Three years ago, during the height of Covid, I spent my New Year’s Eve sitting at home and going to bed around 9 PM. That New Year’s Day, I woke up at 6 and headed to Sylva to start 2021 with a 10-mile hike to The Pinnacle. It was a great way to start the year. I felt healthy and refreshed and naively told myself I was done with New Year’s mayhem and would start every New Year’s off with a hike moving forward.
As we know, though, old habits die hard. This year I began 2023 by cracking open a White Claw circa 9:30 AM and embarking on a long (and honestly, delightful) day celebrating the Mummer’s Parade in Philadelphia.
I woke up January 2 (fine, Jan 3, Jan 2 was all about survival) and, feeling gross and unhealthy, decided one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2023 was to try and wake up early one weekday a month and skip the gym to do a morning hike—I think I need to take a little bit more advantage of the flexible schedule my work-from-home job affords me.
That’s how I found myself driving the Blue Ridge Parkway last Friday at 4 AM (what I call my normal weekly wake-up time, but I realize is the middle of the night for most people). I considered whether this was really “the middle of the night” or “early morning” when I passed three cars in quick succession coming down from the higher parts of the Parkway circa 4:30 and wondered to myself, “what are they doing driving the Parkway in the middle of the night, on a weekday?” If they were going my direction, I’d assume they were also setting off for an early morning hike (I wanted to hit Black Balsam Knob at sunrise), but they were coming from the higher parts of the parkway, and so by my thinking, they’d been up for a while, not someone who just arose, so this was indeed their middle of the night and not their morning. Did you need to read this entire inner monologue of mine? Probably not, but this is my vanity project; thus, I may not edit as judiciously as I should.
I didn’t end up hiking Black Balsam Knob at sunrise. I didn’t end up hiking at all. When I got to where Route 276 bisects the Blue Ridge Parkway, the gate was up, indicating that the route from that point to Black Balsam was closed, probably due to inclement weather. So I turned around and drove home, essentially just cruising the parkway in the middle of the night on a weekday (the same thing I was, somewhat unfairly, judgining other drivers for just a few minutes earlier). Typically, I’d use this time to listen to some music or catch up on podcasts—two activities I don’t do enough of now that I don’t have to drive anywhere to work—but as I reported recently, I just got a new car, and hadn’t yet had a chance to set up my phone’s blue tooth capabilities yet, so was just alone with my thoughts. Here’s what my mind was up to:
- I miss the American Sardine Bar’s $2.00 pickles: The first stop on our New Year’s Eve tour of Philadelphia for the past two years has been The American Sardine Bar, a great little neighborhood bar in South Philadelphia. By far, American Sardine bar’s best offering is a $2.00 pickle appetizer. The $2.00 pickle in question is spicy (like have-to-take-breaks-while eating spicy, which I actively love because I’m a spicy vs. sweet pickle guy) and huge—this pickle is literally the size of a small cucumber. I commend the American Sardine Bar for not pretending that inflation is hitting cucumbers and pickling spices because I don’t know where else you could get such a satisfying snack for such a reasonable price—those pickles would be a minimum of $8.00 in Asheville.
- How The Glass Onion was actively bad: I don’t watch a lot of movies, but both the internet and several friends pushed the Glass Onion—a sequel to Knives Out, which I liked—on me as a super clever film that two separate people egregiously claimed was “very similar” to The White Lotus. I didn’t love or hate it after viewing it but have since seen so many reviews talking about how clever it is, which has made me actively dislike it. Spoiler alert: It’s my personal opinion that having a secret twin plotline is just about the laziest thing someone can write—generally, even if they aren’t close, people don’t actively hide the fact that they have a twin from their friends, and it’s an especially egregious oversight since the character in the film with a secret twin was supposed to be famous. People love twins, so it would be somewhat common knowledge if a famous tech “genius” had a twin. It also bears mentioning that The Glass Onion did not make me want to attend a swanky dinner party in Greece the way The White Lotus made me want to attend a cocaine-fueled Eurotrash dance party in Sicily.
- Would I tell anyone if I saw Bigfoot while hiking alone? What about a dinosaur? A conversation that organically came up on Mummer’s was whether or not you would tell anyone if you were alone in the forest and saw Bigfoot. Apparently, I have friends who don’t care about being viewed as crazy because the consensus was that the news would be shouted from the mountaintops. The conversation then evolved into whether or not you’d tell anyone if you were driving alone and came across a dinosaur, which got more mixed reviews. My answer to both was “depends on the situation,” which I still stand by, but it crossed my mind again when traversing the darkened tunnels of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which I find inherently spooky, and very feasibly be the sighting place of a bigfoot (dinosaurs? I don’t know).
- The sheer banality of Laguna Beach and how we’ve always rewarded mediocrity: Two days before my hike, I opened Netflix for the first time in 2023 and discovered that one of their new adds was Laguna Beach. I wasn’t a diehard fan of the original or anything (I’m more of a Hills guy, myself), but I dig the Hilarie Duff theme song and was a Hollister disciple, so I felt compelled to put it on. Guys, it’s so fucking boring. It’s, like, embarrassingly boring. It’s about nothing. How, I wondered while watching what might be the most boring and not television-savvy group of basic teens essentially do nothing, was this a show that captivated my generation and whose SoCal influence were indirectly responsible for the way I styled my hair for a good 7 years? You know why? Because we have a society, have always rewarded mediocrity. There’s been a number of articles written recently (I’ve definitely been enjoying) about the oppressive averageness of teen Tik Tok stars. Laguna Beach demonstrates that this is not a new phenomenon.
- How much time I wasted on social media and how truly depraved it is to make your child a tiny influencer: I need to spend less time on social media. Last January, I put time limits on all my social media apps. It was a well-intentioned project that lasted approximately three months, but I need to do better and commit to less screen time in 2023. This revelation crystallized two days before my attempted hike when I found myself diving down child-influencer rabbit holes for over an hour. I blame my brother for this. He’s deeply obsessed with child influencers, not that he thinks they are aspirational or anything, but more of a disgust with the parents behind the screen and just how dark it is in general. Look at the following passage from the article The Terrifying Rise of the Child Influencer and the Parents Who Profit by Zulie Rane, “Miss Aubrey Jade could be a typical Instagram influencer. She wears stylish and trendy ‘fits; her hair is perfectly coiffed in all her photos. ‘I just love trench coats and I’m obsessed with this one !!’ she writes in her latest post to her 177k Instagram followers. Except for one thing: Miss Aubrey Jade is four years old.” Bone-chilling. Did you know that studies indicate that back in 2010, a quarter of children had an online presence BEFORE their birth? At this risk of sounding like I have Nazi tendencies, I feel like we must instate some national testing system to determine whether people are legally permitted to have children.
Never trust the Blue Ridge Parkway closures website: My number one thought on this nighttime trip, and your main takeaway from this post if you’ve made it through all my self-indulgent prattling, is that the website that lists what parts of the Parkway are closed or open should not be trusted at any cost. Early into my Ashevilian tenure, I learned that the Parkway will close on a whim and always check the website before setting out on any adventures. I want to make it clear that I checked both the night before setting off on my would-be sunrise hike and just before leaving circa 3:50 AM, and both times the website listed the Parkway as open up until (and past!) Black Balsam.