I met Shannon in a class I was teaching. India, my daughter, had told me previously that I should meet her. She seemed pretty confident we would like one another. (She is friends with Shannon's son.) Storing that away in the back of my mind; when she showed up in my class I was on one of those crazy edges - having heard about her through my daughter all the while feeling pretty un-likeable, lonely, and down right sorry for myself I asked her on a mom date.
What was the worst that could happen?
As mom's do, we went on a mom date for Carbs and sugary drinks that contain enough liquor to not cause a hangover or melancholy the next day - because even though we are shedding our woes as moms for a minute we still gotta be moms tomorrow. We talked about all manner of things - mostly birds I think and the weird nature things I think about.
Then, we went on second mom date.
This time she invited me to possibly go hiking with her. She had begun hiking the Appalachian Trail and was determined to do all of it - even if she has to do it in pieces. I probably should have been honest with her then that inside I was screaming a very loud, 'ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! HELL YES!' Instead, calmly I was like, "Send me some dates and I will see what I've got available." (One can never be too subtle when they are trying to be cool..)
From there, it was down hill or maybe I should say up hill to go..
Meanwhile, she was hiking solo (that's right - she is hiking the AT alone as a woman, but she carries and knife and mace and she can probably kick your ass to Timbuktu so don't mess with her). She also took up mountain biking during that time.
The only thing I took up in during our planning time was liking beer.
She sent me several options. Of the options she offered we could do a measly 17 miles that was all climbing. We could hike to an Inn and sleep in a bed, or we could hike 30 miles that was climbing several mountains all at about the same elevation. 30 miles. 2 nights.. Doable.. WTF?!
I picked 30 miles 2 nights.
Our last evening of beer, corn dogs, and fries I told her the big thing I had been carrying around since we began this conversation months ago..
My legs are short.
I usually have to run to keep up with most people and I HATE running, so over the years I have accepted that I walk slow. I just do.
We sat together looking over the map, her plan, and the places we would be sleeping. I totally admit to having a blank stare on my face and nodding my head to everything she said. I think something inside me was still in disbelief that I was about to step out onto the AT for 30 miles of walking. (Just to put that into perspective for you that's walking a little over half way to Atlanta, but over mountains and with 30 pounds on my back). Thankfully, Shannon also brought me a list of items to pack.
The next day, I set out on the task of acquiring everything I would need for the walk - everything from new hiking shoes and socks that would have to be broken in before going on the trail (I also read 'Gone Wild' so I know what happens to your feet on the trail). I ordered dehydrated meals (which turned out to be pretty tasty), a new knife, my own mace, hiking poles, and most importantly a pillow for my soon to be weary head.
As my packages arrived I realized there was no backing out. I was doing it. Then, all the anxiety and fear flooded in.. There really is very little peace in my head.. What if I can't do it? What if my legs give out? What if I get hurt? What if my pack is too heavy? What if I snore? What if we get out there and it turns out we don't like each other any more?
What if? What if? What if? Ugh.
Even now, after it is over, I have anxiety about it.
The night before I meticulously packed my backpack. I sat with my list of items to bring and decided to leave a few things behind. I didn't take a book or a journal or my camera. I would have to make due with my phone for all of those things, but I could have them all while my phone was on airplane mode. (Sometimes modern technology really is awesome). I kept lifting my pack, putting it on my back, pulling things out, putting things in.. Until it was packed and by the front door for Shannon's early arrival.
I did not get much sleep.
At 7:00 am with smoothies in hand we headed towards Bryson City. We would be leaving our car there and taking a shuttle to Franklin, NC where we would be dropped off on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere to walk over mountains for 30 miles to get to our car.
Our shuttle driver was awesome. He filled us in on water sources, bear activity - oh.. Did I not mention there were also active bears who want to eat you and your food on the trail too?
There we stood.
On the side of the road.
Shannon ready to knock off another section and me with my short legs wondering what the hell I was doing.
We began at Winding Stair Gap (mile 109.5 on the AT 3770' elevation ).
Upon stepping into the forest I was in love. There was a water fall, it was lush green, the air was clean.. This was what I had been waiting my whole life - completely unknown to me until she asked me along - to do. My pack was manageable, I had knee braces, good shoes, 2 liters of water, and some food. Here we went. The trail did not begin easy. We started with the first climb of the 30 miles. Up to Siler Bald 4700' elevation.
I did it. It couldn't be harder than that, right?
At 5 miles we crossed our first road. I sent Hubb a text to say I had this and was loving it (I would eat those words before the end of the day) and we continued up.
Those last 3 miles were the HARDEST 3 miles of my life.
I thought I was going to die.
Shannon kept saying, one foot in front of the other. You got this. She was awesome.
Oh the things in my head.. Would she still like me when we got to our stopping point which was definitely not going to be as far as we were planning for our first night? OH MY GOD. What was I thinking? I am so stupid. I should have exercised more. I should cut back on carbs and beer..
I probably should have counted how many times I had to stop to catch my breath those last 3 miles. I think my heart was going to come out of my body with each beat. The only way I got up that mountain was telling myself if I could walk 20 more steps then I could stop again. I thought I was going to die and it was going to be because my legs would not work any more. If I just laid down right there it would be okay. There was little chance a bear would eat me I smelled so bad.
The challenge is the opportunity.
