I KNOW. You want to go too, now. And so do we. Every year. But the world is a terrible place and there's a war in Afghanistan and it's a three hour drive to the mountains and the economy sucks and someone has strep throat and Haliburton's causing wars and ruining the planet and... OK there's always an excuse.
(Not to mention that the last time I went to the mountains outside of ski season I nearly threw myself in a fit of despair from THIS swinging bridge:)
OK so I'll tell you the story.
It was my birthday. November 6th, 1998. The Wicked Turkey and I had been dating for five years. FIVE YEARS, PEOPLE. We had a house together, had dogs and cats together, had gotten over our mutual incredulity at the oddness of each other's families, and were deep in that nearly flawless period of courtship when He still picks up after himself and buys his own underwear and SHE still wears makeup everyday and pretends to be interested in football. Also: I had moved across the country twice for him. In a nutshell, it was time. TIME, PEOPLE. Johnny had planned a romantic getaway to Grandfather Mountain (pictured above) for my birthday. I had planned on getting a ring. That Ring. So we drive the three hours to Grandfather Mountain and I don't even get carsick because I'm thinking about whether my new diamond will come with a princess or emerald cut. And I don't get even slightly winded climbing the fifty stairs to the mountain's swinging bridge access because I'm debating whether or not to hyphenate my future last name. And I swallow my utter, abject fear of spanning the 228 foot long, perilously swinging, frighteningly narrow MILE HIGH MOTHERFUCKING BRIDGE that was engineered before computers and I end up crossing parts of the bridge in a kind of clutching-the-floorboards-for-dear-life, low-crawl on my belly that looked something like this
except I was wearing MAC not camouflage (courtship days, remember???)--because I was busy imagining how I would say "YES!" without making the ugly-cry face when he popped the question.
But we don't talk about that part. The Becky Is Terrified of Most Things Part. Heights, germs, cockroaches, roller coasters, squirrels, Republicans, Little People, clowns, geese, old people, open closet doors, baby dolls, loud noises, pool drains, the woods, the basement, dark places, and loose or missing teeth.*
*This list is merely a summary. I am also afraid of rejection and criticism and the half-mocking half-incredulous mostly-contemptuous question I almost always receive when people, happening upon my petrification at various things or situations, ask:
"BUT I THOUGHT YOU WERE IN THE ARMY. YOU JUMPED OUT OF AIRPLANES. HOW CAN YOU BE SCARED???"
The Reader's Digest Abridged Version of my official explanation: I was scared. All the time. But I was even more afraid of Failure and of Embarrassing Myself. Also: I typically had, strapped to my person at any given time, an M-16 rifle, a parachute, and hand sanitizer. (The world is a far less scary place when you have these things on quick-deploy.)
SO. Back to the story. It's my birthday and I'm standing on top of a mountain all alone with this man I love more than Texas and Shakespeare and Not Watching Football on this glorious autumn day and I've survived the Certain Death Bridge and I'm totally ready to say I do without making the ugly cry face and IT'S TIME, PEOPLE.
Time. A brilliant, beautiful moment. Everything is perfect and splendid and immaculate and almost holy in its beauty and Johnny, my love, my soon-I-am-sure-to-be-my-fiance gets very still, looks deeply into my eyes, and says, ever so quietly and gently, "Becky...Would you...like to go back down and get some more coffee?"
Yeah. That happened. In real life.
SO. Twelve years later I've got a couple rings on my finger, a wedding dress in the attic, two kids, and an abiding fear of Most Things and even Some New Ones. And I still do the Terrible Ugly Cry Face. Sometimes. But not this weekend, even though Johnny was really mean to me about the packing and I forgot to fill Bridger's prescriptions and the DVD player in the minivan is not working and it turns out Haliburton might have caused the BP oil spill--because WE ARE GOING TO THE MOUNTAINS.
We make the three hour drive. EASY. Johnny even gets the DVD player to work. EASY. I don't even get carsick. We arrive at the quaint, quiet mountain cabin, courtesy of a good and gracious friend who owns the cabin, the surrounding farmland, and apparently half the freaking mountain. Really. We unpack and drive to the crest, get out of the car and absorb the surreal beauty, the glorious leaves, the pastoral landscape unfurling beneath us.
We hike around a bit and I get the FANTASTIC idea that Johnny and Bridger should drive back down to the cabin. Waverly the Fearless and I will hike down on our own and meet them there. EASY. Johnny says it's a short hike through fairly even terrain and I'm all Rocky Mountain High from the sheer beauty of this place except technically I'm Smokey Mountain High but John Denver didn't sing that song and hey--I shop at REI and I'm wearing some rather kick-ass boots so WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?
*SPOILER ALERT! The boots were from Nordstrom, not REI and yeah... you can guess where this is going...
*Also--Johnny had to jimmy a barbed-wire cattle fence for Wavy and me climb under in order for us to even begin our "hike"...
*Also--I had no cell phone reception, no M-16, no parachute, and no hand sanitizer.
So Wavy and I begin our hike. We are having a Bonding Experience. We are two fierce, strong, self-reliant Nature Girls wearing really cute boots and--jeggings!
--and we're not afraid to step in --OHMYGOD THAT IS AN AWFULLY BIG COW PATTY.
LOTS of awfully big cow patties.
About a half mile further in it occurs to me that where there are cow patties, there might be cows.
And.....there. One. Is. Up ahead of us on the tip of the hill.
And then there's another. And then another. And the OH MY GOD THERE'S LIKE TWENTY OF THEM with their weird hip bones and their twitchy tails and their evil herd mentality and ohmygod they're all looking at us.
