Monday, July 29, 2013

Primal Wilderness Rambling From Cumberland Trail

My father loves to explore. He works as an environmental consultant, bushwhacking through the woods in search of endangered plants. Plus, he doesn't stop after work hours. Even during our family’s beach vacations, he looks at coastal plain grasses with all the enthusiasm of a teenage boy peering at bikini babes.

I hiked with him last year on the existing segments of Tennessee’s still-unfinished Cumberland Trail. The CT runs North to South along Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. Don’t let the word “plateau” fool you into thinking it’s all flat. The trail climbs up mountains and drops down into gorges. We walked it through a combination of day hikes and backpacking trips, taking our time so that we could explore in detail. Dad often searched for plants, but sometimes turned his attention to other things.

At the time of our trek, the Cumberland Trail Conference map showed the location of a crashed airplane near a small rock arch on Brady Mountain. It wasn't on the trail but close to it. So, with the map’s help, we expected to have no trouble finding it.

We hiked to the top of the mountain, walking past red fire pinks and mountain laurel flowers. We stopped at a shallow pond where dragonflies were laying eggs. Dad waded through the pond’s mud, unafraid to get messy in his eager search for rare plants.

Then, we saw the arch. It was smaller than I had imagined, but that didn't matter. We had us an airplane to find. So we hiked down the steep slope below it through poison ivy, leaves, rocks, shrubs and some fallen branches. We held onto tangled vines to keep our balance.

There was no sign of twisted metal. In frustration, I scanned the hillside for a single charred stump. Dad kept striding ahead and trusting his eyes.

“What if there’s nothing?” I asked.

“We didn't come all the way here to see nothing. We have to spot something out of the ordinary I guess,” he said smiling.

“Why are you smiling?” I asked.

“I’m smiling about it being challenging,” he said.

Locating a plane was a treasure hunt much different from Dad's plant searches, but a serious treasure hunt nonetheless. Having a purpose makes hiking more exciting. Some people hunt for deer. Other people listen for bird calls. We hunted for an airplane.

“Are you seeing any sign of a plane down there?” I asked.

“No, just wildly strolling along,” he said.

We never found a single scrap of the plane. Later, a frequent hiker in the area would tell us that the plane had been salvaged for metal.

Still, I wouldn't say the hike was a failure. The view into Grassy Cove below Brady Mountain was well worth it. Definitely worth it.

My still photo just can't do justice to the view. It shows fields and far off mountains growing bluer and hazier into the distance, but it's only an image on a screen. When I looked out at the reality, tiny cattle grazed, a bird circled, and a single truck crawled down the isolated road. I could feel the air and know that if I stepped out too far, I would fall. A picture fails to capture all of that.

Reality’s full expanse can be breathtaking beyond what pictures can show. 

Stroll wildly.

Ben Pounds has been published in Abroad View magazine and the offbeat British literary journal Stanley the Whale. He is currently working on a book about his Cumberland Trail hiking called Ben and Larry in Cumberland.

1 comment:

  1. I've heard of the trail, but I haven't been in that part of America since childhood.

    Some of the views remind me of hiking the Niagara Escarpment.