Thursday, December 11, 2008

Nothin' Could Be Finer Than To Be In Carolina

Two months ago I said I had taken “5 days of much needed R&R in the mountains” and would “soon (be) writing about those mountains and how they’re good for the soul.” So I guess it’s about time to follow through.

To make a long prologue short: Back in April me and some friends went backpacking on Georgia’s Pine Mountain Trail, as a precursor to greater things to come, and in July we decided to take another precursor trip in October. We decided we’d go to North Carolina and stay at my family’s cabin the night before hiking, which would save us the expense of renting a place the night before (hey, it’s a long drive from Florida so you have to spend a whole day commuting and start hiking the next).

Not long after that decision was made, we called an audible and decided that because there was no cost for the cabin, we would skip the backpacking part of the trip. Instead, we would go on long hikes every day but always return to the cabin to grill out and have a real roof over our heads.

Unfortunately, as October neared, overextended vacation time prevented several people from coming. Our party of five shrunk to a party of two, but my friend Mike and I were not to be deterred. We set off at 4:00 on a Wednesday morning and were on the other side of Atlanta by lunchtime.

In a stroke of genius, we stopped in Sylva, North Carolina, to down a few beers. A little less than an hour from the cabin, Sylva has a picturesque downtown situated below this courthouse:

Relaxed by the beers, we left town, stocked up on groceries, and arrived at the cabin before dark. Among the most important groceries were these:

The next three days brought absolutely perfect weather, with daytime highs in the upper sixties, nighttime lows in the fifties, and barely a cloud in the sky. On Thursday we conquered a rewarding stretch of the Appalachian Trail by climbing from the shore of Fontana Lake to the top of Shuckstack Mountain, where a fire tower allows those who brave its rickety steps to view a panorama that really is breathtaking. In this south-looking photo, everything on the far side of the lake is in Nantahala National Forest and everything on the near side is in Great Smoky Mountains National Park:

A rocky bluff about 10 or 15 minutes below the summit offers a fantastic view looking west. This picture of it should give you a sense of how small and insignificant we are in the world’s grand scheme:

I have to point out that the local animal life must be respected on this section of trail. For one thing, we both got stung by bees. For another, here is the sign that was at the trailhead:

Following that leg-scorcher of an undertaking, we decided to take it easy Friday and drove to the Nantahala Outdoor Center for a lunch of chili and beer. Afterwards, we sat on the deck of the cabin, surrounded by leaves that were starting to turn, facing a gorgeous mountain view, and spent the entire afternoon drinking beer and reading books. For dinner, we gobbled down leviathan-sized steaks. Mike aptly described the day as having been “glorious.”

We quickly realized that as much as we like the adventure of hiking, the trip’s main purpose was to relax. Work had been especially chaotic and burdensome for each of us, and unplugging from it was a relief, so instead of spending Saturday tackling the 12-mile hike we had planned, we opted to duplicate the glories of Friday.

Which is not to say we sat on our asses all day. We located a spot where the Appalachian Trail crosses narrow Upper Tuskegee Road, and walked it to Cable Gap Shelter and back for a round-tripper of just under 2 miles. Along the way, we got stung by bees again – the bastards! Here is a picture of the shelter, along with an old-timer and his dog who were resting there after having made the walk themselves:

Once that walk was over, we were back on the cabin's deck drinking beer and reading books and soaking up the postcard quality of early fall. For dinner, we ate steak yet again.

On Sunday we loaded the car, left the mountains, and returned to the uninspiring flatness of Florida. Though we didn’t like going back to Florida per se, we were happy to see our families again and very happy to be in a rested and rejuvenated state of mind when we did. It’s important to decompress, and if you haven’t made time to do it in a while, I encourage you to.

Last – but far, far from least – here is that cabin my father bought in 1984 and which I have always considered my home away from home:

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