Sunday, August 31, 2014

Paddle Faster, I Hear Banjos

The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

July 2, 2014:

I found myself resting on a cliff side..."lost in oblivion..." cooling off from the summer heat…

We had organized a RootsRated run at Ruffner Mt at 6pm, so I had come out early to put in a little distance before the group arrived. As I sat peering into the quarry, my thoughts drifted a little further north to the Appalachian mountains

“This is your life and it is ending one minute at a time.”

My plans of gallivanting among tall mountains for the 4th of July were “pooped on” by my wife. She ever so sweetly laid out the fact that gas was expensive. Cornelius had caught wind of my crushed dreams of mountain endeavors and shot me a text…

“I may be able to give you a ride and a place to sleep… stay tuned cowboy.”

I patiently waited for Cornelius’ text…

“We’re leaving around 2pm on Thursday.”

My phone buzzed. 15mins until the RootsRated event. I crawled from my cliffside bed and started back down the ridgeline to the ball fields.

We saddled up and headed out to explore Ruffner Mt. We did a short loop around the quarry before we scurried up to the Magic City lookout…

On the return trip, Jake and I snuck off from the group to do some mountain-goating along the cliff sides…

The RR team wrapped up the evening with local beer and giveaways. I got caught up talking with Greg about adventures to be had and unfortunately lost track of time… so I hurried home, threw a bunch of running gear in a backpack, and drifted off to sleep.

July 3, 2014:

"You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank."

I walked out of the warehouse at 1pm to make my way downtown to meet Cornelius. Before we knew it, we were scarfing down slices of pizza froLupi’s Pizza in downtown Chattanooga. After finishing my beer, we set our sights on North Carolina. A quick stop at a family friendly package store resulted in a bottle or 2 of whiskey. We then had to brave the local Wal-Mart for weekend snacks. Cornelius had mentioned they had planned to enter a local 5k in Bryson City on the 4th of July. He also mentioned that he may have brought a pair of American Flag running shorts and a cowboy hat

Fun Fact 1: When no females are present... 2 guys will get strange looks when searching vigorously through the women’s swim department.

We finally rolled up to the cabin and found Tyler waking up on the couch.

“What the hell took ya’ll so long?”

Unloading our gear from the Element, it was impossible not to be moved by the bass drops coming from down below. We were intrigued and it didn’t take much to convince Tyler to come down for a beer.
We drove down the mountain, parked, and walked across the road to a “casual patio setting” called the Kudzu. A DJ was bringing the bass and the seasonal locals (river/raft guides in for the summer) danced through the night. We grabbed a seat in the back to take in the sights over a local brew. Tyler pointed to a short man with a Paddy cap.

“That’s Blue. He’s playing up here tomorrow night.”

Blue is a local banjo legend. His album can only be found at live performances deep within the Nantahala Gorge. I suggest getting your hands on this little gem.

One beer and a failed photo bomb attempt was enough to get a feel of the Kudzu. We gulped down the last drop of goodness and headed up to the cabin to reside for the night.

July 4, 2014:

I woke up groggy and stumbled into the kitchen. Tyler was pouring a cup of coffee. He looked me up and down, chuckled and headed out onto the porch.

Tyler pointed out all the peaks that were visible from the back porch.

“There’s Cheaoha Bald. We’re going to run there tomorrow. There’s Clingman’s Dome… and on a clear winter’s day… you can see Andrews Bald.”

Fun Fact 2: Andrews bald was named after me.

After a cup of coffee and breakfast, Marla made her first appearance as she walked through the door with the dogs.  Tyler and I hopped in the back of Cornelius’ Element and the 4 of us headed into Bryson City.

Tyler and Marla hung back... “You guys go ahead. I don’t want to be seen with ya’ll.”

I still don’t understand why they didn’t want to walk with us… but we finally got Tyler to pose for a quick picture... 

After standing around getting gawked at by the locals, we headed over to the starting line.

Like monkeys ready to be shot into space...” we waited paitently at the starting line.

The gun sounded and we were off! Tyler and I went out hard. We hopped a curb to bypass a few runners and tore off down the city streets

“I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.”

Fun Fact 3: To ultrarunners... 5ks hurt worse than 50ks.

I pressed hard as we exited the city. We poured onto country back roads... running wide open... chasing picture perfect mountains. Now I’m not typically too keen on running 5ks…but hands down this was the most beautiful 5k I had ever ran.

was carrying a good pace but my heart had zero desire to pursue the city’s high school cross country team who had surfaced to apparently dominate the field. I ran neck and neck with a girl and guy as we closed in on the city. We hit the city streets and the girl in all purple took off. I was now alone with the Crossfit poster child…

“YEA!!! It’s just you and me bro!! LET’S DO THIS!!!”

