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Great Smokey Mountains

After last night's festivities we decided to sleep in till noon. It had been a cold night but the warmth of our bodies made it all bearable. 
Upon waking we made a trip to find some wholesome mountain food. What we found was pizza, and it became clear that it was homemade after peeling wax paper pieces from the bottom. 
With our bellies filled we made our way casually back to the campsite but not before stopping at a couple of quaint, roadside stores. One offered a Yogi Bear theme with life size Yogi and Boo Boo statues that captured our attention from the road. We took some photos and greeted the owner, leaving with a delicious, leather scented candle. 
As we continued towards the campsite, Kelsea pointed out a delightful antique store that looked so rugged and rustic that I was keen to pull in, if only to take some photographs. 
I'd only snapped a few shots before the owner, Kevin, came out and explained that usually, they don't allow photographers for fear that their antiques would be marked up and sold on eBay. Assuring him that these were only for our enjoyment, he began to show off us all of his treasures, inviting me to photograph almost everything.
Kevin was a stocky man wearing a stained white shirt and jean overalls. His smile was big and playful and he held less teeth in his mouth than I had fingers on my hands. Despite his hillbilly appearance he was an open minded and educated man. 
What began as browsing the antique store quickly became a tour of artistic and historical importance, showcasing works from all walks of life and each with its own story. The experience fit the name of the store perfectly; One Upon A Tree. 
Kevin too was an incredible artist. He would make birdhouses and other pieces out of found objects and abandoned traps, including one, 8' tall giant with bottles for eyes, a great mossy beard and thick tree trunks for legs. He mentioned that he had to hire a crane to stand the piece upright. We bought gifts and were given free and valuable trinkets, and all he wanted in return was a lovespoon from Wales to make a birdhouse to send back to Wales, to fulfill his dream of having his art all over the world.

Back at the campsite, Kelsea and I hiked the nature trail, admiring all the natural beauty of the Great smokey national park.

For supper we returned for pulled pork sandwiches at the local bar; Two Men And A Pig aka Charlie's. This evening, the bar was almost empty except for a few locals. There was Mike, the tall and bald barkeep with a big bushy beard and there was Opi, the soft spoken, shaky pool shark. 

We drank and Mike packed a pipe for us to share as we discussed the haunted history and basement murders of our new, favorite establishment. 

Some more locals trickled in and we spent time talking with Dakota in the Tiki Hut down the hill. There was an innumerable amount of spiders littering the interior of the bamboo shack, but to my surprise, Kelsea kept her cool. 

I felt a need to leave early to get to Nashville early the next day, so reluctantly, we said our goodbyes to our new friends and made our way back to camp for the final night amidst the great smokey mountains. 

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Tennessee

It was hard to peel myself out of bed, but when I did, I saw that Shanna was already studying for her French midterm exams! Of course, I took it upon myself to distract her. 
We joked for a bit until Kelsea woke up and then we joked some more. But then it came time for us to leave. We thanked The Shug for her hospitality and kindness and made our way with a few tears in our eyes. 
Picking up and popping down the camper didn't take us too long but before we hit the road, I managed to reserve ourselves a spot at the Cosby campsite; part of the great smoky mountains national park. We were told to be there by 22.00, which seemed to give us a reasonable window. 
Kelsea drove the whole way there, stopping only twice en route. The second stop was in the middle of the highway, amidst 2 lanes of traffic. Not too far ahead, was a terrible accident that had us stuck for about an hour and a half. It looked pretty serious and our hearts went out to those affected by such tragedy. I couldn't help thinking of how lucky we were not to be involved. 
Whilst I took photos of the crowded cars, Kelsea struggled with answering nature's call. She almost relieved herself in a bottle until she saw other people leave their cars to go pee in the woods. Following suit, she headed for the trees, feeling a lot more comfortable upon her return to the car. 
We arrived at the campsite by 21.30, but the ranger's house was dark and empty. We meandered in the night and somehow managed to find our reserved spot, leaving the camper behind to go find food. 
We had noticed a grocery store at the entrance to the campground, so we drove to the end of the road and to our delight, it was still open. But what was advertised as a grocery store, was nothing of the sort. It was a bar. A really awesome, BBQ serving, beer drinking, cigarette smoking, pool playing, hillbilly bar. And we couldn't have felt more comfortable and welcome. 
After two incredible pulled pork sandwiches, some baked beans and chicken wings on the house, Kelsea resorted to make friends with just about everyone in the bar. Although stunned by her sudden extroversion, I was excited to see this new side of her. Clearly, she was in her element.
We spent the night drawing on the walls, making new friends and finding exactly what we had been searching for. Dakota, our 1 in 5, told us stories of driving and evading the police as we listened intently, absorbing the culture. It was challenging to make sense of his endearing, mountain accent, but his stories were just so good that we had no choice. 
We ended the night with a game of pool and said our goodbyes to the remaining folk in the bar before heading to the campsite to pop up the camper, in complete darkness.

