Crowds can be a good thing, and traveling screen-free with kids

Like a crop overwhelmed by great swarms of locusts, our joy can be sapped by tremendous crowds of people. This is especially the case after driving roughly 3,333 miles (nearly half our usual annual total!) in search of spring, peace, tranquility, family time, and r&r.

Sometimes, however, the frustration and dissonance brought on by the inevitable disappointments prove valuable.

En route to the ocean, we climbed a mountain in the Smokies: Clingman’s Dome. It’s the highest point in both Tennessee and along the entire Appalachian Trail. A half-mile paved trail leads to the top, which sports an ugly concrete observation tower. Hundreds and hundreds of tourists made the trek on this particular day, complete with an idling tour bus at the start of the path. It’s kind of horrific, really. The entire experience is reduced to mere scenery. A photo-op.

I’m unable to fully appreciate a landscape when it’s boiled down to a photograph. My kids didn’t seem to either. That said, the escape hatch is generally remarkably accessible in such situations.

On the way down, I took a detour onto the actual Appalachian Trail.

App trail
So historic, yet subtle

With renewed passion and expectation, I ventured down the A.T. It was so exciting to think of the amazing people who had walked upon this very same spot.

The landscape was transformed.

app trail 2
Inviting, isn’t it?

Rather than baking under an intense sun, I moved in and out of the canopy while slowly traversing a ridgeline. Vistas opened up gradually, rather than all at once, leaving me wanting more. I hungered to see what was around that next bend. The beauty was more subtle as it gently opened up to me.

App trail 3

Minutes before I had viewed the 360 degree panorama, but this was so much better. I saw nary a soul on the Appalachian Trail, though hundreds of people sweltered along on the steep pavement a mere quarter mile away.  What a contrast. I returned to the car and family (who all opted to walk the conventional route) with renewed zest and pizazz. I was grateful for the crowds. They reminded me just how sweet the quieter path through genuine wilderness can be.


family Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge near the gateway to the Smokies is so tacky!!!!

Even the two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic outside the park was rendered valuable. I’ve never encountered a stickier tourist trap in all my life. Insane!

I needed to share this quieter experience with the family, so we climbed another mountain along the Blue Ridge Parkway the next morning, Easter Day.

family mountains

It was about 29 degrees up there at elevation. A few hours later we were well into South Carolina at 80 degrees. Another amazing contrast. Along the way, I discovered that 70 miles of twisting, turning mountain roads travelled at 30 mph might not have been the ideal choice for a family excited to get to the ocean for the first time.

SC 1

During the high point of the day, the beach was mobbed. Like in the movies, one’s family staked out their 12 square feet of sand, with somebody nearby blasting annoying music. Gong show…. With a little flexibility and willingness to migrate, however, quieter places could be enjoyed.

SC 2
The next morning we biked the opposite direction,  crossing a small ankle-deep stream in the process. An hour later, as high tide was coming in, the torrent was thigh-high. Another five minutes would have made crossing impossible!
SC 3
Exotic treasures were encountered

Other surprises were less welcome. Our first night on the road, a shooting occurred outside the hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky. Sirens and lights filled the night, which we ignored. Opening the curtains the following morning, we discovered police tape everywhere and this news van immediately outside.

family KY
In the continental breakfast area it was the breaking news story on the TV, causing several people to immediately evacuate (the premises, not their bowels)

A day trip to Savannah left me thirsting for more. This is a place to join your spouse on an anniversary trip. The kids liked it, but didn’t fully appreciate the architecture, ambiance, etc. We sort of had to keep moving, so some day I hope we can go back and linger.

Savannah 1


Savannah 2
One could wander these tree-lined streets for hours. Definitely one of the prettiest cities in the States.

The picture below, snapped by my daughter, makes me happy. At the age of 14, I was invited to go camping with my friend, Andy. It was the first time I had experienced a mom and a dad both sitting in the front seats of a vehicle. I sat in the rear, rather than the more accustomed front passenger side, alongside a “brother” of sorts. The unexpected feeling of peace and safety overwhelmed me. I’m happy to provide this for our kids, flawed and imperfect as we are, even if the kids largely take it for granted.

family driving

Emma lizard
Emma appreciates lizards more than 300-year-old architecture. Luckily lizards lurk

Eventually the week came to an end.

SC final sunrise
I enjoyed this sunrise before we shoved off. Amazing to see that ball of fire climb out of the ocean.

We were able to make the trip largely devoid of devices. Our daughter brought along her Kindle, only after agreeing to let us block use of all apps other than the reading feature. I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited to provide unlimited reading opportunities. In the past, a  a gigantic bag of books was required, ballast in our tiny Prius.

The drive was much longer than anything we’ve ever done. Honestly, 2-3 hours has typically tried our kids’ patience. This was 26+ hours in each direction! Wanting them to pay attention to the passing landscape and be present among their family rather than glued to a screen, we picked up fifty bucks in activity books, which were stuffed into nifty organizers that strapped onto the backs of the front seats. Finally, we also subscribed to Audible at the last minute, listening to the The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear

At 16 hours in length, it provided plenty of enjoyment! We still have a few hours left, in fact. Our kids become teenagers this summer, so it was marvelous to see that a largely screen-free roadtrip can be done. It’s definitely how we’ll be handling all future trips. Hours of mindless games being played in the backseat would absolutely have detracted from the experience.

Turning to farming matters, I’ve planted the next batch of microgreens. These’ll be harvested and delivered to the Whole Foods Co-op and Mount Royal Fine Foods on April 20th. I’ll also be at the Duluth Farmer’s Market on April 21st, and hope to see you there. The stores are currently out of stock, a consequence of our vacation. Thanks for your patience. I like to think that half of Duluth is embarking upon a fast at this very moment, Tiny Farm Duluth being vital to the local food system and all. Tighten those belts up another notch, folks. You can do it!

Seriously, thanks for your patience. This break prior to the busy farming season was so so important.

***REMEMBER TO FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM @tinyfarmduluth for more regular updates*****

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