“You can do this, Izzy, it’s only October,” I tried to convince myself as I braced for the angry, bitter, frigid wind outside in the parking lot. I was at the carpool rendezvous point at 8:30 am, 15 minutes before the group would arrive, and I needed to get breakfast. I opened the latch – come what may.
Steaming, painfully hot coffee in one hand, toasty vegan breakfast burrito in the other I was able to wait outside for the rest of my participants to arrive. I should have packed a thicker sweater. In total, eight of us met for the carpool – the rest would join us at the trailhead at Waterrock Knob.
I had the privilege of riding with my good friend Nico and two new friends Art and Wes. Adrienne Lenker’s new LP abysskiss played on my stereo as we ascended the Blue Ridge Parkway. Time slid effortlessly by as we discussed the finer points of stealth camping.
Upon arrival we found the rest of our group waiting at the Waterrock Knob Visitor Center. All in all we were a party of 16. I spoke briefly about SAHC’s role in conservation around the Balsams and on Thunderstruck Ridge before gifting each participant their promised Thunderstruck Coffee Porter to take away, courtesy of Highland Brewing Company. Our Thunderstruck Hike to Blackrock Mountain in the Plott Balsam Mountains is part of our “For Love of Beer & Mountains” Partnership. I asked my friend Logan, who had scouted the hike with me, if he would be “the sweep” [hiking at the tail end of the group], and he agreed.
Everyone handled the steep, technical terrain surprisingly well, with minimal complaints. It must have been the abundance of awe-inspiring panoramic mountain views that captured their minds. With views this incredible, it’s hard to think of anything else. When we got to the first clearing on the hike we were all together except for Logan. I asked everyone to remain still while I went back to find him. I discovered that the reason he was so late was because he was trying to sweep behind a couple that was not even in our group. I guess that’s the danger of a populous hike!
On the way to the summit I got to know a couple from South Carolina by way of Wisconsin who were visiting Asheville for the weekend. Out of all the activities they could have done on their vacation, I was honored that they chose my hike.
The wife was in medicine and the husband was in law. I asked him how he got interested in becoming a lawyer and he told me that, in 10th grade, he watched a TV show called Perry Mason. At that moment he knew he wanted to be a lawyer and he followed through on that 10th grade revelation. It’s funny – you never know when a seemingly simple act, like turning on the TV, can have such fundamental, life-changing consequences.
We got to the summit and enjoyed the panoramic fruits of labor. The hike back was a bit of a climb and many began to grow somewhat weary, but all were thankful to attend and I was thankful for the opportunity to lead. Here’s to many more!
— Hike leader Israel Golden, 2018-19 AmeriCorps Conservation Education & Volunteer Member
See more hike photos in our Flickr album: