As i've alluded to in previous posts, this is clearly a theme with me. Maria plans, Maria attempts to execute said plans, plans don't work, Maria gets overly stressed, everything works out and she should have just calmed down. I don't deviate from that much. But I really am trying to get better.
My time in North Carolina for my twenty-third birthday was a magnificent adventure that didn't go at all how I expected. Thankfully Makenzie is a less structured person and led me through the trip with laughter, encouragement, and a forgiving spirit towards my crabby attitude. Let's reminisce shall we?
Makenzie and I left Kentucky around mid day and expected to get to Mount Mitchell State Park and stay at our reserved campsite Thursday night and get an early start hiking the entirety of Mt. Mitchell Friday morning. Here's where my first mistake occurred. We got a later start than I originally anticipated, and I uncharacteristically did not check the fine print in my meticulously organized file folder (carefully titled "North Carolina Trip" in bold black sharpie). Apparently, Mt. Mitchell closes its gates to their campsites at 9:00 PM sharp and at 8:53PM we were only just arriving in Asheville.
It wasn't until that exact time stamp that I started getting a bad feeling about arriving to our campsite so late. Especially since my genius companion Makenzie had already suggested calling ahead to check on our site at like........3PM in the afternoon. Which I ignored (I'm an idiot). I frantically checked the tiny print at the bottom of my reservation page and to my horror saw that the campground gates would be locking in seven minutes. I called the park immediately but apparently no one wanted to answer the phone minutes before closing. Rude.
Now what. We had no campsite. I'm a rule follower so sleeping on the side of the Blue Ridge Parkway was not an option for my law abiding brain.
Enter Melissa to the rescue.
Melissa, another friend, and I had taken an NC trip in the summer of 2015 and stayed on her parents rural property. I called her, and lead into my desperate request for lodging with "I'm such an idiot". She snapped into superwoman mode and sent us the most perfect written directions to her parent's land. Since there is little to no signal and gps doesn't pick up on the country road names, we followed land marks such as, "left at church and post office" and "keep going till you pass the junk yard".
We made it our makeshift "camp" by around 10:30PM and since there were only a million bugs outside, we opted for sleeping inside the Subaru (thus was the Christening of "Hotel Boone") and we coordinated our peeing + brushing our teeth into one quick choreographed trip that lasted about two minutes and we jumped back in to start killing all the mosquitoes that swarmed us.
The next morning we woke up cramped but excited to get back on track.
Our time table for Friday's hike got slashed since we ended up sleeping about 45 minutes away instead of on site at the park. We decided to hike the Old Mitchell Trail that starts about halfway up the mountain and leads to the summit since our schedule was shifted. We stopped into a visitor center at the trail head to ask a couple questions and I discovered that the ranger inside had actually received my frantic voicemail the night before and he ignored it. (Thanks Ranger rude). I don't know if they were just having a bad morning or what, but these two park rangers were not very helpful and we had to practically drag the trail information out of them.
It was pretty chilly, foggy, and wet once we started the trail, Those are three of my favorite conditions because I'm hot-natured and extremely pale skinned. Stoke was high as we started the ascent straight into the magical mist.
I don't remember how long it took us but I was struggling (skipping breakfast probably didn't help) and I relied heavily on my trekking poles. I used to think trekking poles were for old people or for nerdy people. I have completely denounced that view and have since become a vocal trekking pole advocate. "SAVE THE KNEES!" I also would have fallen about thirty times if had opted to leave them in the car. Thanks trekking poles!
The top of Mount Mitchell is not my favorite. It's very touristy and has a massive concrete viewing rotunda (?) at the top. I like a summit with a more natural atmosphere but we were happy to make it up nonetheless. If you walk back down the paved path about a quarter of a mile there is a snack and drink stand along with a small museum that gives the history of Mitchell. We grabbed some cookies and coffee and got our breath back and learned some things too.
Before we started down the trail to our car, we definitely tried to take the lazy way out and asked a couple people if we could hitch hike down to the lower parking lot with them. Sadly there were no takers. I thought we looked like fun companions, but maybe we are scarier looking that I'm giving us credit for. Hiking down was inevitable.
Lunch time was made up of cold chicken wrapped in a tortilla with cheese and mustard. Glorious food after a hike on an empty stomach. Car cleanup was also in order since we had high tailed it to the trail head and left a huge mess in the back of Boone. When you are living out of your car for four days, organization is key or you'll go insane.
Clean up and lunch break completed, we headed to Crab Tree Falls. This was a VERY high trafficked trail but if you are in the area, it's definitely worth it. It's huge, beautiful, and you can get right up close to it.
Things were going well and the mishap of the night before was completely out of my mind. But don't be fooled, my plans were about to get dashed again. I had a campsite booked in Pisgah National Forest. But again (what was wrong with me?) I didn't check the fine print of my site reservation. It turned out that this campsite was deep in the depths of the forest service road system in a primitive camping area.
Boone (my car, for those who haven't caught on yet) had already been struggling to handle this new world of higher elevation, rough roads, and long trips. I repeatedly kept stopping to let him cool down from overheating and it was about this time of searching desperately for our campsite that I realized there was zero coolant in his reservoir and he was almost out of oil. Great.
The farther we traveled on the gravel and dirt roads straight down, blind curve after blind curve, I was getting more and more on edge. 1) my car was obviously in need of maintenance and we were out of cell service/gps service. AAA wasn't coming to the rescue, 2) if we got stuck down there, we were two young women with a pocket knife for protection. Not so good conditions. We drove for one more mile (still no campsite) and I called it. We would turn around, find an auto store to patch up Boone, and find another place to sleep. On our way back up the road we passed another wannabe camper and I gave him all my reservation details. Maybe he had more luck finding it than we did!
