It was all the makings of a perfect horror movie…
“Oh no, that was it! That was the entrance to Hurricane Creek.” Our Xterra, formally known as Abe, had just passed the opening to the off-road trail. “Well, at least we know now that it’s right behind the sign that says Harmons Den exit 7!” I replied. “Yeah, the problem is I don’t know how long it will take us to turn around.” The answer was 12 miles. It took us a total of 12 miles to turn around and reach the entrance once again.
Our Xterra, dressed in brand new off-road tires, rolled off of I-40 and right onto the clear gravel entrance of Hurricane Creek. We spotted a set jeeps snuggled off to the side of the path. A few people, gearing up for the trek, nodded and smiled as we approached. “Hey, do you think this will be able to make it through the trail?” We asked to one of the jeep owners. “It’s a 4×4,” Simon added. “Yeah, you should be good,” he responded in a strong northern accent, “There are a few places with some rocks you need to be careful on, though.” “Okay. I will watch my angles.” “We won’t be too far behind if you run into any trouble,” the man finished.
We had read mixed reviews about the trail the night before. Some called it a beginner trail and others called it moderate. Some warned against the obstacles while others said it was a must if you were in the Pisgah area. Everyone online did seem to agree that the weather played a huge role in the difficulty of the trail, so we kept that in mind. This would be our first time experiencing an off-road trail that actually had some meat to it. With all the varied opinions we had been wary about attempting it. When we found ourselves at the entrance, itching for adventure, the doubts vanished from our minds. We were ready for Hurricane Creek and whatever it would bring. It was a dry and sunny September day. It had been a week since it had rained, so we knew the conditions were perfect.
The beginning of the trail was bumpy but fairly easy. A few rocks here and there littered the winding road but it was nothing too extreme. A lovely creek trailed along to the right of us. The sound of rushing water filled the woods as the creek cascaded into mini waterfalls and curving contortions. We hit a few spots that had larger rocks, but Abe climbed over them with ease. It wasn’t long before we reached the first creek crossing. It was a knee-deep collection of water that glassed over the path. On wetter days this might have been much more of an obstacle, but today it was a slow moving creek that wasn’t an issue for Abe. Splashing through, Simon and I turned to smile at each other. That was the first time we had ever driven the Xterra through water that deep. The trail continued on with more challenges to come.
Soon, we approached an assortment of steep dips and some rather impressive rocks that lined up to test us. “These must be the rocks he was talking about,” Simon commented as he maneuvered Abe through the sharp rocks and rain washed gullies. Simon repeated those words a few more times as we met more obstacles that were just the same. The trail had become much stickier than it was in the beginning. It wasn’t anything we had to stop for, but there were moments I had to shut my eyes and let Simon do his thing.
We crossed two more creeks, but neither of them were as wide or as deep as the first. We noticed all along Hurricane Creek that there were lots of trails that diverged from the original path. Some looked like insane obstacle courses carved out by crawlers and others were outfitted with barricades. We passed by the skeleton of a ghostly bus and some neat primitive campsites along the journey. Stopping at a beautiful clearing, littered with wildflowers and butterflies, we took a few pictures to add to our collection.
This is an official issued warning: Hurricane Creek is not for the faint of neck. We weren’t even halfway through before my neck started screaming at me, and the seat belt started cutting into my shoulder. But, honestly, we didn’t care at all. As we bumped along Hurricane Creek, the both of us couldn’t stop smiling. “I can’t believe we haven’t scraped,” Simon declared as we passed yet another beer can stuck in a bush. “You know you just jinxed us, right?” I laughed. It was true. He had just jinxed us. About 20 minutes later we came across some rather daunting rocks. Sure enough, we heard a scraping sound clang out from underneath Abe. “It was bound to happen.” Simon grinned.
It wasn’t until we crossed the third river that we ran into the toughest spot yet. It was a steep hill that had deep muddy gorges streaking all the way down its slope. We made it through, but only due to Simon’s good choice of descent. That was definitely a spot that any lower vehicle should fear. I could not even imagine how badly it could have been in stormier weather. The obstacles seemed to be getting increasingly harder. We scrapped a few more times and skidded once or twice. Our necks, most likely, now had 1st-degree whiplash, and Simons calve was burning from handling the clutch. We were feeling the difficulty of the trail, but we had enjoyed ourselves. It had been about two hours of pure Pisgah adventure.
