Pisgah Perfect

Okay. It’s fair to say that my time spent in Pisgah National Forest from Sunday, July 14  – Saturday, July 20, with a brief hiatus into Atlanta for a Phish show is a little past due. The good news is that I think I’m in a place (Boston, MA), where I should be able to catch up and share with you my travels, heady thoughts and some just-for-fun realizations in the next couple of posts. So, before my experiences lose the relevance of time, it’s time to get on with the journey…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With my adventure having just started a week previous and having spent the first five days of it with my Wanee family in Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina, Mount Pisgah was to serve as my home-base for exploring Asheville, North Carolina – a place that even though I had never been resonated with me for some special reason – and represented the first opportunity to continue the “work” of my spiritual journey. I was looking forward to solitude, which would allow myself to look within, get in touch with nature (and therefore myself) and allow the time and space needed to assume the role of the “observer” on my path towards enlightenment. And, it did…to a certain degree, but more on that in a future post. Before I share with you the beautiful natural wonders the National Park has to offer, I thought I’d give you a little background before we head into the back country.

Background before the back country

Borrowing its namesake from the Biblical mountain from which Moses saw the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Pisgah National Forest is named after a prominent peak, Mount Pisgah, a 5,721-foot summit along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Panomara of Mount Pisgah

Panomara of Mount Pisgah

Comprised of 500,000 acres of mile-high vistas, whitewater rivers, cascading waterfalls and hundreds of miles of trails through heavily forested slopes, Pisgah National Forest is just 15 miles outside of Asheville, North Carolina. Originally owned by George Vanderbilt, a transportation mogul-made millionaire (multi-billionaire by today’s standards), the forest in the 1890’s was intended to serve as a backyard hunting preserve for his estate, The Biltmore mansion – the largest private home in the United States (which I will detail later in the post).  Following Vanderbilt’s passing in 1914, his widowed wife sold the land to the United States government, making it one of the first tracks of land purchased under the Week’s Act of 1911, which led to it becoming the first National Forest of the East in 1916. It not only remains one of the first designated wilderness areas in the country and home to the first School of Forestry in the United States but the oldest national forest in North Carolina. Today, sharing a boarder with Great Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee, Pisgah National Forest provides some of the most dramatic scenery and outstanding recreational opportunities in the Appalachian Mountains.

Even its epic history, dramatic views and recreational outlets don’t do justice to just how special this place became to me. So, as not to try to convince you of this, I thought a day-by-day digest of my time spent might suffice until I can digest the emotional impact it has had?

Day 1: Bound for Glory

I was so excited to get to the forest, experience the Blue Ridge Mountains for the first time, drive along the renowned Blue Ridge Parkway and camp in all its glory, I couldn’t contain it.

After a 30-minute drive up the parkway, I navigated myself to Mount Pisgah Campground, set up camp at an elevation of 4,980 feet and settled in for the night, but not before making friends with my camp neighbors who made a peace offering in the form of a beer (PBR). Much appreciated, as I was without.

Day 2: Navigating the terrain

In a cloud

In a cloud

Having arrived in a cloud and unable to see the dramatic views on my way up, in the morning I decided to venture out to find a cell phone signal, get my bearings and re-up on some camping supplies, like ice, firewood and beer. This brought me further South the Blue Ridge Parkway to SR 276 which took me down the mountain and on a path to explore:

Sliding Rock: Sliding Rock is 60-foot natural rock slide with a 6-7-foot pool at the base. A little touristy for me, it was still a must see while in the forest. The slide is an official Forest Service Recreation Area with a $1 fee, which covers parking and on-duty lifeguards. If you plan to experience it, bring shoes, ensure you’re 16 years of age or older and be prepared for a chilling splash at the end!

Looking Glass Falls: Looking Glass Falls is probably one of the best known falls in Pisgah National Forest due its easy access just off of 276. It’s about 60-feet tall and always has a heavy flow of water. Next to its beauty, the coolest part is that you’re welcome to climb the rocks at its base, swim and wade in the pool that it creates.

Looking Glass Falls from the base.

Looking Glass Falls from the base.