I ask Waverly what we should do. (YES, I often defer to the judgement of my five year old when confronted with life's insolvable problems.) "Keep going," she says. "We can walk around them." OK, but I am nervous. There is nothing but farmland in front of us, woods behind us and no one anywhere near who would hear us if we called for help. I only know one way to the cabin, and it is straight ahead, directly through what I'm beginning to think of as The Killing Fields.
(I know, I know. I'm from Texas. Steers and Queers, right? Why should I be afraid of cows? WELL I'LL TELL YOU. I'm from the part of Texas where the largest land animals you'll come across are the people lined up for the Chicken Fried Steak at Luby's Cafeteria)
So the most exposure I've had to cattle in my whole life to this point is the bulls I saw each year at the Texas Prison Rodeo when I was a kid. I AM NOT KIDDING THIS IS A REAL EVENT. Back in the early eighties, before, oh, OSHA and the ACLU and Amnesty International--apparently--they would put forty convicts in an arena with one raging, snorting, bucking, frothing-at-the-mouth wild bull with $50.00 inside of a bag tied between his horns and let the convicts risk life and limb retrieving the money bag for the schadenfreude of hundreds of East Texans. Yes, my parents thought this was appropriate childhood entertainment. No, my sister and I are not scarred by this experience because we were plied into cotton-candy-induced bleary-eyed apathy at the violence and general mayhem involved therein.
So. Here I am, alone on a mountain with my five year old daughter facing SEVERAL bulls. And not one of them has a lootbag tied to his horns and I have no M-16 and sadly, no cotton candy. But I do identify among the herd several nursing mama cows and in the spirit of solidarity hope that they will recognize me as one of their own and therefore will not hurt me or my former nursling and maybe they can convince the calf-daddies to look for some felons to maul.
And then they begin walking towards us. All of them. Fast. In weird evil cow herd unison. Waverly announces--loudly--that she will kill them with her walking stick and then kindly--and loudly--reminds them that she doesn't even eat cow. I look for a rock or stick to defend us with and all I see are cow patties. The cows are coming faster. With determination.
I ask Waverly what we should do.
"RUN!" she says.
But she can't say her R's yet so it sounds more like "ONE!" which normally would be cute but the barbed wire fence we're going to have to scale to escape certain death at the hands (hooves?) of the Angry Cows is really really sharp and really really high and Waverly is really really heavy. We manage after all to cross the field and I toss Waverly over the barbed wire fence to (supposed) safety and realize I cannot scale said fence. These jeggings are from Saks and this fence belongs to some farmer and if I try to climb it I will break it and that would be bad for the farmer and for me, as any breach in the fence could allow passage of the now-stampeding cows into our safe zone. So I dig deep, get brave, channel my formerly (partially) bad-ass GI Jane self and run DIRECTLY TOWARDS the stampeding cows to a tree I may or may not be able to climb to safety.
In my mind this is what I look like.
The good news is--I can still climb a tree. I jump from the haven of said tree's branches to the other side of the barbed wire fence much to the relief of my daughter. Who is standing in...
A cow patty.
And I remember. Where there are cow patties there must be cows.
We run across another field to another barbed wire fence. Jeggings and farmers be damned I'm climbing this bitch. I hoist Wavy over. And in a move even Angelina Jolie's stunt woman would envy, I sling myself over the fence.
Without. Tearing. The jeggings.
It's Cows 0. Wavy and Me 1. The cows do not look pleased.
Now we hike carefully, precariously, down a steep, impossibly narrow trail flanked on one side by Mean Bessie and Her Cohorts, the other side by a sheer drop-off to a rocky gully far below us.
And then we hear something. Music. Faint at first and then growing louder. Dueling Banjos? No. Because THAT WOULD BE TOO EASY. What we are hearing is, ostensibly, an intoxicated Person of Spanish Linguistic Ability serenading (and belching at) the mountainside at the top of his ever loving lungs. We are only mildly comforted by his presence because we have watched enough Dora and Diego to cry for help in Spanish however, our amigo sounds a bit too inebriated to al rescate us and I'm pretty sure he's missing his Rescue Pack.
We choose to keep our presence hidden from the mountain people and continue to the cabin.
I still don't see the cabin.
We are far, far removed from English-speaking human contact.
There is an entire herd of cattle on the other side of the fence bent on our certain demise.
We have an awful lot of cow poop on our fancy boots.
I have neither water nor food nor emergency flares nor anything else one would pack in the REI backpack I've been eyeing.
And I am most likely tetanus-positive at this point from the barbed wire fences I've scaled.
And it is at this very moment that Waverly announces, "I need to go potty. BAD."
We lived. But barely. We finally made it back to the cabin, which, thank GOD, had a washer and dryer. However it was in the basement which I was afraid of so Johnny had to do all the cow poop laundry.
I never succeeded in convincing Waverly to pee in the woods. She was like, "OK, if you do it with me." And I was like, "No."
Johnny would like you all to know that he did not intentionally send Waverly and me to our near deaths. He would like to remind you that he grew up in the kind of family that greased pigs for the chasing at family gatherings and therefore has a much higher tolerance for domesticated farm animals than I and had no idea I would be scared of the cows because, you know, I was in the Army.
Upon returning to Cary I used my member rewards at REI to buy some actual hiking boots, an emergency beacon, and a handheld GPS. I am still searching the internet for cow repellant.
Sprint continues to offer the good people of western North Carolina no service at all, which is pretty much the same service it offers to the people of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which is no service at all. Halliburton continues to club baby seals and slap orphans and contaminate baby formula with...cow poop.
We never heard anything more from our Mountain Mariachi. I think of him fondly and hope he is well.
Mean Bessie and her band of Mean Cohorts abide.