Hiking in the Time of Corona

I was ready, when I was summiting Tennent Mountain, to write that I was merely “whelmed,” (which I swear was a Michael Scottism, but I cannot find any proof of this on the world wide web) by the Black Balsam Knob/Tennent Mountain loop I completed a couple of weekends ago (I started at the Sam’s Knob parking lot and followed the Investor Gap Trail to the Art Loeb Trail, summitted Tennent, then Black Balsam Knob, before making my way to the Black Balsam Knob parking lot area and walking the road back to my car at the Sam’s Knob parking lot, a relatively easy 5 miles that took me about an hour and a half).

Bears! Beets!…you know the rest.

I think maybe I just had to, or have to, adjust my expectations slightly, and stop comparing the balds of western North Carolina to the balds of New Hampshire that I so cherish. While these mountains are just as high, their close proximity to Asheville and the Blue Ridge Parkway make them that much more accessible, and thus, that much more crowded. It’s also what made it easy for me to sleep till the reasonable hour of 9, be up at the base of the hike by 11, and back at my apartment by 2. Jaunts to the White Mountains often mean waking up at 3 or 4 to get on the trails. I also have to take into account that the weather often affects my perception of a hike. All my very favorite hikes are ones I took on gorgeous days. That Saturday was gorgeous in Asheville ( I got a phenomenal Irish tan once I returned to my apartment and did some post-hike reading out on my patio), but the top of Black Balsam Knob was overcast, windy, and cold; it reminded me of the aforementioned Whites that way, how you could look out and see the gorgeous weather below, but be in a seemingly different climate yourself. That’s part of the beauty of a bald peak.

I think there’s some underlying reasons my initial instinct was to label the hike simply “whelming,” and why maybe my last few posts have skewed if not negative, then at least a little bit cynical, and I feel compelled to explain myself.

My first justification is going to be that I’m cognizant, maybe even over cognizant, of appearing too emphatic about my move here. I don’t want to be the guy who moves here and is immediately the biggest Asheville evangelist out there, telling everyone all the places they must eat, hike, and visit, all while developing a slight but quick twang. I’d hate that guy.

My second justification is that I’m just feeling a bit cynical these days, mainly thanks to the corona cloud hanging over us. As I stated in my last post, I’m not a scientist, nor a health professional, so I don’t want to comment on the potential devastation of the disease itself, but the potential economic and cultural impact has me legitimately worried. On a more superficial note, social media in the time of corona is making me want to start unfriending people (Editor’s Note: “But Pat, you can easily delete Instagram and deactivate Facebook!” is a moot point; I’m a masochist at heart who fully loves the agitation that comes with getting worked up over perceived stupidity, and really, isn’t that what social media’s all about?). I can’t anymore with people with the means to stay self-quarantined shaming those who might need a paycheck, people who stoke panic to feel part of something, or those who bitch and moan incessantly about having to stay home alone for five days; as the inimitable Betty Draper once said, “only boring people are bored.”

There’s an uplifting-ish ending here, I swear. When I reached the peak of Tennent Mountain, a crack opened in the clouds and sun streamed through. It’s as if God knew the plight of my first world problems and threw me a very tiny bone to go along with the very tiny violins you’re all playing for my troubles. I looked around, and while yes, I did see a girl straddling the Tennent Mountain peak plaque taking a series of selfies, I also was able to now see a beautifully-lit alpine landscape, the kind I love taking leisurely strolls through, and in that moment I briefly dropped the cynicism and felt grateful that this area is where I’m calling home in 2020.

I’ll just know now, that despite being a gorgeous hike, Black Balsam Knob will be crowded. It’ll be a great hike post work and is a leading contender for my first sunrise or sunset hike. It also gave me my first glimpse into the Shining Rock Wilderness, whose titular Shining Rock Mountain has now vaulted to the top of my hiking bucketlist (Editor’s note: I’ve since climbed Shining Rock and while I’m not sure that day has the contents for a post, damn was it worth it). Sometimes a whelming hike can lead to one that has the potential to be so much more. You sort of have to just be open to where life takes you, or to cite a possibly applicable metaphor Michael Scott actually said, “Sometimes I’ll start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.”

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