When was the last time you took an entire day for yourself? A day where you woke up and spent time with you and only you. No friends. No family. No real pressing obligations... a day where you simply spent time in your own head? A day where you treat yo self to whatever it is that you truly love doing...
This type of day is a rarity for almost every single person walking this planet.... including myself. Yea yea... I know what you're thinking and I've heard it all before...
1) "You get to spend TONS of time in nature...”
2) “You get alone time ALL the time...”
3) “You're ALWAYS in the mountains on an adventure somewhere...”
And my favorite…
4) “If you had kids you wouldn't have that much freedom..."
Well I’m here to tell ya… you sacrifice and make time for the things that mean the most to you.
1) Yes. I make it a point to spend as much time in nature as possible because I feel it's extremely important for a person's well-being to be connected to the natural world. I place my connection to the universe and God extremely high on the totem pole.
2) Where it may seem that I get a ton of alone time... I don't. Between work, the wifey and running with so many fine folks… there’s only a few moments each day that I truly get to myself.
3) I am very fortunate to have a supportive wife that lets me wander out and take my adventures. I try my best to at least get to a non-local area to run at least once a month but again... I usually take these adventures with other people and very rarely venture off alone because most of the time the mountains are more fun with friends.
4) You’re damn right I wouldn't! And that's one of the reasons we've made that life choice. Because we like to "DO WHAT WE WANT!"
Kidding... kinda...but seriously...we do like to do what we want.
"But Yall would make such awesome parents...."
"Don't worry yall will change yall's minds..."
Highly doubtful. But if we did... it's a lot easier to decide to have a kid than it is to have a kid and then decide it's not for us. Ya can't just be like...
"Well son... it's been a solid 6yrs... but I'm through with you now. Good luck. Goodbye forever."
Now I'm no expert... but I think that style of parenting is frowned upon. I also think people get the wrong perception of people without kids. We've been brought up to believe (especially in the South) that you must follow this step by step process and spread your seed to live a happy, fulfilled life. Go to school. Get married. Go to church on Sunday's. Buy a home. Have babies. Spoil your grandchildren. Grow old and watch your shows on the television. All that is fine and dandy but that's not the only formula for happiness. I'm a big believer in the "you do you" movement. Does it make you happy?
Is it causing me or any other people harm?
Then you keep doing you and I'll keep doing me. I believe that when it boils down to it... life consists of 3 simple steps:
It's seriously that simple. We as humans have a tendency to muddy up and complicate that middle step. Listen... it doesn't matter which religion you choose to follow... which political party you voted for... if your skin is light or dark... if you have a red dot on your forehead or a turban wrapped around your head... are in love and like to kiss the lips of someone with the same sexual orientation as you or your just plain confused about your own sexual orientation... whichever path you decide to take... if you can manage to wander through this life and truly show love and compassion to your fellow human... there's a damn good chance at personal happiness as well as making this experience a pleasant one for others.
And just because a person lives the kidless lifestyle ... doesn't mean that they have this magical stash of time and are constantly free to do whatever the hell they want. It just doesn't work that way. End of rant. Regards. I love you all.
NAR (Nantahala Adventure Run) links the Appalachian Trail and Bartram Trail for a scenic 55-mile loop tour of the Nantahala Forest and has somewhere between 13,000-14000ft of gain. I've done the entire AT portion of the loop as well as a few miles of the Bartram... but have never gotten a chance to take a stab at the entire loop. I first heard about NAR when I got the invite to run the loop with a small group of my favorite local adventurers back in 2014. I'm real glad it didn't work for me to attend back then because they started their loop in an absolute downpour and the rains didn't let up. I think everyone bailed by mile 20. The thought of being in a warm cozy brewery sipping colbeer instead of being wet, cold and miserable for +15hrs in the mountains sounded way more appealing to everyone... especially since NAR isn't a race and is just run for fun. Luckily the forecast for my attempt called for sunny and 75.
After a long day of work, I set out on the all too familiar "Friday Five" (aka the 5hr drive up to the Appalachians). Per my usual "quick weekend trip to the mountains routine" I stopped by Arby's for dinner and then by Wal-Mart for a few mountain running necessities...
I hadn't really thought too much about dropping any aid for my NAR attempt since there was an abundance of places to filter water and a little supply shop around the half way point. But I figured since had to pass by one of the trailheads on the way to the cabin... I might as well stash a small cooler of goodies to have at mile 41ish.
I finally arrived at the cabin around 11pm and I did a quick walk around the house to ensure everything was in proper condition... but mostly to check for any killers hiding in the closets or behind shower curtains. All was clear thanks to the attack spider that had been hired to protect the house.
