Escaping, but reachable

Here’s a great way to take care of yourself — physically and emotionally — during times of underemployment: go backpacking. Which is what I did for the past three days, in a rugged area at the base of the Blue Ridge escarpment known as Wilson Creek.

Fellow members of the between-employment ranks may be thinking, “Are you nuts? Isolate yourself from a potential employment contact by sequestering yourself in the woods?” That probably would be nuts, but that’s not what I did. I’m in conversation with three separate parties about various opportunities (my vagueness has a certain underworld undercurrent, I know; in fact, I’m being vague because I don’t want to jinx myself). Before leaving town, I let all three know that I would be gone three or four days and likely out of touch. I would check in upon my return (which I did).

Nor was I completely out of touch, even in a rugged place such as Wilson Creek. Wilson Creek is a 13,000-acre portion of the Pisgah National Forest that was once, somehow, timbered. “Somehow” because the steep canyon walls densely carpeted with ferns, rhododendron, mountain laurel, tulip poplars, hemlocks and just about everything else that can grow in the Southern Appalachians would seem to make the region impenetrable; the area ranges from 5,920-foot Calloway Peak atop Grandfather Mountain to 1,020 feet where Wilson Creek and Johns River converge. The Ritter Lumber Co. somehow found a way and the area was actively logged into the 20th century. Today, many of the old road and rail beds used by loggers have been given over to hiking trail. Deep in these snarled canyons you are indeed isolated, a satellite telephone, maybe, but forget any providers boast of coverage anywhere. Climb the likes of Timber Ridge, however, and from such high points as Bee Mountain, reception is little problem. You can return calls as easily as you could from your living room. (Though good luck explaining the birdsong in the background.)

Physically, the trip was essential because it tamed my urge to explore — at least for a week. After hiking 35 miles in three days, some of it with a 37.4-pound pack, most of it in rain, I’m content to put up with the demands of figuring out how to make money. Again, for at least a week. Emotionally, it was a chance to drain whatever lingering issues I may have had from the layoff. It’s easy and understandable to replay the past, to wonder if things might have played out differently had you been more ... acquiescing to management. Tuesday, hiking up the north slope of Timber Ridge through a fern glade peppered with tulip poplar and hemlock, I realized I was thought free. No regrets, no worries. That wouldn’t have happened had I been sitting by the phone, waiting for it to ring.

Now, blissfully, on to the business of figuring out how to make some money.

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