KNOXVILLE, Tenn — "I moved to Tennessee, Knoxville, right after high school. Fell in love with the Smokies, fell in love with the Vols, and fell in love with Krystals," T.J. Swing said.
Now he lives in Ohio. But T.J. Swing still backpacks in East Tennessee at least twice a year, just not in the winter.
The digital marketer came up with a way to enjoy the adventure of hiking, indoors. He's developed a game called Hike It: The Backpacking Board Game.
"The goal was to make this game feel like you're out on the trail without sweating and walking, you know, the 30 or 90 or whatever miles that you're doing," he said. "The Great Smoky Mountains has one of the best trail systems that you could possibly use. I mean, there's 900 something miles of trails in there so it really made the board easy to design when you have that many options on different trails and different scenic vistas you can use."
He said four people could probably play the large tabletop board game in about two hours.
"It's unlike Monopoly where it's very linear, or other games like Chutes and Ladders where you roll the die or you just move a certain amount of spaces, you have no choice. This game has a lot of different choices. You can go on any trail you want to, you can go any direction you want to. So it's basically a choose your own adventure out in the Smokies."
To play, you pick a starting point at a trail head. You'll end up back at that same spot.
"You're assigned a couple different scenic points, say Clingmans Dome, Abrams Falls, a couple different places and you have to go visit these places, through your hike," he said.
You collect experience points for those stops and other scenic places you visit along the way.
"It's kind of a kind of a race but it's not so much of a race in that you're not in direct competition with the others. But you just have to survive and get as many of these scenic points as you can," he said
Players also face obstacles: high water crossing, hunger, getting lost, exhaustion and bears.
To produce and distribute the game, he's chosen a crowdfunding route. T.J. Swing plans to relaunch a Kickstarter campaign next month.
"This is not my job. This is not a company. This is one man that just wants to find a way to get a board game made and thinks that a lot of other people might like it," he said. "I have a day job, I just want a board game to sit at my table and play."
It's a way to enjoy the Smokies from home until he can really get back on the trails.