So to mark the fourth decade on my road of life, I went back to my foundation. When I was four years old, and even fourteen years old, my most joyous experiences were playing with my dog, wandering around in the woods, and writing stories. I haven’t really changed much. I just needed to pick which woods I wanted this weekend to take place in.
Although I love the dramatic oceanside cliffs of Oregon and the redwood forests of Northern California, I am a New England girl, born during its most magical time of year: Autumn. But I hadn’t seen the hills of red and gold and amber in almost twenty years. I knew I couldn’t make it all the way up the eastern seaboard and still be back to work Monday morning, so I did the next best thing: Tucker and I packed our bags and headed four hours north of Atlanta to our favorite eastern town: Asheville, North Carolina which echoed the other end of the Appalachian trail 2000 miles north in its fall colors.
Keeping with the New England at heart theme, I rented a place that was once a two room schoolhouse in the late 1800’s, had a second life as a tobacco warehouse, and then was left abandoned until a couple renovated it twenty year ago. It was a place of history and story and spirits.
Not only was it the perfect place for me, Tucker was treated as a guest equal in stature to me. He had his own set towels, blankets, and even treats.
Big Lost Cove Cliffs trailhead had parking for only four cars and was located a couple miles down an unpaved national forest road. I hoped this was enough of a deterrent to the other lead peepers. Hikers online recommended getting their early, so I figured by arriving around 11am, I would miss those people who took that advice and have the trails to myself.
The parking area was full, but luckily only six other cars lined the road near this obscure trailhead.
As I drove along the dirt road, I caught glimpses of bright red between the trees that lined the roadside. There was nowhere to pull over to let it all sink in, but I didn’t need it to. My eyes welled up with tears from the sheer beauty of the tiny glimpses I caught between the branches. I had found Fall. Real Fall. The one I hadn’t seen in almost half my lifetime—the one Tucker had never experienced at all.
Tucker seemed to understand what our quest was: to find Autumn. He sniffed the leaves that blanketed the trail and announced we were hot on Autumn’s trail.
Big Lost Cove Cliffs is hard to say and hard to find—which hopefully will keep it a secret. Driving by Linville Falls, a well-known spot for Leaf Peepers, we saw the cars stacked along the road over a mile and a half from the trailhead. The trail itself is only a mile round trip. I don’t consider nature to be an amusement park ride, so I refuse to stand in line for it. Big Lost Cove Cliffs should remain lost, and only show itself to those who truly appreciate it—not just the cliffs, but the six mile journey there and back with portraits and murals to experience along the way.
Tucker was as excited as I was to return to our favorite drinking spot: The Bywater, which we last experienced Fourth of July 2016. While the summer experience was one of river-rafters and tubers, this Autumn crowd played more to my personality. As dusk turned to night, one patron gathered wood and stoked up the firepit. One by one, we all gathered around it. One person played guitar softly as if only for himself, and the rest of us heard it as if in a dream half-remembered. People chatted amongst themselves, introduced themselves, and soon there was a crowd of us all talking together. Even Tucker found a friend in another pittie mix who had come with his person.
As midnight approached, I was invited back to a house gathering with the other twenty-somethings. I’m sure Tucker would have voted to go since it was his new buddy’s home. But I wanted to be up and hiking in the morning—the morning I turned 40. Being asked to go was gift enough. I had already informed the inviter that it was my birthday and he said he thought I was around 30. You’re only as young as you’re feel—or as young as a twenty-something thinks you are when he’s drunk and it’s dark.
I had an amazing day of farewell to my thirties. The next day would kick off another decade. But Tucker and I would continue as we had today: spending the day perusing Mother Nature’s art galleries during her finest exhibition of the year. Because age doesn’t matter. Being 30 or 40 or even 14 again, the place I most wanted to be was the same—with my dog, in the woods, listening to Nature’s stories, ready with pen in hand to retell them to the world.