Location:Buck Spring Gap Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (25.9 miles – 41 min) Knoxville (118 miles – 2 hours and 12 min) Charlotte (132 miles – 2 hours and 30 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.39526, -82.76805Trail Access:From Asheville drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Set your GPS device for Fryingpan Gap at mile 409.6 on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There is no official parking, people park on the shoulders around the gated FR 450. You should be able to see the lookout and communications towers overhead when you park.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:FR 450 and Fryingpan TrailHike Configuration: Out-and-backHike Distance:~1.7 miles Elevation Gain: 375 feetHiking Time:50 minutesDate of Hike:02-12-17, Sunday at 1:00 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — You’ll follow a gravel forest road the entire time.Hike Difficulty:Easy — Although the climb is moderate it is a very short hike on a nice road. Isolation:Very Low — This is a very short, popular hike to a lookout tower with great views. Highlights:Great 360º views from the tower, the highlight is the Shining Rock Wilderness. Lowlights:Very crowded, the communications tower blocks an unobstructed view of Mount Pisgah, the top cab is closed preventing better views than from the stairs.Google Photos album link
After Mount Pisgah I hopped back on the Blue Ridge Parkway south to my next hike of the day, Fryingpan Mountain. This was my second short hike of the day, and is shorter and much easier than Mount Pisgah with very similar views. Fryingpan Mountain is home to the one of the tallest lookout towers in North Carolina at 70 feet. The mountain, at 5,342 feet, is part of the rugged Pisgah Ridge on the eastern front of the Great Balsam Mountains. This short, accessible hike from Fryingpan Gap is suitable for all ages. You can also use a combination of trails emanating from Mount Pisgah Campground or Buck Spring Gap Overlook to create a longer day hike. Although the top cab of the tower is closed, you can still climb the steep stairs to get fantastic views in every direction. You’ll be blown away by the view of the Shining Rock Wilderness to the west, plus the other directions aren’t too shabby.
Location:Buck Spring Gap Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (24.1 miles – 38 min) Knoxville (118 miles – 2 hours and 9 min) Charlotte (130 miles – 2 hours and 28 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.41537, -82.74876Trail Access:From Asheville drive south on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left at milepost 407.7 for the Buck Spring Gap Overlook and the Mt. Pisgah Trail. Park at the Buck Spring Gap Overlook or the upper Mount Pisgah Parking Area beside the trail. Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea Trail – Mount Pisgah TrailHike Configuration: Out-and-backHike Distance:~2.9 miles Elevation Gain: 890 feetHiking Time:1 hour and 30 minutesDate of Hike:02-12-17, Sunday at 11:20 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — The first half seems to have had recent maintenance. As you start going up the trail is a combination of boulders and rock steps, a hearty floor for all of those hikers.Hike Difficulty:Moderate — Although short, the trail features a stout, continuous climb over many steps to reach the summit. Isolation:Very Low — This is an extremely popular hike, you will likely never be alone. Highlights:Nice trail and I enjoyed the rock steps, great views of the Shining Rock Wilderness. Lowlights:Insanely crowded for mid-February, the TV tower blocks clear views north.Google Photos album link
After a full-day hike on Mount LeConte where I had no views and severely irritated my left IT Band, I decided to try some short hikes this Sunday until the pain flared up again. Unlike Saturday, the weather was supposed to be partly sunny with high wind and gusts. My first stop was Mount Pisgah on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The climb to Mount Pisgah is a classic hike southwest of Asheville and is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Mount Pisgah at 5,721 feet is one of the most recognizable peaks in North Carolina with its pyramidal summit and 339-foot television transmission tower. On many of the hikes I do in western North Carolina, I can see that tower from many miles other. This mountain lies in the northeast corner of the Great Balsam Mountains, and has outstanding views from the observation deck at the summit. Although it is a short hike at 2.9 miles round-trip, the climb is steep and relentless. This is a great jumping off point for more exploration, and it should take under 2 hours for most hikers.
