The Fall Trip to Mount Mitchell

Where Men Become Boys

October 6, 2005

I have heard of these camps out west where men go for a week to rediscover their manhood, or release their inner child or something like that, by beating on drums and communing with nature. Some of the members at Lakeview do that too, but they go to North Carolina, beat on golf balls, and they call it the Fall Trip.

The Fall Trip, probably like the annual excursions that millions of golfers make, is a chance for grown men to act like the boys they would be if the toys of adulthood were not so expensive; if they did not have to spend the better part of their lives working; if they did not have kids of their own; if there were not always spouses, neighbors, and bosses to witness their behavior. In other words, the Fall Trip is a chance for these guys to be the boys they still are.

falltrip1For years now, I have been lucky enough to be a part of this Fall Trip fraternity. The first time I rode to the mountains of North Carolina in the “aristocratic van”, a comfy ride borrowed from one of the fathers in law, we went to the Ashville area. I think we played Laurel Ridge the first day.

That was where one of the guys, I will call him The Accountant, came to the final hole, which had a pond in front of an elevated green. The sun had gotten to The Accountant’s head, which, except for the few wispy threads of graying hair, was the color of a lobster straight from the pot. And he had been enjoying adult beverages all day. Let’s just say that he was not very stable as he addressed the ball, swaying like some kind of a red-topped buoy as he stood there in front of the water. He chunked the ball into the pond. Went to his bag, dropped a ball and chunked it into the pond. Back to the bag, back into the pond.

You could not tell if he was mad, since he was already beet-colored, but somewhere around the fifth attempt, he went back to the bag one more time; he came out with his hands full—balls, tees, lighter, golf gloves, and whatever else he could grab. He walked over to the pond and threw it all in. Then he realized he had thrown his dip can into the water, so he went in after it. Those of us who had finished playing watched from the top of the hill, and we were laughing so hard we could hardly breathe. This was my introduction to the Fall Trip.

Later during that trip we were at Reems Creek, playing the afternoon Captain’s Choice round. I was playing with the loud-laughing jokester known as Fish, the guy who sets up the trip each year. We were having a laugh at the expense of The Realtor, who had tucked his rain pants into his white socks. Fish gave it his best Michael Jackson “hee-heee, hoooo!” and I hummed the beat to “Billie Jean”.

Mount Mitchell

Mount Mitchell

This probably would have kept us overgrown adolescents entertained for nine holes, but The Accountant’s group was behind us. We stopped on an elevated tee box to watch him take a swing in the fairway below. To this day I have never seen a more amazing shot. The Accountant stood over the ball, wobbled a little (he had not been sober in three days), took a mighty swipe with his wedge, and when the club came down the ball moved two feet…straight backwards. The physics-defying shot had our foursome laughing so hard we almost rolled down the hill.

In recent years we have been gravitating towards Mount Mitchell, North Carolina as the main venue for our great escape. We stayed there in 1999 and again in 2001. The mountain, the highest peak east of the Mississippi at roughly 6,700 feet, is named for a scientist who died in a fall while measuring the height in 1857. He picked a very scenic place to make his exit.

These Black Mountains got their name from the dark green spruces and firs that dominated the hills in days gone by. This is a place of neck-stretching peaks, trout streams, and foggy mornings that give way to sapphire skies in the midday. Stilted, cozy cabins, heavy on the stonework, peek out from the hillsides and make great escapes for successful people from places like Charlotte. And below the highest peak, in the valley sits Mount Mitchell Golf Club, one of my all-time favorite courses.

falltrip2The layout is solid, especially for mountain golf, but it is the hills, the foliage, the crisscrossing streams, the 20-inch trout that swim just a chip shot from the tee box; it is the scenery and peaceful beauty of the place that makes the course so memorable. Mount Mitchell is honestly much too nice for us heathens-for-a-week, but we love it.

It was there that I witnessed the most horrific example of gluttony ever. I think it was 1999 when the Recent Retiree, a large fellow, drank about a case of Budweiser; added an occasional nip of moonshine, a few pinches of dip, and he topped it all off by smoking a handful of cigarettes. (Somewhere along the way he decided his golf shoes were too old and leaky, so he threw them in a trash can and kept playing bare-footed. I guess that was the communing with nature part of his trip). After the golf, it was prime rib night at the clubhouse, so the Retiree loaded his plate with a couple of Frisbee-sized slabs and all the side dishes.

Just watching all this gave me the same feeling I got as a kid after I ate about a dozen of those little rectangular packets of butter. I think the Retiree paid for his gluttony the same way I did after the butter episode. This is the kind of thing that happens when there are no women watching over us. This is why we can only take these trips once or twice a year.

We went back to Mount Mitchell this year, to one of the rental houses we have stayed in before, where we commenced our traditional Boot-Camp golf. Up at 6:00 A.M. to eat the biscuits and gravy, and eggs that Fish prepared. Tee off a little after 8:00 when the dew and fog temporarily turn Mount Mitchell and her raging colors into a world of chilly tin. We stretch and yawn and groan as we swing our weighted clubs on the first tee, and then we set off playing our own balls in the morning round. This year we are in threesomes, nine total players, and we will count two balls against the other teams.

By the time we make the turn, the sun and mowers are taking the moisture off the ground, and the fog is drawing back like a giant curtain, exposing the ridgelines and another blue-sky Appalachian day. By the time we finish the round, the scent of hamburgers hangs in the air as the burly guy fires his grill behind the clubhouse.

We eat, tell stories from the morning round, get our coolers out of the van, and get in line at the tee for the Captain’s Choice round. The afternoon round is like recess. Maybe more like a jailbreak.

Badger drains a 60-footer and lets out a “Whoooo!” that bounces off the Black Mountains. Ralph backs off his tee shot because he is laughing too hard, and he wants to tell a story. Kevin chases rainbow trout from the bank of the stream with his 4-iron after chumming the waters with peanut butter crackers. One of the carts takes a corner too fast, which leaves the cooler, ice, and the other contents strewn across the rough. Around the course there are high-fives, and good-natured teasing, as in “It’s about time you made a putt!”

When you see the other groups you ask how many under par they are, but you tell a little fib about your own score; do not want to get them too motivated, but, of course, they are lying too—they really eagled the last par five. And so it goes, our ritual, one notch below golf mayhem, until the sun is backlighting the tower at the peak of Mount Mitchell. The last threesome will have to overcome a shower of catcalls and laughter from the carts circling the back of the eighteenth green if they are going to make their final birdie putt.

At dinner it is jokes, stories, and memorable shots with every course of the meal. After dinner we find the house the way we left it–in darkness. Boot-Camp golf.

We will catch a late-season baseball game, or an early-season football game, settle some bets, and carry on like it is a locker room of our own. Most of us will fall asleep before 10:30, though, and by midnight there are nine men snoring. Our bodies are not as young as our attitudes, and it will be biscuit and gravy time soon. Time to do it all again.

The last day of the trip this year happened to be Fish’s birthday. His forty-eight year old back gave him trouble most of the week, but otherwise he felt like a sixteen year old. He was feeling so good the final evening that he gave a toast to the whole dining room at the clubhouse—a toast to the chef who prepared all the delicious food we ate, and to the fellowship that golf engenders. The dinner guests drank in agreement.

Fish says we are going back to Mount Mitchell next year. Back to our beautiful playground, where we will age our bodies and take years off our spirits. I will be ready.

Fall Trip 2005

Fall Trip 2005

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