I impulsively moved to Chattanooga, TN on New Year’s Eve of last year. Thinking I’d visit for a week or so with my (now) fiance, Daniel—who had just relocated here for a job a few days prior—I ended up spontaneously signing a 6-month lease with him and committing to a much longer timeframe away from home than I’d packed for. (Needless to say, a shopping trip to Walmart for underwear and socks was necessary.)
Now that I’ve lived in the Noog for over a year, I’m reminded daily of why this place is so special and why coming here may have been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life thus far.
I’d visited Chattanooga briefly in the summer of 2014 on a camping trip with Daniel. It was only a few days long, but something about it gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Maybe it was the big town-small town vibe, the warmer temperatures, the thick Southern accents, or the powerful scent of wildflowers. Maybe it was the unbeatably dank pancakes from Aretha Frankenstein’s—a 24/7 breakfast hole-in-the-wall that looks more like a tattoo parlor than a place you’d order hash browns. Perhaps it was the euphoric feeling of running past whitewater rapids or the smile on Daniel’s face after ascending world-class climbing routes. Maybe it was the vibrant blue pedestrian bridge—a passageway for cyclists, dog walkers, leisurely runners and elite athletes alike. It could have been the 70-foot Falling Water waterfall, tucked in secluded woods with an incredible lookout over sun-drenched cliffs; or perhaps it was the lopsided Lookout Mountain and its myriad of trails—ideal for mountain biking, hiking and running.
I may never know exactly what it was, but something about Chattanooga planted itself in my heart and brought me back on December 31, 2014.
Just moments after swigging the last of my champagne (It was NYE after all, so yes, totally mandatory!), I found myself shivering towards the car, linked arm-in-arm with Daniel, sub-30 degree temperature winds batting into my skin. Seeing that we didn’t end up signing the lease for another couple of weeks, my car was our home for the next few nights. We drove to a Walmart located at the bottom of Signal Mountain, folded down the backseat chairs in my Honda CRV, laid down Daniel’s bouldering crash pads, and bundled up in thick sleeping bags.
I woke up on the first day of 2015, teeth chattering and toes numb, asking what was I getting myself into.
As the new year spiraled into existence, I found myself overwhelmed by a strange mix of contradictory emotions: fear, bravery, excitement, regret, worry, joy, pride, insecurity, confidence, doubt, loneliness, and passion.
Upon graduating college with dual degrees in Photojournalism and Journalism, I was certain I could find a job at least somewhat related to either field; but in actuality, things weren’t so easy. After a couple of months with no luck in securing a full-time writing or photography job, I found myself making smoothies for minimum wage. It was definitely not where I pictured myself after four and a half years of busting my butt in university to earn two degrees.
Anxiety stirred in me, and I found myself more irritable and frustrated than ever. I lashed out at Daniel, cried nearly every day, and started to ask myself if I’d made a terrible mistake.
But I didn’t. And deep down, I knew that.
I reeled in 2015 by standing at the bar of a smoke-filled pub called Hair of the Dog, with Daniel and a middle-aged gay man we had just met—who shared his life story and several shots of whiskey. And yea, I slept in my frigid car in the middle of a Walmart parking lot for three or four nights on a stiff crash pad. And of course, yes, there have been innumerable bumps and bruises since then. Yet, isn’t that what life is all about? Things definitely have not gone as intended since moving away from home, but it’s those small surprises that bring so much joy and create such pleasant memories. It’s those moments that allow growth.
Today, I still don’t have everything figured out. I’m a 23-year-old who just recently returned from an internship abroad, and in many ways, I feel that I’m going through the exact same thing I did when I first moved here. Yet, at the same time, everything is totally different.
I’m getting married in the fall, competing in the 70.3 Ironman World Championship in Australia in 5 months, and working on countless freelance projects. To say I have a lot on my plate right now is an understatement, but Chattanooga will get me through. Because as I’ve said, there’s something about this place. It’s everything.
It’s the winding trail runs at Stringer’s Ridge, Lupi’s pizza, Whiskey Wednesdays at The Flying Squirrel, jazz nights at St. John’s, summer days splashing around in the Rainbow Falls swimming hole, Nightfall concerts next to Community Pie, climbing at High Point on rainy days, and snuggling up in a hammock somewhere in Prentice Cooper…
It’s been more than a year since I first moved to Chattanooga, and I find myself still totally enamored with this outdoor mecca; still completely in love with its swimming holes, waterfalls, gorgeous forests and technical trails. Life isn’t always as we think it will be, but this special place makes it worth living, every single day.
(Photo by Jaime Smialek of Our Ampersand Photography)