#highpoints

Missouri

18 October 2017

As much as I loved the West, I enjoyed the vegetation of the East. The low elevation, available water, and humidity felt familiar. Although rarely welcomed, it was truly a warm return. Trees were blinders along the road, making you feel less lonely and exposed. Their leafy arms reaching out, waving in the breeze. Windows down, you hear insects. You feel surrounded by life. After a solo trip, the landscape was a welcome change. I felt like I had landed back home–deciduous forests in summertime. The delirium of the drive, in recollection, confuses this point of view, but you know what I mean.

 

It was only my second time in Missouri–the first being a nightly drive-through with my dad . It was good to see the state during the day. The rolling hills and Mississippi. The friendly people without noticeable drawls. It was like the Midwest married the South. And my old truck chugged through it all the same. At this point, the mysterious loose wire had blown about a dozen fuses en route. But she wasn’t giving up. She took me all the way to highpoint, buried in a pleasant state park south of St. Louis.

 

I snapped a picture at the peak, a short walk from the parking lot, and stretched my legs. Dusk was falling, and I had about one day of driving before reaching South Carolina. My apartment wouldn’t be ready for another week, and I’d have to fly up to Michigan for my cousin’s wedding soon. So I decided to head north. The heat and humidity didn’t lend itself for a night in the truck, and after days without air-conditioning, I wimped out and got a hotel. But in the late morning, I crossed the border and proved the cranky California mechanics wrong: Old Faithful made it home. They said she wouldn’t make it across town. A box of fuses and weeks later, the truck returned to the elephant graveyard. A job well done.

 

 

Taum Sauk Mountain. 1772 ft / 540 m. 25 July 2017.

missouri

Kansas

17 October 2017

Todo, I don’t think we’re in Oz anymore.

 

After leaving Conewy (that wonderful intersection of Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming), I continued down dirt roads and through small towns along the Colorado border. Riding the edge of Mountain Time, I headed to the top of Kansas. Mount Sunflower was the state highpoint and wouldn’t surprise me if it were the country’s middle point. Like Nebraska’s peak, Mount Sunflower was situated amongst rolling fields. Geographically, it wasn’t incredibly interesting. The strong winds didn’t make it too peaceful either. But the kitschy decorations and aesthetic made it memorable. The managers of the highpoint did a wonderful job of maintaining the place–lots of rusty decor, signs, a library box, and even an actual sunflower surrounded the peak. To note, the landscape behind me is Colorado. It’s mildly interesting that the background of Kansas’s peak is another state.

 

Feeling accomplished at getting my second highpoint for the day, I left Mount Sunflower to continue across Kansas. No twisters sent me to Munchkin Town, so I got to enjoy the entirety of the state, from west to east. It was okay.

 

Mount Sunflower. 4039 ft / 1231 m. 24 July 2017.

Nebraska

31 August 2017

I was moving cross-country again. This time from San Ramon, California to Greenville, South Carolina. With any long trip, I sought to bag a few highpoints along the way. After selling and donating the majority of my possessions, I loaded the truck for its final journey in my possession. Struggling to run, yet alone haul stuff, the truck wasn’t in a place to go too far from the beaten path. Ergo, I saved the Utah and Wyoming summits for another day. Nebraska, though, was right along the way.

 

Buried in the rolling hills near the Colorado-Nebraska-Wyoming border, Panorama Peak made for a tranquil visit. Big blue skies and fields for as far as the eye could see. A buffalo herd grazed in the distance. A weathered jackrabbit wandered along the dirt road. Other than a refreshing breeze, the highpoint was quiet. I felt at peace there, surveying the open space. It got me thinking. I had an odd connection to this region of the country. The night prior to arriving, I slept at the same Wyoming rest area I had visited with my dad years ago. Driving, I passed the same Colorado wind-turbines I had climbed for work two years prior. Now I was standing at the top of Nebraska, adding an experience to the last member of the tristate area. It’s an interesting coincidence. I have no familial ties to the region, nor does the region hold any major destinations–natural nor manmade. It was never a destination, in and of itself. Yet, I always enjoyed my visits. CO-NE-WY. For me, Conewy is a special place.

 

Panorama Point. 5429 ft / 1655 m. 24 July 2017.

nebraska

Nevada

17 July 2017

On the border of California and Nevada, where gold meets silver, lies the Nevada highpoint. I find it funny how Nevada’s license plate touts second place. Who wants the silver? Regardless, the road to the highpoint was littered in abandoned mines. I assume they weren’t gold.

 

It was Independence Day weekend and it was about time I took advantage of the highpointing scene on the West Coast. I grabbed a buddy and a Jeep and hit the road to cap Nevada. Seven hours from San Ramon with holiday weekend traffic, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Boundary Peak until mid-afternoon. The roads en route were interesting: steep, curvy, and desolate. Shortly after crossing the state border and fifty miles from the nearest services–gas, water, cellular–was a little unnamed road. Two-track, dry as dirt, and littered in loose rock; the trail to the mountain gave the Jeep Patriot a ride for its rental car insurance.

