Sometimes Nature Isn’t Great, aka My Thoughts on Why Bugs Suck, Featuring a Hike to Pisgah Forest’s Twin Falls and Whaleback Swimming Hole (Both of Which are Great)

“I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. if this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.” — Henry David Thoreau

One of my favorite parts of living in Western North Carolina is how easy it is to escape into nature. I particularly like the hikes that cut me off from cell service and, therefore, from a pretty codependent relationship with my phone. I like how these nature treks make me turn my mind off while simultaneously allowing it to run wild. 

However, I’m not slavishly devoted to nature. I’m not, like the afore-quoted Thoreau, intent on making it my entire personality. Mainly, because sometimes nature’s annoying (also, while I tend to agree with most of Thoreau’s philosophies and much of his observations, we don’t talk enough about how like so many hippie-bohemian-free-spirited-thinkers, he was essentially a trust fund kid who was able to go to the woods to live deliberately because he never had to worry about how he’d pay for food or lodging…in his writing, he is a savvy architect of his self-mythology, an 18th-century tiny-house influencer really—there’s an entire essay, maybe even book there that I’d love to tackle whenever I reach the point in life that I could go to the woods to live deliberately without having to worry about who’s going to fund my hermitage). 

This past spring, on the suggestion of a friend, I headed to Brevard one morning to tackle the Twin Falls hike in the Pisgah National Forest (in the same vicinity as Looking Glass Rock, John Rock, or Looking Glass Falls for those familiar—for those unfamiliar, Google is your friend). The titular Twin Falls are a pair of two 100-foot waterfalls one can view simultaneously. Per the article I linked, there’s a 4.5 out and back option and a 6.5-mile loop. I did the out and back hike, and word of warning: I found the trail system somewhat confusing—at one point, I found myself going in the same circle twice. I have no real solution to give you here, just that warning. 

Crossing Avery Creek on the way to Twin Falls in North Carolina's Pisgah National Forest.

The majority of the hike is pretty flat and heavily wooded. There are no peaks or vistas here, which is fine because the day I did it was a warm spring morning and the hike follows and crosses a creek most of the way—I was enjoying nature for the first part of the hike. I stopped enjoying nature and started actively hating it once I reached the falls. They’re pretty breathtaking (I think I’ve fully become a waterfall person…) and tall. Ostensibly one could get pretty close to the falls for better views and fantastic photo opportunities. I didn’t, however, because of what might be nature’s worst and most annoying feature: bugs. As soon as I got close to the falls, I was beset by not only small gnat-like flies that kept getting in my eyes and god-damn mouth, but these giant kamikaze-like horse fly type creatures that legitimately caused me to run like a mad men away from the falls for a good half mile (and the flies dive-bombed me for probably the first quarter of that). We could all agree that bugs suck, right?

Thoreau once wrote, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”  I’m going to disagree with him here. Why resign myself to the influence of the Earth when some bug spray and fly swatters will make that air more enjoyable and that drink that much more refreshing?  Like, I have no want to ever go into the woods and watch flies mate and marvel at the simplicity of their lives. I’d be happy if they went extinct. I know that would cause a butterfly effect that would inevitably ruin the world, but the heart wants what the heart wants, ya know?

The flies at Twin Falls put a damper on the rest of my hike, and I was too happy to return to the closed-windowed solace of my car. But rest easy, Thoreau and your privileged pinings, because my second stop of the day restored my faith in the natural world. I’m always in the market for a new swimming hole to waste the afternoon at, and had read about Whaleback Swimming Hole but never visited it. The parking area for Whaleback is a couple of miles past Looking Glass Rock, right before the paved road switches to dirt. There’s a trail to Cove Creek Falls across the street from the parking lot. That’s not the trail you want to take. You want to take an unmarked trail, a very overgrown unmarked trail, on the same side as the parking lot. Whaleback Swimming Hole is right where the trail first intersects with the Davidson River, and if your visit is anything like mine, it’ll be easy to find because of the crowds gathered there. 

I didn’t swim or float in the proper Whaleback Swimming Hole due to said crowd. However, the trail you’ll be on follows the Davidson River for an undisclosed distance. I walked the trail about a mile down, then picked my way down to the river and found an unknown, smaller swimming hole where I was able to perch on a rock and read some Joan Didion, an author that, for better or worse, is the favorite of a specific type of Instagram influencer (a “haphazardly” placed copy of Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Album—the latter of which is brilliantly spoofed in the underrated, dark Ingrid Goes West—besides an overly fussy oat-milk latte) and yet who’s decidedly un-influencer like in her cynicism and fully transparent ambition. I enjoyed this natural retreat for an hour or so, then made my way back to Whaleback Swimming Hole not by the trail but by walking up this shallow portion of the Davidson River, which was both very relaxing and a legit workout.

I ended my day meeting a friend at Dsslovr once I was back in Asheville. There were neither bugs nor crowds there. It was glorious. 

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