By the time I got my gear packed for my adventure it was almost midnight. I still wasn't all that sleepy so I cracked open a beer and sat outside on the deck and enjoyed the cool, quiet night. I finally finished off my local brew and headed to lay down to try and find sleep.
I guess it's the old conundrum of when you know you’re about to lay your head down to not get much sleep which then causes you not to even get the sleep that you could be getting... (yea read that again... but I know you know what I'm talking about.) because I fell asleep at 12:45am and woke up at 2:30am. I should've just stayed up and started earlier but I guess even a 1hr45min power nap after a long day of work and long drive is somewhat beneficial.
I heated up a breakfast burrito, poured a cup of coffee and went out onto the deck to enjoy my 3am breakfast. The world was totally still and silent. No sounds. No wind. The moon was bright enough to silhouette the distant mountains and I silently wondered as I gazed upon Cheoah if the conditions would be similar up in the mountains. At 330am I drove down the windy road into the gorge to the NOC. After a quick gear check on my tailgate, I walked across the bridge to the NOC outfitter's store to begin my journey. The place was a ghost town. Not a soul in sight... No passing cars... Just the soothing hum of the river behind me. At 4:03am I pressed start on my Suunto and set off southbound along the AT.
The last time I made the long steep 6 mile / 3000ft trek up to Wesser was over 4th of July weekend when I was in a sling and throwing up everywhere. It was nice not to be immobilized in both aspects this time. There usually is at least a small group of campers at the designated campsite a mile out from the NOC but it was completely barren when I went through this morning. My mind started creating all kids of scenarios of why there were no campers...
So, there's no wind... there's no sound... there’s no movement from the world... am I experiencing the Oz Effect?!? Is something crazy about to happen?!
I started freaking myself out as I furthered pursued thoughts about Missing 411 and the possibility of alternate realities but shook those theories from my mind as I approached the Jump Up. I opted out of climbing Wesser Fire tower since it was still pre-sunrise and there would be no real view. I dropped down into Tellico Gap a little after 6am (mile 8ish - 2:06 total time). Climbing out of Tellico was peaceful and around 7am I grabbed my first scenic view of the day as the sun was starting to illuminate the world...
I could hear some campers stirring up in the camping area near Cold Spring Shelter but there were no occupants of the shelter itself. The sun was up by the time I went through Burningtown Gap. The high winds from Hurricane Irma had caused a lot of blow downs up in the area and I spent a lot of time having to maneuver around downed trees and branches...
After I climbed out of Burningtown I saw a bear dart across the trail but it wanted nothing to do with me and continued its journey elsewhere. Funny enough I had seen a paw print in the same area years ago when I came up and ran and out and back from Tellico to Wayah...
The area around Wayah was bustling. I saw one unenthused hiker making his way down the AT, a cheerful couple having a coffee over a small fire and a group of guys breaking down their campsite. It was a beautiful morning to be out on the trails... Especially at the higher elevations where the leaves were slowly starting to change.
I was half expecting Wayah Bald summit to be overrun with people but to my surprise it was completely void of all human life when I arrived (mile 17ish - 4:42 total time)! I climbed the stone stairs to the top of the tower, sat on the edge of the structure and enjoyed the gorgeous sunrise while chomping on a Chick Fil A sand which. It felt nice to be moving on my own terms without a structured time scheduled.
After finishing half of the sandwich, I rejoined the AT for a mile so before it connected to the Bartram Trail.
I hadn't spent much time at all on the Bartram so I was looking forward to exploring some new single track. To my surprise the 2.5 miles down to Sawmill Gap were gorgeous! Other than the blow downs from Irma... The trail was nicely groomed and provided scenic vistas of the distant mountains and would occasionally cut its path through open fields. Sawmill Gap parking lot was completely empty as I passed through.
I had read that the last 3 miles or so down to Nantahala Lake were extremely steep but was surprised of how steep some sections were! Between the massive amount of downed trees/large limbs and the steep, leaf covered slippery terrain... it was not a very enjoyable descent. I was relieved when I finally popped out at the road.
I followed the road for a bit before arriving at the Lakes End Grill and Marina (mile 25ish - 7:00 total time). Though the owner offered the spigot around back so that I could refill my water but I purchased some water, a Gatorade and a Mountain Dew to help support the little store.
I spent more time than I probably should have at the marina talking with the owner but it was a nice morning out and he was an interesting cat.
After a 30-minute lunch break and the 2nd half of my chicken sandwich… I started back along the road until I veered back onto the Bartram Trail.
I was caught off guard with how much fun the next couple of miles of single track turned out to be! I soaked up the fun because the single track eventually gave way to mundane, rolling gravel roads.