Oskar Blues Brewery, Brevard, North Carolina: 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocated in Brevard, North Carolina on the other side of the mountain from Asheville, Oskar Blues is one of 48 breweries (and counting) in the Asheville area. Originally hailing from Boulder, Colorado Oskar Blues was one of the first breweries to put good, craft beer in a can: Dale’s Pale Ale. A backpacker’s and hop head’s dream-come-true. They consistently brew seven craft beers ranging in gravity and ABV from Mama’s Little Yella Pils on the lighter side to Ten Fidy, a 10% roasty, ultra stout. My favorite of the flight I tried was Dales Pale Ale – one voluminously hopped mutha of a pale ale – and Deviant Dale’s, which I brought back to camp with me in 16-oz. cans.

Without getting into too much detail here, a couple events transpired in just the first 24-hours, which taught me to: trust the path of love and light and not to put too much stake into those who are still part of the system, as their holding on too tight will only stand in the way of connecting in a more meaningful way.

Through these events, which were only mildly disappointing, I was able to see the beauty of a journey: better things lie ahead even if they’re outside of the plan, like this glorious sunset from a special place I affectionately dubbed “sunset rock.” Called to it by means of it being illuminated by the only ray of light on the side of the mountain, I would not have found it or been able to see the setting sun had the plans I made not fallen through.Sunset Rock

Day 3: “F” is for finding adventure with new-found friends

In a dramatic turn of events, which brought my camp neighbor, a hippie, pirate purveyor of vegan food on Shakedown streets around the country, back to the mountains, I now had a partner in crime in which to explore more of the forest. Hiking was the name of our game.

From the summit

From the summit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMount Pisgah Trail: We headed out to summit Mount Pisgah, a 6-mile round-trip hike from base camp, which traversed moderate to strenuous terrain and a 800-foot ascend and descend through a variety of micro-climates, including a high elevation swamp, heavily populated hardwood forest and an almost arid, vegetation-free bald spot at the summit.

Private natural pool: After the four-hour hike to-and-from the summit, my new-found-friend and I were up for a swim in the balmy waters of one of the many 56-degree streams that ran through the forest. The coolest thing about this is that unlike community pools and public swimming holes, you can just pull over and find your own little private slice of life. So we did and found this place just off the beaten path. Even without getting in, the breeze created from the flow of cool water over the rocks was like nature’s own air conditioner. So refreshing.

Our private little pool

Our private little pool

Moore Cove Falls: Just down from Looking Glass falls on 276, there was a little turn-off and trail head which lead to shower-like cascade of Moore Cove Falls, a 50-foot freefall with an average flow of what is seen in the pictures below.

Moore Cove Falls

Moore Cove Falls

 

 

Day 4: Something Phishy

As much as I appreciated the company my camp neighbor kept, I ventured into the mountains for alone time, and it was about time I found it, even if I had to create it myself. Phish playing in Atlanta provided the perfect opportunity. I headed out late on Wednesday morning, arrived in Atlanta around 3:30pm, scored tickets at face value without the “inconvenience fee” from the box office, tailgated it, worked it on Shakedown Street and headed into the show. I found that if I’m going to a show and have lawn seats, it’s guaranteed to rain! Four and half hours later, I was soaked from head to toe, but learned that it’s the only way to really get down at a jam band show. Finger up!PANO_20130717_201631

Knowing I had to start the drive back after the show and late into the night, I kept it cool by not indulging too much. I made it as far as I could, but it wasn’t far enough so I pulled into a Pilot Travel Center and spent the first night in my car. It wouldn’t take a whole lot of nights like that before I rethought what I was doing. Fortunately, it was my first and last time sleeping in a car…so far.

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate

Day 5: Crunchy Opulence 

Upon making it back into the Asheville area on Thursday morning, I immediately proceeded to the Biltmore Estate, the largest private residence in the United States. At 178,926 square feet (almost 4 acres under roof!), The Biltmore house is a Châteauesque-styled mansion built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. Featuring  250 rooms (33 guest rooms, 43 bathrooms, 65 fireplaces, a 10,000 volume library, a Banquet Hall with a 70-foot ceiling and full-size pipe organ, an indoor pool, bowling alley, as well as a state-of-the-art fitness center for the time) it stands today as one of the most prominent examples of the Gilded Age. Too bad they wouldn’t allow pictures inside 🙁

Biltmore Gardens. An impressive place.

Biltmore Gardens. An impressive place.

Most impressive was its 8,000 acre plot, which featured extensive gardens, arboretum, bass pond (more like a lake) and a winery.

For more on the Biltmore, including its impressive history read on.

