Time to tell you all about my excursion to Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area (it’s a mouthful, I know). This is an area in Tennessee near the Kentucky border, about halfway between Nashville and Knoxville. I’ve got a nifty little map below so you can see the Big South Fork and Nashville at the same time. You’re welcome.
So Saturday, the 30th of April, I got up early and packed everything for my overnight backpacking trip. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty stressed out with last-minute details. But I survived and at about nine o’clock in the morning I met the rest of my backpacking group to coordinate carpooling. Because I’m a rather new driver and also because Casper (my car) isn’t particularly suited to backcountry driving, I left my him overnight and hitched a ride to the park.
Two and a half hours of driving, folks. That’s what it takes to get to this park. Not that we were really on a tight schedule, of course. We leisurely swung by Subway for lunch and afterwards arrived at the trailhead of Rock Creek Loop where everyone hung out for a while, getting our packs all put together. At roughly one o’clock we finally hit the trail and not twenty feet along we ran into a snake. Like a big one. This one:
We weren’t super happy that he was there. But to be fair, he wasn’t all that happy with us either. We made noise until he slithered off the trail to find another spot to sunbathe.
After that the hiking was mostly uneventful, but lovely. At times it felt almost like we were in a rain forest what with waterfalls and magnolia trees, high rocks and caves, and a pervasive, cooling mist.
It was three miles to camp and we covered those quickly, so after we set up our tents we had the entire afternoon and evening to chill and get to know one another. There was a creek, and I played in that because I love playing in creeks, and we told stories by the campfire after dark, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I touched on this last week but truly, the people were amazing to be around. The ten of us made a great group. But none of that is really related to hiking so I’ll fast-forward to the next morning.
After a good night of sleep I woke up and helped everyone break camp. I’d say we left about nine o’clock Sunday morning. We had about three and a half miles to go that day and the first two were smooth sailing. I was starting to think the entire hike was going to be akin to a leisurely walk in a park. Then we came face to face with this:
The bridge above had formerly spanned a trench of sorts, but at some point two trees fell on it and the entire thing collapsed. We all sort of stared at it for a few minutes, not sure how to go on. One in our company decided to cross the tree trunks, as you can see in the picture. But he almost lost his balance and I knew that if I tried it I would too. The fall would have been about ten feet into bracken and tree branches and we were in the middle of nowhere, hours away from medical help. After a few more minutes of staring at the wreckage the rest of us decided to find a long way around.
After everyone was safe on the other side things went smoothly again for a little while. Then the rumors of uphill climbs came true: it felt like all the gentle downhill hiking we had done yesterday was coming back to haunt us in one very steep and relentless climb. It was pretty challenging. I always dismissed it when people say that the approach trail to the start of the Appalachian Trail destroys them, but I believe it now. Still, I’m glad to have an idea of what climbing mountains is like, so I can be prepared on future hikes. It was an exhausting but ultimately good experience.
That was about it. We reached the top, hiked maybe a half mile further, and found our cars. Then we turned towards home.
All in all, a lovely time. I especially enjoyed the creek, the waterfalls, the campfire, and the tranquility of the forest at nighttime.
As far as learning experiences, I realized my organization system is inefficient, saw water filters in action, and discovered that even in the wee hours of the night you can see just a little without anything but moonlight, even inside your tent.
I’ll get more into the organization system next week, and I’ll introduce you to my new water filter and rain poncho.