Location:Brown Gap, Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area, Pisgah National Forest, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (49 miles – 1 hour and 5 min) Knoxville (76 miles – 1 hour and 24 min) Charlotte (163 miles – 2 hours and 59 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.77318, -82.9957Trail Access:Take exit 7 on I-40 and follow Cold Springs Creek Rd 3.2 miles. Turn left onto FR 148A and follow it 1.2 miles to Brown Gap. The road levels out around the gap and forks, you should be able to spot the white Appalachian Trail blazes.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian Trail – Max Patch TrailHike Distance:~7.1 miles Hike Configuration: Out-and-back Elevation Gain: 2,061 feetHiking Time:3 hours and 15 minutesDate of Hike:02-19-17, Sunday at 1:15 PMTrail Condition: Good — The Appalachian Trail is in very good condition, the section around Max Patch has more erosion.Hike Difficulty:Moderate — Other than the steep hike out of Brown Gap this is pretty easy. Isolation:Low — The AT section doesn’t have much traffic but Max Patch is always crowded. Highlights:Incredible views from the summit of the tallest peaks in the region. Lowlights:Only lowlight is the road near the trailhead is rough.Google Photos album link
It had been an unseasonably warm February, and the weather on Sunday, Feb 19th looked perfect for a hike with big views. Surprisingly I’ve never been to Max Patch Mountain. Despite its fame, it is really out of the way for me unless I’m staying in the Asheville area. After two hikes earlier in the day to Chambers Mountain and Little Fall Branch Falls, I decided to cap the day off with a nice hike on the Appalachian Trail to Max Patch. Many people drive close to the summit on the long, gravel SR 1182. If you do this, the hike is around 2 miles total which is far shorter than I prefer. I chose to begin deep in the Harmon Den Wildlife Management Area of Pisgah National Forest, taking the Appalachian Trail north from Brown Gap. This is a pleasant hike through deciduous hardwood forests along ~4,000-foot ridges and at 7.1-miles round-trip is manageable for many types of hikers. The weather was in the mid-50s °F with bright sun and little wind. I’ve seen so many pictures of Max Patch but I was still blown away by the views from the summit. You are surrounded and dwarfed by some of the tallest peaks in the Appalachian Mountain. It is truly an awesome feeling. I highly recommend a trip to Max Patch, it is one of the best grassy balds in North Carolina.
Location:Sams Gap below I-26, NC/TN Distance from Hubs: Asheville (29 miles – 33 min) Charlotte (150 miles – 2 hours and 34 min) Knoxville (109 miles – 2 hours and 10 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.95238, -82.56080Trail Access:Follow I-26 north from Asheville and leave the interstate at exit 3. Head north on U.S. 23A for 3.1 miles and prior to passing under I-26 there is a parking area on the left. The Appalachian Trail is across the street on the right side of I-26.Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~13.1 miles Elevation Gain: 3,270 feetHiking Time:6 hours and 15 minutesDate of Hike:01-16-16, Saturday at 11:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is a popular stretch of the Appalachian Trail and I found it in very good condition except for the section below Big Bald which was eroded.Hike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — For the mileage this is on the easy side of the scale. There are few stretches of strenuous elevation gain, the grades are mostly very forgiving. Isolation:Average — I doubt you’ll be in crowds of people because of the length of the hike, but I also doubt you’ll ever be alone considering its appeal and access. It’s hard for me to judge considering the weather, but I saw at least 10 people anyways. Highlights:Beautiful trail through hardwood forests, delightful mix of rime ice on trees and shrubs, icy wonderland at the summit Lowlights:Really the obvious lowlight was the constant cloud cover, I didn’t get the views I expectedGoogle Photos album link
My plan was to hike to Big Bald, supposedly one of the finest of all the grassy balds in the southern Appalachian Mountains. If you can get a sunny day in the winter, nothing beats crystal clear views from an open summit. There’s just too much haze in the summer to compare. The forecast started with clouds in the morning, clearing out for sun after noon in the low 40s °F with a light wind. As I drove north on Interstate 26 from Asheville I was beginning to doubt the veracity of the NOAA forecast. Usually they’re spot on, but as I approached Sams Gap on the North Carolina/Tennessee border all I could see was a low cloud ceiling covering every peak. Big Bald, at 5,516 feet, is the tallest summit of the Bald Mountains along the state border and the tallest mountain on the Appalachian Trail for 148 miles. It requires a long hike from either direction. Sams Gap is the typical hike since it is located right off the interstate. I expected beautiful scenery every step of the way, but what I got was an icy wintry wonderland and an unforgettable experience.
