West Ain’t Best: An Ode to the East

11 Jul 13
West Ain't Best: An Ode to the East
Killer East Coast views like this one from Jumping Off Rock overlooking Lake Jocassee, rival the West Coast for scenery. Photo: Keelan Jones

The pull of the West tugs at the heart of the young. It isn’t new to my generation; author Horace Greeley first coined the phrase, “Go west, young man,” when promoting Manifest Destiny. The dramatic snow-peaked mountains and clear, steep granite rivers beckoned my friends and me when we were in our twenties, seeking adventure.

But if it’s a strong hurricane-force gale that sweeps us off our feet in search of paddling the biggest drops and skiing the steepest mountains, it’s a gentle breeze that later whispers to us to return home. When something more lasting and sustainable replaced the quest for the biggest and best, I headed due east.

Some things just feel like home – the sweet smell of honeysuckle, the quick blink of a firefly, and the refreshing feeling of a summer afternoon thunderstorm. Returning East after a stint out West is more than a primal homing instinct. Putting down roots in the Southeast just makes good sense.

Community

The lower cost of living in the Southeast makes it feasible to rent or buy a house in an outdoors-friendly town. Many say that East Coasters live to work, while West Coasters work to live. But the myth of the laid-back attitude is dispelled when hunting for a rental out West, where the rental market can be a full contact sport. Now with the real estate market rebounding, buyers are once again experiencing bidding wars on starter homes in California. That translates to living farther away from the epic outdoor opportunities and the like-minded people that many moved to be close to in the first place.

If the stereotype of East Coasters existing in a bubble of work and routine ever rang true, that time has passed. An afternoon driving around D.C. will dispel the notion that East Coasters don’t play hard. Every other car has a bike or kayak strapped to it for a post-work ride or paddle. With all the festivals, races, and music on offer in the Southeast, the problem becomes one of choosing between so many good options.

And the best part of a lower cost of living – folks don’t have to bust their hump as hard to make ends meet. Less time in the office means more time in the saddle exploring that mountain. It also means that more friends will be available for an early evening run. The technology crazed West Coasters often have dual screens competing for their attention. The good manners in the South help to remind people that there’s a place and time for technology, and that’s not on the trails.

Accessibility

Good outdoor play is simply closer to home here in the East. When I lived in California, I expected to drive four to five hours to paddle or ski every weekend, and I wasn’t alone. Here good rivers are often just outside of town, making it possible to paddle a few times a week and hold down a full-time job. Mountain biking opportunities abound just a few minutes from the office, making it easier to get in the ride and eat dinner with the kids.

Consistent scheduled dam releases coupled with year-round rain means it’s possible to paddle almost every weekend. From Maryland to Tennessee, the Youghigheny, Gauley, Green, Cheoah, Tallulah, and Ocoee rivers all have predictable dam releases, making it easy to plan kayaking excursions. This year, the West Fork of the Tuckaseegee River joins this list, with seven scheduled releases. Summer-time paddling in the East provides an experience unheard of out West – bare-armed paddling.

Even the mountains are more accessible in the East. What the mountains lack in jagged peaks, they more than make up for with their rounded curves, surrounding towns like a soft embrace. World-class climbing destinations including West Virginia’s New River Gorge and Kentucky’s Red River Gorge provide even diehard climbers ample challenging routes.

Scenery

My single biggest fear about becoming a reverse transplant was that I’d miss the dramatic views I so enjoyed out West. When I first moved to California, I often pulled over on the side of the road to soak up every bit of the setting sun.

Turns out my fears were completely unfounded. The Southeast boasts spectacular scenery all her own. The first time I encountered a white rhododendrum blossom floating in the current of my favorite river made me think of my vacation to Fiji, the flower was so exotic as it perfectly floated downstream. And when I climbed a multi-pitch route at Linville Gorge, the view of Appalachia’s soaring mountains reminded me of just how small and wonderful my existence is in this magnificent world.

