Lessons From the Trail: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

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My traveling buddies spent the day at the spa yesterday getting refreshed and enjoying some much needed downtime. As we were debriefing each other on our days, they told me that the lady at the spa said the trails were “much better” up here in Sapphire Valley than they were in Brevard where I’ve been hiking since Sunday.

I had a really strong emotional reaction to this statement. I told JoAnn that I didn’t agree that one area could be “better” than the other. I think they all have their own beauty. It’s like saying one baby is “better” than another. In God’s world, He created each precious piece of creation with its own beauty and specialness. I believe it’s up to us to find a way to appreciate it. One of the reasons I named my blog Midlife Moments is because I believe it’s all of the little moments in life that we remember.

Nevertheless it bothered me last night. All of a sudden I started feeling bad that I had led us astray by hiking in that area. I was mad at myself for not choosing the “best” hikes for our vacation. My vacation started to look a little dull and lackluster compared to what it could have been. I thought of my vacations in Kona and Costa Rica. I thought of my fabulous vacation in Maui and my weeklong stay on Catalina Island. Those places were phenomenal. But, when I think of them with their “in your face” natural beauty, I still don’t think they were “better” than my vacation last summer camping in North Carolina – right here in this area. That’s the reason I returned here.

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When I woke up this morning, I felt a little more grounded. I prayed about it and asked for assistance in protecting my vacation experience from judgments about whether it could have been better. For so much of my life I have ruined what I have by comparing it to what I wish I had. For 54 years I hated my hair. I wanted the straight or wavy hair of my friends that would be smooth and silky. I dreamed of putting my hair up in an “updo” with gentle ringlets falling down the side of my face. I found myself being angry every time I was faced with humidity and the resulting frizzy mess I was “blessed” with. I finally cut it all off so I was less miserable. I wanted to look in the mirror and not be anguished over the fact that I didn’t have “better” hair.

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When I finally took the time and effort to learn how to care for my hair and embrace it instead of trying to beat it into submission, I learned to love my hair. My hair hasn’t changed at all. It is the same hair that I’ve always hated. The eye of the beholder changed. And as I’ve given it love, it has thrived. I still have my days, but I know that its beauty is all in my perception. If I choose to accept the fact that my hair has a life of its own – a much more active and unpredictable one than other kinds of hair – then I sort of enjoy the journey.

Hawk told me to pay attention to the messages I receive on this vacation. I’m listening, my feathered messenger. My dog is down in the Brevard area. I don’t care if the trails are 100 times “better” here, or if the waterfalls are a million times bigger and more beautiful in Sapphire Valley. If I can’t bring my dog so we can enjoy these experiences in her short life, I’d rather stay at home. Today, I’m going to Asheville to one of my favorite cities and to spend time with a new friend and amazing curly hair stylist. She’s going to take care of my hair and then we are going out to dinner at one of the fabulous restaurants in Asheville.

If I were rich, I could be on the island of Hawaii. If I had a more flexible job, I could unplug and hike the Appalachian Trail. If I were skinnier, I could wear sexier clothes. If I were hiking in Sapphire Valley instead of Brevard, I could hike better trails.  Whatever …. I choose to love what I’ve chosen to do. Comparison gives me nothing but kills the joy in everything I have. Thank you, Hawk. You have challenged me to see things from a different perspective. I’m taking the birds’ eye view this morning, and I’m liking what I see.

 

 

 

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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Lessons From the Trail: The Bridge is Out

 

IMG_6927Carryn, JoAnn and I hiked the Black Creek Trail near Wiggins MS this past weekend. We planned three days on the trail. We spent Friday night at Janice Landing, left a car at the Janice Landing trailhead and drove to Fairly Bridge landing to get started on our Badass Backpacking odyssey. This would be our second backpack since the backpacking class in the backcountry, and we were all trying to lighten our packs.

We froze to death on Friday night. None of us had sleeping bags rated for the below 30-degree weather. I ended up putting on every item of clothing that I brought and slid myself inside a construction-grade garbage bag with my sleeping bag. I was okay, but I never felt warm the entire night, and Ashok was shivering in her sleeping bag. I didn’t sleep much, and, by the time the sun came up, I was ready to get out of that tent. We knew it would be warmer Saturday night and even warmer Sunday night. It would never get toasty, but it would be tolerable.

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We got on the Black Creek trail around 11 AM. For the first two miles, the trail wasn’t all that exciting. It was muddy and the scenery was very much like most of the hikes we’ve been on recently. After two miles, the trail became extremely hilly, challenging and much more interesting. It got so hilly that we didn’t make nearly the mileage we would have liked that first day. We wanted to do 7 miles and get just inside the Black Creek Wilderness area, but we did under 6 and camped almost in the middle of the trail by a water source. I chose a spot on an incline, and I found myself sliding to the bottom of the tent all night with the slick sleeping bag. I’d pull Ashok and her sleeping bag up by my shoulders, and the next time I’d wake up, she’d be right by my feet. It was irritating, but I slept better than the night before.

