“You’ve got to see the sunset there,” the other writers told me over dinner one night.
I’d skipped the early morning wake up call the week before in favor of sleeping in. I’m not much of a hiker. But in my remaining days at a writer's residency in the North Georgia Mountains, I decided it would be worth it.
My alarm went off around 6 am. I stumbled around my cabin in the woods, adding as many layers to fight the cold, quickly pulling a scarf and hat from the packing cubes in my bag. I carried as little as possible, just my phone, keys, and water bottle in my small waist pack, and piled into my car.
I’d gotten used to solitude in the past few weeks. Most of my days were spent alone with my thoughts and my words. I sat at my laptop and wrote about my year living in Australia as deer and dogs ran past my window.
But on this morning, I drove my beaten car down the pitch-black country roads across the state line into North Carolina. A sign indicated the forest service road that I needed to take to access the viewpoint called, humorously, Pickens Nose. I worried that my car wouldn’t make the journey as the road became increasingly steep and as my tires hit every boulder. I passed trucks of hunters with their dogs hopping out of the back, giving them a friendly wave.
The small parking lot was the only indication that I was in the right place. I was the only person around and the sun was starting to rise, so I had to race down the path to catch it in time. As I did in Nicaragua a few years prior, I found myself completely alone on the trail, unsure of how much further my destination was.
With every step that seemed to even out, the trail rounded another corner and continued into the distance. My breath became more labored, the cold biting my lungs. As the sun climbed its way into the sky, I started to shed layers.
The thicket of trees finally opened up to a rock outcropping. I was a bit unsteady on my feet so I found a place to sit and take it all in. The fog lifted from the peaks as the sky melted from a cool blue into a deep orange. I absorbed my surroundings, the quiet, the views, the complete solitude. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face at my accomplishment.
After a few minutes, I took my leave, giddily making my way back down the trail. I passed a man heading in the opposite direction.
“Did I miss it?” he asked. I told him yes, but it was still worth seeing. And I meant it.
Back in my car, I made the careful drive back down the mountain and treated myself to a hearty Southern-style breakfast of a sausage biscuit and steaming hot cup of coffee.
When I got back to my temporary home, I told the other writers that they’d been right. That the sunrise at Pickens Nose couldn’t be missed.