I woke up to rain pounding on my hotel window Sunday morning, June 2. The weather forecast had called for scattered thunderstorms all day, but I still felt a little disappointed to see that it might actually happen. I got ready, then met with Amy at Dunkin’ Donuts to get breakfast and discuss plans.
Amy told me that she had gotten a call late last night that her mother had fallen and been taken to the hospital. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, but under the circumstances Amy needed to go back today and see her. Despite this, we were able to take time at breakfast to make a game plan for the next couple weeks.
By the time we finished breakfast, the rain had lessened to a light drizzle. We decided that if I wanted, I could do Max Patch Bald today before I left since it was the shortest of the 3 hikes that we had planned for this trip (a 1.4 mile loop). The hike, located in Pisgah National Forest, was only an hour drive west of where we were staying in Asheville. The weather app on my phone showed a lower chance of thunderstorms than previously expected. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
We packed up, checked out of our rooms, Amy left for Columbia, and I left for Max Patch Mountain. About 48 minutes into the drive, the exit off of I-40 turned into a dirt road. According to the directions, it would be a 6.2 mile steady climb up this road to the top of the mountain. 6.2 miles doesn’t sound like a lot, but on the dirt road it was much longer than I anticipated. With each unmarked turn or branch in the road, my small hope that I was going the right way was increasingly diminished. Moreover, about halfway up the mountain (but at the time I thought I should have been almost at the top) it started to thunder and lighting. I checked my phone. No service. I couldn’t remember if you could be struck by lighting while inside of a car, but I couldn’t ask Siri because I had no phone coverage. Nobody else had passed me on the road, so I felt like I was the only person on the mountain. The only thing that kept me going was the idea that I had to be close to the top.
Sure enough, after about ten more minutes I arrived to an opening at the top and pulled into a parking lot. Thankfully, there were other cars in the parking lot and a reassuring Max Patch sign. I gave it ten minutes without hearing any thunder and decided to get out and do the hike. It was still pouring down rain, but I didn’t care at this point. I put on a rain poncho to protect my phone and notebook. The GPS was waterproof.
I started the 1.4 mile loop, just happy to finally be there and hiking. The trail quickly entered a forest on the margin of the Bald, which helped shield the rain. I came across a bright orange salamander, probably enjoying the wet day.
The forest opened up back into the bald, and I hiked up to the summit. At this point the rain had climaxed to a torrential downpour, so I was not able to take many pictures without my phone getting soaked. I continued across the Bald, to the point where the trail merged with the AT. I actually passed two hikers on the AT, and we all exchanged laughs, at each other and at ourselves for being crazy enough to be out here in this weather. I continued the hike back down to the car, managing to take a picture every now and then without my phone getting too wet. I guess I was satisfied-I now had the GPS tracks, trail notes, and a few decent pictures.
The very second that I opened the door to my car, the rain stopped. Okay, now I had to go back. The sky was opening up, and I would be able to get some good pictures. I took off the rain poncho and started to backtrack up the loop that I had just completed, right up to the top of Max Patch Bald. This experience was somehow completely different than before. This time, I saw a ton of wildflowers, a dead field mouse, and views that I didn’t know were possible.
I could literally turn 360° at the top of the mountain and see for miles in every direction. There were two layers of clouds, one above me and one below me. In between, I could see everything. It was absolutely beautiful. I felt like I was looking down from heaven. Only pictures can describe.
After about 40 minutes of admiring the views and feeling on top of the world, I headed back. Amazingly, right when I got back to the car it started raining again. I started the 4 hour drive back to Greensboro without regrets. The next trip is planned to start on June 15th, so the next blog will pick up there.