Location:Elk Mountain Scenic Highway junction with Blue Ridge Parkway, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (8.6 miles – 20 min) Charlotte (131 miles – 2 hours and 11 min) Raleigh (249 miles – 3 hours and 52 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.66439, -82.47912Trail Access:Follow N.C. 694 north from Asheville for 6.3 miles until it ends at the Blue Ridge Parkway. Turn left on the parkway and drive 1.6 miles to the junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway on the left. You can park at the pullout on the parkway or on the sides of Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. The Mountains-to-Sea Trail crosses the highway at this junction. Hiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Configuration: Out and backHike Distance:~11.3 miles Elevation Gain: 2,960 feetHiking Time:5 hours and 30 minutesDate of Hike:04-03-16, Sunday at 12:10 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — This is an excellent section of the Mountains-to-Sea TrailHike Difficulty:Moderately Strenuous — There are a couple of sections of steep climbs, but everything else felt easier than the elevation gain suggests. Isolation:Average — You will encounter quite a few hikers around Rattlesnake Lodge, however they disappear beyond the lodge which was confounding to me. Highlights:Historical remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, beautiful sections of the MST including the high ridgeline, view from Lane Pinnacle Lowlights:I was hoping that Rattlesnake Lodge would be a cabin, not enough open views from the trail although I missed a big view just beyond Lane PinnacleGoogle Photos album link
How do you end a hazy bachelor party weekend in Asheville? With a hike of course! It was the first weekend of April, and I was staying in Asheville with my friends Friday through Sunday. We had to vacate the house before noon on Sunday, and everyone was leaving town anyways. The weather was perfect for a hike, sunny with no clouds and cold but no wind. My body and mind weren’t perfect for a hike, but I went ahead with it anyways. I decided to drive northeast on the Blue Ridge Parkway towards Craggy Gardens, a place I never get to because of drive time. I did no research beforehand, and had only brought a couple of maps and books in my car for reference. Unfortunately the parkway was still closed because of Tanbark Ridge Tunnel construction, or because it was still winter at the high elevations. I had a backup in mind, and it fortunately started at the road closure. Here the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST) crosses the parkway at the T-junction with the Elk Mountain Scenic Highway. From here my plan was to hike east towards the historic remnants of Rattlesnake Lodge, then ascend a high ridgeline in the western Great Craggy Mountains to Lane Pinnacle at 5,230 feet. This was not a bad backup plan, and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this section of the MST.
