Night had fallen and the Milky Way spilled out above us with its millions of glittering galaxies
The gravel on Max Patch road crunched loudly underneath Abes new-ish off-road tires. It was a beautiful and warm October day, which explained why the parking lot was slammed full. We ended up parking on the side of the road between a dust covered Honda Civic and a mud splattered jeep. Tightening the straps of our camelbacks, we walked up to a squat trail marker that pointed down a forked trail. Both trails led to the top of Max Patch with one being an “easier trail” and the other a scenic route. We decided to go to the right and trek up the longer trail that offered more of a challenge and more nature. It was a stunning hike with plenty of photo worthy moments. Candy colored wildflowers sprinkled the bare patches of land and the few trees that littered the bottom of the path were starting to deepen into warmer hues.
“They are flying straight into my ear!” Simon said while swatting the cloud of gnats that were following us up the mountain. I smiled and a gnat dived bombed straight for my teeth. Although it was technically Fall, the environment around us suggested otherwise. The bugs were still in full swarm mode, and sweat trickled down our backs within seconds of climbing the large natural stairs. As we scaled the steps that curved and twisted up the bare mountain the views were astonishing. We were happy to stop for lots of pictures (and to catch our breath). Once we, and our parade of gnats, reached the grassy hill top the world of the Blue Ridge opened up before us. Miles and miles of mountains peaked around us in all directions. A gentle breeze chilled the sweat on our bodies, and the view gave us chills of a different nature. The mountain top was a grassy knoll that allowed everyone to see with no obstacles other than having to choose which direction to gaze in.
Multi colored tents were planted all around the hilltop. More campers and hikers huffed and puffed up the path behind us. You could hear the strumming of a guitar from a camp site to the East and the bark of a happy dog to the West. The area was brimming with spectators, campers, and adventure seekers alike. I would imagine in the off season that the patch isn’t quite so busy, but it was large enough to welcome us all. We picked a flattened mat of grass to lay our blanket down and enjoy lunch. Families were laughing, couples were kissing, and individuals were meditative all around us. Some came to spend time together, and others came to spend time with the view. No matter what your goal is, Max patch will help you accomplish it. I highly recommend the hike to anyone willing to make the journey. It is a fairly easy 2-ish mile hike with an enormous payoff. We will definitely be returning, hopefully next time with some camping gear and a telescope.
On the way home we stopped by Rattlesnake Gap. It wasn’t a plan, just a turn we made on a whim because we simply liked the name. It was fate in action. We rolled up the hill, and a young man came running at the car dripping in sweat and waving his arms above his head. “Be careful” Simon whispered and I immediately checked to make sure the door was locked. “Do you guys have an air compressor?” the man gasped. He was so out of breath it looked like it hurt. We actually did have an air compressor. This was honestly a miracle because we’ve never had one with us before. Fortunately for the winded stranger we had a flat tire the previous week. “We have a flat. The car is just up the hill,” he explained, then pointed to a Mercedes crossover hidden behind a fence of trees.
We were skeptical but decided to help up. As their flat tire began to rise, we let our guard fall. The couple offered us a beer in thanks and explained that they were from Florida. They had been vacationing for the weekend and hit a rock on their way up Rattlesnake Gap. They were in search for a waterfall called Wolf Creek Falls. Once the tire was back to full pressure, we actually went in search of Wolf Creek Falls together. We went down a rough winding road that went on for miles. “Simon look! A bear! Do you see? Do you see?!” A black bear had been sitting across a large gap studying both cars as they crawled down the mountain.
The falls were worth the rough journey. It was a magical spot. The stream funneled between large boulders before traveling down a 15 foot drop, creating a beautiful hidden cascade. The water was cool and the sound was calming. In retrospect it wasn’t the best idea for the flat tire couple to make the journey. It was rough and rocky trek to reach the hidden falls, and after we left their tire went flat again. Luckily, we were still behind them. We plugged the slashed tire enough to help them make it off the mountain, but once we had reached a main road the tire was officially toast.
We stepped out of the Xterra in aid once more. Night had fallen and the Milky Way spilled out above us with its millions of glittering galaxies. The couples luck had officially run out. They still had no service and now no way of continuing their journey on the busted tire. “We have no plans. We can take you to the nearest town,” we urged, “It’s really not an issue”. The couple climbed into Xterra and we drove them the closest town where they stayed at a hotel for the night. Ultimately, they had to get the car towed to Knoxville, TN for repair the following morning.
Simon, Abe, and I made our way back home that same night. Cruising down 1-40 we were listening to old CDs and recapping the day. It was crazy how we had randomly come across them and had all the materials needed to help. We ended up making new friends that night all due to a random impulse to explore Rattlesnake Gap. It’s interesting how life leads you to those moments.
So, moral of the story: Max patch is a must, if something peeks your interest- explore it, and finally ALWAYS have a spare tire.