 

I maneuvered through the red rock and narrow pass alright, but eventually reached a point too steep for the Patriot. We parked before an abandoned mine and hiked the last mile to the trailhead. It was hot. It was steep. By the time we reached the register, it was four o’clock in the afternoon. A pair of Wranglers were parked at the trail and their owners were pitching tents. They said there’s no way we’d summit before sundown. We shrugged and signed the register. A wedding party had beat us. Apparently a mountaineering-loving couple was tying the knot atop their final highpoint today. A novel idea for a wedding–one I’d be lucky to ever have.

 

We started the ascent. The going wasn’t easy between the heat, rocky terrain, and occasional pile of wild horse feces; but we managed to reach the base of the mountain–several miles in–before six. The wedding party was descending as we began the climb. They wished us luck against time and the dark storm clouds overhead. I emptied my bota to finish my water and we began. False peak after false peak, we reached the top of the first shoulder before seven and got a clear glimpse of the summit. Traces of snow covered parts of the shadowed rock and the sun was dipping low. My partner and I were pretty spent, but we had made good time. I estimated we’d peak around eight and get back to the base before nine. I had a headlamp and we could make the off-mountain return after dark. My poor friend listened to me. So we went for it.

 

After losing track of the trail among the boulders and scrambling our way to the summit, we were cutting it close. My friend threw in the towel around seven thirty and said he’d wait for me at the base. Neglecting mountaineering law, we parted ways and I summited minutes to eight. Thrilled, I snapped pictures and watched the sun dip below the mountainous horizon. Legs shaky and throat dry, I began my descent, slipping and stumbling over the loose rocks. Halfway down the mountain, darkness fell and I toggled my headlamp. The going was rough and I nearly twisted an ankle on several occasions, but I managed to reach the bottom by nine. I looked around and called out for my friend–who had agreed to wait there–but turned up nothing. So I carried on.

 

I knew my friend didn’t have a headlamp, so I could only hope his phone battery lasted long enough to function as a flashlight. The trail was relatively easy now–over scantly vegetated rolling hills–but I had to keep a sharp eye on the path. With no cell service or landmarks to navigate by, I had to stay on trail. Walking along, I started to see a small white light in the distance. I called out. My friend must be holding his phone. Picking up a jog, I moved toward the light, calling. No response. Soon the light multiplied. First there were two, then four, six, eight, ten…several pairs of white lights along the trail. They were about eight feet off the ground and quickly approaching. My heart thumped and I slowed to a halt. The lights were coming up fast. Squinting, I saw they were attached to large, dark bodies. The lights were a reflection of my headlamp in their eyes. I toggled to a brighter setting. Ten wild black stallions, like the horsemen of the apocalypse, were charging toward me. ‘Shoo!’ I yelled, as if they were stray cats. ‘Shoo!” The horses whinnied and scattered about me, rushing past so close I could feel the breeze. I froze, watching the large bodies run an arm’s length away. It was beautiful. And terrifying.

 

With an adrenaline rush, I made it the rest of the way to the trailhead, arriving around eleven. The Wrangler people were playing cards at a popup table. My friend, bloodied, was collapsed in a chair beside them. Laughing at our misfortune, they told us to sleep in our Jeep and drive down in the morning. We agreed and walked the last mile to our car. We hopped in and turned on the lights. The empty mine stared back at us. The poltergeists of passed prospectors were certainly waiting in the darkness. Bloody, dehydrated, sore, and spooked; we decided to go. Why start heeding advice now? After an hour of treacherous rocky cliffs and limited visibility, we sighed relief and returned to the highway.

 

With a quarter tank of gas, no service, and no maps; we took a lucky guess on direction and drove fifty miles to a gas station. It was closed, but the pumps ran. Still no water, but at least a full tank and some cell service, we set our sights for the next motel…another hundred miles away. We trucked on, through winding mountain roads, until we reached Mammoth Lakes. It was nearly two in the morning, and no signs advertised vacancy. Desperate, we approached every hotel in town–Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and–but to no avail. Independence Day left no room free. There wasn’t even a stable.

 

So we doubled-down. We found a twenty-four hour grocery, loaded up on energy drinks and Slim Jim’s, and drove seven hours home. After a shower and some breakfast, I fell into bed. It never felt so good.

 

You put up a fight, Nevada. But you lost.

 

Boundary Peak. 13140 ft / 4005 m. 1 July 2017.

