Billed as one of the highlights of my trip, Asheville NC instead brought rain, searching, and upon finding what I was searching for, intense terror. It was just like that scene in Se7en where Brad Pitt is chasing Kevin Spacey through the rain only to finally catch him and get his ass kicked and nearly killed (spoiler!). In this story, I’m Brad Pitt (like I am in every James’ life to movie character analogy), the rain is the rain, what I’m looking for is sun/camping, and nearly getting killed… is kind of nearly getting killed. Let’s start from the beginning.
I arrive in Asheville only to be greeted by a bitch-slap from mother nature. The Cash sisters (actually people, not some weird nickname for my money) and I do what we can, but we quickly exhaust all of the tea shops and bowling alleys in town.
Side note: what bowling ally plays heavy metal and angsty alt-rock music videos during cosmic bowling? Hitting a strike right in the 1-3 pocket just isn’t the same to Puddle of Mud . Can a roller get some Shirelles or something? (to PoM’s credit, that guy looks like a good dad in the music video despite a short-hat-hair combination that would suggest he’s a better Madden 2K13 player. If you make it to the 1:57 mark in the second video Shirley, Doris, Micki, and Beverly really amp up the dance moves!)
Anyways…hanging out in Amanda Cash’s apartment is not a sustainable solution because it is disgusting. So Rachel and I are desperate to get outdoors, and are considering driving upwards of 6 hours away to find some sun. Until… Monday morning the clouds part unexpectedly and let a little hope fill our hearts.
We set out for the Graveyard Fields in the mountains of Asheville rejoicing in a rare moment of hydrologic fortune as we travel a remote and winding mountain road. We reach the top of the scenic pass which should join us to the main road cutting across the ridge of the mountain. Our joy immediately erodes as we are pimp-slapped by the man. Lord knows why, but there is a gate down blocking our entrance to the main road. We are literally 10 yards away from the road we need to get on. Much brow furrowing ensues, and we backtrack.
Blah, blah, blah we make it to Graveyard Fields, dominate the hike, scope some choice campsites, and decide to make a night of it since the weather continues to hold. We get our gear from the car, and set up about 1/2 mile away. The night gets cold and I fail to start a fire with the sopping wet wood #EagleScout. So we turn in early. Us in the tent, my pack right outside the tent 18 inches away from my head under the rainfly.
… I bolt awake at 1am to the sound of someone ripping my pack out from under the rainfly and running away. I shake Rachel awake and declare “you are not going to believe me, but somebody just stole my pack… stay here!” I grab my headlamp and knife, throw on my shoes, bolt out of the tent, and dash up the trail to catch the thief. I’m scrambling up the trail in the dead of night save the narrow beam from my headlamp. At this point I actually begin to think thoughts which include “what happens if I catch this guy”, “does he have a gun”, “what if there are multiple guys”, “did he even run this way”, “shit, I just left Rachel alone!”. Upon that last thought I run back to the tent.
There Rachel and I shiver together in the cold and terrifying night. Every twig snap or leaf rustle sounds like some Bojangly ass mother-f***er moving around outside. Who is out there? What are they capable of? I don’t want to get delivered. Did they break into my car? They stole my damn pack!
The mix of anger and fear are hard to describe. If you’ve ever had something stolen from you then the anger is easily understood (a catalytic mix of innate carelessness and living at 5th and P in DC has made me well practiced in this form of anger). The fear, however, was an uncommon one. We’ve all felt rushes of fear before, but this was a sustained fear. The kind that is only felt when you are totally alone and helpless in the wilderness. It is a vulnerable fear that sinks in deep.
Our tent became a cocoon of terror. The visual sensory deprivation heightening the fear registered by our ears. Eventually this was too much to bear for me, and I hated the thought of Rachel feeling similarly. So I got out of the tent to stand guard At least then I could see what was out there, and put myself between Rachel and whatever pack-thieving, bucktoothed, bojangly ass, coloring book reading, single digit tooth having, back water son of a bitch was out there. I grab a big stick and take up my post.
I was right outside our tent on the edge of the path with my head bolting left, then right, then left, then right. Up and down the trail. About 20 yards away up the trail to the left was a small bridge which was a little lighter then the surrounding wilderness. Every look left and my first thought was that it was a person. I became a metronome of fear. Look right, then look AHHHH, then right, then EEEEEE, then right, then WHAT, then right, then WHOLY SHIT… on and on and on. I remained there for about 30 minutes before returning to the tent very cold and at least confident enough that we were out of harms way that I could fall asleep. This was not very confident…I’m just a great sleeper. Like Brad Pitt in Sleepers (I have not actually seen it, but assume it heavily features napping).
Blah, blah, blah… In the morning I find my pack in the woods about 75 yards away from our tent. It had been shredded by a bear!
First of all, is it more or less scary that it was a bear? I don’t know. It is just different scary. I certainly feel more stupid because it was a bear. Second of all, I’m really glad I didn’t catch it when I ran out of the tent. That would have gotten awkward real fast. Third of all, this was clearly not his first pic-a-nic basket. To have known to snatch the strap of my pack from under the rainfly, run off, and slice through the pack like a surgeon (well… a bear surgeon. Reference the pictures) is pretty darn impressive. This was the Yogi Bear of Asheville. Definitely smarter than the average bear, and arguably smarter than the average James. The biggest loss besides the pack itself was a beautiful sandwich I’d held off eating the night before in anticipation of an awesome breakfast. My secret ingredient is baked sweet potato. Also my pride… that was lost too.
Day 4 of 120. We are off to a promising start.