The journey began in front of Gary Clark Jr. Halloween night in Boston. A mixed crowd at the House of Blues, I stood next to a drunk bunny. Taylor and I went as “normal city people”; considering we spent the last five months in dirty Carhartts and a hard hat, it certainly felt like a costume. I wore my leather jacket, remembering that the last time I wore it was in college in Pittsburgh and the last time I saw Gary Clark was in a tank top in Montreal.
The next day we drove to Washington D.C. When we arrived, the air was warm and sticky, or maybe that was just me. Right as we parked near the national monuments, I was struck with the overwhelming need to urinate. I told Taylor there was no time, I must go in a plastic bag in his car. He said No, let’s find a bathroom, which turned into an Amazing Race as he pulled my hand though a sea of grass and people playing kickball and riding bikes and posing with selfie sticks until we found a port-a-pottie.
We soaked in the history of the Monument Walk until, paused in front of Abraham Lincoln, Taylor said, “Now what.”
The city was fun, and there’s nothing like people watching over a cup of coffee on a busy Monday morning, but as we drove away, I was happy to leave the greyness. The square hunks of concrete with ambiguous governmental purposes.
We drove for hours, away from the city and highway interstates. The roads grew smaller and windier as we climbed into the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Cell phones lost service. Cows and Baptist churches passed. And one Amish fruits and jams store.
We pulled into Sunshine Hill Farms, a hilly plot of land owned by an elderly couple who practices yoga meditation and
Jewish Buddhism. For the next ten days, Taylor and I worked on the farm in exchange for food and a place to sleep in a yurt.
Everything at Sunshine Hill Farm is from the land. They have an orchard, a vegetable and fruit garden, a medicinal plant garden, and a hoop house for growing greens. Their energy is solar and their water is a combination of well and filtered rain.
One of our projects was to build a staircase from the driveway to the yoga studio. The consistency of the earth was ideal: red clay-like soil easy to mold that held the steps in place like cement. The earth was nearly free of rocks and roots, easy for digging. For extra support on the downhill side of the staircase, we stacked and set three larger rocks. As a finishing touch, we transplanted chunks of straw grass, leaves, and wood chips, to re-vegetate the area so it looked more natural.
On our days off, Taylor and I visited Asheville where we drank good beer and listened to a one man band. Taylor tipped him and requested a Grateful Dead song. He’s done that before. Then, around the corner, an Indian Street Food restaurant, Chai Pani, that had just opened a half hour before was already packed. It was the best Indian in town according to Trip Advisor. The food we ate was delicious and yet unidentifiable which for Taylor, makes the ideal eating out experience.
On Sunday, we hiked the tallest mountain East of the Mississippi called Mount Mitchell. The hike was 11 miles round trip and easier than the high peaks in the Adirondacks, despite higher elevation. The trail wasn’t too rocky, but a gradual climb on a mountain covered in rhododendron plants. I couldn’t believe how many there were. Since there was only one trail to the top, we figured the mountain wasn’t very popular. It seemed to need little maintenance, and we wondered why, for being the highest peak in the east, it didn’t attract a big hiking crowd.
The top was both a surprise and an explanation. It was one of the most touristy, developed mountain summits I’d ever
seen. There’s actually a road that people can drive to get to the top of Mount Mitchell, which explains why few bother hiking. A concrete ramp led to a circular mountain overlook where groups of drivers, not hikers, chatted and took pictures. There were children running around playing hide-and-go-seek and parents yelling at them to slow down. I told Taylor that if they wanted their kids to be less energetic they should have made them hike up the mountain. We sat on a concrete bench, ate food as our sweat chilled, and watched drivers with perfectly brushed hair wearing camouflage outfits and proud smiles have pictures taken of them standing next to the big sign marking the highest point in the East.