Living just outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee has afforded me with several opportunities to explore the Southeast’s natural beauty. At the summer’s close, I began to compile a list of places in the South I wanted to visit before the year was up. Number one on my list was Max Patch mountain, a bald that lies on the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Friends of mine had been before, and through their stories and social media posts I began to fall more and more in love with this wonder and I knew I had to visit.
THE FIRST STEP
As much as I love solo travel, I also enjoy sharing adventure with friends and family. I decided to pitch the idea of the excursion to my roommate, Andy, and after sharing a few pictures and a speedy conversation he was as excited about the whole thing as I was. Wishing to keep it simple and easy we invited only one other person, our friend Emily who is also keen on spontaneous trips and natural beauty.
PIT STOPS AND CITY WANDERINGS
That same weekend we packed a few things into Andy’s Forester and took off to see what this mountain had to offer. The drive up was smooth, interrupted only by a stop in Knoxville for lunch. A few minutes of strolling around town brought us to KBrew, a small and simple coffee shop on North Broadway. The interior was standing room only, but had a laid back atmosphere that we all enjoyed. We stopped in for some drinks and made conversation with the young barista; soft-spoken and elegant, she was friendly enough to entertain us while we stood around drinking our brews. Being the only local that we knew, we asked her for some lunch recommendations. She suggested Yassin’s Falafel House, a local favorite, for lunch. Without question we set out to find the eatery. Friendly staff greeted us as we entered and gazed at the menu, drooling over all of the delicious options. After a few minutes, with full stomachs and happy hearts, we left Knoxville and set out toward the bald.
COTTON CANDY SKIES AND CONTEMPLATION
Leaving the main highway we turned on to a long, winding, dusty dirt road that led to Max Patch. The ride up seemed eternal. Switchback after switchback we anticipated arriving at the top; about half an hour into the drive on the country road our phones lost service meaning that we would have to rely on the power of road signs to reach the bald, a task daunting for any millennial accustomed to the luxuries of smartphones. Luckily, the roads were well marked so getting to the bald was a breeze. We arrived late in the afternoon, right as the sun was beginning to set; the sky was painted a pastel pink and blue, and hints of lilac accented the few clouds that still lingered above. Energized and excited we danced around and cheered in celebration of the beauty that lay ahead. We gathered our belongings and trekked up the narrow path that cut through the high grass and led to the top. Upon arrival, we saw groups of fellow explorers plopped down in several clumps across the bald. Tents were pitched and lawn chairs were ready to support the bums of tired travelers, providing relief for achy backs and sore feet. My friends and I decided to bypass a tent altogether. The forecast called for clear skies all weekend so we decided that sleeping under the starts would be best. As night fell, cool breezes swept past our faces as we enjoyed each other’s company and shared stories, thoughts, and preoccupations about life. Lying in our sleeping bags with nothing but skies overhead soothed our minds and brought us internal peace. I remember falling asleep before the other two, cozied up in my warm sack as soon as the temperatures began to drop. At some point in the night, Emily turned to me and shook me awake. What I saw right above made my heart skip a beat: a sky so massive, so vast that I could not comprehend its extent. Littered with stars, the sky that I feasted on that night was unlike any other night sky I had seen that year. Gleaming and bright, the moon and stars shed their light and provided the perfect backdrop as we chatted about life and our place on this planet. Slowly but surely we drifted off to sleep, lulled into a trance by the gentle winds that blew by.
COOL MORNINGS, SUN RAYS, AND DEPARTURES
In the morning the sun rose slowly, brightening the sky as moments passed. We perked up in our sleeping bags and peered into the dimly lit land around us; separated from school and work, this was the perfect place to come and recharge, and we all agreed. The stillness of the night continued in our spirits as we watched the sun come up and warm our faces. With observant eyes we studied the other campers on the bald, listening in to their conversations and starting our own. Before long, we could feel the sun’s energy beating
down on us, warming our blood and prepping us for the day. A few minutes of morning yoga started our bodies off on a good foot, and a hearty breakfast shortly followed. Oats with chia seeds, dried berries, hemp seeds, and bananas filled our cheeks as we listened to soft tunes from a portable speaker. Limber, energized, and revitalized we began to gather our belongings and head on to our next adventure. Our time at Max Patch gave us something we were longing for: a place to disengage from the every day and enlist in meaningful conversation with friends. Leaving the stresses of school behind, ignoring work for a while, and taking to the mountains to breathe fresh air is just what we needed, and it is a place that will live in my memory forever.