Now on to the more interesting part of my fall break.
Instead of heading down to the world's largest outdoor cockt - erm, sorry President Adams - Florida-Georgia Football Classic (I like the WLOCP title better), I headed up to the North Carolina mountains for some hiking and time alone with God while enjoying his handy work. So on Thursday, the first day of Fall Break, I did what any college student would do. That is to say, I woke up at six in the morning, hopped in the car with my dog, and drove four hours to spend the day without a computer, an MP3 player, or even a GPS. Just me, my dog, and the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway. I was originally aiming to hike along Mount Mitchell, but inclement weather changed that. So, still in the spirit of a college student, I pulled over at the first trail head I saw and hiked for two hours along a primitive trail (appropriately title the Big Butt Trail), with nothing more than a few red placards and fallen trees to guide me, without seeing or hearing another person until returning to my car. Of course the problem with trails like that is that animals tend not to stay away from the road less taken. On my way back to my car, about fifteen minutes out from the pull-off I had parked in, I came upon a small black bear. Luckily, it had heard me coming and wandered off just as I realized, "Hey, that's a bear. And it could kill me." I made it safely to my grandparents' house and then called everyone I could think of to say, "OMGZ!!! I SAW TEH BEAR!!!1!"
The next day brought a much-needed day off, including a tour of Lake Lure (think Dirty Dancing) and a very nice dinner at a local hotel. Saturday was more hiking at Chimney Rock. No where near as isolated as the trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway, nor as cheap, nor as bear-ish, the views were stunning. I spent the day hiking almost every trail the park had to offer and enjoying the view of some of the most interesting rock formations to be found in North Carolina. Chimney Rock is one of those rare geological anomalies that has been purchased and turned into a park, but somehow has avoided the cheese-level of places like Stone Mountain. And the North Carolina Park Service has just bought the sight, so its nice mix of popular tourist destination and serene, tranquil retreat is secure.
This was the first real vacation I've ever taken by myself. Sure, over the summer I drove up to Columbia, SC, for the Harry Potter book release and to see my sister, but that wasn't so much a vacation as a - something that's not a vacation. I don't like driving, and mountain roads have always freaked me out, as much as I love the mountains. Especially when driving through a cloud. But I managed the drive quite well and even enjoyed the time driving through the windy, narrow roads of the Blue Ridge area. As cliché as it sounds, the first road trip really is a coming-of-age event. It's something that you do with your family most of your life (hardly a summer went by where my parents didn't toss my sister and I into a car and drive around for at least three or four days). To be able to set off on your own with only a list of destinations to guide you is one of the most liberating experiences that one can imagine. And after spending my summer in classes, the freedom was well-received.
People have places where they feel closer to God than others. For some, it's during a mass. For others, it's a modern worship service. Most people feel God's presence on retreats. As for me, it's nature. As much as I enjoy Athens, the constant sound of cars, music, and college kids on cell phones, the lack of any real place to get away from the city (even the most secluded part of campus is right next to a highway), and the eerie red glow cast on the sky at night make me feel isolated. But the freedom and beauty of nature gives me a sense of God's power and creation. Nothing man can ever make will amount to the awesomeness of the Grand Canyon or the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains in the fall. And after three days of being in the mountains, it was amazing what had the ability to move me. Something as simple as the sunrise while driving home this morning left me praising God - with Santana and Rob Thomas in the background.