Up ahead, we noticed that the rocky path before us was started to sparkle with gravel. We concluded that the road to Max Patch, our next adventure, should be nearby. I will tell you now that we couldn’t have been more wrong. We pulled over for a little premature celebration. We patted ourselves on the back and looked around at the gravel confluence. It was like a four-way intersection. We were unsure which way to head. “This one is a campsite. There is also a barricade down here,” I yelled as a walked down the path to the left. “Where do you think that goes?” Simon asked pointing straight ahead to a trail that continued up a steep hill. It seemed to head back into deep woods and it wasn’t graveled. “I think that is just another path someone made. I’m pretty sure it’s this way. This is where the gravel goes so this must be the way out.” I reasoned. We checked our phones but we knew it was wishful thinking. We had no service. We climbed back into our Xterra and took the trail to the right.
Almost instantly we became concerned. The trail was no longer easy/moderate. The obstacles had become far more challenging, and the gravel that had been our yellow brick road ran out shortly after we started down the path. We both started to worry, but neither of us said it aloud. We continued trying to check the GPS, but we were in the heart of Pisgah where service doesn’t exist. The GPS wasn’t going to save us this time. The path was far too narrow to turn around so we continued onward and upward. We fought our way through the trail for another fifteen minutes before Abe finally met his Moby Dick. It was the first hurdle Simon actually stopped the truck for so he could really study it. It was a combination of deep ditches, large boulders, and a huge drop off to the right.
The engine revved loudly as we attempted to summit the beast. The tires spun sending a plume of rock and red dirt showering around us. No luck. We still hadn’t managed to scramble our way through. We sat silent for a moment with Abe humming in the background. We were lost, we were possibly stuck, and we had no signal. It was all the makings of a perfect horror movie.
Simon stepped out of the car. He eyed the collection of stone and carved earth that was taunting him. Suddenly, we picked up on a purring sound off in the distance. I was hopeful it was the Jeeps we had encountered at the start coming to assure us we were going the right way. Maybe even coming to possibly pull us from these deep dugouts if we really couldn’t climb out. Sure enough, a red jeep crunched its way up behind us, but it wasn’t the same people we had seen before. It was a young couple in their late 20s. The man had a long black beard that fuzzed out in crazy directions all the way down to his chest. He walked up to Simon, his brown cowboy boots were covered in red clay, and a cigarette was hanging loosely from his mouth. “Everything alright?” he asked, walking up to Simon who was analyzing the terrain. After contemplating all of the angles and options Simon was back in the truck, and the bearded savior was spotting us up a rather sketchy line that teetered between a huge drop off to the right and a deep ditch to the left.
The Xterra felt like it was completely on its side at one point. My heart was racing, and the engine was roaring. With one final punch on the gas pedal, we scaled the monster of an obstacle and made it safely to the other side. Our grizzly liberator had helped us through a tough spot, but he had no idea if we were going the right way. This was his first time on Hurricane Creek and asked if we could stick together from that point on. The answer was a no brainer.
The trail continued to snake up the mountain as the sun headed towards its evening position in the sky. The terrain was pretty rough but nothing we had to stop for. The GPS was still no help, and we knew there is no going back now. We had been lucky in that last sticky spot. We didn’t want to test it again. There was no way out but through. So, deeper and deeper into the woods, we drove.
Suddenly, we noticed gravel! Sweet, sweet gravel! We hung a right onto the gravel road and the trees began to thin. Simon suddenly shouted, “Civilization”! He pointed to a brown wooden fence that ran along the tree line. As four of us trekked forward, relief filled our hearts. We had officially made it through the woods and found ourselves at a small farm that sat lonely atop the mountain. The Farm had one of the most incredible views. It was a collection of mountain Ridges and valleys that splayed out before us for miles. We took the time to snap a few pictures while the cows on the farm mooed behind us with curiosity. Watching two trucks climb out of a thick of woods probably wasn’t the norm for them. Our next goal was to simply find pavement. It was already half past four, and we still had no idea where we were. We had kissed the idea of Max Patch goodbye and decided to just focus on getting our bearings.
It wasn’t even a quarter mile down from the farm that the gravel turned into pavement, and signal blessed our phones. We cruised down the twisting Wesley Creek Rd feeling like we truly experienced a crazy off-road adventure. The road finally collided with no other than Max Patch Road! We knew it was late. Our stomachs were rumbling, but we hooked a left and headed towards Max Patch anyway. Rain began splattering the windows as we drove along. The red dirt that coated Abe streaked into a zebra print.
It wasn’t until many miles later that we finally reached the Max Patch parking lot. The rain was pouring and hikers were running down the trail drenched from head to toe. Sitting in the back of the Xterra, watching the rain pound the earth, we knew that Max Patch would have to wait. The good beer and delicious food at Wicked Weed in Asheville, NC had long been calling our names. We planned our Max Patch adventure to take place the following weekend, where hopefully, adventure would once again take us on an unexpected journey.