“A taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
SECONDs of silence: mountainous voids was my why, now here is the adventure that came of that.
If you haven’t gone for a country drive in a while I urge you to go! I’ve obviously been on a Thoreau kick lately but his words accompany my recent trips so exquisitely that I couldn’t skim past them. As Mr Thoreau so completely points out, our world is beautiful. Art that we pull into our homes stems from the desire to imitate this beauty. Immersing yourself in such magnificent work is quite refreshing and absorbingly electric all at the same time! It is an experience that though we try can’t truly be imitated.
My drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains was another one of those short weekend trips. I’m determined not to waste the next six months that I’m working in SC. While the area I am staying is lack luster, it is centrally located to some pretty amazing things including those majestic mountains in western NC. Before trekking up to a site I had only read about prior to, I made a stop into REI to prepare a little better. Since all of our gear remained across the pond I bought a few basics, including a tent. While there, I was approached by several helpful sales people who clearly loved their job! Not only were they helpful in selecting my gear they also gave me direction and suggestions for my hike. It was at this moment that I learned of the current bear problem near my carefully selected destination and nearly got back in my car to go home. If the husband had been with me I don’t think I would have hesitated but camping solo is a different feeling altogether! With the REI staff vote of confidence I pressed forward on my solo adventure.
After driving for an hour along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is like the ultimate Sunday drive stretching across hundreds of miles of breathtaking panoramic mountain views, I arrived at the trail head for the Black Balsam Knob. I was faced immediately by the looming fields of berry bushes, the berry bushes that the REI staff warned me were the bear preferred snack. I strapped on my pack and briskly hiked until I could see the edge of a clearing beyond the trees. After you emerge from the tree line you are greeted by grassy knolls scattered with boulders and 360* views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I settled onto the top of the second of 3 knolls along the trail and soaked in the hazy Blue Mountains stacked in the distance. Now all I had to do was to wait for the sun to sink behind the horizon and expose the photos I had come here to capture. As I waited a few other hikers passed by on their way to other areas for their own tents to be pitched, I was happy to have already staked my claim of such a prized spot. Then Alex and Chris came along. Alex and Chris were scoping out the area looking for a site of their own but with most of it overgrown with shrubs weren’t having very good luck. While the REI staff warned me about the bears native to the area, the husband warned me about the weirdos also native to the area. Camping alone can be dangerous regardless of how confident you are, one of those dangers is encountering people who wish to do you harm. Well, Alex and Chris didn’t seem weird or maybe they were just my kind of weird. I invited them to set up camp in an area close to mine. They politely protested wanting to give me space but I really didn’t mind and I selfishly wanted some protection from Yogi and friends.
Travelling is not just about the sites and food; it is also greatly about the people you encounter along the way. I’ve met a wide spectrum of people along the roads I’ve travelled and each one has taught me something. You’d be surprised what you can garner even from a 15 minute conversation with someone on the train. Alex is actually an adventurer and avid traveller, she has a lot of great tips and beautiful stories of her own. You can find them here at Passports for Peasants! I’m already lost in her world of travel finding inspiration for my next trip! Lesson learned- step outside your comfort zone, look away from your phone for two seconds and meet those that occupy the world around you. We don’t have to live in isolation and it’s a beautiful thing. Even though I initially ventured to the mountains for some of that isolation I’m glad I returned not finding it.
Alex and Chris were friendly and all around lovely. Alex pulled out her camera just as I had and we basically commandeered the mountain as our studio for the evening. It was wonderful to experiment with the light and to practice all the things I’ve been learning. The sunset was perfection and the immense starry sky that stretched over our tents later was all so remarkable. I wish my camera could actually do it justice but I can only ever try to imitate God’s handiwork!
The following morning, after a relatively sleepless night thanks to paranoid bear rampage thoughts and a damaged tent that only amplified those bear driven nightmares with its rustling in the wind, I woke to a magnificent sunrise. All the colors were used that morning and hung softly over the misty valleys below. Here was my silence.
I left that mountain top and dipped into Asheville once more to explore the Biltmore Estate. This estate is remarkable in its own right. If you are in the area it is worth the price-tag to meander through the house and gardens. (If you decide to go get the audio guide! The most interesting part is the story behind the details. You can always get one and share with your family!) Of all the magnificent stately homes I’ve seen across Europe, including Versailles, this American dream is my favorite. Not only does it have a great amount of history spread across the 250 rooms it is beautifully constructed and designed, complementing the natural beauty surrounding it. Mr. Vanderbilt couldn’t have picked a better backdrop to frame through his windows.
My short jaunt into the mountains wasn’t without its glitches. Somehow it all fell together and I walked away with more in my experiences than I had bargained for. I knew it would be beautiful but it was beyond my expectations. You don’t have to sleep on the hard ground or drive 4 hours to find that beauty. It may require you to look upon your own back yard with new eyes to appreciate that beauty but it’s there. So go for that Sunday drive whether it’s the Blue Ridge Parkway or just into some state land. Immerse yourself in the world, it’s waiting for you!