I learned so much and met some truly wonderful people while I was in North Carolina. Max, Lindsay, Josh, Tamryn, the folks playing country music in that workshop… I do not think I met anybody in that state that was anything but kind. Nevertheless, I am headed west. I left on Friday, February 3rd, and headed to Asheville. The mountains were a welcome site. Though there are no mountains visible in Easton, where I grew up, they feel like home to me. Seeing them from the road, I realized that I had been craving the feeling of grandeur and humility that I feel in their presence. Before I ventured further into them, I stopped in Asheville and stayed with one of Max’s best friends, Kyle.
Kyle left the door unlocked for me and told me to make myself at home when I got there; there were beers in the fridge and he would be back from picking up a piece of furniture shortly. This is what I love both about travelling (and about the south). As a traveller, I am open to any opportunities for connection and experience. I have learned to trust my instinct and to trust the friends I make. So, when Kyle, a stranger, opened his home to me, a stranger, I knew we were friends. And indeed, when Kyle came back with a free white leather couch, I felt I knew him already. He had the same booming enthusiasm as Max, though perhaps not as long-winded, and we bonded over our beloved mutual friend.
I spent that Saturday in Asheville’s cafes and downtown. I got my postcards squared away and set up an airbnb for the next few days. I strolled around the River Arts District and absolutely loved it. It gave me faith in people, at least those of Asheville, to see such a thriving art culture. I ate some good food, did some writing, and later, had some great cider at The Wedge, meeting some wonderful people. I found that I am learning how to ask questions. I have always been rather modest, if not shy. I do not know whether curiosity fuels questioning or vice versa, but I lose myself in conversations with interesting strangers now… something I never would have thought possible. I know that the more I do it, the more I will like it. I am formally adding to my list of goals reporting. I want to interview people, get their stories, their jive.
Sunday morning I tried to buy beer for Kyle and his roommates, but there is a law in North Carolina that you cannot buy beer before 12 o’clock on Sundays. So, I headed west for the mountains. As much as I loved the excitement of the city, I am quiet at heart and cherish solitude. If there is a good place for some soul searching, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is it. The airbnb I booked is on the river in Townsend, Tennessee, and I took the long route through the park to get there. I stopped at several overviews along the way, walked in some streams, did some yoga, and listened to some tunes. Max turned me onto the Avett Brothers and I have been loving them. Lots of winding mountain roads later, I got to Strawberry Patch, a cabin in Townsend, and made myself at home. But not for long.
I love wine. I wanted it. I googled the closest place to get wine and it was fifteen minutes away. Worth it. I drove there to find that it was closed, even though the website said it was open until six o’clock. I looked online again… I could go to the grocery store which was another fifteen minutes away, putting myself a half hour from the cabin. I contemplated it for about five seconds before deciding to go for it; I did not have anything else to do. Fifteen minutes later I am buying ketchup, mustard, and wine from Kroger’s… or trying to, at least. The girl bagging groceries in my lane reminds the cashier that it is Sunday, so he cannot sell me wine. I am rather incredulous. He tells me I can buy beer (but I can’t, gluten does not like me). I drive back to the cabin and watch The Office on Netflix because I have not in weeks and I love that show. By now, my brother has already finished the show and I am only on season six.
Monday, I wake up and have a lovely slow morning. I do my morning writing, my morning yoga, and my morning coffee. I read a little, goof around a little, and then decide to head out while the weather is nice. It’s is sunny now, but the forecast said rain later. I drive to Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountain National Park. This time I tune my radio to the local country station which surprisingly had signal for most of the eleven mile loop. About halfway through, I parked at the Abrams’ Falls trailhead and started hiking in. The sign said it was a three to four mile hike, but I know they always overshoot it (and it also said it was two and a half miles). It was a nice narrow path that followed the river the whole way, winding around, up and down. I only passed a few pairs of people… everyone I encountered was in pairs, besides the four ladies at the falls, but that’s still an even number. I was happy to be alone, following my own pace, stopping wherever I wanted, letting my thoughts wander. The falls were beautiful, though smaller than I had imagined. I had a banana with peanut butter, did some yoga, and dipped my feet in the water before setting back. I did not really want to get stuck in the rain and the sky was getting cloudy.
I was hiking pretty fast, and was starting to feel it in my hips like I always do if I walk more than a couple miles at a good clip. As I walked back, I thought about how the way in always feels longer than the way out and how I had never hiked that far by myself. It was only five miles, but it was new and I felt good about it. I stopped about a half mile from the entrance to wash my face in the water. On the last bridge, exiting the trail, I lapped a nice elderly couple that I had seen hiking out when I was on my way in. I was happy to reach my car, happy I had an extra shirt to change into, and happy to be on the way out of the park. The rest of the loop was just as windy as the first half, but it forces you, if the mountains and wildlife doesn’t, to slow down and enjoy the scenery.
Today was Monday. I could buy wine. I decided to try the first place again, the place that was closed, but once there I learned that they only sold beer. Google had lied to me. I asked if there was a close place to buy wine, and the cashier and park ranger in the shop said Kroger’s was a good place. I went back to my car and contemplated again… I gave it about a minute this time before deciding well, I don’t have anything else to do. So I drove fifteen more minutes away from the cabin to get me some wine at Kroger’s. I went to the same cashier as the day before, and we had a much better interaction.
Back to the cabin, snacking as I opened my bottle of wine, I made a vegetable, pork, and rice stir-fry which I ate while watching Finding Dory. I am amazed at how much I love watching tv! I am in the mountains and all I want to do is watch silly television! I tell myself to be fair… I did just hike five miles and I have been doing plenty of reading, writing, and yoga. The movie was fantastic, as was dinner and the hot bath I took afterwards. I came to the mountains to see some beauty, relax, and find myself, and I think I did a little bit of all of that.
Today I am heading to Nashville to see my cousin, Mike. I am excited at the prospect of family and new friends. I came to the mountains for solitude, and not only did I find it, but I found an old friend, too: loneliness. Geared up and motivated by the mountains, I am ready to dive back into city life.