The Road Most Traveled: (sometimes there’s a reason)

Have you ever had your passions come together in a surprising way.  This weekend I had all three of the things that make me come alive intersect in a way that breathed life into my soul and delicious calories into my stomach.  It was such a perfect meld of relaxation and creative energy that all came together at one of my favorite spots: Linville Falls, North Carolina.

Now this is not my first time in these parts.  I’m quite familiar with the area, but I’m used to hard core roughing it; backpacking my way through sections of the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area.  Also called the Grand Canyon of the East, it’s a beautiful gorge more than 3000 feet deep and heavily forested.  It’s some of the roughest hiking and backpacking near Charlotte.

I love this area because it’s one of the few places where, except for the lonesome whistle of a train or a passing airplane, human impact has been kept to a minimum. I’ve been on a 4-day hike and never met a single soul.  You can almost believe you alone in this amazing space. Eventually the silence becomes loud enough to drown out whats going through your head and actually let you hear from your heart.

This weekend I was camping with my good friend Tracy.  Tracy and I share a love of cooking and good wine, but we had never been camping together and experience has taught me that even the best of friends do NOT make good camping buddies.  We were both excited about the trip, but  I had my journal and he had his sketch book; our backup plans if the excursion turned less than stimulating.

View from Camp

View from Camp

We headed out for the western rim of the gorge to do some car camping and light hiking. The plan was to make a base camp at one of my favorite spots (on the western rim near the Rock Jock trail) and do a series of small hikes.

Now one of the things I love about the gorge is that it’s a bit of the ‘road less traveled’.  It’s not for the masses, there are no ‘facilities’ or concession stands serving ice cream and diet cokes.  For years I’ve avoided the main “Linville Falls” and ‘Table Rock’ because they just seemed to commercial.  I didn’t want my mental image of the wilderness area ruined by landscaped rock walls, paved parking lots and blacktop hiking trails.  However, Tracy is recovering from some pretty serious back injuries and I decided it was the right time to pick the ‘low hanging fruit’.  I must say I was feeling a bit snobbish when we set out to see what the park service had to offer.

Linville Falls from the Chimney Rock Overlook

I was amazed to find I’d been ignoring the beautiful natural fall system that fed all my favorite smaller falls further down the gorge.  The Linville Falls has a smaller ‘upper falls’ and a larger ‘lower falls’.  The park system has provided access to no less than 4 vantage points for experiencing the falls.  The trails were mainly graded and easily traveled, but still had a natural feel to them.  As a photographer is was great to have access to multiple vantage points for shooting the falls.

Many hiking buddies get frustrated when I bring along my camera on a hike.  I can loose myself in trying to set up the right shot, and who wants to sit around and wait for 15 minutes when you could further down the trail experiencing the next wonder ahead.  Tracy was great.  He encouraged me to enjoy my passion and was excited when I got a quality shot.  He let me indulge myself if something I love without feeling like I was imposing on anyone.  This was one of the many shots I captured in that day.  I’ll post the others in a gallery in the photography blogs.

The third and finishing touch that made this trip such a memorable one for me was some amazing campfire cooking.  Tracy manages a local restaurant and is an accomplished chef, this trip we took campsite cooking to a new level.

Trout Almondine

Trout Almondine on the flatiron

Tracy scored some fresh Rainbow Trout for the trip, so day one it was Trout Almondine.  We paired it with some campfire steamed asparagus and rosemary skillet red potatoes.  The second night we enjoyed grilled pork chops with caramelized onions and fire roasted tomatoes.  We baked sweet potatoes in the ashes of the fire and finished off the fresh asparagus.  Tracy and I both brought on of our favorite red wines to enjoy each night.  To say the least the campfire was a place of great conversation and shared camaraderie.

The less extreme style of this trip allowed me to experience my passions in a new way.  A way that my elitist attitude may have otherwise prevented.  Don’t get me wrong, I hate attitude in this world.  I pride myself in being that laid back, anti-commercialized and just slightly counter-cultural guy.  But sometimes the desire to be apart from the mainstream can sometimes become a snobbery all it’s own.  Different does not equal better (or worse), a lesson from trail that I need to hold on to.