Lessons From the Trail: We Are All Connected

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Today’s adventure brought me and Ashok to the peak of Pilot Mountain in Pisgah National Forest. Rick had suggested this hike for yesterday, but since it’s so strenous, we wanted to wait until today to do it. Neither of the other gals were up for it this morning, and I really wanted to do it, so I picked up Ashok, got directions from Rick and headed down Forest Road 475 to find the Art Loeb Trail, Section 2.

I was a little nervous about the trail because the blog I read said it was very steep, and even Rick said it would wear me out. But I figured I could always stop and come down if it wasn’t going as well as I’d like. I arrived at the trailhead on the gravel forest road about 10 AM. It was cool, and I knew It’d be cooler in the high elevations at the peak, so I packed my SmartWool shirt.

A really cool campsite at the beginning of the trail…

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Once I started climbing, I got warm immediately. The entire hike was a climb. It was a gentle climb at first. I walked through a beautiful forest already high on a ridgeline and had panoramic views almost the entire way. The deciduous trees don’t have their leaves yet, so it was sunny even though I was deep in a forest. It was so quiet. There was no one on the trail, and we had it to ourselves almost the entire way. I thought the trail was much prettier on this hike. The other trails we’ve hiked were heavily traveled and have become wide and dusty. I prefer the look of a narrow trail that makes me feel like I’m just walking through the forest.

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After the gentle inclines for about 3/4 mile, I saw a rock ledge that Rick had mentioned. He said the trail would get much steeper after that, so I stopped for a snack and a rest. The inclines did indeed get steeper. I was proud of myself because I think I’m in shape to do this! I didn’t have to stop because I was overworked at all. I stopped more for Ashok than I did for myself although I did stop a few times just to catch my breath and give it a rest.

Eventually the trail turned rocky, and the rocky path was surrounded by rhododendrons and mountain laurels. I even saw a couple of bushes of blooming wild azaleas. It was just lovely, and we reached the peak of Pilot Mountain in a much shorter time than I anticipated. As we approached I could hear a group talking, and it was the first sounds of humans I heard all day.

The peak of Pilot Mountain was literally about 12 feet wide. On both sides, the mountains of North Carolina rose in the blue smoke. The trail was so narrow that I almost had a 360 degree panoramic view. It was amazing. I could see Looking Glass Rock (that we climbed Monday). I don’t know how far I could see on the other side but it was a very long way. I literally felt like I was on top of the world, and, indeed, I was up there. Pilot Mountain is about 5,000 feet in altitude.

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The backpackers that were at the summit when we arrived were middle schoolers from Atlanta. One of the them mentioned that they were there with some guides from A Walk in the Woods. I turned around as they pointed to the guides, and I told them that I would be hiking with them in the Smokies in three weeks.

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Jamie – who I’ve talked with several times on the phone – said she thought Michael was leading that trip. We laughed about the fact that we met on this very small mountaintop island in the middle of the Appalachians. I jokingly asked the group if they were driving them hard, and they said they were really nice and took things slow. So I’m a little less nervous about my trip in May. They said if I made it up that mountain, I’d be fine. And Jamie said she picked a great route for us. We’ll start in the Smokies and then descend into North Carolina.

The group left, and I spent a little time at the summit having lunch and just enjoying my time on top of the world. When I had my fill, I descended trying to take my time so I could enjoy these woods that I won’t see again for awhile. It’s so easy to get caught up with wanting to get down the trail that sometimes I go too fast. But this time I stopped several places on the way down to take in the views.

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I thought of the hawk that I saw on Monday and of my promise to be aware of what messages I might be getting while I’m here. I thought of running into these folks that I’ll hike with in three weeks and realized that we really are all so connected. I was really drawn to going on this hike and came even thought I had to go by myself. If I’d left earlier or laters, I would have probably just passed this group on the trail without much conversation. But – no – the time, the date and the place was perfect. Somehow I think we were destined to meet on that mountaintop today. We are connected … and things will work out as they should. I don’t have to figure it out.

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I took Ashok for her very first ice cream to celebrate our accomplishment, and she lapped it up. After dropping her off at her new friend’s house, I drove home and decided to stop by Whitewater Falls which was not too far from where we’re staying. I’ll leave you with a picture of that beautiful place. It’s sort of the cherry on top of a beautiful day. Tomorrow…. Asheville.

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