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The Value of Maps, or Leaving them Behind

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The forests of western North Carolina are laced with little-used back roads which, as I am learning, are neither well maintained or necessarily have to lead to anything. These remote routes are enticing to the adventurous; promising a challenge and a potential, obscure, and exhilarating ride to the next paved road.

I brought a list of roads to turn onto to get to Max Patch Mountain, deep within Pisgah National Forest. However I didn’t anticipate changing course once there and deciding to venture north, on a whim, for the return trip home. I asked a couple people at the parking lot if they knew of a route to Hot Springs, the next town to the north. While unsure they provided specific landmarks to watch for, and that I’d eventually see the highway to turn onto from the gravel lane.

This information proved to be erroneous. Before long I had descended 2000′ on gravel without seeing any of the landmarks I was told to watch for. I stopped at the first intersection I came to to drink some water and contemplate. It was then that a car pulled up. “Is this the way to Hot Springs?” asked the woman driving.

“I hope so,” I replied.

“Can I show you the map on my phone? This road just seems to go nowhere.” She got out of the car and we deliberated over the choice of tiny, unlabelled lines that meandered through a featureless gray void on the screen. The GPS showed our location at the intersection, but even that was cutting in and out, acting glitchy.

Finally the two of us and the other two occupants of the car decided to turn right, that this would be the road to take us to another road that would lead to Hot Springs.

They turned off and drove away, and I on my bike settled into another long climb. After a while the road began to descend again. Deep ruts cut into the road’s surface, keeping me on my brakes and I wondered how the three of them were fairing on this road in their little Scion. A few miles on I caught up to them. They had stopped again for another navigation attempt, each of them receiving little to conflicting information on their phones. Without a phone or map of my own, I was pretty much useless to myself or them. We were all acting on hunches.

They drove on, satisfied that it was the way to go. I followed, knowing that it was geographically at least the right direction. About a mile further down the road came to an abrupt end. The only decision now was to head back up the mountain, back the way we came. With the sun well on its way to setting and a severe climb ahead for me, the three of them insisted that I get in the car. I thought for a moment about leaving the bike there and coming back for it the next day. But after removing the wheels it turned out that we could all fit, providing that I sat in the way back, with my legs over the bike.

As the evening light set in, and with the concern of being lost now behind us, we could notice the forest in its early Spring awakening. The young leaves on the trees, the ephemeral trilliums that covered the ground, the low angle light glistening off the streams, and the moss-covered rocks. We waved at AT hikers as they set up camps for the night. It was all breathtaking– we would be okay.

Bad maps can get you stranded or worse. Looking at Google Earth today(I don’t have another map of the area yet), in retrospect, their map of that area is incomplete, inaccurate, and misleading. We could blame that for taking us out into the middle of nowhere, as much as we should blame ourselves. However, there’s no blame in folly– our desire for adventure is what ultimately brought us to the same dead end, miles from anywhere.

We all had plans for Hot Springs. I would grab a coffee and continue the twelve miles back to Marshall and home, completing a 70-mile loop (10,000′ of climbing!). They intended to visit the hot springs for a soak. My ride was over. Their plan for the soak was dashed. At the end of the road our evening abruptly changed course out of necessity, and it was up to us to ride it and enjoy it for what it was worth. Fortunately that was easy.

Posted February 2, 2015 | Comments Off | Posted In Muses, Out in the World