Thursday, June 30, 2016

Highpoint #19: High Point, NJ (1803)'

That's no placeholder--New Jersey's high point is known, in a burst of creativity well-suited to the Inter Garden State, as "High Point." But I'm not quite there yet; I'm still in that parking lot at the Water Gap, sleeping like a rock...

...on a scree slope filled with popular trails. A few moments’ oblivion, and then something or other would twinge or prickle or need to stretch farther than my car’s backseat allowed, so I’d be up again, staring into the woodsy darkness as my thoughts circled round in distorted patterns, repeating the songs I’d heard on the drive up in a slow decrescendo until they slithered off again into a shallow dream in which the lot was filled with cars and their inhabitants, all listlessly waiting, like myself, for a tardy dawn-

Outside my dreamscape, gravel crunched.

I shot up from my sleeping bag. What was that? Another bear? A lost traveler pulling over for directions? The police?

Side trip: Delaware Water Gap

The traffic, as though to wish me a special welcome to the Northeast, was bumper-to-bumper in the Philadelphia suburbs that afternoon. It took me so long to inch my way up I-476 that I almost skipped the Delaware Water Gap (I'd meant it as a midpoint stop between Ebright and New Jersey's high point), but I'm glad I didn't, since it turned out to be the most visually impressive place I saw on this trip until the White Mountains. Blame that on bad weather in the Adirondacks if you like, but you must admit that this:

is really something. Enough, I'd say, to make up for both that morning's disappointing Azimuth and the tepid flatness of Pennsylvania's own high point (remember Mt. Davis? I barely do).

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Highpoint #18: Ebright Azimuth, DE (447')

The second leg of my journey began on a warm sunny morning in June (the 9th, for those of you who keep track of dates). I loaded up my car, bade my family goodbye, and drove off to face my most formidable foe of the day: traffic on I-495. It took me an hour to drive perhaps 120° around the Beltway to I-95 proper, then another eternity to get past Baltimore. I finally defected at Havre De Grace when faced with an $8 toll to cross the Susquehanna River. Think about that for a moment. They’re charging eight dollars—more than an hour of this country’s minimum wage—just to cross a river, and on a taxpayer-funded interstate highway. Gives a new meaning to “highway robbery,” eh? Needless to say, I wasn’t having any of that. I was only fifty miles from the Delaware high point; the local routes would get me from there to Wilmington just fine.

But the joke was on me, as any of you who’ve driven through the Northeast could guess. The local route, US-40, charged me the exact same toll to cross a much more dilapidated bridge. Oh well, I consoled myself as I pulled away from the plaza, at least I’d see more of the area this way.

Monday, June 20, 2016

I'm Baaaack...

...from my tour of the northeastern high points. I sloshed through Mt. Marcy's mud, flicked the Chin of Mt. Mansfield, scrambled up the rocks of Mt. Washington once again, and survived Katahdin's Knife-Edge!

Snatched from the jaws of death and defeat, of course.
Oh yeah, I also saw a few other (teensy) high points. I'm all unpacked and settled in now, so get ready for more posts!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Revised Northeast Itinerary

By the time you read this, I’ll be on my way north to bag my second batch of highpoints.

Wow, you’re probably thinking, that was incredibly good timing. Did she mean to stretch out the first leg’s posts to cover her entire layover in Virginia? Well… yes, let’s ascribe that to planning and not procrastination.

Fortunately, this northeastern leg will involve a lot more hiking and a lot less driving than the last one. I’ve got 9 high points to hit, 4 of which (Marcy, Mansfield, Washington, and Katahdin) are pretty darn remote. I don’t expect to have proper Internet access at all on this leg... which means you’ll get a week-and-a-half-long break from my blathering. Yay!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Highpoint #17: Campbell Hill, OH (1549')

I spent the night of the 17th in a motel in Dayton, just across the Indiana-Ohio line. I’d driven over 400 miles to get there from Missouri, and I had another 500 still to go to reach Virginia—a long day’s drive, even for me. If I’d hit the road first thing in the morning, I might have made it home in time for dinner. But I had one more stop: the high point of Ohio.

I pulled off I-70 once again at Springfield and shot up US-68 to Bellefontaine. Under clear morning skies, the town lived up to the charm of its name. I passed a lively business district and climbed through neat neighborhoods, ascending the gradient to the Hi-Point Career Center. No, I wasn’t planning to renounce my peripatetic, writerly life in exchange for technical education and a 9-to-5; this vocational school was the pinnacle of Ohio.

I drove straight through their gates and followed my eyes to the tallest rise on campus: Campbell Hill. There was a bus lot right below the hill. I parked to the side of it, then hopped out into a lovely alpine meadow…

...of a sort.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Highpoint #16: Hoosier Hill, IN (1257')

As flat states go, Indiana is one of the flattest. Its high point is less than 1000 feet above its low point, and almost all of that elevation change is gradual. Knowing all that, I was expecting Hoosier Hill to be a joke.

And it would have been, if it hadn’t been told with such earnestness.