Louisiana

10 February 2017

I was moving from New Orleans, Louisiana to San Ramon, California. After a week of forced social activity, the four-day solo road trip was heavenly. En route, I decided to cap Louisiana’s highpoint. I had lived in the state for six months, but had not yet made the drive from New Orleans.

 

As far as elevation goes, Louisiana was flat. Much of the southern part of the state was at or below sea level. I was half-expecting the highpoint to be a pile of rocks on the edge of a swamp. I was pleasantly mistaken (although there was still a pile of rocks at the summit). In the northwest corner of the state, Mount Driskill was a somewhat prominent peak with visible surface relief. I arrived to the cemetery parking lot around 17:30–just before sunset–and surprisingly found a trail to the summit. I had expected to hop out of the car, snap a picture, and keep trucking.

 

After I took the mile-long trail to the peak and photographed myself, darkness had fallen. The hardwood forest covering the mountain was quite lovely–the trees tall and straight, quite unlike the gnarly swamp trees I had become accustomed to. Critters scurried through the fallen leaves and brush around me, invisible to the eye but clear to the ear. It was both calming and eerie. Natural environments like this typically relax me, but something about this situation made me uneasy. Whenever I left my truck in sparsely populated areas, I always had the unsettling feeling that something would be waiting for me when I got back. So I hastened my stride and began running. The unfamiliar ground seemed to lash out with hidden roots. The invisible critters grew claws and fangs in my imagination. Hair bristled on the back of my neck, as if triggered by watching eyes. As I emerged from the forest, my worries were justified. I saw a red truck running next to mine. My first thought was police, followed by annoyance. My second thought was vandals/thieves, followed by anger. My third thought was murderers, followed by fear. By the time I burst out of the trees, I hadn’t thought the third. As I ran across the cemetery, the truck reversed and peeled out to the road. I heard the sound of a woman screaming “Stop! Help!” Then the third thought entered my mind. I couldn’t see through the windows of the truck, but the screams continued as it sped down the road. Panicked, I fumbled for my keys and unlocked my truck. I didn’t want to get involved, but I couldn’t turn a blind eye. Igniting the engine and reversing, I headed down the road after the red truck.

 

Unfortunately, I was too late. The tail-lights had disappeared. The road had diverged into several smaller roads, like a river breaking into a dozen tributaries. Almost every driveway I saw had a red truck parked in it. I heard no more screams and there was nothing left to chase. Stricken with guilt and helplessness, I turned around and headed to the border. Goodbye, Louisiana.

 

Mount Driskill. 535 ft / 163 m. 4 February 2017.

 

Louisiana

Florida

7 August 2016

Another six months disappeared. A few days ago, I moved out of Greenville and drove down to New Orleans, where I will be spending the remainder of this year. It was a great time of year to move further South, especially in a truck without air conditioning. Shortly after leaving South Carolina, it started to rain–which meant more humidity and closed windows. It was a sweatbox for me, but a greenhouse for my plants. At least somebody benefitted.

 

En route to New Orleans, I stopped at Britton Hill, Florida’s highest point. At a soaring 345 feet, Britton Hill was the lowest of the fifty U.S. highpoints. Similar to the flat peaks of Indiana and Delaware, Florida’s was nestled beside a cornfield. Next to a parking lot at the entrance to a wooded park, the highpoint was denoted by a stone marker, some benches, and a prominent wooden sign perfect for posing. As usual, a stranger was kind enough to snap my picture.

 

Britton Hill. 345 ft / 105 m. 30 July 2016.

 

Florida

 

Delaware

9 February 2016

Six months were up, just like that. I was uprooted from Schenectady, New York and transplanted to Greenville, South Carolina. Good thing I liked to move.

 

It was a good time of year to make the transition. Winter had been mild in New York–a bit too mild for my taste–and February supposedly offered nice weather in South Carolina. When the time came, my friend Gary–who was relocating to Atlanta–helped me load my stuff into a UHaul trailer and hit the road. It was the first time I had hauled anything with my truck, so I was glad to finally take advantage of the capability. Gary and I formed a caravan en route and communicated with walkie-talkies, making the Friday evening crawl through East Coast traffic bearable. Rather than drive straight to our apartments, we decided to make a few stops along the way. Washington D.C. to visit a friend. Charlotte, North Carolina to grab some Ikea furniture. Ebright Azimuth to summit Delaware.

 

Late Friday evening, I and all of my worldly possessions capped Delaware. The highest point sat alongside the road, marked by a prominent blue sigh and a wire bench. Before we clogged traffic, Gary and I snapped a picture before the sign. Like Rhode Island, Delaware’s peak was hardly a bump. The juxtaposition of the street-side summit and the previous week’s expedition to Marcy’s icy peak exemplified the true diversity of American highpoints. That’s what keeps it interesting.

 

Ebright Azimuth. 448 ft / 137 m. 29 January 2016.

 

Delaware