The greatest gift of my move back East is rediscovering the green that abounds in the temperate rainforest climate. In California, golden hues dominate the horizon. Returning to the lush canopy feels comforting, and its constant companion, humidity, a welcome sidekick. I use to overlook the benefits of humidity. After bundling up for a summer’s night out in California, I welcome hot summer nights where I can wear a sundress or tank top without worrying about freezing—not to mention the benefit all that moisture in the air has on my skin. Humidity is nature’s very own fountain of youth. Humidity gets me good and sweaty during a workout, letting me know I put in a decent effort.

It seems almost daily that another friend announces she’s moving back East. When the illusion of the promised land disappears and the novelty fades, many of my friends return to the Southeast. And they all feel as lucky as I do to be home.

5 Comments

  • Out here in Wyoming we like to compare our mountains to the ones in Alaska(we have to make up our own numbers though) and when e
    we’re feeling particularly selfconscience we like to say how wimpy Chomolunga is compared to the Grand Teton.

    nathan   03 Aug 13, 3:33 pm

  • Having been an outdoor professional in several different disciplines on both sides of the country, it’s not even close. The geography of the west coast lends itself far more to most outdoor adventures. More importantly, just like “sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken”, neither does strapping a kayak on your car. KNOWLEDGE, time/money devoted, and TRUE passion to outdoor adventures are what really separate the coasts. The “box check” mentality of the east coast is completely frowned upon. Conversations on both coasts inevitably include “so what do you do”; however the nature of that question is completely different. This can all be changed, because at the root it’s all attitude not altitude.

    Joe   11 Jul 13, 11:09 am

  • On a visit to Asheville my friend took me to the Narrows of the Green and it was pretty fun. The problem arose when it took longer to get to the takeout because it was raining and the hour i was told it normally takes took two. With his friends and our shuttle not in the parking lot we drove to the put in. Since there were plenty of cars we put on thinking we could catch a ride. At the take out we were told by many an empty seated vehichle they couldn’t squeeze us in. The last truck, a crew cab with two guys in it told us”Hell no, you guys show up here expecting a ride, we’re going to teach you a lesson”. As they were starting to drive off my friend begged for a ride, he was underdressed and it was raining and in the thirtys. They let us ride in the back but we had to leave our boats. When we got back our boats were gone. The rest of my trip we rode mtn bikes but honestly it felt more like all we were doing was sitting in traffic and enduring smartass comments about my antiquated borrowed equipment. It’s pretty there but crowded and dirty and expensive as hell. As for humidity you can keep it. I’ll keep coming for Gauley Season but the rest of the east leaves a lot to be desired.

    southern hospitality   10 Jul 13, 2:41 pm

  • A geography test; Place these National Parks east or west of I-25. Extra points for getting the 3 in the Blue Ridge. Acadia, Biscayne,Blue Ridge Parkway(a highway), Congaree, Cuyahoga Valley, Dry Tortugas, Everglades, Great Smoky Mtns, Hot Springs, Mammoth Cave, Shenendoah.A hint; these were out east and the following are out west. Arches, Big Bend(never heard of it?), Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Bryce, Canyonl;ands, Capitol Reef, Carlsbad, Channel Islands, Crater Lake, Death Valley, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Basin, Great Sand Dunes, Guadalupe Mtns,, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Lassen, Mesa Verde, Mt Rainier, North Cascades, Olympic, Petrified Forest, Pinnicles,, Redwood, Rocky Mtn, Saguaro, Sequoia, Yellowstone, Yosemite and lowly Zion. I left out Alaska, Hawaii, the Dakotas etc because that would feel like cheating. Judging from this list definitely the east is much more adventuresome and diverse as well, I mean two parks couldn’t be more different from each other than the BlueRidge Parkway and the Smokies or Shenandoah for that matter.

    Bill   06 Jul 13, 2:45 pm

  • Let me pick one town in the West that i have to drive away from to recreate and ignore all the others where you mtn bike/paddle/walk to the chairlifts from the front door. Now let me only use my opinion of what i like to compare with what i don’t like. Now this is basis for a informative article. Great reporting! You guys are on it!! The west sucks, don’t ever go there!
    .

    really now   06 Jul 13, 2:07 pm

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Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine

Your guide to hiking in the Southeast, biking in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian adventures from the Highlands to the Piedmont.