Black Balsam Knob

A few years ago, I was having a particularly hard time of things. I was coming up on a year of living in Georgia, and even though I was happy that I had made the leap to move to a completely new state with lots of opportunity, everything seemed to be falling down around me.

The past month had thrown me for a loop, and while I pride myself as being pretty “with-it” all the time, I realized that I was heading to crazytown and needed some quiet time. Brokenhearted, broke, and alone for the weekend, I made the decision to go on a solo camping trip in North Carolina to do some introspective thinking / writing, and generally get myself back together.

I took a half-day at the office on Friday, picked up a few essentials like snacks and a water bottle at the store, and drove to Asheville. Spotty storms rolled through the mountains as I drove through the windy roads to Black Balsam Knob, and when I got to the parking area, I found that I was truly completely alone.

Dusk was setting in, and a heavy fog was rolling over the mountaintops. Despite the fact that it was late May, it was only about fifty-five degrees and I changed into a sweatshirt and loaded up my gear. I’ve since been back to Black Balsam and as I write about my trek, I’m amazed that I managed to pick the most badass spot even with such low visibility. I headed straight down from the parking area to Laurel Creek and set up my campsite a few feet away from a relaxing bend in the water, right near a little bridge with a good view of Sam Knob. I pulled out a notepad to do some writing, and realized that I had completely forgotten to bring my flashlight with me. I put my sneakers on, and rushed as quickly as I could up the steep hillside back to the trail through the meadow and back up to the parking area. By the time I got back to my car to get the flashlight, it had become pretty dark, and the rolling fog was completely creepy. I made my way back through the muddy trail in the meadow and down the steep decline to the creek.

In my haste, I slipped on a slick rock or a slimy piece of wood – still not sure – and ended up flat on my back, my jeans completely soaked in rainwater and mud. I was literally twenty yards from my tent at this point and I cursed myself for how careless I had been in planning this whole endeavor. As I looked through my backpack, I realized that I had neglected to bring an extra pair of pants. The temperature kept dropping, and I decided that hanging my jeans on a tree branch to dry was probably the best course of action. I settled into my sleeping bag which was NOT lined with fleece as I had originally thought, so my exposed legs were freezing all night against the polyester lining. I actually used the arms of my lightweight sweatshirt as “pants” and as the night went on, I kept thinking about how I probably should have just taken a spa day instead.

Around two in the morning, I woke up (how I even managed to get to sleep, I don’t know) to the sound of something scratching against my tent. I thought I was going to have a heart attack, I was freaking out so much. While I realize now that it was probably just a raccoon, the sound of far-off animals in the woods in addition to the realization that the sound of the creek would mask any incoming footsteps pumped up my paranoia and I clutched the small hatchet I had brought for firewood in fear. I realized that I hadn’t let anybody know where I was going, that there was only one person – ME – in the entire area, that I was pantsless with only a small, dull hatchet and a switchblade for protection. Not the best situation.

Several sleepless hours went by as I shivered in my tent. I looked at the weather when I got back to the internet and it turns out that it was 38 degrees that night in the mountains. When dawn broke, I felt a sense of overwhelming relief, and I put on my half-dry pants, packed all of my shit up, and rushed back to my car. I was about to give up and head home, but I ended up going to the closet Wal-Mart right outside of the entrance to Pisgah National Forest, bought a decent sleeping bag, quick-dry pants, and a headlamp. I texted a friend to let her know where I was, came back to the campsite, and spent another full day and a half relaxing and writing.

These images were taken with my crappy camera at the time, and really don’t capture how beautiful the area is. I really recommend checking it out. Chad and I went back a few years ago and checked out the summit of Black Balsam which looks even more amazing. I also recommend bringing an extra pair of pants. Haha.

Long story short, as horrible as the experience was when I was going through it, it turned out to be exactly what I needed that weekend. It gave me some perspective, allowed me to laugh at myself, provided some essential quiet time and allowed me to feel like (even though I messed up on a lot of things) that I could do something reckless and independent in a positive light. It’s also a great story to tell when people think that I’m so adept at being “outdoorsy” and I tell them that no…not really, I’ve just learned from a lot of mistakes.

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