Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Trip Report of my 23rd High Point

MAY 5, 2011

When I started my highpointing career in 1997 I had long envisioned bagging Driskill Mountain in Louisiana as being part of a week’s vacation trip to Vicksburg, Mississippi. And so during the first week of May when I was vacationing in Vicksburg that’s exactly what I did.

Thursday, May 5 was sunny, cloudless, and wonderful. My hotel was right on I-20 and the Mississippi River was less than a minute away.

I left my motel at 9:00AM and was in Louisiana only minutes later. Given the lowness of the terrain, it was pure highway for two hours.

Traffic was light to moderate with only a few cars and trucks on the way. I kept going west while rocking at full volume to a favorite CD compilation I made.

Mostly I absorbed the Louisiana landscape. This was only the second time in my life I had been to the Pelican state. Last time was in 1993 when I spent a joyous and creative and spiritual week in New Orleans. Now I was far north of the Crescent City.

What you see while driving on the I-20 is green; dark green. Grass, swamp, trees. Just green and more green…and more green.

You would see houses and farms but what I saw looked tired and maybe a little depressed.

It wasn’t the same landscape I saw in 1993 when I day-tripped from New Orleans to Oak Alley Plantation. What I saw that time was a stunning tableau of dire Third World poverty: shanty towns, shotgun shacks, African-Americans living in squalid, sullen conditions. If you’ve ever watched the scenes in the movie Easy Rider where Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Jack Nicholson enter Louisiana on their way to Mardi Gras you will understand what I mean.

What I saw in 2011 was grim Cajun country: more borderline poverty or perhaps more well-concealed?

I got off at Exit 77 and made my way southwest to Zion church and Driskill Mountain.

The area is heavily wooded and dotted with small ponds or sandy marshes.

The sunlight filtered through the trees and one could see people moving their lawns.

Little country churches were nestled along the road side.

It took what seemed to me a while to find Zion church (although in reality it wasn’t that long).

I was never lost and I knew I was getting closer.

You find Zion church on the right when you come around a bend. The turn off is sudden and you find yourself parked underneath a lovely shade tree in front of the church.

The place was deserted. The church itself was locked up and all I could see was an outhouse in despicable condition.

I organized my shoulder bag and began the hike to the summit of Driskill Mountain.

It takes 20 minutes and you are enveloped by the woods. Sunlight flickered through the green canopy but mostly I was shrouded by the shade (for which I was thankful because the day had become warmer than I expected).

You make the right hand turn for the summit and then you wind around a little bit. The trail was well-marked and obvious to follow.

You ascend gradually and then suddenly you enter a clearing and there it is: a bench, the kiosk and memorial to the late Jack Longacre (founder of the Highpointers Club) and the summit cairn.

I did the now familiar summit rituals. I felt a little giddy. I had failed last year trying to bag Katahdin in Maine but I felt good to be back in the game again bagging Driskill. I had the whole highpoint to myself during the entire time I was there.

I took my pictures; offered my prayers of thanks; and relaxed, savoring the silence and the solitude.

I spent 20 minutes atop Driskill and then made my way back down. When I got back to the car, I took some time at the picnic area of the church composing my notes for this report. It was a little after noon when I left.

I stopped for a snack and a pit stop at this plaza on the I-20.

Earlier in this report I mentioned before I was in Cajun country. No further proof of that was needed when I was talking to the desk attendant. I exchanged pleasantries with him and couldn’t understand a word he said and I don’t mean that condescendingly.

Cajun talk is a lot like trying to talk with a mouth full of cotton.

And yet Southern hospitality was everywhere and I enjoyed that aspect of the trip very, very much.

If you ever are in Vicksburg and are looking for a place to eat, try the Trailside Café. The combined pork and meat platter is to die for. Barbecue at its best.

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