Standing Indian Loop on the Appalachian Trail: How a myth, a storm, and friendship can electrify your perspective
A long time ago, in the area where Franklin, NC now sits, local Cherokee told a story of a winged beast that swooped down from the skies and stole children. Heartbroken and desperate, the local villagers sent a warrior to the highest mountain to keep watch for the winged monster and to discover its lair. The warrior found the lair, but it was in a place in the mountains inaccessible to humans, so the Cherokee villagers prayed to the Great Spirit for assistance. The Great Spirit heard their pleas and sent thunder and lightning to destroy the winged monster. The lightning scarred the surrounding mountains but the warrior, afraid for his life, tried to abandon his post. To punish his act of cowardice the Great Spirit sent a bolt of lightning to the mountain summit, leaving a bald and turning the warrior to stone. From that day forward the mountain was called Yunwitsule-nunyi which means "where the man stood."
Today we call it Standing Indian Mountain. The bald is still there, as well as the rock scars on the sides of the nearby mountains, but the rock shaped like a man is crumbling, forgotten to all except those that know to look for it.
How long distance trails can become embedded in our psyche
I don't know when I first heard about the Appalachian Trail. It seems like I've always known about it, like it was some seed of knowledge that was embedded deep in my psyche before I was even born, but I must have learned about it at some point. Most likely I was just exposed to bits and pieces of information about the trail and so I learned about it piecemeal. Even the first time I set foot on the trail - on a day hike in Virginia with one of my best friends from college - I hadn't quite grasped the true meaning of the trail. I understood it existed and I understood you could hike it. I even understood that you could thru-hike it if you were crazy enough to love mountains and pain and you disliked showers and soft beds, but I certainly didn't grasp that there was an entire culture of people who lived and breathed the trail.
If you're thinking of hiking up Slickrock Creek Trail in the Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness, I have some advice for you: don't do it.
I'm pretty sure that hike was the most miserable hike of my life. I'm also pretty sure I'm going to have scars from that hike. The trail was completely overgrown with rhododendron and blackberries and briars and my legs looked like they were the loser in a fight with some barbed wire. My arms weren't much better and I think my feet will never forgive me for that day.
I was never this worried before about venturing into the wilderness. I wasn't sure if it was because everyone else's fears of the wilderness were seeping into me, or if it was because my general anxiety about the world was increasing, or if it was just that I was venturing into wilder and more remote places and, honestly, that's scary.
When was the last time I'd backpacked alone? And I mean really and truly alone - no Ryder pup, not even other hikers nearby. I was out there in the wilderness and I felt completely alone. I was acutely aware of every noise in the forest around me and I realized I was never this worried before about venturing into the wilderness. I wasn't sure if it was because everyone else's fears of the wilderness was seeping into me, or if it was because my general anxiety about the world was increasing, or if it was just that I was venturing into wilder and more remote places and, honestly, that's scary. But I had to take this leap of faith. I had to prove to myself that I could be alone in the wilderness and that it would be alright.
Bald camping, meteors, a dog who decides to be a pest, and blueberries
Awkward and anticlimatic. That's pretty much how that weekend went. Work hard, go someplace new on your own, try not to freak out about the new place or people or being on your own, and still things just play out really awkwardly anyways. Sounds about right for me. And so I ran away to the mountains where Ryder was a jerk and the sky was cloudy and obscured the meteor shower and my tripod lost its handle and I totally missed Shining Rock.
Even in a remote wilderness, the solar eclipse draws a crowd
Some photography requires just the right setup, just the right lighting, just the right variables, just the right whatever, but that's not how I operate in the backcountry. I just want to watch, to identify some small moment and capture it forever.
Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds is hardly enough time for that.