I casually glanced over, tipped my cowboy hat to him and said, “Nah bro… you got it.”

Crossfit pursued Daphne while I tried my best to view the opening times of the Nantahala Brewery as I raced past. Current time: 8:16am… to my dismay… it was not open.

I crossed the finish line in 18:3something, grabbed a water and walked over to Marla. Tyler finished a few seconds later and we waited for Cornelius to finish.We walked down Bryson City streets to grab a cup of coffee and a muffin. Best damn blueberry muffin I’ve ever had. Luckily "Planet Starbucks" hadn't been discovered here yet and everything was local.

We got back to the cabin and rested on the back porch until it was time to pursue our next adventure. Tyler, Marla and Cornelius were heading down to the lake for a little paddling, cold beer drinking, and hammock napping. I needed to loosen up my legs from the treacherous 5k, so I opted for a mountain run up the Noland Divide trail…

I wrapped up my 8 mile excursion and headed over to meet the gang at the lake.

We hung by the water’s edge for a few cold beers before floating down to the big rope swing. A girl was leaning against a tree by the rope swing… posted up like Matthew McConaughey in Dazed and Confused…

“Don’t jump from the platform. You’ll hit the tree.”

Cornelius grabbed the rope and headed straight to the platform. He climbed the ladder and launched…

"I am Jack's complete lack of surprise."


Cornelius drilled his leg against the tree. He hit so hard the force threw him around into a spin. He recovered and eloquently jackknifed into the lake below. I gave the jump a 7.5/10.

The girl looked over at Tyler with her expressionless face…

“I told him he’d hit the tree if he jumped from the platform.”

Fun Fact 4: Always take advice from the girl posted up near the rope swing... she's always right.

Tyler opted out of the platform and swung perfectly into the lake. Of course Cornelius had to redeem himself and did… but the bruise on his leg was already visible from where Marla and I floated. We made the long swim back across the lake, packed, and headed back to the cabin.

We changed clothes and headed to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for dinner. It doesn’t get much better than pizza and beer next to a bon fire by the river…

We finished our brews and headed to the Kudzu...

The Blue Review – A Mountain Mystery:

We parked in the Nantahala Village parking lot and walked across the street to the Kudzu. There were only a handful of people at the venue due to a big fireworks show in Bryson City. We sat with a beer and listened as Blue played his guitar. A girl at the bar kept eying Blue as she would go back and forth to a car. This was NOT the same girl Blue was all touchy feely with the night before…

"I am Jack's broken heart."

The line of cars whipping by the Kudzu indicated the fireworks show was over in Bryson City. A few minutes passed... Blue was getting antsy that there wasn’t a crowd. A jacked up 4x4 pick-up truck hauling a loud group of seasonal locals rolled into the yard…

“BLUE!!!!!! WHOOOOOO!!!! BLUE!!!!”

Blue’s face lit up and he started squirming with excitement. His fan base finally showed up.

The truck full of river rats remained in the parking lot downing the last bit of their chosen poison. They drowned their livers and began swinging each other around on the dance floor…

A guy in boxers and a Hugh Hefner bath robe walked up to me…

“Hey man! I know you!”

I laughed. “I can assure you that you don’t.”

“Yea! Aren’t you a raft guide?”

I hadn’t showered since Wednesday night, ran a hard 5k, put in a few hours running in the mountains, and played in the lake… there was no doubt I could have passed for a raft guide... but "sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken."

“Nah man. I’m just up here to run mountains.”  I pointed back at Marla, Tyler, and Cornelius…  

“Those guys paddle.”

He was a funny, good time having guy but no doubt had a sketchy side...

“I’m going to take a quick bathroom break and be back to play some more.”

Blue did not go to the bathroom. He went to the bar. He then scurried over to his car to talk to the girl sitting in the front seat… the same girl giving him the sexy eyes from earlier.

We had moved to a different table on the opposite side of the patio so we could face the stage and parking lot. A group congregated around Blue’s car.

"We have front row seats for this theatre of mass destruction."

Something was happening… the atmosphere was changing. Tension floated through the air like the early morning fog through the mountains...

A group left the car and walked across the road, down the walkway in front of the Nantahala Village, and disappeared around the corner. Another small group followed. Finally, Blue and another acquaintance trailed along.

The Kudzu was vacant of music with only minimal chatter. The only bartender… hell… the only person that appeared to have any authority in the bar… left her post, liquor shot in hand, and walked across the road in search of Blue. She soon came back… liquor shot still full.

Minutes to midnight... we heard people coming back across the street. 2 guys ran across the road…

“We gotta go! Gather up the group!”

The 4x4 truck was loaded within seconds. The driver spun the tires, slid through the gravel parking lot and raced down the mountain road vanishing into the night.