All in all, the Biltmore cost $60 to access the house and grounds and took about 4 hours to see (and I was hurrying). Despite its status as a tourist attraction, I’d highly recommend stopping by. Not only was the family history interesting and its architecture awe-inspiring, stepping back in time to understand the effect the Victorian era had on its design was a learning experience.

After leaving the Biltmore, I headed into Asheville to check out the local scene, which I will detail in a future post. In the meantime, I’ll tell you that I posted up at the Asheville Brewing Company, where I worked on a blog post and stopped into Wicked Weed for dinner before heading back to join the camping queen at Pisgah Campground. I showed up pretty toasted, but it sure did make for a fun drive up the Blue Ridge!

Asheville Brewing Co.

Asheville Brewing Co.

Day 6: Closing out

I woke up on Friday with mixed emotions, knowing that this would be my last full day on Mount Pisgah. Not only did I want to make the most of my surroundings and check out some additional hiking trails and waterfalls, but I wanted to experience more of Asheville than I previously allowed. So, here’s how I closed out my last day:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrying Pan Loop: At the entrance of Mount Pisgah Campground is Frying Pan Loop, a 3/4-mile trail up 375 feet of gravel terrain. Allowing me to escape the crowds of Mount Pisgah Trail, I was able to see soaring views of the Blue Ridge Mountain range from the 50-foot Frying Pan Tower (an abandoned fire tower) at just about 5,200 feet. Although an easy walk, if you’re afraid of heights, this isn’t the trail for you. Perched on the tower and looking down the ridge, it reminded me of a view you’d only get when skydiving (only about 10,000 feet lower).

Graveyard Field Falls: Two waterfalls (an upper and a lower) grace the area known as Graveyard Field, a mile-high valley filled with wildflowers and surrounded by the Blue Ridge mountains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Asheville, North Carolina: After soaking up as much as I could in Pisgah, it was time to head into Asheville for one last time, where I would stumble on the Friday night drum circle, eat at Mayfel’s and check out the Asheville Music Hall where I would jam out to the sounds of “Big Something” and “The Mantras.” There’s lots more to say about my time in Asheville, and I look forward to breaking it down in a later post. But, that will have to wait as this post is already getting too long. So stay tuned.

Looking back, I could’ve stayed in Pisgah for another week and still not have felt that I had sufficient time to reflect and explore. So, I will probably return. However, I did find time to let go, open up and formulate  few thought-provoking ideas from the forest, which I look forward to sharing with you when the time is right.

In the meantime, I hope this gives you an idea of why this forest will forever be a part of me.

Early Insights

Traveling is an eye opener…in more ways than one. In addition to the sights, sounds and surprises that find you along the way, you’d be surprised how quickly you can learn in just the first couple of hours of being on the road. So no matter how prepared you think you are, you might want to think again.

In this post, I’ll share what’s caused me to think twice. First though, I want to let you know that I made it to my first destination: Columbia, South Carolina. And what a great time it is! But, before I recall the experiences this awesome southern city has offered me over the last few days, I want to take a step back and share with you a few of insights I’ve gained in just the first few hours of my first, open-ended road trip adventure.

What I was able to consolidate down to in just three weeks.

What I was able to consolidate down to in just three weeks.

You need more time. If you think you’ve allowed yourself enough time to prep and pack, you haven’t. Although the idea of journeying had been brewing for a year or more, I’ve been running through the logistics in my mind ever since. Before I left, I was fortunate to have almost three weeks of uninterrupted time to focus on closing out in Orlando. Ridding myself of most material possessions. Checking out of the house I was renting. Moving. Paying off any remaining balances on bills and utilities as well as preparing for my upcoming trip. I’m an intricate planner, live by to-do lists, do my best to schedule and anticipate as many eventualities as possible, but it didn’t prove to be enough.
Intending to leave at 8:00a.m. on a Monday, I found myself up extremely late the night before and running three hours behind the next day due to trivial to-do’s – things I was meant to do but just didn’t have the time. My miscalculation caused me to skip Savannah, Georgia, one of the first planned stops along the way, which brings me to my next point:

Farewell fare at Mom's favorite fast food place. WaWa, I will miss you.

Farewell fare at Mom’s favorite fast food place. WaWa, I will miss you.

