The Black Mountains | 35.7650° N, 82.2652° W | 2:30pm on April 10, 2018 | 58°F
The first time I talked to my brother after I returned from Antarctica, I couldn’t stop smiling. We talked about what it's actually like to live on a ship at the bottom of the world for six weeks. He told me all about his band’s most recent tour and the latest developments with his lovely girlfriend. After half an hour of catching up, I asked, “so when do we get to hang out again?”
“I don’t know,” Austin said, his tone suddenly switching from excitement to disappointment. “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it up to North Carolina in the next two months. I have to work every weekend. I really need the money.”
“I hear you,” I said in my best understanding-older-sister voice. “But you know it doesn’t have to be a weekend… I don’t work a traditional 9 to 5 job any more—we could go to the mountains on a Monday.”
A long pause followed, during which the full force of this new reality dawned on my dear brother. “I didn’t even think of that!" he said. "Yes—let’s do it!”
Two weeks later, just after 2pm on a Tuesday afternoon—a time I would typically find myself microwaving a cold cup of coffee and fighting off afternoon grogginess in the office—I start climbing a mountain with one of my all-time favorite adventure buddies.
We’re in South Toe, of course. Yesterday we hiked up Mt. Mitchell, through clouds and mist. Today, however, the abundant sunshine generates a saturated blue sky.
Because it's a Tuesday in early April (and perhaps because this trail is rather difficult) we're the only people out here. As we hike, we discuss some of our favorite things: vegetarian recipes, tattoos, and music festivals. We talk about the wonderful warmth and hospitality of Van and Debbie, the special magic of South Toe, and how good it feels to hike up a mountain together.
Austin throws his hands in the air and declares, “I’m so happy right now!”
“Me too homie,” I say. “Me too.”
When we reach the steepest part of the trail, our conversation pauses as conserve breaths to power our lungs and legs. I find my rhythm and find myself (once again) reflecting on how much my life has changed in the past two months. Two weeks ago, I returned from the biggest expedition of my life. In six weeks, I'll pack my bags again and depart for back-to-back expeditions that will put me on a ship in the Pacific Ocean for most of the summer.
In the meantime, I’m working out how to be my own boss and make my own schedule for the fist time ever. I miss seeing my old co-workers every day, but I don’t miss working in an office. I consider where my “office” has been during the past two weeks: my porch. Beth and Gia’s kitchen. A picnic table at Weaver Street Market. A room at Albert’s Adventure Inn.
Even though I’m on a mini vacation with my brother, I still spent the morning checking email, drafting blog posts, editing video footage from Antarctica, organizing pitches, and finalizing my taxes.
But when we departed for the trailhead at noon, I left my laptop and phone behind, consciously dedicating the remainder of the day to nothing but my brother and my favorite mountain.
After finishing the vertical section of the trail, we rest for a few minutes at Sunrise Point, then make our way to my favorite spot. We sit down, take a few photos, and gaze at the best view I've been able to find in North Carolina. While I've made dozens of trips to South Toe over the past few years, this is only Austin's third time here.
"This is the best view ever," Austin says.
"Yeah... this is definitely one of reasons I come up here so often. It just doesn't get old."
When we reach the meadow at the top, we spread out blankets, crack open beers, and snack on the fruit and nuts we brought with us. After the dreary weather yesterday, the sunshine feels particularly radiant. I recline on the soft ground, and before I can even finish my beer, I fall into a light, peaceful slumber.
As we make our way down the mountain, we resolve to make Sibling Time in South Toe a regular thing - once every fall and every spring. Next time I'm going to pack some extra gear and supplies so we can backcountry camp.
Back at the lodge that evening, I throw together a smorgasbord of vegetarian delicacies - roasted sweet potatoes, avocado toast, and lentil soup. Austin carries the spread outside to the open, grassy area behind Albert's Adventure Inn, and we settle in to enjoy the last light of the day fading over the ridge line we just hiked.
"This is the best weekday weekend I've ever had," Austin says, leaning back in the wooden Adirondack chair.
We clink our glasses together and sip the cheap champagne we bought from Ingles. Sitting next to my brother, watching the sun set over Mt. Mitchell, relishing the way my mind and body feel after two solid days of hiking, it might just be the finest bubbly I've ever tasted.
Two hours later, thoroughly exhausted from hiking roughly 12 miles and over 6,000 feet of elevation gain, we surf through TV channels, looking for a good movie. We land on Independence Day and reminisce about the Golden Age of Will Smith and how much these aliens terrified 7-year-old Austin.
When it cuts to commercials, I pick up my phone for the first time in nine hours and do a quick scroll through Instagram.
"No way," I say, laughing at the posts.
"Today is Sibling Day!" I shake my head in disbelief. "We forgot again!"
Austin and I are closer than most siblings I know, but we almost always forget to mark "Sibling Day" on our calendars. More often than not, we happen to be together on April 10th, doing something awesome.
I didn't take a photo at that moment, but if I had, it would have captured the identical grins on our faces. We clink glasses again.
While certain aspects of life feel a bit unpredictable right now, I know one thing with absolute certainty: I can always count on my brother.
And every day is Sibling Day.