We broke camp early to head back to the car at Smokemont. It was a chilly morning, but a brisk hike warms you up quickly. The trail home followed Bradley Fork, a big creek that winds all the way back to Smokemont Campground. Finally on a relatively flat trail, we made great time and covered the 5-mile hike in about 2 hours.
When we got back to the car, we noticed a strange noise when we turned on the heat. A rustling sound told us that something was in the ventilation system. We kept the heater off on the drive home, hoping that we weren't carrying any passengers.
Back in Knoxville, we dropped the car off at a mechanic shop and reported what we heard. An hour late, the mechanic called Heather.
"My first question is: Do you want to keep what we found?"
Turns out a family of mice had built a nest in our blower motor over the weekend. The mechanic told us that when he opened up the hood, a mouse was standing on the engine, starting at him in bewilderment. He removed the blower and coaxed out most of the family, keeping them in a shoebox.
All except for one baby mouse, which he couldn't account for. By the time that we needed to pick up the car, he still hadn't found it, but guessed that it has escaped. We haven't heard any noises since, so we're going to keep believing that he ran off into suburban Knoxville to make a new life for himself.