In my defense, I made reservations. They just happened to be for May 26th, not April 26th, when I actually showed up and needed the spot. To complicate matters further, the entire campground had yet to open for the season. We drove up to a lush and foreboding forest at the base of the Smoky Mountains with a padlock on the gate, and no one in sight.
Enter, Walmart. As we snaked our way through through the center of desolate-looking Erwin, TN, I remembered the Walmart we passed a few miles back. I read in a travel blog they allowed people to spend the night in their parking lot.
I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but my crack planning led us right to their door. We parked ourselves in the back and settled in. It was cold and rainy. I stubbornly refused to eat fast food, and made us dinner with shoppers gawking as they swerved by.
As we huddled waiting for our food to cook I sheepishly looked at my daughter and thought, I’ve become my Dad
. Thankfully, unlike my father, I happened to have a good-natured daughter who reassured me I had not screwed up THE ENTIRE TRIP.
I’m not a Walmart shopper. I don’t care for their offerings (everything seems to be the most cheaply made version of an actually useful item), and I’m not a fan of how they underpay their workers while letting the taxpayer foot bill. But, the damage is done. If you want to shop on the road, Walmart is often your best choice.
On my last camper adventure I made frequent Walmart stops in rural Florida as I criss-crossed the state visiting some eye-popping state parks. I was struck by the aisles upon aisles of grocery items I didn’t recognize as food. Just a bright assortment of food coloring, sugar, and thickeners. I kept peering into other people’s carts and wanting to yank items out (this is not food!).
Still, the place is generally well-lit and friendly-ish. If you hunt around a bit, you can find what you need. What Walmart lacks in charm it makes up for in a certain save-my-ass quality.
The one in Erwin, TN was clean and sad. The parking lot smelled of skunk, strangely only by the front of the store. I looked like an alien with my short, grey hair and snazzy, outdoor gear. There was a mom by the register with four small children all perched about, silently waiting for her to finish bagging her items. They all looked exhausted. I felt the injustice of our radically different lives.
Poverty is the worst form of violence.
We slept soundly and without dreams. There’s no dreaming in a Walmart parking lot.
My version of travel planning is to fling myself into the world and then sort things out when I arrive. It’s surprising I haven’t been forced to sleep in a ditch by now.
Somehow, the world always catches me.
The next day we regrouped and pressed on to Falls Creek Falls State Park
where we had an absolute ball. It’s home to a waterfall with the longest run east of the Rockies and enough climbing to justify eating too many s'mores.