The drop was at least a hundred feet with few twiggy trees to block our potential fall, and the damp leaves and pea gravel were shifting under my tires. With my navy-blue Converse, I firmly pressed down both the clutch and brake and held them there until my wits allowed me to slowly let the clutch go. Wedged in a small area in a stranger’s yard, I had to attempt, well accomplish, a three-point turn or risk sliding down the hill into the no-cell-phone-zone of beautiful nothingness. We’d gone too far.
Max and I looked at each other. Nobody laughed or took photos of the changing foliage or Carolina blue sky that peaked nosily through the trees, and our bodies were still.
I had to dance between the clutch and gas in such a way that I wouldn’t creep even an inch. We were on a hill, and I couldn’t allow the shortest distance to roll. I reversed into the side of the mountain gently tapping the rock wall, jerked to a stop, then put it into first, aiming straight for the drop, wheel turned as right as it could go.
“Oh my gosh we made it,” I said.
“That was not fun,” Max said.
Max and I arrived in Asheville the night before for a small adventure. I’ve never been and always wanted to and have been crazily craving the mountains lately. After about five hours on the road, we saw her sitting high and straight above Earth on her cloudy throne. It was like Marvel’s Asgard with straight-down drops and heavenly puffs of white surrounding the top of our climbing drive. We just kept driving up and up until Max told me what our elevation was.
“We’re at 2,287 feet,” he said excitedly. He loves heights.
“OK please don’t tell me that anymore.” I don’t.
The landscape beyond Asheville is vaster than any I’ve seen before. The fresh mountain air is just like I had in Massachusetts, so crisp and cool and it feels clean, making you want to inhale so deeply and hold it in your lungs a bit longer than normal. These weren’t the same type of mountains I grew up looking at in Western Massachusetts, but massive lands that grew up through the clouds, taller than the sky.
We were exploring and ended up on US 19 with an open view of mountains and trees, and long drops making them seem even higher. The highway was divided by menacing concrete barriers and thankfully, on the right side, the same concrete hindered any potential car dives into the abyss.
My knuckles were white and tight, and my palms were sweaty as I death-gripped the steering wheel. I have never been in an area so open and intimidating in my life. Half of me was terrified, but the other half never felt so alive. Because of this, I missed my exit. No biggie, I thought. In all actuality, it was a 30-minute biggie.
We got off at our new exit and Max read the GPS on my phone. “Welcome to Tennessee?”
“What?” I asked.
So we accidentally went to Tennessee and continued trusting the GPS. Next time I’ll remember my roots and bring an old school yet newly published Rand McNally atlas.
We drove along windy back roads in Tennessee passing sunny farms, geometric barn quilts set straight near the peak of their roofs showing pride in their brand. Dogs roamed freely watching closely as you pass, and goats, cows, and chickens who outnumber the humans look at you out of the corner of their eyes like they are aware of that fact. The sun was high and bright to complement the 60-degree temperature and fog creatures tip-toed in the corners of the morning’s great room.
Asheville and its surrounding areas exist in grandeur like no other. Both extremes, busy city and exceptionally remote, are offered within a short drive of each other. I’m learning to explore more, to leave the security blanket that is my safe home, and to completely appreciate its sweetness when I come back. To live. I feel different after seeing such grand mountains like I’m smaller in body and mind, and now I crave more sites of different lands, conversations with friendly strangers, and adventure, a little at a time. Next stop, Boone.