A View from the Top
Carolina In My Mind


Gordon Cherr,


Dark and silent late last night
I think I might have heard the highway calling
Geese in flight and dogs that bite
Signs that might be omens say I’m going, I’m going
I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

There is a slight sprinkling of snow at the higher elevations over Black Mountain. I can see it the distance on my morning run. The sky is so clear, so blue, the air so sweet. I try to take it in, in the deepest of breaths. The snow is a sparkling white, contrasting against the cloudless azure sky.

We couldn’t stand it any longer, we jumped in the car on the spur of the moment and drove to Asheville as fast as we could. I needed to run. I needed to strain against the mountain gravity, to feel the pull of the valleys and the freedom I only know while running in these mountains. I have ceased trying to explain it, even to myself. It is a longing, I feel this emptiness when I am gone from there, then as I see the Blue Ridge I feel myself filling, like a wine glass being filled to the brim and then overflowing. Overflowing with wonderment, overflowing with joy.

The run up Sunset Mountain is all that I could ask for this morning. The autumn leaves are blowing in little whirlwinds, around the streets and trails. You can see for miles this time of the year through the trees who have dropped their leaves. I can see all the way to Black Mountain from here, and if the road twists and turns the right way, to the south is Mt. Pisgah in the far distance, still bathed in morning shadows, the sun has not yet reached her summit. I have climbed to the top there many times, sitting on the viewing platform making me dizzy, seeing all of it, hundreds of thousands of acres of trees, a few homes and roads, but mostly soaring eagles, screaming hawks and unseen but not unheard songbirds. And at the highest elevations and even in the gusty winds, always a butterfly.

After running mostly up for an hour, followed by some steep, rolling terrain, it is time to head home or at least back to the hotel. Screaming, quad busting downhills for thirty minutes, for which I am grateful as the morning high has disappeared and too many miles is still always too many miles, no matter who you are and no matter where you run.

There ain’t no doubt it no ones mind
That loves the finest thing around
Whisper something soft and kind
And hey babe the sky’s on fire, and I’m dyin’ ain’t I
I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

The Mountain To Sea Trail traverses nearly the entire west to east length of North Carolina, from the Great Smokey Mountains to the Outer Banks. It parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway for many miles too. It is a gift. There are many sections to be run here, some more rocky, some more runner friendly, never crowded, always underused, for which all runners and hikers are grateful. One favorite section is from the Blue Ridge Parkway and Highway 74A to the Highway 25A overpass, and if you are a bit more adventuresome, to the Highway 25 overpass, a bit further on, and back. About 10 miles total.

In contrast to yesterday, it is about 20F this morning, blowing hard and blustery and overcast. The run feels heavy to start, and ominous, no one else is out here, just a few crows cawing. I am startled by a sound that I am not used to, like a creaky old door in a haunted house. Seems like some trees have fallen over and the trunks are rubbing together in the gusty wind. It is an odd symphony, I suddenly realize that I have been hearing this for the past 5 miles but blocked it out to the outer periphery of my consciousness. I have been concentrating awfully hard on the rocky and rooty portions of the trail that dominate this stretch, and trying to avoid the inevitable face plant that awaits. Left over fatigue from yesterday’s run up Sunset Mountain is obvious too. What the hell am I doing out here in this cold, lonely, unhappy place?

Passing over the Highway 25A overpass, there is little traffic on this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Then I run a bit further, to the Highway 25 overpass. I am at the turn around.

But as I head back, the sun is starting to break through the clouds, and long dim morning shadows are beginning to spill across the trail. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, we are filled with a lightness of being. The morning sunlight starts to fill me with this lightness, what had been a heavy, ponderous indeterminable effort one second earlier suddenly feels like a joyful dance on the trail. The sun rises higher and higher, the morning sky a brighter and brighter orange hue. “Hey, babe, the sky’s on fire”! The autumn leaves are psychedelic red and yellow and orange. I am dancing up the trail! Dogs and their runners pass going the other way, we smile, we laugh, we wave to each other.

Don’t you tell me that the runner’s high is a myth. It is alive and well on the Mountain To Sea Trail. You might find it just this side of the Highway 25A overpass. Or maybe, just maybe, right outside your door tomorrow. Life is a state of mind.

Karen she’s a silver sun
You best walk her way and watch it shinin’
Watch her watch the mornin’ come
A silver tear appearing now and I’m cryin’ ain’t I
I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind

The harsh reality of an 8 hour drive back to Florida has started to crowd out other thoughts this morning. My run up Reynolds Mountain is almost robotic, just get it done I tell myself. There is no lightness of being, no joyful runner’s high this morning. Grind it out. Maybe it is the poorly conceived and ostentatious development that has gone on here, thankfully ground to a halt during regional economic woes, but soon to regain momentum, I am certain. I used to run here on narrow unkempt roads and jeep trails, now that is gone. Wide, paved roads, McMansions, landscaping. I was stupid to come up this way. “A silver tear appearing now and I’m crying, ain’t I”? Damn us. Paving paradise and putting up a parking lot.

But that will not be the memory I choose to remember, later. When I choose, it is the singing birds,and screaming hawks, the long shadows of the deep forests, the valleys and hills, the sparkling snow and autumn leaves, the rocky trails. The wind through the trees, the rising sun so bright in your face that you have to squint your way up the trail. And in the distance, Mt. Pisgah.

A week later and I feel the road calling me again.

In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina
Can’t you see the sunshine
Can’t you just feel the moonshine
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine
To hit me from behind
And I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind
Yes, I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind
Yes, I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind
(Carolina In My Mind, James Taylor)