Appalachian Trail Mile 381.8 

Monday, May 31, 2017 (Day 28)

The day began with a surprising encounter. I followed a bend in the trail that brought me face to face with someone I knew from the PCT.

While in Northern California last year, the string connecting my tent poles had snapped broken as I hurriedly attempted to pitch it in the wee hours of the morning. I  had awoken to drops on my face–the first rain in months. I resigned to wrapping myself beneath the rainfly for cover. After the sky brightened I went to fetch water from a nearby spring before packing up. I met him there, collecting water. The subject of the rain and my tent arose and he offered to help me fix it. He assisted me in tying the strings back together. We chatted briefly. I was doing 25 miles a day at that point. He was not. I never saw him again…until I turn the corner of the AT a year later and there he is, heading South. I could not believe it. The trail is so strange and powerful and all-knowing. It has its own way of speaking to you, you just have to listen. The world is simultaneously large and small, especially if you reach far to its corners and move with the wind. We exchanged contact information. I hope we stay in touch.

I entered the Roan Highlands in the Cherokee-Pisgah National Forest. How glorious, these Highlands! Roan Mountain itself  was a difficult climb, steep and long. The views were not terribly rewarding. The fragrance of the pines near the top, however, was magnificent. According to a US Forest Service bulletin: “The dark cool Red spruce and Fraser fir communities found on Roan Mountain are among the rarest ecosystems in the world. These relic forests survive because of the cold, wet conditions found on high elevation peaks like Roan Mountain. These forests support many unique species including the federally endangered Carolina Flying Squirrel and Spruce-fir Moss Spider, as well as remarkable bird species like the Southern Appalachian Saw-whet owl.”

After descending Roan Mountain, the trail crosses a road and leads to the top of three different balds. All grassy and beautiful and rolling with stunning 360 degree views. “Roan Mountain boasts one of the largest expansions of grassy and shrub balds on earth. The grass balds found here are relics of the last Ice Age. In the past these openings have been maintained through grazing by natural herbivores (elk, bison, deer, etc.) and by livestock. In recent years they have been kept open using both grazing and mowing.”

I saw two brides while ascending the first bald. They were taking wedding portraits. The first bride was with her groom and two dogs. The second bride was further up the mountain. She had on a long flowing gown and a sparkly head band. She had removed her shoes to better position herself on the rock that extended over a remarkable view. I stopped and stood beside her. She faced the camera, I faced the rolling hills that extended far into the distance. I thought of how different our lives must be. I thought to say “congratulations”, but hesitated, and then it would have been unnatural. As I continued on the  photographer smiled and said “the things we’ll do for a wedding portrait”. You mean, climb a mountain? , I thought.

Maybe we weren’t so different after all. We were both driven out here by love.

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