 

Almost immediately the second day we entered the Black Creek Wilderness. The trail started to follow the Black Creek, a designated Wild and Scenic River, and it was beautiful. I found the topography similar to what I’ve seen in the Appalachians although not as rocky, and, of course the vegetation was different. Rhododendrons in the Smokies were replaced by beautiful huge old Magnolia trees at Black Creek. Lovely vistas of the river came and went, and we spent the day oohing and ahhhing at beautiful spots all day long.

Not too far into the Wilderness area, we came upon a creek. The trail went right up to the creek edge which dropped off with a very steep bank. The other side of the creek was the same way, and we could see a log way down in the creekbed that we assumed at one time could have been used to cross the creek. We walked around and could find no bridge or easy way to scale the creek banks on either side to cross. My first thought was that we were stuck. Then, I remembered the many creek crossings in my Smoky Mountain hiking days where we had to climb rocks and scale banks to get across.

The Bridge is Out….

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“What are we going to do?” Carryn asked.

“We’re going to cross this creek,” I said. “We’ll just have to figure it out.”

Since we’ve been hiking together, we’ve never really had any obstacles except mud here and there. Every creek crossing has had a bridge. We’ve not had to scale rocks or embankments. It’s all been pretty straightforward. One of our backpacking classmates had just done this hike 3 weeks ago, and he never mentioned this. I figured he just assumed this was a natural creek crossing for hiking, and we shouldn’t flinch at trying it ourselves.

I scouted out a spot that didn’t look too deep to cross and that led to a scaleable part of the creek bank. I figured I could tie some rope on a tree, and we could use it to pull ourselves up over the bank. I’d go first, and then we’d throw the packs up and then the rest could come over. It was easy to cross but the water was very cold. We had to put on our sandals so our boots and socks weren’t wet. But, once the initial shock of the cold water was over, it actually felt pretty good on my feet. I climbed up, tied some paracord to the tree and came back to get the packs from Carryn who stood midway in the creek.

The biggest problem was JoAnn’s pack. It weighed about 50 pounds. We asked her if she had a life raft in there that we could use to cross the creek. Carryn lifted the pack and handed it to me. We both threw it on the bank and tried to heave it up. It was so heavy that I thought it was going to pull me back down the bank, but with Carryn pushing and me pulling, we got it up. The rest was easy. Ashok bounded across the water and up the bank, and Carryn and JoAnn followed. It seemed sort of silly afterwards that we thought it was such a big deal, but it was our first challenging obstacle, and we did it!

We camped the second night at a beautiful spot in the middle of the woods next to Black Creek, and I spent a bit of time the next morning having my tea overlooking the river. We were all much warmer that night, and I didn’t even have to have my coat on while I slept. The Wilderness was 10.8 miles total, and we hiked about the last 5 on Monday. We got back to the car around noon and couldn’t wait to hit the nearest Mexican restaurant for some non-dehydrated food.

My tea spot Monday morning….

After the hike, we threw our packs down and laughed about how accomplished we felt. Everybody said that the best part of the hike was crossing that creek. Even though the whole challenge of backpacking is pretty empowering, facing our fears and crossing that creek made us all feel like true badasses. It also makes me wonder how tiny that creek crossing obstacle will seem years from now when we have faced many more challenging situations on the trail. We are only getting started. But we are learning so much.

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Lessons on the Trail:

Lighten your load. If you are carrying extra baggage in this life, you have to take the time to unload it or at least pare it down to a manageable size. If not, when you get into a challenging situation, the extra weight will only make the journey harder for you. And, your friends will have to deal with it, too. Your baggage affects others!

Bridges will be out. There will be times in life when the bridge is out. An obstacle will present itself with no obvious way to get around it. At first you may decide to deny it’s there, or you may decide to backtrack to avoid it. But, at some point, you will need to decide that the only way out is through, and you are going to have to climb that creek and scale that wall. You will need your friends to help! Don’t try it on your own!

The toughest challenges are what make you stronger. When you look back in your life, you are going to be the most proud of yourself for those things that scared you but you did them anyway. It will be the things that you can’t believe you did that make you stronger and help you grow into the badass that you want to be in your heart.

Celebrate your successes. Talk with your friends about the amazing obstacles you overcame. Make a point of taking a break from life and celebrating when you’ve done something amazing. It will help all of you to learn from each other and share your joys. Life is meant to be shared – obstacles and successes.

Get the right gear. It’s really important to have the right tools to be successful. Ask others for information on how they’ve overcome obstacles. Create a toolkit with some variety. Not every problem is a nail, so a hammer isn’t the only tool you need. Sometimes you need a rope (a lifeline), a pair of sandals (a strong foundation) or even a dry bag (boundaries) to protect your valuables. You never know what you’ll need, but you can certainly plan ahead and anticipate what you’ll need in a crisis.

Every time I hike I learn some valuable skills that apply to my life in some way. It’s somewhat of a microcosm of life’s little problems which always manifest in fear, frustration or joy. So, I’m starting a new series about Lessons From the Trail. I hope you will enjoy…  and learn a few things, too.

We’re done!!

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