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This must be the place

art theplaceI needed to make an escape.

Last Tuesday morning, my cell phone vibrated incessantly on the nightstand. It was 8 a.m., and the sender was my news editor. My eyes creaked open like a rusted cellar door. The message informed me that the government shutdown had taken effect. Thus, we needed to scrap our original cover story while going to press that day and do a whole new feature on the closures in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Oh, and did I mention all of this came during the height of the fall tourism season for the area? 

I was assigned to rush up to the national park and get first-hand accounts of the closure chaos and people being turned away. I got myself together, physically and mentally, and jumped into my (usually) reliable pickup truck. I put the key into the ignition and turned it. Nothing. A few failed tries later, I realized the starter was dead. Damn. After borrowing an extra vehicle from my news editor, I left my truck in the driveway and headed for the national park. It was a day of heartache and reflection cruising through the empty park, which normally is brimming with people eager to explore this natural wonderland in our own backyard.

After a whirlwind day, running around Western North Carolina, we finished the new cover story, proofed the paper and put it out in a somewhat suitable timeframe. I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was go back to my apartment and sink into the couch on my porch. As I pulled up to my building, one of the repairmen who was renovating the apartment above mine ran towards me.

“We need to get in your apartment right now,” he shouted. 

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“A water valve just exploded upstairs, and we don’t know how much damage it did to your apartment.”

I unlocked my front door, hoping for the best. Flipping on the light switch, the room was a disaster. Innumerable gallons of water leaked from the upstairs floor, causing my ceiling tiles to explode like water balloons. Luckily, me being a minimalist, I didn’t really own much to get destroyed by the onslaught of water — though I can’t list my personal laptop as a survivor. The carpet was soaked and started to smell like an old, wet dog. 

“Well, we’ll do the best we can to clean this up tonight and come back tomorrow to see what the next step is,” the repairman said with an uneasy chuckle.

“Yep,” I said dryly, staring at a large puddle that had consumed my bed.

I needed to make an escape.

When the going gets tough, some people either lash out or have a breakdown. For me, I head for the hills. There was enough daylight left at this juncture to find a trailhead and lose myself in the serenity of our natural surroundings.

Still unsure of how the shutdown would affect regional hiking, and if I would have to pursue guerilla tactics to enter the woods, I decided on the Art Loeb Trail. Winding down Route 276 from downtown Waynesville, I turned onto Route 215 at Jukebox Junction and headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway. Route 215 was a peaceful jaunt into the mountains, as, layer by layer, the matters of the day peeled away. 

In the parking lot at the end of Black Balsam Road (off the parkway), I laced up my running shoes and hit the trail. Coasting along the rocky terrain, I jogged by hikers, young and old, all immersed in the fall scenery. Eventually, it was just me, alone, amid a silence only found in nature. I wanted to find a bald mountaintop, so I jumped onto a side trail straight up a ridge. Reaching the top, I stood on a large rock and took a deep breath, exhaling into my 360-degree view of endless mountains. 

After a few moments, my body relaxed, every muscle unwinding, finding peace once again. I could hear the wind drift through the trees below. Gazing out into Southern Appalachia, I knew all was well in the world again. Soaked apartments and dead trucks are just things, while nature is everything. 

Editor’s Note: To get to the Art Loeb Trail from Waynesville, head down Route 276 towards Brevard. Turn right onto Route 215 (near Jukebox Junction) and follow the road until you reach the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left onto the parkway and go a few miles before you turn left onto Black Balsam Road. From there, you can park at any of the trailheads or parking lot at the end of the road.



Hot picks

1: The Alash ensemble will perform the ancient tradition of throat singing Oct. 16 at Western Carolina University.

2: Chris Blaylock plays Oct. 12 at the Water’n Hole Bar and Grill in Waynesville.

3: Catman2 will host “The Cat’s Meow Auction” Oct. 19 at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.

4: Storyteller Victoria Casey McDonald will discuss her new book Oct. 12 at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.

5: The comedy thriller “Murder Among Friends” will hit the stage on Oct. 17-20 and 24-27 at the Martin-Lipscomb Performing Arts Center in Highlands.

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