A View from the Top
But I Still Got a Long Way to Go


Gordon Cherr,


The trail from the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway to Craven Gap is 5.4 miles each way, 10.8 difficult miles. After a short half mile of level ground, as the single track trail heads north from the parking lot, there is a stretch of a 21% incline, then a short level one, followed by a stretch at 19%, then some “blessed” 13%, then 15%, then 17%, and the trail just endlessly climbs straight up with some very few switch backs for about 3.4 miles past Lunchbox Rock until one encounters a series of stone and log steps. Basically 1,000′ of elevation gain and there are no good excuses.

The last 2 miles to the Craven Gap Overlook feels flat in comparison, but on the return trip it carries a short uphill section at 16%, then a downhill, and then flashes a little reminder of the uphill trail there, with an excruciating 23% uphill stretch of a few hundred yards just to keep you honest, back to Lunchbox Rock. Which is a really good place to sit and to try to regain some semblance of a reasonable heart rate. After that the trail is basically a screaming downhill almost all the way back to the Folk Art Center, and I can attest to the fact that if you sprout wings on your trail shoes and don’t really concentrate on the footing, you will do a full body plant on this trail and you will likely roll for a while until your progress is halted, usually by a boulder or a tree.

It is an unfriendly feeling morning, 17 degrees, wind whipping in my face with 40 mph gusts, overcast and a sprinkle of rain every now and then. Running the trails alone, in such deserted country, is a little exhilarating and a little nerve wracking at the same time. It is bear country. I am spooked, I admit it. Damn, it is going to be a long way back. I finally get to the turn around.

i wore my boots out walkin’
poured my heart out talkin’
i felt the pain & i broke the chain
but i still got a long way to go*

I always stop and sit for a spell at Craven Gap, looking out over the valleys and clouds racing away, it is a good time for a long drink and maybe a Gu or Roctane. It is a good place to think. In warmer months I like to watch the turkey vultures and other raptors ride the thermals until they are mere dots in the sky, before they completely disappear from sight. Not today, though. The clouds are low, the rain too present, the cold is bone chilling, and with the wind chill factor, well, I am sure it feels like less than “0.” But that isn’t what gets me moving. I actually wanted to sit and think for a while about my recent retirement from 26 years a trial lawyer and 10 as a Magistrate/Judge, and consider just what life now has in store for me. A perfect time and place to ponder my navel…

Instead, I spy several printed notices posted by the National Park Service, that boldly and in attention grabbing large, dark oversized print, say:


Time to move on, one would think…and I do not need a second invitation, one will do just fine. I am out of there…but I still got a long way to go. To the Folk Art Center parking lot. To the rest of my life. If I make it.

been in the rain, on the run
i worked a long day in the sun
i slopped the pails, i beat the nails
but i still got a long way to go*

Portions of the Blue Ridge Parkway are closed to vehicular traffic this time of the year. This part is, too. I am not going back on that desolate trail, that is for sure, but decide to run the smooth asphalt of the parkway, instead. I am thinking about the giant brute of a bear I ran headlong into the last time I was in Asheville, in a ritzy residential area behind the Grove Park Inn, last August. I came around a sharp curve, running one last uphill before heading back into downtown, and there he stood. Well, he was on all fours, looking like a Panzer tank, at the very top of the hill until I came into view, then he stood up on his back legs, now a gigantic hairy mountain of a bear, his beady little eyes staring that blank stare. A complete absence of fear. Utter disdain and disgust for the puny human. Then he started rocking back and forth, left leg to right leg and back, and right about then I discarded that silly notion about backing away slowly, and commenced a completely adrenaline driven all out sprint down the hill. Luckily, he did not follow. I suppose he never read that book about chasing fleeing humans. Perhaps it was the involuntary bowel movement.

My trail shoes are pounding out a fear inspired rapid-fire downhill rhythm on the deserted asphalt of the parkway. The fiercely gusting winds are now at my back. I imagine that this is the speed of my youth, long gone and nearly forgotten, left behind many years ago. Where did that person go?

The wind blows leaves and dead grass across the roadway, and I am convinced that every sound I hear is that of bear claws scraping along the pavement, in chase. I am dead meat. I run even faster down the centerline. The Haw Creek Valley Overlook disappears to my right, I am in no mood to stop and enjoy the spectacular views. I still got a long way to go. Fear is a powerful motivator.

“ON YOUR LEFT!” Without warning about 6 cyclists shoot past me in a close, single file formation, literally flying down the hill. They were probably far enough ahead of me that they did not hear me scream. I am momentarily envious of how effortlessly they move, so quickly.

The wind blows furiously, pushing low clouds right down to the parkway. It alternately gets darker and lighter as the clouds blow through the trees and across the road. The cold rain is steady now, and I am shivering despite the layers of clothes, my rain jacket, gloves, the wool stocking cap pulled down over my ears, and even the balaclava around my neck. Damn, I still got a long way to go.

Finally, and not a lung-busting moment too soon, the orange and white gates of the Blue Ridge Parkway come into view. The parking lot of the Folk Art Center is right behind those gates. A lone Parkway Ranger is standing next to his truck, parked behind the barricade. He leans into the cold wind, flashes a smile, and says “Isn’t it great to be alive on a day like this?”

“Yes, this is a perfect day.”

And I have never felt more alive than in that moment.

i lost my way in darkest night
i woke again & saw the light
opened the book & i . . took a look
but i still got a long way to go*

*Railroad Earth, Long Way To Go.