Hiking the Blue Ridge Parkway
If you are going to take the time to read this whole post about one of my trips to the Blue Ridge Parkway you should really know that I am not someone who would be classified as “physically fit”. I try to be outside as much as I can but I am the kind of person that goes on walks (if that) instead of runs. For me, hiking is a leisurely activity that I do to clear my head and to satisfy the small child in me that still wants to climb trees instead of learn how to be a fully functional adult.
I actually don’t have a lot of knowledge about the outdoors, but I have been lucky enough to connect with people who do through my summer job. I spend my summers working in a high ropes department at a fantastic summer camp for girls called Camp Greystone. So while I am pretty incapable of rock climbing and such myself, I am really good at coaching others to reach their rock climbing goals. The other counselors however are actually really good at rock climbing and generally all other things involving outdoor adventure. It was already pretty shocking that I was able to land this job in the first place, but to also work alongside these chicks was such an amazing bonus. After two summers, and soon to be a third, they have become my closest friends. They also have been the driving force to what pushes me to get outside.
Again, I am generally uneducated and unskilled when it comes to pretty much anything involving outdoor adventure, but my friends: Porter, Caroline and Emily are not. In fact, Porter is currently training for her second full marathon, and she trains by running all throughout the mountain trails nearby Furman University.
To celebrate Emily’s birthday this year we decided to all get together for the weekend. Caroline lives and works in Greenville so we decided to meet there since it is right down the rode from Furman it was the easiest place to all get together; plus the mountains are very close by! The plan for Saturday was to leave Greenville, cross the SC/NC boarder, pick up lunch in Flat Rock and eat it at our camp cause it was on the way, then drive to the Blue Ridge Parkway so Porter could show us her favorite spot on the Parkway.
Now the Parkway is very long, and Porter spends a lot of time there so for her to say that this was her favorite spot was a big deal. We were all very excited, but I also was really nervous. Porter is notorious for pushing her body to the limit and triumphing over various physical obstacles. I wanted to see this incredible view she kept talking about, but I didn’t want to burst a lung trying to see it. I communicated my anxiety to Porter and she made sure to let me know that although we were going to see one of the highest points on the Parkway that we would be driving most of the way up, and that was kind of the whole point of the Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is this beautiful part of the Appalachian Trail in Asheville, NC that allows you to drive for miles up the mountains and see expansive views of the Appalachian Trail that are just breath taking. At any moment you can pull off into one of the many scenic view resting spots and be more and more overwhelmed with the views at each stop. If you haven’t been, you really need to go. It is super easy and just a fantastic way to spend the day. 10/10 recommend.
I knew this at the time, but the last time we let Porter lead us in a hike she got out of the car, said “Let’s go!” and ran the whole way up while I blindly followed very far behind. So I was still nervous.
We finished lunch at camp and hopped back into the car to drive the rest of the way up to the Parkway. We ended up spending more time in the car that day than we did hiking, but the quality time was much needed and it gave us a chance to catch up. It was the first weekend of Thanksgiving break so we spent a lot of time talking about our families as well as our semesters. We are all in different times of life and live pretty different lifestyles but there is something special about spending two summers working outside with the same people everyday that makes doing life together really easy.
We we’re in our unassigned-assigned spots in the car- Porter was driving, I was in the front playing DJ, and Emily and Caroline were in the back causing a ruckus- making our way up the mountain almost screaming at each other as we got more and more excited about each lookout point we passed. Porter decided we had gone high enough up that it was time to start her presentation about the trail we were about to hike.
She was calm but she had that excitement people get when they talk about something they are really passionate about in her voice.
The place we are going is called Black Balsam Knob, you can find it at milepost 420. It is a very unique area because the vegetation and general surroundings of the area don’t fit into the climate zone and aren’t found anywhere else on the Parkway except for this series of mountaintops. Black Balsam Knob is the second highest point on the Parkway, and being above 6,000 feet trees do not grow in this area. As you drive up to the area you can literally see the surroundings change as you get higher up onto the mountain. It feels like you are in North Carolina and then suddenly you round a bend and you are in Colorado. This treeless area creates an open expanse at the peak that allows you to see sweeping views of the Pisgah National Forest in every direction.
Porter is totally nerding-out as she is telling us this so naturally we make fun of her. It’s all good fun though because she knows we only do that because we are jealous of her and that she has this incredible hobby.
We finally park the car and we are all ready to start hiking. I am half expecting Porter to take off running like last time but you could tell that she really wanted us to enjoy this place as much as she did and she made sure to stay close by. Porter leads us to the beginning of the trail- the area is mostly rocks and tall grass- and we start the hike! It is a pretty short hike actually, only about half a mile in fact, but the elevation increases so much in that short hike that it is really easy to loose your breath so Porter made sure we took our time, but that we kept moving. We wind back and forth in a zigzag, making out way up the terrain through the small path leading to the top. It was a cold, cloudy, windy day and we were feeling the pressure to get to the top.
As we make it to the top of the hike our hearts are pounding, and the elevation has made us short of breath but the wind is moving so fast at the top of the mountain that it rushes to fill our lungs. It is so cold, but it feels really good. The baby hair that surrounds my face is whipping all over the place and it is hard to keep my eyes open, but even still I can’t help but gasp at the views.
We hike over to the highest spot and try to take in everything around us. We go over to a rocky ledge to really get close the overlook so we can get a good picture. But it quickly turns into a lot of stumbling around as the wind is pushing us over. I have never been more afraid that I was going to literally be swept away by the wind. This was the best we could do for a picture with the over look:
We go and read the plaque at the top that is mounted into the ground and quickly hike back down to the area where it is more manageable to stay standing. We try our luck taking some other pictures but our bodies are very awkward in all of them because it was so cold we are all hunched over with hair in our faces. Even worse than the picture above. After we spend some time just taking it all in, I start to loose feeling in my hands so we decide to make the hike back down. Porter takes us a different way than we came up so we get to cut through some trees to find an escape from the wind. We take a break on a large rock for a bit then race the rest of the way back down to the car after capture this masterpiece, sorry guys:
We hop back in the car (in our unassigned-assigned seats), warm back up and head all the way back to Greenville for Emily’s birthday dinner: complete with balloons, bourbon and birthday cake. All in all, the extremely chapped lips from the wind was worth the view even though it was cloudy, and the hours spent in the car was worth the quality time and the chance to be pushed by friends.