The previous day hadn't been easy on anyone, Suzanne and Allison had driven for 6 hours up and back from Raleigh, while myself and Donal had competed in our own Olympic sprint event to reach the train from DC to Raleigh before strapping ourselves in for the 3 hour drive from Raleigh to Boone. Not to say that that drive was anything but fantastic, it was a little taste of the Great American Road Trip, in an American made car (though it was a Honda) with possibly the most hospitable American people ever to grace that nation. It has always been a dream of mine to see America through my own eyes - don't find that too confusing, I did see New York et al with my own eyes, I didn't borrow anyone else's, but I would like to some day go exactly where my eyes look, whenever I want to. That's a garbled explanation if I ever came across one but what I am trying to say is that, while the train down to Raleigh was very comfortable and public transport in the cities so far was more than adequate, there'd be nothing quite like seeing the next road sign and just following it. I'm on two wheels myself, a proud biker but even if it was done on four wheels it would be a dream. Even getting a little taste of that on the Interstate for a few hours was fantastic. In that sense then the drive to Boone was more than a drive, it was a preview of a dream, a dream that one day I hope to fulfill but really the stay in Boone was about more than this for staying with friends, mobile friends (meaning they had a car for they call mobiles "cell phones" in the US) , meant that I had more choice in what I wanted to see and where I wanted to go. This freedom, a freedom within the freedom of the great travel already undertaken, was supposed to still be years off, only within reach when I myself would be in control of the bike or the car. And that freedom involves getting out of bed at whatever time you want, in a room that, at least temporarily, you can call your own. Upon waking in Boone, this was just what I had.
I looked around the room, it wasn't huge by any means but a decent size nonetheless and reminded me of a bedroom in my Nan's house. I had the only bed in there and didn't have to worry about any other people waking up in a bed opposite mine with red eyes but the most upbeat morning mood ever. Nevin and mornings don't really go together, I can do mornings but generally I am a night owl and getting up in hostels, was, I found, a tiresome enough process for if others were in the room you had to keep quiet and if those people were awake then it was quite possible that they could see your liathroidí when you drop the towel to put on the shorts after your shower. You had to think and plan everything as if it was a military operation but here in Boone I could easily go around the room naked admiring my fine body in the mirror; I'm not sure which I am more unsure about, my "fine" body (ahem) or there being a mirror in the room! Well I can always say that I have been naked in North Carolina, which is nice.
It takes me a while to actually get out of bed after waking and when I eventually did put my feet on the ground I took my clothes and towel and went for a shower. Looking back on it now I'm surprised at how little time it took to do this for normally I have to talk myself into getting out of bed, I have to reason with myself. "Nevin, it's 9:30am, you set the alarm for 8am, isn't an hour and a half enough of a lie-in?"...."hmmm...but it's half nine now so what's another half hour, at least that would round it up and I'd be more prepared for actually getting up". Honestly this is a real example of the thoughts that go through my head on a typical morning. I'm surprised they can be so diplomatic actually because my general reaction to people in the morning is one of contempt or at best a sort of begrudging observation that they are alive.
"Good morning Nevin, how are you on this beautiful summers day?"
"Well I was much better, wrapped up in my bad mood, than before you decided to barge in with your morning sunshine and good mood, now why don't you go and have tea with a hippy?"
You can be sure that if you say good morning to me at too early a time, or in the wrong way, then this is the response that is going through my mind only waiting to come out from between my lips. I blame it on Mother Nature, it's too early in the morning for blame anyway, besides blaming people for being nice and happy, in which case the earlier the better. The rule does bend a little though for if the other person says "good morning" in a noticeably moody way (the deep voice and rubbing of the eyes normally gives it away I find, seeing as that is how I am) then I will generally acknowledge them nicely (though with a deep voice and rubbing of the eyes) and develop a "morning respect" for them for you know that they feel just like you do. Remember algebra rules? Two minuses make a plus.
When I entered the sitting area where Donal slept seeing as he had fallen in love with the sofa contraption in there I bid him a grudging good morning, received one back and when Suzanne and Allison came along, a similar repetore was followed. I could tell that they weren't going to be regaling to me, stories of them hopping out of bed at 5am in order to eat their cereal as the sun rose up and that wasn't it great to be alive. While it is harder to tell if a female should be offered morning respect, seeing as they don't really get the deep voice thing us male gets, they seemed slightly less chirpy than they had the night before and were still in sleeping attire. Thus morning respect was given and few enough words were exchanged as we ate cereal. Suzanne put coffee on and despite being less chirpy and slower to reply to things than she had been the night before, she made a considerable effort to make sure I had enough milk (and knowing where to get it) for the cereal and went to the trouble of putting coffee on, coffee with vanilla extract (natural and artificial flavours said the packet, always good to use a mixture of man and nature) no less. At this point I was wondering should I add some kindling to the fire and get the day going by cracking the morning silence, something my still cobwebbed brain was telling me not to do but if I was to do this I'd need a topic. The vanilla coffee, having never seen it back home, was one, so I latched on to that but quickly retreated after mentioning it realising that it would be better if I just drank the coffee appreciatively and having let the caffeine take effect, guage whether I, or anyone else, was ready to converse. It was as I drank the coffee, at the table near the door, that my mind thought back on my nights sleep. I had actually slept on the sofa and Donal on the more solid couch but having woken at the very early hours I removed myself to the bedroom I was given due to my side feeling a little sore. A supporting pole going across the centre of the sofa was stabbing into my hips, as I remembered, the coffee duly doing it's role, but I also remembered that before I moved, I had debated the merits of doing so in my mind. It's probable that I tried to either put a cushion underneath me or else take an angle grinder to the culprit of my discomfort...anything to avoid me having to get out from under the blanket. And to think I had ensured everyone in the house the night before that the mighty Nevin would not fall asleep on the sofa, this coffee was unearthing too much! But it did taste really good.
