We got the fancy baby stroller as a gift from my wife’s work. It’s top of the line, what every good yuppie will get for their child. It’s sitting in its box in our basement TV room. When I put it together I will recycle the box, along with boxes for Brooks Running Shoes and maybe a Vitamix. The Subaru will be next. The all wheel drive and good gas mileage will make my wife’s trip to her parent’s in Tennessee easier and safer. It will be red and match the red stroller.
I have lived in Tennessee in Cocke County on a remote farm. By working every summer and then taking off during the winter, this farm was my spring board for many adventures. I have been a dive bum in Honduras, along with all that entails (edited for the sake of my family). I have ridden a motorcycle on old horse trails that connect small Guatemalan villages where they offer whiskey and burnt corn to strange gods. I have also lost a thousand dollar poker game that through chance saved my life in Thailand. These adventures were sure to never end, but they are in the past.
Though beautiful in its own right, Cocke County is a historically rough county. There are rumors of a 1980’s airstrip used to bring cocaine in from South America. Cock fights in arenas that could seat thousands of people existed into the last decade. The FBI eventually came into town and broke up the cock fights, and while they were there they cracked down on the county’s other illegal activities including car theft, prostitution, moon shining, and marijuana growth on private land as well as in the Cherokee National Forest. Beyond its illegal activities, Cocke County does have its charms. To go back there is to go back in time. Everything is more affordable and biscuits come with sausage gravy. This is the place where I met my wife. She is as sweet as a Tennessee home grown tomato and I got lucky. This story starts in Cocke County and ends in Asheville.
In the middle is Hot Springs, North Carolina. The culture of Tennessee farmers is amazing and they should be endeared like Nepalese Monks for their thriftiness, ingenuity, and all around good nature. However, they aren’t exactly the most exciting dudes to hang with when you just turn twenty one. Hot Springs had what I was looking for. It was a trail town that offered beer, conversation, and energy. Hot Springs had hippies, and paddlers, and trail folk, and tourists all converging on the Hot Springs local watering holes (rest in peace Patrick).
Asheville is where I live now. Like any city, it does have its downfalls, but the culture, activities, and people make it exceptional. The economy is an anomaly for the region and businesses here just seem to work. It’s the only place that someone can reinvent a condiment such as mustard and in a couple of years quit there day job and have worldwide distribution. The combination of Appalachian ingenuity with an influx of Yankee work ethic (yeah I said it) may be the reason why this town works. I live here and love it. We have planted our flag in the ground and made a home base now. However, before the fancy stroller and thoughts of a Subaru, I was sure there would be more trips and treks. Maybe I would go to the Amazon? Maybe I would go back to Peru and climb in the Andes? They say they are more affordable than the Alps or the Asian ranges. Maybe a late night search on Google would lead to some far off treasure hunt or scientific expedition that could be published in National Geographic?
Or maybe I will die in my TV room, on my couch, watching golf on a 55 inch TV. The stroller box sits in the corner. I swear it comes with a clock, because I can hear it coming from inside the box…tick, tick, tick.
I need an adventure and I need it now! What is close, doable, and unique? Okay, I will walk from the farm in Cocke County, through the woods, over Meadow Creek Mountain, to Weavers Bend then follow the railroad into Hot Springs. You can piece together the route on the Trails Illustrated topographic map, “French Broad and Nolichucky Rivers.” This will be the adventure, a walk in the woods, from my past, towards my present and future. I will leave the farm that my family went to in the mid 1990s, pre real estate boom, pre Facebook, pre 9/11. And I will walk from it to Hot Springs, my former place of refuge. I will see what exists in between. What is there in the Cherokee National Forest where modern day bootleggers may still be lurking?
I did not go alone. Mike came on the hike. Mike is a good friend. Mike is an Eagle Scout. Mike is slow as hell because he smokes an E-cig. Mike was invited because has all the gear, he likes to camp, and I am scared of the dark, mostly because of ghosts.
We left Friday afternoon and climbed to the top of Meadow Creek Mountain. There is a fire tower on top. The view is expansive and on the Tennessee side you can see farms, the kind of farms that sweet girls come from, as sweet as homegrown tomatoes. On the North Carolina side is forest, deep dark green wild forest. We carried on over the mountain past Gum Springs, dumbly passing on the fresh clear spring water it offered. We hiked on to the end of the trail and bush wacked on to Highway 107 and crossed over into the deep dark forest. That evening we made it to Weaver’s Bend. We camped next to the French Broad, taking a swim to wash off the day’s grime. We filtered the orange-brown river water and drank it. We also drank from a small plastic bottle of cheap whiskey. Our camp was close to a rusty railroad bridge that is part of the railroad system we would follow into Hot Springs the next day.
The next day we started on the railroad tracks. We cross the river on a railroad bridge and I make a “pop” sound by extracting my thumb from my mouth quickly. I begin to dork out and sing the song, “Lollipop” and Mike gets the Stand by Me reference. We cross the state line and a small reflective sign partially covered in dark green overgrowth marks the occurrence. The sign serves only train conductors, wild life, and the occasional wannabe hobos like us. We carry on in the July heat, Mike has a thermometer clipped to his backpack (always prepared) and it reads 100 degrees. The heat radiates up from the stinky creosote railroad ties and metal tracks into our skin, our red faces, into our yuppie hiking boots.
We made it to Hot Springs on July 23rd 2016. We drank beer; we ate food. We camped that night there in town. I got to have my adventure. I saw what was in between the old farm and Hot Springs. We saw no gun wielding pot growers, or downed drug planes, and there was no new species of plant or animal discovered. The route may be claimed as a first, but this was no Everest. There was this: There was a falcon that followed us part of the way, there were springs and streams that led to an orange clay stained river surrounded by ancient mountains, and mostly there was the deep dark forest, same as there has always been, and now I’ve seen it. The next day Mike and I drove back to Asheville. On a cold night when I could see my breath, in January 2009, I proposed to my wife in Hot Springs, now the stroller box sits in the corner. I will put it together when I get home.