Saturday, 12 September 2015

Great Smoky Mountains Getaway

Spring and summer have been a whirlwind, and autumn naturally inspires in me a desire for introspection. As the daylight shortens, I find myself asking: Where am I on my path? Am I clear where I'm headed? Before the busy fall semester kicks in, I decide to take a solo journey to the woods. I get more adventure than I bargain for...

Waterrock Knob

1 Sept. Tuesday Departed AVL just before 5pm. Remembered to check (and fill!) my oil, whew. Took the Parkway all the way to Cherokee, past my usual stops of Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam. Interesting how the views change with a further destination. A lovely drive! Quick stop at Waterrock Knob for an overlook.

Glamping ;)

I arrive at Wildwater's Yurt Village in Bryson City at 8pm and settle in. Wow! Secluded, quiet, overlooking the Nantahala gorge. I unpack and sit myself down on the porch to watch the light fade. 9:45 rolls around and I'm ready to head inside, only to discover that, although I practiced it, I've forgotten the door code.... Serious hmmm. I have no shoes, no headlamp, no phone, no glasses... Just a lighter and a box of tea lights. I light one and, crouching low to the ground, creep down the stone stairs and gravel path to the bathhouse, where there are supposed to be emergency numbers (but aren't) and anyway there is no phone. I peer in several other yurts and call out but hey, it looks like I have the entire yurt village to myself tonight!! Back to the yurt: I am clear that I must get back in and, after examining the mesh windows covering the yurt's lattice frame, with a vehemence that surprises me I yank and yank and YANK hard enough on the door to break in. No alarms! First thing I do is find the goddamn code and commit it to PERMANENT MEMORY... I am shaking. Is this what happens when I go off alone??

View from Charlie's Bunion

2 Sept. Wednesday On my hike to Charlie's Bunion I meet a mushroom hunter from Italy and a sweet couple from Mississippi who (erroneously) correct my pronunciation of Nantahala (yes, you do pronounce the "l" -- it's not Spanish). On my way "home" I pause at Ingles for some hard cider... And my car won't start. Sheesh.

I am reaching for my AAA card when a car pulls up next to me, drivers window next to mine. Turns out that this fella Matt had been a Wildwater rafting guide, and just moved to West Asheville! He's back in Bryson City returning the moving van. A friend of his will be shortly passing by Ingles, and can give me a ride back to the yurt village. Such luck! AAA arrives in record time (I'm not driving and thus have gotten started on the cider ;-) and soon I am back at the yurt. A few more ciders and I drift pleasantly off to sleep.

My new hammock!

3 Sept.Thursday My friend Pat (who recommended the amazing yurt) picks me up for a morning zipline. We picnic by the Nantahala river, then he drops me at my car, which has been diagnosed with a misalignment of the ignition lock cylinder. Meaning it works, I just have to turn the key REALLY HARD and it'll start. Eventually. I stop off for a swim at Deep Creek, then proceed to hike in, set up camp, and hang my food (this is bear country) just before dark.

Deep Creek Waterfall
Alum Arch Rock
Alum Cave Bluffs

4 Sept. Friday At 11am I start the Mount LeConte Trail, which passes Alum Cave Arch and Alum Cave Bluffs.

Mount LeConte
Clifftops @ Mount LeConte

A strenuous and steep 5-mile climb, at 2:15pm I discover a village flanking the Mount LeConte Lodge. Bustling with seasoned hikers, I chitchat with a few and am offered a bed for the night by a group with an extra reservation (if no one claims it they'll lose their right to reserve as many beds next year). Politely declining, at 4:30pm I take off back to my campsite -- and after 45 minutes (trailrunning, since I got a late start) I finally stop ignoring the voice in my head that's been asking, "Shouldn't you be seeing this marker already? and this one??" Yikes. Looks like I'll need that bed after all.

Bernie, me, John

I hike back up toward the lodge (in the rain) and arrive in time for a hot dinner, feeling graced by fortune. I'll be sharing a cabin with John and Bernie, whose company I enjoy the entire hike down the next morning (5 Sept. Saturday).

Tennant Mtn sunset

6 Sept. Sunday I decide to extend my forest adventure by heading to Black Balsam, my favorite spot in Pisgah National Forest. I hang my hammock in a quiet grove, and chill out until sunset... when the gravity of this solo retreat I've designed kicks in. Fatigue and a touch of lonely spark off a persistent spooked feeling, reinforced by the proliferation of warnings about bears. I discover the limits of my hammock (the slightest wind steals all warmth) and my intrepid independence: I am cold, fearful, and sad.

Parkway morning

At first light I am up and outta there. Thank god for the reassurance of beautiful mornings.


You know I am an optomist; I thrive on positivity. I no longer dread the turn of summer into autumn, appreciating the gifts of the season's maturation (blueberries, color) along with the impetus to shed the summer's friskiness for a condensing against the coming darkness... and admit to my lingering grief. It will be three years this Equinox that I witnessed my dad's passing, and that anniversary begs me to distinguish the meaning in my own time on Earth. This is when I hear Joni's voice in my head, when I go to the mountains to be cleansed and restored, and sometimes to ache.