When my friend June hit me up back in May about hiking with Blue Ridge, I felt as if I was just waking up and remembering a feeling I had forgotten about for a long time. I felt the jittery nervousness that comes from excitement, the kind that comes from the anticipation of a great adventure. It has been years since I’ve ventured outside of the city: the pandemic was like a heavy cowl that kept me honed in on the churning humdrum of a dead end job and all the little worries that coalesce into looming anxiety. There were still joys to be had: weekend potlucks with friends, sitting on the porch with my partner and cats, and researching a return to working in the library to name a few. Nonetheless, I was overdue for a reset. I needed to go to water as much as Bilbo Baggins needed to get out of the Shire.

Going to water is commonly attributed as a pagan ritual: it is a practice common to my native Taiwan as it is to my Cherokee mentor in university. For me it is not strictly a ceremony to “return to Mother” nor is it necessarily associated with sacred places: for I believe there is something sacred in everything. To return to water is to remind myself of where all life comes from and to reaffirm my place in it. I recite daily and think back to Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata this mantra: “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” No matter what challenges one might face, we intrinsically have a place: we belong. To go to Pisgah National Forest and hike the Pink Bed Loop was the perfect opportunity to go to water.

Over weekend potlucks, June and I have often talked about going out hiking and learning about camping. Although we had both dabbled at various times with outdoor life, neither of us really had any solid proficiency or foundational knowledge. Blue Ridge’s introduction to backpacking program offered precisely what we needed to bridge that gap. Before setting out to meet our guide and the other hikers, we had camped out at a treehouse Airbnb and explored Asheville. Listening to the heavy rain and cicadas with a belly full of vinegary BBQ and thick grits, I could not sleep but instead fell into a trance. When was the last time I could hear the rain so closeby? Of water seeping into the earth and wood. When was the last time I took a long drink that would touch not just a parched throat but the roots of me? I lied still finally like a dandelion seed wedged between a crack in the asphalt, waiting for light and rain that was long ago promised in the darkness.

The trailhead to the Pink Bed Loop was not too difficult to find - a good start. We were greeted warmly by our guide Traci and the other hikers: a recently retired doctor named Ken, the brothers Daniel and Nathan, and Shannon with her daughter Jesse. Shaking down our gear, we were briefed on every piece: hiking poles, bedding, tents, cookware, etc. A sundry of trail food was also offered for us to choose from: freeze dried pad thai, peanut butter packets, electrolyte lemonade sachets, instant coffee, meat sticks, tuna pouches to name a few. It truly made for feasts befitting of a hobbit diet, elevensies and all. (Our favorite meal combined peanut butter with the freeze dried pad thai and a pouch of zesty lemon tuna.) Strapping everything into the pack and securing the pack to ourselves, we set out in a single file away from the asphalt lot and onto the well-worn dirt path.

Now, here’s the thing: I was really out of shape. Long gone are the days when I used to do Crossfit and could casually deadlift over three hundred pounds. Months ahead to prepare for this trip, June and I had worked out at least once a week together and as often as we could on our own. College was a long time ago: my Freshman-15 weight gain snowballed into something worse as I embarked on my early 30s. Between learning about Shannon’s insights into working in law libraries and other special settings and Traci’s viking reenactments, I had to concentrate on pacing myself as we tread across the different elevations and terrain. Bringing up the rear where I was most comfortable, I did my best to pace my breathing and focus on the present, what is around us. It was all the more approachable as we took breaks to identify native herbs like the Star of Jerusalem and Queen Anne’s Lace and to differentiate the different types of ivies, poisonous and not. Traci’s wealth of insights as an herbalist and June’s commentary as a grower encouraged the group to look more deeply into where we were; which even led us to finding clusters of the elusive chicken of the woods mushroom. It got easier to attune to the trail and its rhythm, every little bit of mud between my toes, every sighting of a curious snail or a gleaming bit of quartz, every crossing of running water.

It wasn’t long before we reached the camp ground. Around the damp coals of campers past, we assessed our refuge for the night: What trees were best for hanging the bear bag? What patches of ground were best for setting up our tents? It was truly a group endeavor learning how to pitch our tents with the trekking poles. Traci showed us different knots before we participated in the ceremonial toss of the bear bag line - a true challenge of depth perception and throwing prowess. This eventually led us to great games of “Rock-Rock” - a contest that pitted campers against each other in selecting a treasured rock companion to aim and throw into circles at different distances for points. Between snacks, skill demonstrations and practice, and games, daylight raced quickly.

I excused myself as often as I could to go filter water for the group: it was after all the main reason for why I came, to go to water. Our campsite was next to a tiny creek with a fallen log bridge. June found time to go drink the moon after the sunset, resting on the log before turning into her tent. I found time between filtering water and in the early morning before we set out again to just stand knee deep in the flowing stream. I felt peace watching the morning mist gather and swirl at sunrise, the eddies carrying over fallen debris. The flow of water never ceased and change was the only constant. I drank with my whole being every time I stood in the cool ripples.

I did not know the depth of my thirst until I drank: it has been too long. I know it may be trite, but this peace is what has stayed with me even more than a month later. A return to the heart of everything is sometimes just a return to self-acknowledgement however humble. This trip has truly inspired me to not wait so long again to venture back out on the trail, to go to water more often, and to do so with confidence with everything we learned.

Until the Next Adventure,
Jason, aka Water Babushka


Jason participated in our 2022 summer Intro to Backpacking overnight trip. Check our overnights page for details on our next Intro trip and others upcoming.