Flexibility is the ticket. Unless you’re away on business and have to literally schedule every meeting, meal, networking event and “must see,” I say stay fluid. I’m finding it’s helpful to have a rough sketch of where I want to go, what I want to do and when, but marrying yourself to an itinerary really only seems to impose limits and cause stress. That’s not what traveling is all about. So, out the window it went, and here are the realizations that took its place: Don’t over-plan and remember to take your time! Before you go, say your “goodbyes” and “see ya later(s)” over a meal (no matter how casual it may be) even if your timeline doesn’t allow for it. You’ll miss the people you’re leaving behind and having face time with them before you leave gives you something to remember and hold on to. Skip a stop along the way to provide more time (and consideration) for the people you are going to see – in-so-far you can come back and see it at a later time. Stop often and don’t rush along the way as long you stay in touch and keep your peeps up to date.

You won’t get to it all. Naturally, you’ll want to look into and plan the time you’re going to spend at your destination. Must sees, highlights, historical and natural landmarks are all very important in ensuring you get to experience the destination and everything it has to offer. If a week (plus or minus a few days) seems like plenty of time to do and see it all, it’s not. A few days can’t kill curiosity, but don’t sweat it. As I said before, stay flexible. The people you’re traveling with and those you’re going to see will want to contribute to your experience, and it’s important that you allow them to. I, personally, was flattered to see the care and concern my friends put into my time with them. More often than not, they’re right, and the list you made as an outsider was based on commercial interests (Food Network and Travel Channel) or other travelers’ reviews (TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google Local, etc.) who may or may not share the same interests and values as you. So, stay open to it all, and don’t be afraid to substitute one activity or point of interest for another. Chances are you won’t “miss out” and might just be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.

The other thing that will keep you from being the Energizer rabbit that keeps going and going and going is down time. Everyone needs it, but few pencil it in. By not allowing yourself to relax and just be, not only will you run yourself ragged, spend more than you may be able to afford, or worse, put things-to-do in the way of the personal connections you’re there to make. Seek to find the balance between entertainment and the human need to build relationships and just be. You (and hopefully those you’re visiting) will be grateful you did.

My Mazda. My mode.

My Mazda. My mode.

What can go wrong, will. It’s Murphy’s law. While I’m happy to report that nothing has gone “wrong” (yet), I anticipate something will. Things break and mishaps happen. It’s all a part of the journey, and it’s all good! As a traveler, it’s important to anticipate them but not let less-than-ideal situations cloud your perception or stand in the way of appreciating an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For me, my 2008 Mazda 3 is my one and only mode. With approximately 70,000 miles on it prior to my departure, I had it checked out before I headed out. The dealer gave it a “green light go” and said everything was perfect. It wasn’t. And although its not the mechanics fault, nor does it effect its running condition, no sooner did I get to Columbia and started running around town with my hosts – who I must say have not only accepted me as family but shown me Southern hospitality like I’ve never experienced before. Love you guys, really do! – the passenger-side door / lock mechanism broke. Now closed, the front right door will not open, but it’s no big deal. I could’ve worried, stressed and paid out the ass to have it fixed, but I didn’t…at least not yet. My mates will just have to play Dukes of Hazard by hopping in and out of the window or climbing across the console from the driver-side door. Worse things could have (and probably will) happen.

Yesterday (Thursday, July 11th) was testament to that. My Wanee music family and I were on our way to Charleston, South Carolina to eat, drink and beach our way through this quintessential coastal town. About three quarters of the way there, we hit heavy traffic and had to play “stop and go” for several miles. As we did, we noticed the car would not coast. Something was hindering the front right wheel from spinning freely. We could smell the brakes, and we could see smoke. So, we pulled over onto the shoulder, let it cool down and tried to loosen the caliper. No sooner did we stop; we were on our way. What was most telling (and an insightful embrace of the nature of exploring) was my friend’s – an experienced road tripper – post on Facebook: “It’s always an adventure.” And that’s exactly what it is. It’s just a matter of how you accept the unexpected.

Gas goes fast. This fact needs no explanation except to say that when you’re driving to and from work and running errands around town, a full tank seems sufficient. Locally, it may be, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised by how fast gas goes and how little a full tank really is when you’re going the distance. Even with decent gas mileage (32 MPG highway), I burned through about one and half tanks just getting to my first port of call. Maybe it is the wind resistance caused by my mountain bike I’m toting on the back of my car?

Anyway, I’m just five days into my trip and feel like I’ve already learned more than I ever could in the “race” I used to run. I can’t wait to see what else comes to light along the way.

Have you learned a lesson you’d like to share? Please do. Just put it in a comment below. I thank you, in advance, as it will help prepare me for what might be next.