red clay halo for my head: roan highlands


Oh the girls all dance with the boys from the city
And they don’t care to dance with me
Now it ain’t my fault that the fields are muddy
And the red clay stains my feet
And it’s under my nails
And it’s under my collar
And it shows on Sunday clothes
I’ll do my best with the soap and water
But the damned old dirt won’t go
But when I pass through the pearly gates
Will my gown be gold instead?
Or just a red clay robe
With red clay wings
And a red clay halo for my head?

-Gillian Welch-

Location:  Appalachain Trail, Section 23, the Roan Highlands

early in may, i headed out on the AT with some amazing women.  we planned the trip months in advance, as several of us will drift off in different directions with the quickly approaching summer…

any given minute, i’m both a wild dreamer and a cynnical realist.  so, sometimes when i plan something so far in advance, the build up and anticipation leads to disappointment in reality…

not this time.

it was amazing:

we hiked in friday night, smellin good and lookin pretty, and tent camped at the apple house shelter.



amazing woman #1:  jane, on the trail at hump mountain.  jane is a friend of ktjo’s, so this is the first time i got to meet her.  from one weekend, i know she is a strong, yet gentle and cheerful lady.  she asks great questions.  she’s a counselor and i admire her ability to listen and care for students during the most stressful time of their lives.  plus, she has “miss” at the start of her email too, so she’s mad cool off the bat!


saturday morning our hike started quick and steep, gaining 2k ft in the first mile.  one way to get the heart rate up in the AM!  we arrived at the top and were greeted by the mayor of hump mountain:



amazing woman #2: julie, with the view from the bald of hump mountain.  julie is a caring listener; she has the gift of making you comfortable the moment you walk in her home.  she is my number one partner in crime when it comes to whimsical adventure:  buying plane and concert tickets or an impromptu pajama wearing, documentary viewing.  equally valuable in my repertiore!


after hump mountain came little hump, and then the balds.  it was a cold, whipping wind and rain… but we were walking along, our only task for the day, silently in the clouds.  honestly, for me, it doesn’t get much better…




a few more climbs and the sun came out.  we had the first view of our destination: (the aptly named little white roof in the distance) overmountain shelter.

apparently there is some good eatin’ up in the mountains because we saw (several) of the largest worms i have ever seen in my life!


life at overmountain shelter:



our loft:


well deserved afternoon tea:


yummy camp food:


nutella smores!  (ok, aside here to single guys:  you can’t bring your cute chick-magnet dogs on this portion of the trail, sorry.  however, you can do the following:  quit your job, begin life as a thru hiker, meet up with your 10ish year old nephew at the stop previous to join you for a few days and have him bring homemade brownies, smore supplies, chili, etc. to the shelter.  you will be an instant lady killer and every other thru-hiker’s hero of the day.  and no, we wouldn’t have accepted “special, homemade brownies” on the trail from anyone over the age of 15.)



we met a lot of thru hikers and heard bits of their stories.  oddly to me, the AT shelters recreate their own kind of high school cafeteria segregation.  i observed two groups of people:  the silent-serious-snobby and the contemplative-candid-calm.  most of the young twenty-somethings fell into the first group (note to my generation:  i’m disappointed in you).  so, we gladly hung out with the old timers.  they were worn and wise.  one man seventy year old man had already walked the entire trail in segments over his life, so he just decided he’d start again.  every year he comes out and does a couple of weeks.   hmm… tempting thought.


amazing woman #3:  ktjo, with the view of the valley from the shelter.  i love that ktjo is incredibly introspective and also wide open.  she is free spirited yet grounded.  she is one of the most wildly peaceful people i’ve ever met.  she’s shown me it’s possible to be both.  she shares her thoughts of the weekend here.


we slept in the shelter with a few mouse friends and about 20 other hikers.  we hiked out the next day in the rain, over another bald and ended through a high country pine forest.  the smell of the heavy wet pine flirted with the air, but it was too early in the spring to reveal its full power.  i knew we were nearing the end because the trail turned to gravel…

i’d walked in the back most of the trip, and it was no different now.  we got to where we could see the car at carver’s gap, my heart dulled and i just stopped walking.

i called out to ktjo in front of me, “you guys go ahead, i’m just going to turn around now.”  and i was more than half serious.

backpacking is funny like that… all day, my only task is to walk.  very simple.  and the end reward is reaching the destination, setting down the pack and getting a hot meal.  inevitably though, when i finally get to the end of the trail, i just want to turn around…

i think heaven will be just that, the turning around and getting to go back.

over and over and over again.

and in that case, a red clay halo and wings will suit me just fine!


5 Responses to “red clay halo for my head: roan highlands”

  1. Melissa said

    Loved this post, especially the heaven idea. I kept wanting to walk and walk in Prague, but we kept ending up in taxis :-P Oh well, someday I’LL be in charge!

    And the Nutella s’mores are making me hungry.

    • jessica said

      taxis in prague? really? with all the other public transport options? hmm. when i come visit you, we’re walking. with the double stroller. and sam better wear the batman mask because it’s awesome.

  2. ktjo said

    AAWWWWWWWW….#3 Lady – That is maybe the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten. Thank you!

  3. ktjo said

    Also – good song choice!!!! AND – don’t worry, we will all be reunited and even closer in the Spring!!!

  4. June Jones said

    wow. I’ve not had a chance to read but only a few of your postings. This is just too strange not to be true. I hiked and stayed in the same loft several years ago — can’t remember if it was 2006 or 2007 — first night, I was the only female with around 12 men — haha. No, I had no fear. Turns out they were Christian men teachers from an Ashville private school on a weekend backpack adventure. Second night a troup of about 25 from FL came in around 10 pm to set up their sleeping spaces on the same upper level loft floor with my husband and me. Wow, what a night. My daughter, Anna, hiked the entire AT in 2003. If you’ve not already hiked it, you must hike Mount Rogers too. What other strange connections will I find in your blog? Truely sweet sojourning for my soul.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: