1. Directions: I am from flat-country (or at least flatter than this). Before now, the steepest hill I have had to drive up on a semi-regular basis was Kalamazoo College’s campus. Needless to say, mountain driving is taking a bit of adjusting to not just because of the constant turns and whatnot, but also because directions and travel time in general are different. For example, on St. Simons Island, if someone were to ask me how to get to I-95 I would point them towards the major roads leading away from the area and would say that it was about fifteen to twenty miles away and therefore about fifteen to twenty minutes away depending on traffic. I would also say that if they got lost to just keep heading west and they’d hit I-95 sooner or later. In the mountains, however, fifteen to twenty miles takes about fifty minutes. You have to basically double the miles and add a bit more (and god forbid you get stuck behind a motorcade because then you might as well triple the mileage!). Also (and I realize this may seem obvious, but just go with me), just because a road is pointed in one direction does not mean it will stay in that direction. A road starting out going west may just end going east! Not terribly helpful when you don't know the area nor are you able to pull out a map.
This issue of "directions" came up this past Tuesday/Wednesday (my gov't "weekend") when my friend Jenny came up to visit. When she first arrived we went to West Jefferson and once we had walked up and down the main/downtown/only street we decided to go to Sparta and do the same thing. To get from West Jefferson to Sparta, you need to go northeast. I went on a road that looked exactly like the one we had come in on and was also pointed in the same direction. After a while I realized it was not the same road, but wasn't worried and figured we’d at least end up in the same area and probably just a little bit above Sparta. In a way, I was right. We did end up above Sparta. Unfortunately it was two and a half hours above and in Virginia. After an hour of driving we realized something was horribly wrong and we turned on my GPS so that we could see a map, but instead the GPS just kept wanting us to turn on roads that either didn't exist or sketchy, steep dirt roads. Luckily, our directional mistake was not without some highlights: when we got to the Virginia boarder we met some very enthusiastic cows who became so enthralled with us that they followed us along their fence back to the car, we almost hit a snake, and found a stripped car. Welcome to Virginia, folks!
2. Weather: You know how there are times when one part of a town can get rain, while the other part stays completely dry? That’s how it is in the mountains, but to a higher degree. One side of the mountain can be having a monsoon while the other side is warm and sunny on the bottom, but cold and foggy in the middle. And the fog! Oh my god. You have never seen such dense fog in your life! When driving, you literally cannot see more than three – four feet in front of your car. And it’s like the clouds have a mind of their own because you can actually watch them climbing over and through the peaks of mountains.
Also, they have tornadoes here. I never would have guessed it, but on the day that Jenny and I finally found Sparta we went to the Backwoods Bean Coffee Shop (literally the most happening place in town there since it has free wireless and a public computer) we learned that a tornado had touched down about eight miles away. Outside was bright and sunny, but a look down the road showed the dark clouds that were swiftly coming our way. Jenny and I hopped in my car and attempted to outrun the storm, which, again, on these mountain roads was a bit dicey because one minute we were heading away from, then right into in, then right beside it, etc etc.
3. Music: I got to go to a Bluegrass Music Competition last night, which was very interesting. First, I learned that there are two main types of Bluegrass: Old Time and Modern. The Old Time is what you hear George Clooney and them sing in ‘O’ Brother, Where Art Thou?’ I believe, but I could be wrong. They tried to explain it to me, but it apparently takes a trained ear. Secondly, I have decided that this whole experience is really like a second study abroad. The culture is very foreign to me, I need a translator at times, and I really stick out as an outsider. The moment I open my mouth people cock their heads and go, “Ya ain’t from around here, is ya?” I also learned that I quite like Bluegrass music. The lyrics are pretty hysterical and the singing can be very pretty. At the side of the stage a dance-board had been laid out and nearly a third of the audience (and there were at least 1,000 people) must have clogged on it. Oh! That’s something I learned – clogging is really big up here. I am actually debating taking classes because the group of cloggers was the largest gathering of people my age I have seen since entering Appalachia. I also got to hear a Bluegrass version of Lady Gaga’s “Papparazzi”, which was surprisingly good!
4. The Ins and Outs: This is sort of the random tid-bit section that I have picked up over the past few days, the first being: watch where you pull-off. While driving back from Boone/Grandfather Mountain on Wednesday, Jenny and I came upon the pasture of Highland Coos (Scottish Cows) I wanted to see. Without much thinking I pulled off the road and suddenly the car was at a 75-degree angle. The tip was so sudden and so violent that Jenny slammed against the passenger side door. After realizing the car was not going to roll we cracked up for five minutes and then slowly and precariously tried to pull the car back upright. We then had a fun time dabbling in my favourite pastime: trespassing. All in the name of coos!
I have also learned to possibly be a bit more leery about going places by myself at night. Last night I went up to the Ranger Office to use the internet after shadowing an evening program. It wasn’t that late, but it was already pitch black outside and the office is very secluded from everything else. After about a half hour I heard someone walking in front of the office window and a little bit later they tried to come in the front door. Something told me not to answer the door because if it was a tourist/camper they would have just knocked and if it was a ranger they obviously would have had a key. Whoever it was tried to get in with even more force (and it was unfortunately blatantly obvious that I was the only bloody person in the office), which is when I called my boss to ask who I should call because I didn’t feel safe enough to run the ten feet to my car. She told me to call 911 and then said she was going to call another ranger who lives close-ish to the office. I did not call 911 because I didn’t think this constituted as an actual emergency since I was not in immediate danger. By now I have had about ten people scold me, “You should ALWAYS call 911!” Instead, I waited until two off-duty rangers showed up and one ex-CIA agent all the while feeling like the girl who had cried “wolf”. I have never in my life felt I needed someone to walk me to my car! Apparently the ex-CIA agent even brought his gun. What do they know about this area that I don’t? I then got a stern talking-to about how 911 would not have minded, they would have radioed a Law Enforcement Ranger, and to always keep my radio on me so I can just hit the panic button (someone even pointed out that the fact that our radios even have panic buttons should have told me something). Obviously I am all safe and sound now and pretty much never going to do something that stupid again.
Another ‘in and out’ is government furniture. On Wednesday night, Jenny and I were watching “The Prince of Egypt” on my bed when all of a sudden we heard a loud WHACK. We looked at each other, heard four more WHACKS and suddenly the bed collapsed! It had to be one of the most hysterical moments of the past few weeks. We put the bed back together as best we could, but apparently not too well because the next night it collapsed while I slept on it! I was too tired to do anything so I just went back to sleep, but in the morning I literally had to pull myself out of bed since only the wall-side collapses.
This actually brings me to my third ‘in and out’. I may be leaving my current housing soon (not because of the bed mind you). Living with my boss is just going no where good, especially since she is not the biggest fan of young people and it has been made very clear to me that, now that our third housemate has moved out, she would rather have the house to herself. This has obviously caused not only a tense home environment (especially when she told me to do her dishes and now orders me to get personal items from her room for her...yeah, you can imagine how I would feel about that), but a work one as well so I am in the market for a new place to live. Another ranger who is from this area has been spreading the word among her friends (apparently I am not the first person to feel the need to evacuate this house) and there may be something for me about ten miles down the mountain. Yayy!
I think that’s all for now! I have gotten to know a bit more of the area (especially after getting lost for so long) and Jenny and I were even able to hike a few trails. Some of the trails even go through cow pastures, which is humourous because all the cows just stop and stare at you. And I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but I went to that Bluegrass Competition with one of my fellow rangers and she and her husband said that next time they’re going to bring me to the lawn mower races...I thought they were kidding at first, but apparently not. Now that should make a great story. Let’s see if I can make it through the next few days without getting lost or finding myself in a potentially life threatening situation :)