Driving and hiking through North Carolina Part 1

That time we went on a mile high not so swinging bridge and set our tent up in the rain.

Where? North Carolina, USA

When? May 2018

With whom? Alone, meeting Hannah (someone I met travelling before).

I was so excited to get far away from the UK, especially to visit my former travel buddy, Hannah, in a place I’d never been before in North Carolina! Having travelled together extensively, she knew that I’d be over the moon with mountains, hiking, and camping and planned exactly that for our itinerary.

Absolutely everyone drives everywhere in NC, and this may well be the case all over America, they don’t drive little cars either, these things are monster-sized jeeps or trucks. I felt this way in Canada too about the size of cars, as back in the UK I drive a dinky Citroen C1 and don’t see the need to cruise around in a beast of a car. Public transport isn’t a thing in the city of Durham (not the real Durham, the one in NC) so people who live outside the city don’t have much of a choice but to drive, but it was still a huge part of the culture. A conversation might be:

How far is it to work?

About a 5 minute drive.

What about to walk?

I don’t know, I always drive.

This concept was so alien to me, as living in London has me walking everywhere. The driving culture explained why the roads were so large, but I have to say I was surprised to see so many people on their mobile phones whilst driving. Maybe Americans are better at multitasking than Brits?

I flew to JFK in New York, then down to Raleigh Durham on an internal flight. Due to weather, we could only fly at 6,000 feet which meant I got a great view for the entire flight!

We drove inland from Durham for three hours to get to Grandfather Mountain State Park, named such because the ridge line apparently looks like a sleeping grandfather; I think seeing this resemblance requires a lot more imagination than I possess. We paid our entry of $20 and drove into the park towards the mile high swinging bridge. You can drive all the way up to the top and park up there, or you can park lower down and do some hiking up to the peak. The cloud was coming in fast so we drove, racing the cloud to the top of the mountain. We won. There are steps to get from the car park to the bridge, but there’s also an elevator. On the top of a mountain. I laughed out loud at this to receive one of Hannah’s classic acrimonious eyerolls.

The mountain road.

There I was on America’s highest suspension footbridge, giving me amazing panoramas of the national park. People were clinging on to the edge, making their way very slowly across the bridge between the squeals and screams, however, I didn’t feel as though we were that high. Yes, the name of the bridge includes the term ‘mile-high’ but with the canopy of trees clothing the valley, I felt as though I could survive the fall (in that I would be alive but maybe with perhaps some sort of paralysis and many broken bones). The mountains surrounding me were covered in the luscious green that you would expect from a rainforest, and the cloud closing in on the view quicker than a speeding bullet made the experience very cool. For the wimpy people on the bridge, the cloud helped because they could no longer see what was beneath them.

Evidence! Hannah in her Jesus sandals.

Hannah had been very excited to bring me here as she was certain I would try to make the bridge swing and scare all of the children. I did try, but it was quite a sturdy construction that didn’t allow for too much swinging.

There’s a beer called Sully! We used this fire pit to cook bacon for breakfast. Camping shouldn’t be allowed without bacon.

We jumped back in the car and drove to our campsite; Grandfather Campground (imaginatively named). Hannah had invested in a huge tent and a blow up airbed so that we’d have lots of room and be comfortable, conveniently stored in the boot “trunk” of the car. We started pitching our tent, and as with most tents this one came with an inner structure and then a waterproof fly sheet to keep out the moisture and rain. We were hammering our pegs into the ground, successfully putting up our inner tent when a few water droplets landed on us. It was starting to rain. There were few droplets but these droplets were obese, and very very cold. We were dressed in tee shirt and shorts for the humidity and heat of the rainforest we were in, so every drop was like a giant ice cube impaling itself on our skin. I suggested we put the tent back in the car and wait for the rain to pass, but Hannah reckoned we could get the tent up in time, so we swiftly continued with our work.

Bridge selfie!

All of a sudden, the rain was coming down thick and fast, and it was so very cold. Both of us simultaneously decided the tent was worthy of sacrifice as we bolted for the car. We sat in the front seats watching as our tent drooped with the weight of the water on top and on the inside, knowing we would have to sleep in a small lake. The rain came with thunder and lightning turning the previously immaculate cobalt sky to a dark grey that felt like nighttime, and all we were willing to do was watch gormlessly until it passed.

Gopro shots whilst driving (Hannah was driving, not me!)

The rain came to an eventual end and we braved the outside of the car. There was a layer of water inside our tent of about 3 inches thick (using imperial units like the Americans!). We unpinned our pegs and lifted the tent in ways that the water would pour out, creating our own waterfall to wash over our feet (good job I had my sturdy hiking boots that I recommended here). Luckily, I had packed my camping towel so we could sacrifice one of the ones that Hannah had brought with us to dry out the remaining droplets in the tents. This worked surprisingly well.

It was so green and full of life in the rainforest.

Using coals we had brought and a firelighter, we cooked ourselves some dinner over the campfire and drank some IPAs. I had brought my portable speaker with me so we had music and reminisced of our stories from travelling together three years ago.

Info: I flew American Airlines, although I actually booked through British Airways. I thought American had loads of legroom although a normal-sized human might deem it adequate; I actually had to lean forward to reach the tray table! There was also a decent selection of films and the food was okay too. I found my palette was not used to the food that people eat where we went. Often I would have a couple of mouthfuls of something and my body would be telling me that I’d had my calorie allowance for the day, so that would be all I was able to do! It’s not just the food either, the drinks were also full of sugar and therefore tasted very sickly to me. There were fast food outlets everywhere we went, I would be pretty confident in saying there was more of them than gas stations. The mile high bridge was $20 pp entry, which is steep but well worth it. You can park up and hike to the top or you can drive, and as mentioned there is disability access as well as a loo and a gift shop. The campsite was dear too but the set up was fab. The car was parked by the tent and each lot had a fire pit for cooking.

This was our set up – tent on raised ground after I’d cleaned it out with a towel, firepit in the corner and coolbox with beer.

Tip of the week: Don’t continue to set up your tent if it has started to rain! If it’s not fully set up then water will get inside, and whilst the towel did soak up the majority of leftover droplets, the tent smelt damp and fusty. Put it under cover and wait for it to stop raining!

Product of the week: When camping, a portable speaker is a must to create an atmosphere. I bought one in the airport on the way to Norway when I camped with a uni friend (read about that here and here) and haven’t looked back. It’s tiny, comes in different colours, and has the option to connect using Bluetooth or the aux cable that comes with it.

This is Walmart. I found this section so funny.

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