The last half mile, being the awesome person she is, Shannon took my tent for me.
We made it to the water source and campground Wine Spring. Where the Bartram Trail and the AT join for a bit. Did I fail to mention we climbed 2000 feet in elevation in those last 3 miles. How did I miss that when we were looking at the map? Must have been the beer..
She made me eat.
I had made it up the mountain. Shannon and I were still laughing at each other. She also did not seem to mind that I had an awful lot of gas and farted every time I spoke.
I went to bed at 8pm.
The sun had not even set yet.
All night when I would wake up because my legs hurt I was tempted to text Jason. He was in Bryson City riding bikes with Kalib.
I could leave if I wanted.
I could quit.
I did send him a text, but only a text that acknowledged I was having a hard time and that if today was not better than yesterday then I may want a ride home or we may have to be out there until Monday.
I was literally in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, but I had cell reception..
Where was he going to pick me up at?
So, I put on my big girl pants, ate my dehydrated eggs (even drank down the left over juice - gross), laced up my shoes, and packed up my shit. (Thank God what ever was making me fart had gone away during the night).
The second day was much easier for me. We still did a hell of a lot of climbing. Shannon says folks say it is pointless ups and downs. I am not sure I would say they are pointless, but there are a lot of ups and downs.
Our first stop of day 2 was Wayah Bald.
Our first real look over the mountains. That was motivation enough. Bring those mountains on.
Let's go higher.
And.. we did.
Ferns, clean air, mist, jewel weed, mountain asters, mountain mint, bleeding hearts, moss and mushrooms, a nature lovers dream. It was me, the trees, and the trail. Shannon walks a lot faster than me because she has longer legs so we actually did not travel together all that much.
After 10 miles of going up and going down and going up again we ended up at Rocky Bald Lookout. Elevation 5030'. I have never stood on top of the world until I stood looking down through the clouds at the Appalachian Mountains. When I saw the view I have never been more grateful for determination and perseverance.
The view was astounding. I can't even put it into words here. Looking at this photo brings me to tears.
We ate, and then we slept.
During the night the wind blew really hard. Thankfully we were tucked under the security of the Mountain Laurel boughs and felt very little of it.
When we woke up, Shannon told me while I drank my instant coffee that she had failed to disclose to me the trail app she uses had reported a sighting of an aggressive bear a few nights ago. (Our bear bag hanging that night was just sad too..) Either way, at this point, even if she had told me I wanted to wake up to that view.
I had just climbed several mountains. I'm pretty sure I could take a bear if I had to. I was feeling pretty confident.
Our last day of hiking I was in my groove - the last 10 miles was going to be nothing.
My backpack was finally adjusted and fit right. I had grown accustomed to my stench.
Best of all? We were about to make the big descent down the mountain (but not without climbing a few more big hills).
Our last day was my favorite.
Especially the first 6 miles. Or the miles 20 -26.
We hiked down and back up to the Wesser Bald Observation Tower elevation 4627'. What they don't tell you on the map is that it is a rickety, wobbly, porch up a steep flight of stairs that is in the middle of the middle of nowhere. (I am really glad my mom was not there to see us because my legs were shaking they were so tired and it felt so dangerous).
It was worth the climb.
360 degrees in every single direction. YOU COULD SEE THE TOPOGRAPHY OF THE MOUNTAINS.
The air was brisk, the company was awesome. And, I was feeling like the bad ass I had forgotten I am.
From there we hiked through the section of the AT that was on fire last year. It looked alien. The tree trunks were mostly charred black which made the moss look electric, there were wildflowers for days in some areas. But, everything was silent. It felt empty of life and in the paradoxical nature of life it also felt full of life. Here I stood - well walked - in the potent reality of this. Life and death held together in this space and time. That which we fear contains so much life. I was already beginning to think about the next time I would hike the AT.. a different section - in shorter segments..
Just before we began the real descent down the mountain the trail had one more glorious offering for us. It led us out to cliff 4000' of elevation. I stood on the edge of the world and looked at the mountains I had crossed over with my two little feet and short legs. Right then so much inside of me just fell right off the edge of that mountain. While standing there trying to absorb it so I would never forget it I remembered a dream I had had 2 years ago that had left me so sad.. In it, I had to climb over the mountain to take back my basket which was taken from me. In my dream getting my basket back would be the hardest thing I would ever have to do. I do not know if this was my dream coming into reality or not, it doesn't really matter.. But I got my basket!
Next to giving birth and raising two awesome humans this was the hardest thing I think I have ever done.
And, I had overcome it.
All of it..
I did it.. with blisters on my feet, calves so sore I could barely walk. Hip flexors in need of stretching out and a rib cage so sore it actually hurt to breathe. (I am pretty sure my posture is going to wacky the rest of my life - I may never stand up straight again.) And, my B.O.? Well, let's just say it was a good call to put my dirty clothes in a ziplock bag.
The descent was not any easier than the climbs. There were several times I was worried I was going to end up with a broken ankle (which did blow out towards the end and was wonderfully swollen when I got home), but I did it.
We did it.
I will be forever grateful to Shannon for taking me on that hike. She is a bad ass for real.
I am a bad ass.
We finished off our first adventure together with carbs and beer. A perfect ending to a perfect beginning.
And, when she gets back from her next crazy adventure we've already started planning our date for corn dogs and beer to begin deciding what our next adventure will be.