Today we'd be going on a trail, up the mountains, something I thought I'd only ever get to do if I came over with a license to drive or ride a bike but it's funny what life throws up at times. I donned my Cork City jersey, thinking it'd be a good idea to wear that in order for it to wick any sweat away from my skin (what with it being a football shirt and made to do that sort of thing) and was out the door and into the front seat of the Civic. I was feeling a little bit guilty about taking the front seat all of the time even at this early stage but seeing as we ended up going along some of the Blue Ridge Trailway, it was a joy and I imagined myself going through it on a bike, two wheels transverse beneath me, leaning the weight of man and machine into the sweeping bends and straightening it up to enjoy the magnificent views we were now looking out at. Land and more land, green with tall trees rising and falling until the eye could no longer see. The clouds tipped the top of the trees as it became a blur near the horizon, this was truly amazing. Obviously to be out and about in this, to be physically in touch with this awe-inspiring exhibit of nature was an experience to behold and stepping from the car we all, quite gingerly began our walk up through the Tanawha Trail.
I say gingerly at least for myself here. Suzanne had done this trail before as I am sure Allison and Jessica had also but I was determined to keep up with the pace despite not knowing what was ahead of me. Now it would have been foolish had I just jumped to the front and taken over the walk but the path had already accounted for such foolishness by being only wide enough for one person to go through at a time...so I suppose we were much like a human train and being stuck in the middle of this train I noticed that the girls were wearing sandals. This seemed a little strange because back in the apartment Donal and I had been told that we'd need to wear some sturdy footwear. When I hear "sturdy footwear" normally I think of those hiking boots that come into Lidl or Aldi every Springtime when the Aldi or Lidl bosses think we are all in the mood for climbing mountains with their brochures ordained with pictures of happy couples gazing admirably at Austrain or German hills (because they love hiking over there apparently). Unfortunately I hadn't packed, or come to think of it, every bought, this kind of footwear despite sometimes thinking that I might do. And so I went along the trail in my Adidas runners, the blue, white and red ones that had been admired a year earlier in no less a place than Times Square. By a young black man. No higher praise for stand-out runners really but they were never made for a path like this, dry mud, the odd wet section, slippy moss covered rocks and bushes on either side that you had to become intimately acquainted with whenever another group of people decided to walk in the opposite direction to us. I mean had they not thought of just waiting at the top until we could all go down in an orderly fashion or did they think the trail was another embodiment of the Interstate!
We didn't reach the top as such, which I will say now was a little disappointing, but that was through no one's fault but the weather's. Clouds were moving in, we could no longer actually see the top that I had so wanted to reach and some of the path was becoming a little slippy from the odd drops of rain that were falling. Still the view was amazing as we sat on a massive rock on a jagged rise. I looked out in front of me as I sat, legs folded, on this massive chunk of rock as Donal continued his impression of a Southern gay guy which was, at this stage, becoming annoying. They seemed like hills but size is perceptive and when everything around is huge then even the biggest of things doesn't manage to stand out and so these mountains were hills for hills never stand out for being hills alone. The lines graduating towards the horizon were shaped as hills, with their gentle curves but there was just so many of them and all covered with a deep, rich, green blanket of pine trees which actually allowed you to see just how massive these hills were, rolling through the land. Turning around showed me just how high up I was and just how deceptive these hills were when I looked over the edge and saw the top of trees way below me. Looking back at it now what a contrast this height was from the height experienced standing at the top of the Empire State Building in that massive metropolis known as New York City. I wasn't afriad of either one but the sense of awe was certainly different as in New York I gazed over miles and miles of bright lights and a city still alive deep in the night while here in the mountains of North Carolina I could see the Blue Ridge Parkway but no other sign of civilization, it certainly made you feel very very small and humble. Well it did for me anyway, I can't speak for Donal's southern gay persona!
Our next stop in the Honda Civic was at Mass General Store, a chain of Western style traditional shops which sell lots of sweets and jeans and cowboy hats. It was impressive it must be said. Going into the shop I was delighted that I didn't have any kids because if I did then this would have been the perfect place from which to ring the bank manager to allow him prior notice of the emptying of my account in return for tons of sweets. Admittedly I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself but I kept myself back from buying too much, limiting myself to some chocolate covered something-or-others. Chocolate bars just aren't the same in America, they're too oily rather than milky, but I was willing to give these treats a try and later on that night I was glad I did for sitting down to watch a movie they turned out to be fantastic!