Tyler spoke to the table, “What the hell was that all about?”

All of a sudden Blue’s female walked across the road and headed towards the bathrooms that were tucked away behind the bar. Blue ran across the road…

“Just grab any equipment you can and load it in the car!!

Hugh Hefner started helping Blue load the sound equipment in the back of the blue sedan. The stage was cleared within a matter of minutes…

Cornelius glanced my way… 

“Go see if you can see what’s going on with Blue’s girl.”

I started across the bar and neared the bathrooms when a glass shattering scream from across the road pierced the cool night air…

I focused my attention in the direction of the scream. As I turned... another gut wrenching scream came from the women’s bathroom…

The “I think I ruined my life” scream…  

On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone drops to zero.”

I stood frozen on the pathway. Blue moved quickly towards me... unbuttoning his black shirt as he passed.

“You ok Blue?”

His face was ghost white. A quick left to right shake of his head was proof enough that he most certainly was not "ok." He tossed his crumpled shirt into the woods as he darted into the bathroom.

"I am Jack's cold sweat."

I walked over and sat down at our table.

“What the f*@% is going on?!”

We watched Blue and his girl peel out of the parking lot and drive off into the night.

The bar was alive with curiosity. People were bouncing from table to table trying to piece together the clues of the night's story. The flashing lights of 3 county cars pulling into the Nantahala Village silenced the bar. The officers walked over with hands on holstered pistols…

“Everyone ok here? We got a call of a fight.”

No one said a word. The fuzz walked the bar as if it was a normal routine. We could tell they were locked-in; searching for someone specific… which led us to believe this was probably not the first occurance at a Blue show.

Fun Fact 5: Blue is a sketchy mofo... but a damn good banjo player.

After a quick chat with the bartender, the officers returned to their cars and started down the road. In an instance, the officers flipped on their lights and sped down the hill... descending deep into the Nantahala Village. It was time to leave.

"We just had a near life-experience."

July 5, 2014:

I awoke from my drunken slumber to the sound of John Denver’s voice bouncing off the wooden walls. This had become the weekend indicator that it was time to rise and grind. I stumbled into the kitchen to again see Tyler pouring a cup of coffee. He smiled…

“How about that Blue?” 

We sat in the living room area drinking coffee and eating breakfast... recapping the previous night’s events. Down below cops were swarming the Kudzu and Nantahala Village.

Marla had a cup of coffee and the 2 dogs in her lap… 

“I’m just mad he didn’t play Country Roads.”

After multiple criminal theories and numerous cups of caffeinewe set off for a morning of balding.

*Balding – running up mountains in hopes of reaching an area destitute of natural growth or covering.

Tyler had mapped out the 13 mile route, so he took lead. With one final check of the map… we set off for Cheoah Bald.

The first part of the Bartram trail consisted of a winding gravel road. It wasn’t very entertaining for me and Tyler... but it is well known across the lands that Cornelius looooooves fire roads... 

It wasn't long before we were on single track climbing switchbacks. We made our way up along the mountain side until we passed a little over 3000ft. Cheoah Bald sits roughly 5100ft above the sea. According to Tyler’s Suunto we were right on track... well, as far as elevation/mileage was concerned. Then we started descending…. and descending… and we descended even more.

"I found freedom. Losing all hope was freedom."

We passed over a small stream and quickly came to the conclusion that we had probably started our route going the wrong direction…

Our assumptions were confirmed when we came upon a sign indicating that Wayah Bald was 18 miles away.  Well damn…oh well...

"It could be worse. A woman could cut off your penis while you're sleeping and toss it out the window of a moving car."

We went a little further before retracing our steps back towards the trail head. We popped out of the woods at the top of the gravel road…

“We should be over there…”

Still… it’s hard to be upset when you get a view like this…

We flew down the gravel road until we hit the last patch of single track spilling us back past the trail head…

We had agreed not to call and bother Marla, so we started walking to a parking lot down the road to see if we could hitch a ride back to the NOC.

Fun Fact 6: It’s easy to hitch rides in a river town.

We got dropped off at the NOC and met up with Marla. We told her of our misadventure as we headed back to the cabin. We didn’t spend much time at the cabin… just enough for a quick change of clothes and a bite to eat, then it was right back to the NOC for some paddling.

I dropped my companions off at a put-in spot up stream…

And watched the 3 of them paddle out of sight…

I headed back to the NOC. I grabbed a local brew from the bar and started wandering around the paddler’s Mecca. I watched playboats turning flips in the rapids; young kids splashing around in the cold water… even saw a dog get swept downstream. Tyler had spoken of a waterfall downstream and how it  is rarely traversed because it is extremely dangerous for unskilled paddlers. I accidently eavesdropped on a conversation between a group of paddlers discussing going down the waterfall. I ventured down a little further to the waterfall to see if they were actually going to follow through with their plan… and they did! It was intense. They hit the line as smooth as glass.