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Party Time

The morning came all too quickly and it brought hunger with it. We shuffled around a little before making our second attempt at setting up the camping stove. 
After several texts to Kelsea's dad, we managed to get it all hooked up and cooked ourselves a delicious breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and avocado. 
We met with Shanna shortly after for a tour of Duke's impressive campus, where she pointed out her most frequented classrooms and a giant library that has been known to host 1920s themed parties!
We returned to Shanna's room to fix some fall flavored concoctions while the ladies prepared themselves for the mallard ball; A hunting themed dinner, dance and bonfire. That theme was interpreted as, everyone must wear camouflage or a blinding shade of orange. Kelsea felt right at home. 
Our first stop was an event hall where some delicious BBQ was served. We were subsequently whisked away to catch 2 busses in succession, taking us directly to a secluded bonfire next to a barn.
The energy in the bus was electric as 30 18-24 year olds sat on each other's laps and floated in the fluidity of their mental states. We attempted to predict whether the energy on the ride back would be sloppy, sleepy or something entirely different. 
The party itself was fantastic. The music was loud and proud with dancers of all abilities. At the bottom of that barrel, I enlisted the dancing expertise of Shanna to help me blend in with a clearly more talented crowd. I failed to learn but loved it all the same. 
Outside was a much more casual state of affairs where we roasted marshmallows and others explored the grounds, making friends with a nearby horse. 
Being the oldest couple there, Kelsea and I felt like fuddyduddies, but after a few drinks and plenty of fun, alpha delta pi and their dates made us feel like part of the gang. 
The ride back was all we had anticipated and so much more. People slept, people were sloppy and there was a soap opera going on right in front of us. Shanna, Kelsea and I giggled and gasped like school girls as one couple made out heavily, pressing up against another couple, whose relationship seemed to be falling apart. 
We abandoned the bus and made haste towards Shanna's apartment, where she graciously offered us her bed for another night. 
With Tennessee faintly calling us forward, we said goodnight to Durham and North Carolina for one last time.

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Duke

Upon waking, our persnickety pair of adventurers made haste to exit Shanna's empty apartment to check on their abandoned camper at the campsite 30 minutes away.
Luckily our mobile home was still standing, so Kelsea and I organized and made preparations for our first night by popping the camper. 
We spent the early afternoon making our new living quarters feel cozy and made several attempts at setting up the gas cooker. With no avail, we settled to eat PB&Js and decided to try again tomorrow. 
The rest of the day was filled with laughter after swooping by the campus of Duke to pick up Shanna. We ate merrily at Elmo's, laughed heartily at the costumes offered by super target, and baked casually once we returned to Shanna's place. 
It was delightful to share music and baking recipes, stories and stumbleupon. After all the time we'd spent apart, I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me and I didn't feel a need to do or say anything in particular. I just felt happy to enjoy a few close moments with my sister. 
Kelsea and I said goodnight to Shanna after dinner and a cup of tea. We headed onwards to the campsite where we would sleep for the first time... in the wilderness. 

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Durham, NC

After putting the last minute bags in the camper, our adventurers left Fredericksburg at 10:30 AM. 
Driving through torrential downpour, Kelsea proved herself to be quite the trooper as I navigated lazily. However, I showed promising skills at opening bananas and granola bars to feed to Kelsea with music bompin' all the way. 
Around 18.00 we reached a quaint and desolate campsite; Rollingview - part of Falls Lake State Park. After a few twists and turns, we dropped off the camper and headed into Durham. 
Greeted by a sweet, curlyhaired girl standing in the rain, Miss Shug welcomed us into her abode. 
We ate sushi, watched a movie, and caught up on what we've missed in each others lives. The night ended early to ensure to a good start in the morning

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