With no wind or even the slightest of breezes, the day was starting to heat up by the time I arrived at Appletree Group Camp (mile 31ish - 8:45 total time)
Appletree was a beautiful area and there were a few large groups set up camping.
The section between Appletree Group Camp and the Duke Energy Powerplant/Raft Put In area was hot, humid, overgrown and not much fun at all.
Though the trail wasn't hard to follow, it was extremely annoying (and itchy) to have to plow through the overgrowth.
At every little stream crossing I passed I would douse my buff in the cold water and wipe down my itchy legs and cool my head/neck/chest. The trail finally veered away from the river and started meandering up into the mountains again. The relief was short lived after I discovered the ridiculous amount of spider webs that crisscrossed the trail. Every 10-15yrds I would break through another spider web. It was frustrating but I eventually stopped caring as I started to slip into a normal ultra "low" and which forced me to turn my focus on getting myself back into a happy state of mind. The trail seemed like it twisted and turned forever. Every time I thought I was going to stumble upon Percy Creek the trail would pop over a small creek and climb again. I pulled out my 2nd chicken sandwich and started nibbling on it to pass the time. As I finished half of my sandwich I reached Percy and rock hopped across the bubbling creek. I had been to Percy Creek one time before with OJG and Kyle during my first ever trip up to the NOC. I started to get into a groove and pull out of the "low" once I was in a familiar area. The climb up to Rattlesnake Knob went by fairly quickly and it felt good to be running again as I descended towards the trail head. Before making my way to the Duke Energy trail head I got a view of the last big climb...
I dropped down to the Duke Energy trail head (mile 41ish - 12:23) to where I had stashed my cooler the night before.
I refilled my pack and downed my purple drank as I walked the road over to the raft put in area.
I'd covered the last 14-mile section before with OJG so I was familiar with the long 5.5 mile / 3000ft climb that was ahead of me. Instead of dwelling on the climb ahead… I stayed focused on the nice flat, concrete path along the river.
The climb from the river to Cheoah was tough. I moved slow for the first few miles and even took a sit break to eat the last half my chicken sandwich above Bartram Falls. The woods were getting dark but sunlight was still bouncing off the mountain tops above. I set a goal to be up on top of Cheoah Bald before the sun set at 730pm. After the relentless uphill... I eventually left the Bartram trail and rejoined the AT for a half mile before reaching Cheoah Bald. As I approached the bald I caught wind of the wonderful smell of a fall campfire and could hear cheerful voices. I was welcomed by a group of campers and an excited yellow lab (mile 47ish - 15:09)
I chatted with the campers for a few minutes and wondered over to the opposite side of the bald to watch the sun set.
After watching the sun set over the horizon I made my way back over to the fire. By no means was it cold... I just really wanted to enjoy the warmth and the smell of the fire as I got my pack ready for the last 8 miles of my journey.
The familiar descent to the NOC was peaceful in the dark. The moon was bright, the woods were quiet and I was happy. The 8 miles passed by quickly and before I knew it I was at the railroad crossing at the NOC.
The NOC was in the exact condition as I had left it earlier that morning... a ghost town. There were no cheers or high fives... no whimsical dance party... no rainbow unicorns... no finisher's medal... nothing. It was just me, it was just how I liked it and it was perfect. I crossed the bridge back to NOC outfitter's store, hit stop on my watch and took a seat on a bench. It had been a long, long time since I had spent this much time in the woods alone and it felt rewarding to be back covering longer distances again (mile 55 - 17:39 - finish). As I sat alone in the dark I reminisced on the past 9 months. Between volunteering the first 5 months of the year as a hike leader for the Make a Wish Trailblaze Challenge and the 3 months I was immobilized for Douche Shoulder surgery... this was one of the first times I had been truly alone on an adventure. I had missed me.
I drifted back to reality when my body started to shake from the cold. I walked back across the bridge through the abandoned outdoor paddling Mecca, tossed my pack into the back of my Element and drove myself back up to the cabin. After a hot shower and 2 colbeers, I drifted into a dreamless sleep.
I woke up to the most gloriously chilly Fall day. I fixed a cup of coffee, grabbed my favorite blanket in the cabin and sat on the back porch silently ringing in the first day of the best month of the year. So much weird, coincidental shit (that I didn't mention in text during this recap) happened on the trail the day before and I was slowly putting the pieces together on how the universe and God had spoken to me. Though it was a simple, straight forward outing... it will forever be one of the most meaningful and well remembered days of my life.
Whether its 5 minutes or a complete day… I encourage you to take some time to spend with yourself. You’re the most important person you’ll ever know.