I made my way back up to the NOC just in time to catch the crew getting out of the water…

We loaded up the truck and headed back to the cabin to change clothes for dinner. Tyler and Marla took showers. Cornelius and I hadn’t showered since we arrived. We simply changed clothes, poured ourselves a whiskey drink and enjoyed a little nap on the porch…

"Babies don't sleep this well."

Fun Fact 7: River water = mountain bath

We piled into the Subaru and headed into town for some fine Mexican dining. We had accumulated trash over the past few days so we stopped by the dumpster for a game of “trash toss.”

Marla and I scored quickly and tied for a 1st place finish… Tyler and Cornelius had to go another round…

At the Mexican restaurant we caught a glimpse of Hugh Hefner sneaking away to the back room. Cornelius tried to hunt him down to inquire about the previous night’s happenings, but he could never get him away from his table.

We made our way back down into Bryson City to have a few drinks at the Nantahala Brewery.

We sat around listening to a really good band when the drummer came up to the mic…

It was Artimus Pyle from Lynyrd Skynyrd! This man is in the Rockin Roll Hall of Fame, survived a plane crash that killed 26 people (including 3 of the original members) and even got shot by a farmer after the crash because the farmer thought he was trespassing… man has been through the ringer. He introduced himself and spoke a few minutes before inviting a few guest musicians to the stage… 

No trip to the brewery would be complete without a little hoola-hooping…

We left the brewery and made our way through Bryson City. We came across 2 guys stumbling down the street. We asked if they knew what went down at the Kudzu. They didn’t have a clue, but didn’t seem surprised when we told them it involved Blue.

July 6, 2014:

"If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?"

John Denver blared from the living room. 

"Is Tyler my bad dream?"

found Tyler smiling over a cup of coffee. We sat around eating breakfast as we packed our hydration packs for the morning’s adventure. We planned a route along the Appalachian Trail up to Cheoah Bald and then back down to the NOC. Tyler had personally ran this route before and ensured us we would not get turned around this time.

Marla dropped us off at Stecoah Gap and we headed out onto the AT.

We swiftly moved through the lush green North Carolina Mountains expelling toxins we had taken in over the last few days. We started the last vertical push up to the bald... 

We stopped on the bald for a snack. We took in the beauty and freedom of the Appalachian Mountains. 

We finished our mountain snack break and began the long 8 mile descent to the NOC. Bounding down the AT was a blast...

I loved watching Cornelius attack the downs… his thunder thighs and blubber ankles destroying the technical terrain with slightest of ease

Fun Fact 8: Clingman’s Dome is visible from any lookout… ever.

We descended down the mountain until we found a small stream of water flowing over a very strategically placed leaf. Cornelius and I ducked our head underneath to get a quick splash of cold mountain water while Tyler gulped a few sips…

We eventually came upon a few cabins nestled in the back of the NOC indicating our trip was almost complete. We popped over the railroad tracks and made our way down to the riverside where we found Marla asleep in the hammock…

We ordered from the restaurant near the river and recapped our route over a well deserved ice cold Coke. I wasn’t ready to leave. I wanted to stay. However, we eventually headed back up to the cabin to pack and bid adieu to North Carolina.

Fun Fact 9: Gas stations are robbing the American people.

"In the world I see - you are stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center. You'll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life. You'll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. And when you look down, you'll see tiny figures pounding corn, laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway."

The following week Tyler and Marla headed back to the mountains and back to the Kudzu. Tyler walked up to the bar…

“What happened last weekend? Did you ever find out?”

The bartender’s eyes told Tyler she knew but her lips remained sealed...

Will we ever know what happened on that fateful July 4th night at the Kudzu? Maybe. But the mountains hold secrets... and they hold them well. I have a feeling they won’t be sharing this one any time soon. 

Warning: If you are reading this then this warning is for you. Every word you read of this useless fine print is another second off your life. Don't you have other things to do? Is your life so empty that you honestly can't think of a better way to spend these moments? Or are you so impressed with authority that you give respect and credence to all that claim it? Do you read everything you're supposed to read?  Do you think everything you're supposed to think? Buy what you're told to want? Get out of your apartment. Meet a member of the opposite sex. Stop the excessive shopping and masturbation. Quit your job. Start a fight. Prove you're alive. If you don't claim your humanity, you will become a statistic. You have been warned." - Tyler Durden - Fight Club

In Tyler we trust. 

Till tomorrow...

1 comment:

  1. I found your blog about a week ago and read them all from the beginning (I get bored at work). This, is by far your best! Keep up the adventures, it's a pleasure to read your stories.