I peeled off the interstate at Richmond, IN, and headed north. The town soon gave way to lightly rolling farmlands, still bare in mid-May. A few turns, the last one marked with an “<-- Indiana’s Highest Point” sign, brought me to the single-lane road to the highpoint.

Hoosier Hill looms proud in the distance.

I crossed a field, passed a farmhouse and a dairy barn, and arrived at the high point.

Side Trip: Mississippi and Ohio Rivers (280')

After Taum Sauk, I headed east to Cape Girardeau, MO to visit my cousin. Situated on the shores of the Mississippi, the Cape is the central metropolis of an area of very small towns—or, to stretch a metaphor, a medium-sized fish in a pond of minnows. On my way into town, in the early afternoon, I hit traffic for the first time in several days. The town was large enough to offer a full complement of civic conveniences, so I grabbed some lunch, then holed up in the (surprisingly nice) local library until my cousin got off work.

Just as the Deep South differed from the Appalachians, so too did Missouri from the both of them. The accents were gone, for one, and the place-names took a sharp swing towards the bland. I was still solidly in the Bible Belt, though, with all that implies: pro-life signs along the road, Christian pop playing overhead in stores, churches all over the place, and so on. This is the Midwest, I suppose.

My cousin showed up around dinnertime. While we dined (at an Italian place in the old town), we caught each other up on our lives. She lives in Cape Girardeau, but works 45 minutes away as an engineer at a plant in [Bloomfield?]. Hardly an ideal living situation, but it’s the norm for a spread-out place like southeastern Missouri. She took the job—her first out of college—hoping to be promoted and reassigned somewhere more urban, but after spending a year in town she’s come to like the place… even with all the flooding.

Highpoint #15: Taum Sauk Mountain, MO (1772')

I spent the whole next day driving through the flats of Arkansas:

And they are flat, lemme tell ya.
in order to get to the hills of Missouri. I probably could have made better time, but like the previous leg from Driskill to Magazine, I was fighting the prevailing road-direction, so I burned at least an hour missing turns and getting lost.

I arrived at Taum Sauk Mountain State Park just in time for the setting sun to blind me all the way up the summit road. Not far from the top, I came to a fork in the road. All I could see was the roads themselves: one tine was paved, the other only gravel. I took the paved road, thinking it would lead me to the high point, and wound up in a wide grassy area on top of a gently-sloped dome. There were restrooms, a few locked sheds, and a metal observation tower, but nothing that advertised a high point.

Gamely, I climbed the tower for a look at the place. Those rickety old things always give me the chills. Up there in the air, with nothing but a few creaking slats of metal between me and oblivion... it makes me appreciate the solidity of a good ol' rock wall.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Highpoint #14: Mt. Magazine, AR (2753')

I woke up at midnight in that church parking lot in Louisiana, unable to breathe. My car is airtight with the windows up, you see, and I always leave them up when I'm sleeping for safety and bug-proofing (I'm super-sensitive to mosquitoes, and nowhere in Louisiana is far from swampland). A carful of air usually lasts me through the night with minimal discomfort, but for some reason, that night it just wasn't enough.

I sat up in the backseat and pondered my options. I could crack a window and ventilate the place for an hour or so before going back to sleep, but who knew how many bugs would let themselves in, lured by the delicious scent of my skin? I could suck it up and go back to sleep, but I'd read too many horror stories of oxygen-deprived mountaineers to sleep at peace in palpably bad air. The only choice left was to drive on to Arkansas and catch up on sleep when I got there.

So I did.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Highpoint #13: Driskill Mountain, LA (535')

Just like my drive up the length of Alabama the previous day, the drive down the length of Mississippi was long, hot, flat, and tedious. The few miles I spent on the Natchez Trace Parkway after leaving Tishomingo were nice enough--the road's meandering, recreational nature reminded me of the Blue Ridge Parkway back home, only without the mountains. But I swear that I-55 from Batesville to Jackson is so monotonous that they've built artificial hills into the median to force traffic to turn around them every once in a while--either that or I got stuck in a time loop while driving past the one real hill in central Mississippi.

I turned west at Jackson and crossed the state's eponymous river shortly thereafter at Vicksburg. The Mighty Mississippi, they call it, but I've gotta say it passed pretty quickly at 60 miles per hour. I would have stopped for a picture, but there weren't any pull-outs or exits. Don't worry, you'll get some later when I cross back over.

If Mississippi was flat, Louisiana was flatter. I-20 ran straight as an arrow through mile-wide fields, obstructed only by road work. The one thing that state had going for it was its gas prices. I refilled at some tiny town east of Monroe for $1.90/gallon, the cheapest fuel I saw all trip.

It was decidedly late in the afternoon by the time I finally arrived at Mt. Zion Presbyterian Church in Bienville, LA. No, I hadn't had a sudden crisis of conscience, nor had I given in to the local Biblemania (on a Friday evening?). Its parking lot serves as the trailhead for Driskill Mountain, the third-lowest state high point in the Union (topping only Delaware and Florida).