If you’ve never driven along the Blue Ridge Parkway trough North Carolina you are missing a treat. Its the Appalachian Trail for people too lazy to un-ass their cars. It is full of captivating views, incredible scenery, and some roadway excitement to rival rides at Disney World for the adrenaline rush. There’s nothing like approaching a blind 120 degree curve when a truck barrels around it halfway in your lane because he’s going too fast, and the only way to avoid a wreck is by inching either really close to the rocks (if you’re on the inside), or inching towards the open unrailed drop next to the road, (if you’re on the outside)..
But I digress. This post isn’t about driving. Its about when you stop the car at any overlook (and there is one about every mile on the Parkway) and gaze over the mountains into the wilderness beyond. Since the first time I laid eyes upon it, I’ve wanted to scramble down the hillside – in the places where there is hillside to scramble down, and wander off. I want to see what’s over the next hill, find out where that stream goes, or simply marvel at the vast empty wilderness (as long as you don’t turn around and look up at the cars).
I’ve had a little camping experience. If you can call camping within 100 feet of a car, “Camping”. It fits the basic definition. Sleeping bag, Tent, Mosquitos, Ticks and Chiggers. But add “the bath house is over there 30 yards”, and “come to the car and get your change of clothes”, or “you guys walk to the beach, I’m going to drive to Wal-Mart for burgers, we’ll grill out tonight”, and that sort of takes away from the true back-to-nature experience.
Where’s the hardship, the sense of being on-your-own, self-reliant? Okay – I was a kid when I went camping for more than a night. We would stay at Myrtle Beach or Disney World (this was 70s and early 80s. There were no cheap hotels in Disney – it was either the Polynesian of the Coleman Tent). I was also what you would call, in today’s terms, “wimpy”. Nerds don’t camp. They don’t join boy scouts. I was in cub scouts, which included meetings in the church basement to make popsicle stick boxes and learn about indians, just in case we met any the white man hadn’t killed yet. We never camped, though.
So I have this wanderlust now. For the last couple of years, my wife, child and I have undertaken “Angie’s Apple Adventure”, an October Pilgrimage to Sky Top Orchards in North Carolina, to procure what I call the “Hundred Dollar Sack of Apples”. It’s a LOT of fun, involving a day trip to the Mountains, picking fresh apples right off the trees, stopping for delicious local food, and driving through the most beautiful (somewhat scary) scenery. And usually when we go the leaves aren’t changing much yet, so the people aren’t out clogging the roads (much). But the mountain trips re-ignited my desires to see the woods.
Seeing as how neither my wife or offspring are much interested in 1. Camping, or 2. The Woods, I think I will be on my own. I started looking through camping and hiking web sites, thanks in part to the REI gift card my sister gave me last year when I said I wanted to start camping.
There’s a LOT of crap to look at. First of all, I figure the trip’s not worth it unless I’m far enough away from the car that I’m really on my own. So, I need something to sleep in, and something to keep the bugs off me when I’m sleeping. So, Tent and Sleeping bag. The smallest tent I can find is a hammock tent, which looks awesome. The sleeping bag has to be long enough for my 6’02 body… and warm enough (because sleeping in a hammock tent lets the wind blow under you). All this has to go in a hiking pack… along with water, water purifiers (you NEVER drink from streams. You can get all kinds of nasty bacteria, which will give you a case of the runs that make that case of diarrhea you got from the Mexican restaurant look like nothing.), a tiny portable stove to boil water (campfires are often forbidden in state forests), cups, some sort of food, sporks, a change of clothes, hand wipes, toilet paper. Thankfully a lot of things come in tiny sizes for traveling. toothpaste, even toothbrushes. The one thing they say you don’t need – deodorant. its smell attracts bugs. Not sure about the shampoo. No bathrooms around…. and who wants to try and bathe in a stream. Brrrr. shaving could be tough too – ticks like beards, so shaving is a must.
Then there are those things out to hurt you. In addition to chiggers, ticks and other insects that can be controlled with DEET, there are larger critters. Snakes, bobcat, mountain lion, bear, and deliverance-type Appalachian Americans (i.e. Hillbillies). There is some debate on the Geocaching board about “packing heat” on the trail. Guns are heavy, and while quite efficient, seem like overkill to me. I found a wicked-looking ka-bar kukuri Machete. Lighter than a gun, really scary-looking, and it is actually useful for clearing brush, chopping small limbs, and self-protection.
I once faced down a ka-bar machete in high school. Some guy was messing around with some other guy’s girlfriend. The cheat-ee wandered up to the building looking for the cheat-er, and pointed that ka-bar’s end at me. He asked If I knew where the cheater was. I pointed towards the door, and left them to work it out on their own. That was one scary-wicked looking knife.
Actually needing something like that might not happen, but I would feel better carrying something, than nothing.
Of course the goal is to see things like this:
Which was actually a short walk from the Car… instead of a three day hike.
At heart though, I’m still a nerd. I’m wondering where I can recharge my iphone in the woods. I found the solution. They make a solar cell for that, that only weighs a few ounces and straps to the top of your pack. Nerds and Nature unite!
But I’m NOT learning to play the banjo. Maybe a set of little speakers and the Dueling Banjos mp3 on my iPhone will help keep people away. While I’m at it I might put some ‘squatch calls on there too.