It’s late on a Tuesday night and I have one ear bud snaked up from under the covers and stuck in my left ear. That way I can listen to music but still hear Buck in case he murmurs to me from sleep. I’m listening to Carole King and James Taylor from their “Live at the Troubadour”album. They are singing “Carolina In My Mind.”
I’ve been going back to Carolina in my mind, too, and in early June, the fantasy will be realized yet again. Buck and I have rented the same good-feeling cottage in Maggie Valley that we rented last August. It has one of the world’s great, welcoming front porches overlooking the little valley, and from sunrise until the lights come up in the iconic mountain town, it’s a place for breathing deep, sharing, and reflection.
This trip will mark a return to serious hiking. I lost my nerve for it when I took a bad fall in the Shining Rock wilderness near Cold Mountain in the Smokies on July 4, 2001. In fact, until a couple of weeks ago, I had barely put on my well-worn Timberland boots. They were heavy, but the steel shank protected my ankles many times, the deep lug soles broke a lot of slides and falls, and the Gore Tex kept my feet warm and dry.
So, when Buck and I both bought new hikers and put down a deposit on the Maggie Valley rental, we knew the time had come to return to the ridgetops. We’ve been breaking them in around here: his are very flash Nike trail runners with electric blue laces; mine are Soloman light-weight ankle boots, Gore Tex but amazingly light — best of all, on sale. We’ve developed a pretty good routine: 40 minutes at 10 elevation on our old side-by-side treadmills, then an hour or so cross-country in the woods.
I look forward to retracing our steps up from Alum Cave to the stunning peak of Mt. LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountain Park. I will dance there and run, singing, all the way back down the mountain. The evening after that hike will be sweet. We will sit in rocking chairs on the porch, toast our day, eat take-out lasagna from Frankie’s, watching a long sunset and all the twinkly lights illuminating the valley.