by Eric Kearney
Arriving from the south rather than the north (due to landslides caused by the recent rain), I caught up with my crew at the filling station where highway 23 meets the interstate.
Connecting with more friends upon arrival, we set up our hammocks and meandered to the center of the festival where Railroad Earth was framed by fire was dancing across the lawn. The river rolling just behind us, this was the epitome of a good ol’ fashion lawn party.
Laughing far into the early hours, the night slowly drifted to an early meet for Fayettechill’s Highberry float. With Devin still untangling from one web and into another I, with help*, corralled all interested in the float. A small group of the Fayettechill team was joined by an extremely special crew who had lost a close friend earlier this year and were paying tribute by floating the river in his old boat.
As we swam up tributaries, outwitted tigers on top of boulders and tipped canoes, we honored life in the best way we knew how–we lived it.
Later that night the sounds of the Grateful Dead 50th anniversary tribute by the Schwag and the whispers of the river swung me into a very appreciative sleep.
Saturday unveiled some ambitious plans: we were to make it to the Indian Creek spur of the OHT, hike a most gorgeous six mile trek, then thumb the nine or so miles back to camp—all before sunset.
At noon my friend, Casey, and I hopped in the back of a pickup heading up the river. We were greeted with spiders, waterfalls, spiders, big boulders, swimming holes, and more spiders. Baby turtles, skunks, and bambi all scampered around the orange, yellow, and sometimes purple flora. So did the spiders. With sticks in front of our faces (seriously, the spiders though...) we left the Marinoni Scenic Area and found a long farm-road ahead of us.
A magical mountain music teacher was kind enough to pick us up, and we were granted stories of the history, hippies, and farms of the area. Splitting ways at highway 215 Casey and I hailed a pickup and hopped in the back for one last truck ride. With wind in our hair and smiles on our faces I saw myself in the back window, and happiness looked back.
Back at the Highberry Fest, Keller Williams welcomed the sunset with a wonderfully worded proposal. Recreation studios raised the stakes in their weekend-long fire performance with a beautifully choreographed performance of flames, and continued to burn on the lawn throughout the night. With Devin, Kevin, and more of the FC team arriving Saturday while I was away, we convened and watched the Fourth of July fireworks with pride.
It was a great weekend to reflect as an American. As issues whirl around the world, it’s nice to have a grounding experience with some of your favorite people. And as an outdoors enthusiast, I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. It is certain that on the trail, the wonderful, subtle, spectacular and intricate form of all things helps ground you, and allows you to ponder where you’re headed next. Festival life offers us a chance to reflect and remember everything that has lined up to get us exactly where we are.
*Special thanks to all the Deadhead Productions crew, Byrd's Chris, Hunter, JR, Casey, and all the crazy talented kids at ReCreation Studios.
Photography by Jamie Seed