Location:Bearwallow Gap, Gerton, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (19 miles – 33 min) Charlotte (104 miles – 2 hours and 12 min) Raleigh (257 miles – 4 hours and 12 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.46042, -82.36845Trail Access:From the I-40/I-240/U.S. 74 ALT interchange in Asheville head southeast on U.S. 74 ALT for 12.5 miles. In Gerton, NC turn right onto Bearwallow Mountain Road and drive 2 miles to the crest of the road at Bearwallow Gap. Parking for the trails is on the southern side of the gap.Hiking Upward link to hikeBearwallow Mountain – 2.4 miles, 740 feet elevation gain, 1 hour, moderately easyBlue Ridge Pastures – 4.9 miles, 1,410 feet elevation gain, 2 hours and 30 minutes, moderateCombined:Hiking Trails:Bearwallow Trail – Trombatore TrailHike Configuration: Out and back, twiceHike Distance:~7.3 miles Elevation Gain: 2,150 feetHiking Time:3 hoursDate of Hike:12-20-2015, Sunday at 2:25 PMTrail Condition: Very Good — The Bearwallow Mountain Trail was recently completed and features excellent switchbacks. The Trombatore Trail was also recently completed, and also sometimes follows existing forest roads.Hike Difficulty:Moderate — This is right in the middle in terms of distance and elevation gain. I would not consider this too long or too difficult for the majority of hikers Isolation:Low — Bearwallow Mountain is popular and based on proximity I imagine Blue Ridge Pastures sees a decent amount of hikers as well year-round. Highlights:Awesome views in three directions from Bearwallow Mountain, easy summit trail, eastern view of Hickory Nut Gorge from Blue Ridge Pastures Lowlights:No eastern views from Bearwallow Mountain, communications complex diminishes the scenery, lack of solitude on both trailsGoogle Photos album link
On this bitterly cold day before the winter solstice I left Catawba Falls, grabbed some lunch in Black Mountain, then drove toward my second hike of the day in the Upper Hickory Nut Gorge. Although Hickory Nut Gorge is a popular hiking and tourist destination, I have rarely traveled through the area. It is a longer drive than most hikes in the region due to road access. Every highway through the area is full of switchbacks, single lanes, and generally slow travel for many miles. Other than Chimney Rock I haven’t hiked anywhere else, and on this day it was time for a change. Since I hiked earlier in the day I chose two hikes that were short and relatively popular in order to avoid navigation problems. I drove up to Bearwallow Gap, which has two beautiful hikes that begin at the same spot.
Location:South Mountains State Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Asheville (72 miles – 1 hour and 17 min) Charlotte (63 miles – 1 hour and 19 min) Raleigh (198 miles – 3 hours and 8 min) Trailhead GPS Coordinates:35.60236, -81.62917Trail Access:This is a confusing park to get to via maps and GPS directions. Just insert 3001 South Mountain Park, Connelly Springs, NC 28612 into your GPS and try not to get lost!South Mountains State Park websiteandpark mapHiking Upward link to hikeHiking Trails:River Trail – Raven Rock Trail – Benn Knob Trail – Lower CCC Trail – Fox Trail – Jacob Branch Trail – Upper Falls Trail – High Shoals Falls Loop Trail – Hemlock Nature TrailHike Distance:~16.1 miles Hike Configuration: Loop Elevation Gain: 3,261 feetHiking Time:7 hours and 10 minutesDate of Hike:06-04-16, Saturday at 10:15 AMTrail Condition: Very Good — Almost all trails are forest roads in good shape. The few hikers’ only trails are also in good shape.Hike Difficulty:Strenuous — There are few extended climbs other than the initial ascent on the Raven Rock Trail. This is mainly strenuous due to length. Isolation:Above Average — This is an average of isolation being very high for the majority of the hike while anywhere near the waterfall you’ll always see people year-round. Highlights:Immaculately maintained trails, manmade views from various trails where there are no natural views, secluded campsites Lowlights:Forest roads get monotonous after a while, long section on paved road, views few and far between, way too many people at High Shoals Falls and surrounding areaGoogle Photos album link
South Mountains State Park is a great area for exploration and gear testing in a relatively calm environment. The trails are immaculate, and are mostly former forest roads built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. There are signs and blazes everywhere, it is impossible to get lost unless you really try. There are frontcountry and backcountry options for hikers of various physical fitness levels. It is also one of my fallback options when the weather doesn’t look so good in the bigger mountains ranges of western North Carolina. The South Mountains lie east of the Blue Ridge Mountains as a smaller, separate mountain range with peaks ranging between 2,000-3,000 feet. The state park is the largest in North Carolina, and that doesn’t include the vast South Mountains Game Land to the west. This is a huge area and much of the interior of this mountain range feels very wild and remote. On my previous two trips (including my recent post about High Shoals Falls) I did smaller loops that didn’t quite reach the state park interior boundary. My goal was to do the full southern perimeter of the state park which included peakbagging Benn Knob, one of the tallest peaks in the South Mountains. Since this hike either follows Jacob Fork or the ridges surrounding the headwaters, I dubbed this hike Jacob Fork Rim. I wasn’t sure what else to call it since I hiked so many different trails on this one big loop.
Location: Mount Jefferson State Natural Area, West Jefferson, NC Distance from Hubs:Raleigh (189 miles – 3 hours and 2 minutes) Charlotte (118 miles – 1 hour and 59 minutes) Asheville (110 miles – 2 hours and 15 minutes)Trail Access:On U.S. 221 north 1.3 miles after the intersection with NC 163 turn right onto Mt Jefferson St Park Rd. Drive 2.0 miles to the Sunset Overlook. After you pass the park office the Sunset Overlook is the first large parking area on the left at a U-turn. The Mountain Ridge Trail Extension begins at the end of the parking lot.Directions to the park and trail maps can be found at the parkWEBSITEHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails: Mountain Ridge Trail Extension – Mountain Ridge Trail – Mt Jefferson St Park Rd – Summit Trail – Rhododendron Trail – Lost Province Trail – Rhododendron Trail – Summit Trail – Mt Jefferson St Park Rd – Mountain Ridge Trail – Mountain Ridge Trail ExtensionHike Configuration: Out-and-back with 2 small loops Elevation Gain:1,416 feet Hike Distance:~4.3 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 04-12-15, Sunday at 11:10 AMTrail Condition:Excellent and Incomplete — The portions of the Mountain Ridge Trail I hiked were not completed, they were scheduled to be finished by the end of 2015. Otherwise the short trails at the summit are excellent. Hike Difficulty: Moderately Easy — The summit trails are very easy and the incomplete trails require a little moderate climbing but nothing to pant about.Isolation: Below Average — This is a small state park where all the trails are easy and road accessible Highlights:Outstanding views from the two overlooks and Luther Rock Lowlights:Did not feel like a wilderness experience because most of it resembled the worst of state park trails due to proximity to road and picnic areas Google Photos album link
Mount Jefferson State Natural Area is a place I always kept in the back of my mind. It is usually mentioned in North Carolina hiking guides, which generally means it is a worthy hiking destination. However, this park is very small and in the past only offered 2.2 miles of hiking trails. That is typically not enough for me to warrant a full trip. I frequently check the North Carolina State Park website for updates and pictures, and happened to check the trail map for Mt. Jefferson before I planned this hike. To my surprise there were brand new trails, the Mountain Ridge Trail and Track Trail, and they incorporate the park office and two road overlooks. Perfect I thought, here’s a trail that adds length and difficulty to what is otherwise a really easy, short hike. Instead of 2.2 miles, I figured it would be around 7 miles. (The state park map, trail naming, and mileage aren’t clear). It was supposed to be a clear, crisp mid-April Sunday so I was excited to check out a state park unit I’ve never visited. Keep reading to check out the great views in Mt. Jefferson State Natural Area.
Location:Roan Highlands, Pisgah & Cherokee National Forest, NC-TN Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (232 miles – 4 hours and 4 min) Charlotte (137 miles – 2 hours and 33 min) Asheville (65 miles – 1 hour and 27 min) Trail Access:Drive west on U.S. 19E from Elk Park for 6.8 mi then turn south on TN-143 driving 12.6 mi to parking at Carver’s Gap. The Appalachian Trail crosses the parking area.HikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Appalachian Trail north and south – Grassy Ridge Bald Trail side trip on the returnHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 4,760 feetHike Distance:~19.3 miles Hiking Time: 9 hours and 15 minutes Date of Hike: 04-05-15, Sunday at 10:00 AMTrail Condition: Above Average — The first section along Round Bald is in great shape, but the trail condition quickly devolves beyond that and is trenched on many of the inclines due to traffic and lack of maintenanceHike Difficulty:Very Strenuous — The difficulty is due to overall length and not steepness. There are tough climbs up Hump Mountain, south up Grassy Ridge Bald, and north out of Yellow Mountain Gap, but none are brutally steep or technical Isolation:Average — Ease of access and Appalachian Trail means this is not for solitude, but you will see surprisingly few people beyond Grassy Ridge Bald because of the distance Highlights:What aren’t the highlights? Round Bald, Jane Bald, Grassy Ridge Bald, Little Hump Mountain & Hump Mountain. This is one of the finest collections of balds and views I’ve seen in the Southeast Lowlights:Muddy trail down Grassy Ridge Bald, lots of trenching and erosionGoogle+ photo album link
