Hammock? Check. Food and water? Check. Filter, rope, shovel? Check. I plugged “Pisgah National Forest” into my phone and took for the road.
I had never camped alone before, but I had done plenty of research. A good friend of mine suggested that I hike the Appalachian Trail so that I could sleep in one of the shelters along the way. “You’ll probably end up hiking with other people,” he said. A little added security for my first trip. Couldn’t hurt.
After driving for about two and a half hours, Siri told me that I was getting closer to the destination. She took me off the highway and through a residential area peppered with defunct cars and rusty metal pipes. The road got smaller and more dysfunctional. Shouldn’t there be signs? I wondered. And then, Isn’t this how all slasher films begin?
I shrugged off the concern. Pisgah Forest covers an enormous 500,000 acres of land. Siri was just showing me one point of entry. There had to be hundreds. “Turn left onto Hoilmans Road.”
At first, Hoilmans Road showed signs of promise. A canopy of trees made the surface of the road a tunnel of uneven spotlights. This is it, I thought. This is where it begins. And then I turned the corner.
Broken down houses, sinister-looking people sitting on rocking chairs, chained-up dogs—the blood drained from my face. Be charming, just be charming. I waved. They grinned. I peed.
The vehicle struggled with the terrain. I climbed one more steep hill and then the road ended abruptly at a small trailer. A lady with bright red hair approached. “I’m looking for—” “Pisgah,” she cut in. “You ain’t the first.” She spit something out between her teeth. I smiled nervously. “You usin’ Siri?” she asked. I nodded. This time, she smiled. It was a condescending smile. “Do you know of any campsites around here?” She gave me directions to a nearby store where I could get information. I thanked her, drove again past the chained-up dogs and rocking chair people (who didn’t wave the second time either), and got back on the highway.
Just a week earlier, my mom was preparing for a trip to Venice, Louisiana. She pulled up maps.com and then mapquest to study, memorize, and write down directions to her destination. “Mom,” I said, “just use Siri. She’ll get you there. And even if you take a wrong turn, she’ll get you right back to where you need to be.” She glanced wearily up from her computer desk. “Are you sure?” “Positive.”
It took me twenty minutes to find the store. The interior was brown and dusty, full of maps, rugs, and ceramics. “Can I help you?” A thin lady with silver hair and an easy countenance stood behind the counter. “Yes, I’m looking for Pisgah.” She glanced at the phone in my right hand. “Did you use Siri?” I nodded sheepishly. She rolled her eyes and pulled out a map. “Here are the closest trails,” she said. I thanked her and began toward the door. “You should put away the phone,” she said. “You might be missing more than just the park.” I sent her a thank you in the shape of a nod and continued on my journey.
Photo: Pisgah National Park by Milton Bell
This is a two-part story. For the rest of the story, see Bear Season.