Dads are a blessing. He helped me figure out what to buy for Boone and what to keep an eye on. Also shout out to he Advanced Auto guy that helped me out, apparently his daughter had the same car with the same problems but she never checked anything and screwed up her car. He said he was impressed that I knew half of what I did. Thanks, old dude, your praise was much needed even if it was a little far fetched.
The vehicle was running smooth again, but we were still stranded for the night. Every campground in Pisgah was full due it being Memorial Day weekend. Asheville was our next bet. If all else failed we would find a cheap hotel room after dinner. But PSYCH there are no affordable hotels in Asheville on a holiday weekend either, and no airbnb's allowed one night stays. Also, I had a headache.
Poor Makenzie. She was dealing with an absolute bear. Everything was wrong, I didn't have a place to sleep, I was still worried about my car, my head hurt and I WAS HANGRY. Boo hoo. I'm legitimately ashamed of myself on this particular evening. We got pizza and I felt a little better but I was still a grump. We asked our waitress if she knew of any hostels or campsites in the area. To our horror her response was, "I've never been camping, so I don't know". (I wish we could have taken her with us on the rest of the trip. She was missing out!) Still no dice.
KOA to the rescue! I finally go through to the Asheville KOA on the phone and they had two spots open. I eagerly snagged one and my attitude immediately improved. A little old man in a golf cart led us to our home for the night, dropped off our firewood, and mumbled something under his breath. We set up the tent in one minute flat and went to sleep.
Sleep was immediate. Until it wasn't. All of sudden we awoke to headlights beaming into our tent about one inch from our nylon door. I yelled "HEY" to alert the intruders that they were about to commit vehicular manslaughter. They responded back with "You're in our campsite". And to my surprise, yes we were. What the KOA employee had mumbled under his breath must have been, "you are in a shared campsite". He should learn to speak up. Still. They didn't have to be so aggressive about it.
We quickly scrambled out (fuming) and dragged our tent to the other side of the clearing and we just about lost it when our new roommates said, "you could have left the tent there, we are just sleeping in our van." Nah, I think we'll get about as far away from you as possible....
Morning came without any other rude interruptions. Our visitors were already gone by the time we finished showering off the bad experiences of the night before. Good riddance! We drove back towards Pisgah to find some new hikes, another place to sleep, and thankfully a climbing gym to blow off some steam. The Brevard rock gym was super casual and had a steep grading scale. I loved it and I felt a thousand times better after getting back on a wall for the first time in four days.
Eventually we drove back onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, hoping to catch sunset on Black Balsam Knob and find a campsite at higher elevation. At an overlook, we found a snake and took some portraits of ourselves and also some portraits of a cute couple that were taking their Corvette on a joyride. The gentleman turned out to be a photographer so he and I had a great nerdy conversation about focus points and shutter speeds.
Black Balsam Knob was my favorite part of the entire trip. We had to hike it crazy fast since it would be dark soon and we wanted to maximize the views from the top. There were a number of people setting up camp on the top of the knob and we were jealous that we didn't think that far ahead to bring our sleeping bags up with us.
On our way down the knob, we walked past a lot of empty campsites hidden in the trees. We decided to grab what we could carry from the car and pitch our tent in a site not too far up the trail. I started making a fire and we settled in for warm flame-lit conversations before bed.
It was a good thing we chose this campsite instead of sleeping atop the knob. A storm came through in the middle of the night that raged for hours. I've never heard wind and thunder that loud before in my life. I sure hoped all those campers up top has seen the storm coming and taken shelter. Their tent poles were a lightning hazard for sure. I think I slept about two hours total.
Happy Birthday to me! I woke up in a tent on the side of a mountain which was exactly what I wanted when I planned this trip. However, I didn't really want to wake up in the puddle that was underneath us. My tent didn't leak, but we were on the bottom side of the mountain which meant we were in the runoff zone from the storm the night before. The photo doesn't do it justice. There was about 2 1/2 inches of water in that puddle.
Sunday morning we had planned to go to Church in Asheville, but the rain kept us in our ten for much longer that anticipated and we missed the morning service. Instead we found a trail close to where we had camped and took shelter by the bathrooms to make breakfast before hiking the Graveyard Fields and Fall.
On our way to the water fall we fell into formation behind a group of four middle aged hikers. They made great conversation partners and we learned about different kinds of birds while we trekked along.
Afterward, we drove to Asheville to kill time before our evening church service. We grabbed coffee and lunch, fed some inner city goats, and then reorganized the car again.
The group that worships in Asheville were so kind and hospitable and more than one family offered to let us stay with them, but we had other plans in mind. Instead of couch surfing, we wanted our last night to count. Max Patch Mountain was in our sights. We almost missed the sunset, but we caught the end of it and it was breathtaking. We set up camp in record time in an attempt to beat the darkness.
I've had Max Patch on my bucket list for a few years now. I'd always seen beautiful photos of the morning views that surround you when you emerge from your campsite. Unfortunately, none of that was available for us. But the morning fog had a beauty all its own. We stayed at a top for a while, trying to outlast the fog, but eventually we knew we had been beaten and it was time to head back to our Kentucky home.
This trip challenged me and I definitely didn't pass the tests with flying colors. The whole thing ended up being an incredible journey that I enjoyed and will cherish for years to come. But those two stressful nights brought out the worst in me. And for what? It didn't make anything better, in fact it made me unhappy, irrational, and worse than that, a terrible travel companion.
Here are a few takeaways that I intend to take with me into all trips in the future. .
- Don't freak out,
- It's wasted energy
- Regardless of the situation, you'll be fine even if you're a bit uncomfortable
- Sleeping in a parking lot instead of a designated campsite won't kill you.
- It won't matter tomorrow.
- Everything is better in the morning.
I vlogged the entire trip! Take a look if you'd like!