There were less than 15 cars parked at Carver’s Gap which I took to be a great sign. Originally I thought there would be more people hiking today. It was beautiful outside and just past 11:00 AM. When I stepped out of my car, I felt a chilling gust and immediately questioned my clothing for the hike. A couple of days prior I had seen the weather should be mid-50s and sunny and failed to check the weather the night before. Even with clear skies it was definitely in the 40s and the wind was blowing steadily. All I had were shorts, T-shirt, long sleeve shirt, pullover fleece, and my hoody I wore in the car. I made the conscious decision to bring all of my layers even though the hoody added a lot of extra weight. This reminded me that even if Spring is here, the wind and elevation can still make a hike quite cold. It had been years since I last visited the Roan Highlands, arguably the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail in the Southeast. (I would personally claim Mt. Rogers as a solid 2nd place). During my last trip I backpacked to the Overmountain Shelter, day hiked to Hump Mountain, and returned the same day to Carver’s Gap. This time I was essentially doing the same trip, in one day. Not one section of this hike is extremely strenuous or technical, but it still covers more than 19 miles and that is always a tough undertaking no matter what kind of topography you encounter. I think I planned this perfectly excluding my clothing choices. And the thing about the Roan Highlands is they are freakin’ beautiful. Once you are hiking atop these open grass summits you seem to forget how many miles and how much climbing you have done. With these kind of temperatures and the lengthening Spring days it is easy to cover many miles. If you live in the Southeast you have to put this hike on your list, even if you can’t cover everything I did here.
Location:Moses H. Cone Memorial Park, NC Distance from Hubs: Raleigh (195 miles – 3 hours and 4 min) Charlotte (98 miles – 1 hour and 47 min) Asheville (81 miles – 1 hour and 37 min) Trail Access:After crossing U.S. 321 exit to Blowing Rock continue driving south on the Blue Ridge Parkway for 2.1 mi. Turn left at the sign for the Cone Manor parking area. Flat Top Rd begins below the parking area to the left of the manor – where free maps are available. Click here for informationon Moses Cone Memorial ParkHikingUpward link to hikeHiking Trails:Flat Top RoadHike Configuration: Out and back Elevation Gain: 584 feetHike Distance:~5.3 miles Hiking Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes Date of Hike: 03-28-15, Saturday at 11:50 AMTrail Condition: Excellent — This is an excellent trail, which is actually a paved road most of the time Hike Difficulty:Easy — You will follow a mostly flat paved or gravel road. I’m not listing it as incredibly easy because of the total length Isolation:Average — I passed at least 10 people on this snowy, windy day. During the summer this trail is likely crowded at least until the large meadow Highlights:Easy trail, beautiful views from the meadow, panoramas from the fire tower Lowlights:Cone Cemetery was guarded by a huge fence which took away from the overall sceneryGoogle+ photo album link
As I passed through the tunnel under the Blue Ridge Parkway a cold gust of wind hit me in the face chilling me to the bone. At this moment I realized I was woefully unprepared for this hike, the weather conditions were much more brutal than I remembered from the NOAA forecast. Initially I wasn’t planning on this hike in Moses H. Cone Memorial Park to Flat Top Tower, but as I was driving towards the mountains the sky was crystal clear and snow blanketed the high peaks. It was late March, I did not expect the snow but I welcomed it. The views would be spectacular anywhere I went, but I chose to forego my initial plan of chasing waterfalls and head for a hike with far-reaching views. Scrambling to put on gloves to get some feeling back in my hands while draping on anything I had in my pack: mid-layer fleece, beanie, neck gaiter, sunglasses, and rain jacket – I wondered why I always choose new destinations on a whim.