Into the unknown.
That is where the heart of Man seeks to go most of all.
When I arrived at the trail head that Tuesday morning I could see that I wasn’t the only one with the mountain lying heavy on my heart.
Day hikers, families, elderly couples and church groups had all made their way to the Appalachia’s for a bit of adventure. They were likely headed to the falls before the storms being thrown from Hurricane Issaias made their trip all but impossible.
I grabbed my gear and made my way to the trail head where I filled out the registration card so that the rangers would know that I was out there should I succumb to some unforeseen fate.
I had no intention of staying on the trail despite the warnings suggesting otherwise.
I had come out here in search of something that I couldn’t describe and I knew that I wouldn’t find it among the other hikers.
No. I would have to go deeper; into the previously unexplored, miles away from the nearest living soul.
I had charted my path to follow the river 5 miles southward where satellite images had shown no man made paths or structures for miles in any direction. As I followed the trail through the Gorges state park alongside the Horsepasture River I searched for a safe place to cross.
Crossing to the western side of the river, I had left the marked trail and taken my first steps into the true wilderness.
I only had a few hours of direct sunlight left as the ridges on both side of the river blocked out the sun for most of the day. The deeper I went into the forest the darker it would become as time passed by so I had to make the next five miles rather quickly.
After a few miles I came to a bend in the river where the waters slowed and pooled so I took off my pack and went down by the water for a swim.
There’s something about being alone in nature free from the distractions of the modern world. In the back of your head is the knowledge that should something happen to you it would like be your last breath on this earth with any prospect of help being so far away.
You feel the tightness in your shoulders ease as you come to terms with your own mortality in those moments.
You begin to ask yourself if you had left anything unsaid to those that mean the most to you. Would their final memories of you be fond? And what about you? Were you even worth remembering? What did you build that would still be standing after you were gone?
With the sun now settled behind the western ridge the dying light became ever more a threat to my progress as I made my final 3 mile trek to my destination.
The river was now quickly turning to rapids as the white froth spun and swirled past the boulders that has fallen centuries ago and made their home in the river bed.
I began to hear the roar of the falls somewhere ahead as the straps on my pack bit into my shoulders. I had left off my shirt after leaving the swimming hole in an effort to stay cool.
The mountain air seemed to be hovering somewhere in the mid 60’s but the uneven and slick terrain was proving to be a challenge as rivulets of sweat streamed down my face settling in the ridges of my beard.
The path to the bottom of the falls didn’t look promising in the least. The force of the water expelled a constant gust of wind that pushed the misty water up the slope and onto the jagged rocks that were little more than hopeful as far as foot and hand holds were concerned.
I dropped my pack and tried to find the safest route to the bottom of the 100 foot drop that would without question end my life almost instantly.
To Be Continued….