It turns out, llama farms are located pretty far outside the confines of the city — at least the one we visited was. After thirty minutes of navigating gravel roads so narrow that we honestly didn’t know what we would do if we encountered a car coming toward us, we arrived.
There wasn’t anything at the llama farm I wasn’t expecting. There were two barns, a four-wheeler, a motorcycle, a pickup truck, a small cabin — and, in the middle of it all, a fenced-in pen containing roughly a dozen llamas. Except for an all-white one.
“He’s a jumper,” said Steve, sole owner of Smoky Mountain Llama Treks. After deciding he had had enough of the corporate life, Steve quit his IT job in Detroit and moved to the mountains of Tennessee. He traded his daily commute for daily hikes into the Smoky Mountains. His customers are no longers users needing computer assistance, but weekend warriors looking to get away and see the backwoods of Tennessee.
And curious people from Oklahoma.
Llamas are a lot like cats. They’re curious and not aggressive at all. When we arrived, I wondered just how close we would get to the llamas. Five minutes later after a very brief list of instructions (“don’t touch their ears of heads”), all four of us were standing inside the pen with the llamas. Steve rattles off the llamas’ names and you can probably imagine what Curly, Peanut Butter, and Black Jack look like.
In the center of the pen is a large and impressive pile of llama poop. “They all go in one place,” says Steve, stating the obvious. The grass downhill from the pen is plush and green. Apparently, it really does flow downhill.
The draw of the llama farm isn’t really the llamas — it’s Steve. In the half an hour we were there we heard how Steve made it from Detroit to Tennessee, his hike down the Appalachian Trail, the time the transmission went out on his truck, his neighbor (“he’s a Navy Seal”), and his ultimate dream.
“I’d like to meet Chuck Norris,” says Steve. “I think one day I will come out here and find him standing there, waiting to go on a hike with my llamas.” It’s a crazy thought, and yet after hearing half an hour of Steve’s stories, I have no doubt someday that it will happen.
As the kids fed bananas (“they love the peels”) and graham crackers to the llamas, I thought a lot about Steve. He’s quick to point out that his salary went from $200k a year in Detroit to $20k a year in Tennessee, and he couldn’t be happier. The guy has a grin on his face from ear to ear, even as the llamas get possessive over the last bowl of food and begin spitting at one another. And us.
The next morning, Susan and the kids got in a rental car and drove back to Oklahoma while I continued on to Washington D.C. I’ve spent the past week dealing with a Metro under construction, horrible traffic, and crowds of rude people. As I hang up my suit jacket and crawl into bed listening to jack hammers, blasting car horns and kids stomping around upstairs, the thought of living in the backwoods and even dealing with llama poop doesn’t sound all that bad.