Roughing It

I’ve always wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. The actual hiking part doesn’t really appeal to me but the amazing views would be wonderful and I’d love to encounter a bear. Mostly I’d just like to be able to say I did it. What an accomplishment it would be. Since it’s not an option for me for reasons too numerous to list, I decided one weekend afternoon I’d take a drive through the wilderness. I was going to go alone but Jamie wouldn’t let me so he came along for the ride. I know he regretted it. He regretted it before he even got in the car. He hates it when I say I’m going on an adventure, usually because it involves something outside and he feels he has to go with me. I don’t know why because I’m perfectly capable of doing it by myself. One of my “adventures” included a beautiful hike down a three mile hill to a mediocre view of Crab Tree Falls in North Carolina. The problem was the three mile hike back up the hill. We both seriously considered calling in helicopters to rescue us before we died. I didn’t go on another adventure for a long time after that.

A few weekends ago I had gotten off work about the same time as Jamie and I had been contemplating driving to a place called Jumping Off Rock. It was a beautiful afternoon and there were many hours before dark to go exploring. I had already looked up the directions and made screen shots on my phone of all ten (yes, I said ten) pages of directions from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website. Jumping off Rock is near Lake Jocassee. It’s a man made lake in the northern most mountains of South Carolina. It holds the cleanest and coldest water of all the lakes. I don’t know why they call it Jumping Off Rock because if you jump off, you will fall to your death, after hitting about 300 trees on your way down. The drive to it takes one deep through the Jocassee Gorge, a place of thick trees, snakes, bears, wild flowers, poison ivy, and waterfalls along the side of the road. When a bear gets too close to town the DNR will capture it and take it to the gorge for release.

Off we headed. Jamie drove. The last part of the trip involves turning off the paved road onto a gravel road. The directions read something like this, however remember, it was ten screen shots so I will give you the condensed version. ” At the third fork in the road, take the right fork. At .24 miles you will see a green gate. Go through that gate and you will see a sign for blah blah blah. Go another 1.6 miles and you will pass a red gate. There will be another fork in the road. Stay right. After 7 more green gates go through the next red gate. There will be a sign that says blah blah blah. The big rock on the right, next to a trash can will mark the half way point. Continue along the gravel road etc. etc etc.” You get the point. First of all, I’d hardly call it a road but okay, we’ll go with that. The potholes would hold a VW bug. Along the sharp twists and turns, there were many such potholes to dodge and downed trees to drive over or around.

 

The drive was beautiful and for the most part seemed untouched by humans. After quite a while of driving we were sure we had missed a turn somewhere so we went back and started over.  Actually we spent the better part of three hours going back and starting over three different times. I know Jamie wanted to kill me but I wasn’t giving up. I wanted to reach Jumping Off Rock. However, all this driving had quickly set my jaw in pain and I was quite frustrated that I hadn’t seen a bear yet. I thought it might help if I walked some, so the bear could smell me better. I got out of the car, much to Jamie’s dismay and walked along side the car. It was much smoother on my jaw. Here’s a picture of Jamie fed up and attempting to leave me.

leaving me

But that’s okay. I started walking faster. Besides, a bear is more likely to smell me if I’m sweating and walking was much more gentle for my jaw. At one point I passed him. He had the passenger side window down to yell at me to get back in the car but I held my head high, swung my elbows back and forth like I meant business and marched right on past him. Without a look in his direction, as I proudly pounded the gravel, I announced, “Your tail light is out” and kept right on trucking. Here we were in the Jocassee Gorge, me braving the wilderness looking for bears and Jamie yelling at me to get in the car. Just in case you think I’m the kind of person who will forgive Jamie for attempting to leave me and yelling at me, you have underestimated me. Here’s a picture of him just getting done peeing behind that tree. If my trigger finger had just been a few seconds faster….

Jamie peeing

So where were we….oh yes, looking for Jumping off Rock. As the sun starting to lower in the sky, which was difficult to see in the thick umbrella of foliage, along came a car. The gravel “road” was only wide enough for one car so one of us had to pull to the side to let the other pass. As we did, we asked if they knew where Jumping Off Rock was. They did. They in fact informed us the direction we had taken three times already and given up on was indeed the right way to go, we just needed to go farther. Again, we turned around and headed back into the heart of the gorge.

At long last, we came to the end of the road. The road was blocked and we could go no further. There was a small parking area to the left. We had seen no signs anywhere and didn’t know what else to do. There was a hill on the other side of the “road” so we walked up the hill and this is what we saw.

This is Jumping Off Rock. A beautiful view of Lake Jocassee, South Carolina. The pictures don’t do it justice. They don’t capture the deep blue of the water or the emerald green of the woods. They don’t begin to show off the reflection of the waning sun on the water. And they certainly don’t capture the sound of silence we experienced. It was well worth the drive (and walk).

A friend of ours went to the same place the next day and saw a huge rattle snake up close and personal and came upon campers who had a 400 lbs bear break the window out of their car the night before. I’m never lucky like that. Just as a side note, I always look for sharks at the beach and go out as deep in the ocean as I can but have never come across one. My friend went to the same beach I go to last weekend and had to get out of the water because there was a shark in waist deep water. Sigh.

In closing this story, I’d like to mention to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resource folks that I have rewritten your directions. I have consolidated all ten pages of directions into something I think might be a little easier to follow. It goes like this, “From Highway 178 turn left on Horsepasture Road. Anywhere you come to a fork, go right. Go to the end. You are there.” I think you have an overpaid employee with too much time on his hands. If you are interested in making me an offer feel free to contact me.

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