old River Road) – a couple of fly fishers here and there.

Mingo Falls (Cherokee, NC & Qualla Boundary) & The GSMNP Parkway

I’m a “waterfall” collector which is to say – I try to do as many as I can, where I can, when I can. On this trip I discovered there’s still at least 12 named waterfalls I have not seen in North Carolina and did not even know existed without a local map. That said, in the middle of the rain we did make it to Mingo Falls, a 120 foot high waterfall (left), where I proceeded to drop my phone and shatter the case (it’s fine – I got another case). After that we drove up the Great Smoky Mountains Parkway to get food in Gatlinburg. Something to note – you now need a $5 parking day pass now for the park, which, quite frankly I’m grateful exists. It’s an easy way for me to give back and know it will go to maintaining the park.

The Mountains, Again

The following are a series of views driving through the GSMNP, Nantahala National Forest, and also from our cabin. This area brings me a lot of peace and appreciation for what our great parks offer – and a reminder that we should cherish our earth – and that our goal should be to make sure these areas are accessible and affordable as treasures of our country.

But this year it also reminded me of who I was and that my principles have not changed, only grown. I once left a quote in a thank you card next to an unopened bottle of wine in a Seattle hotel room after a challenging work week in Fall of ’21. I was leaving at 5 AM. The wine was called CaveWoman, a gift from a mentee (thank you, Alec!) but I couldn’t take it home. The quote had already been written – I had given out six Lord of the Rings quotes that week before my former team embarked on a great adventure, one I had a feeling might not pan out (it didn’t, I rolled anyway). This was an extra I had written not knowing why.

In that moment with this ironic bottle of wine, how I was feeling (exhausted), I realized the extra one I had written, was for me. Blessed with timing, I gave it as a gift to the next person who was feeling exhausted. Leaning on a pillow in a hotel room I put the quote card, the bottle of wine down, along with a handwritten thank you note:

“I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring