My first mountain….
Three years ago, I started taking my three girls on long, cross-country road trips each summer. In 2013, we drove from Maryland to Colorado to Wyoming and camped in the Great Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. It was an epic journey on so many levels. The summer of 2014 took us from Maryland to Prince Edward Island (Canada) to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and back. And last year, we drove from Maryland to Texas and back. These adventures are as much for my sanity and survival strategy as for the actual travel.
On our way to Texas this past summer, we stopped in North Carolina for a few days. My mom, “Grammy”, joined us and we explored the NC highlands. We happened to rent a cabin just a few miles from Grandfather Mountain, one of the most popular tourist sites in the state. There is the “Mile High Bridge” and two visitors centers on the mountain. It is absolutely gorgeous. I started researching hiking trails when we got there and found one called the “Grandfather Ridge Trail.” It had rave reviews and said it was a “strenuous” hike.
I was ready to test myself physically. I had said I wanted to climb mountains, right? That was what had gotten me off the couch 3 months prior, and I had been steadily working towards that goal. I had participated in some local hikes in Maryland, but nothing with a mountain top involved.
However, some problems arose from the get-go:
- I had no one to hike Grandfather with. My mom and my children were not physically able (or interested) in participating in this hike.
- I had a specific time constraint… I had to get up and down the mountain by dark as per the rules (and common sense). I did not have a head lamp with me.
I decided that I would be fine hiking alone and that I would just try my best to get off the mountain by dark. I had a cell phone with me that I was sure I could find service at some point on the trail if needed. In fact, I felt better about hiking alone. I wanted to do this at my own pace, my own way. This was going to be a big test of my endurance and ability.
And so, we meandered up the mountain via vehicle, did the mile high bridge together, visited the animals at one of the visitors center, and then my mom and girls kissed me goodbye and wished me good luck. I had a general idea of how to get to the trail and what path I was going to take down the mountain. I had water and some snacks.
Some nice woman offered to take a photo of me at the trailhead sign. I was feeling super confident and excited about it at that moment.
I figured with a name like “ridge trail” that since I was already so high up the mountain it was just going to be a short climb to the “ridge” and then a scenic jaunt along the ridge looking out over the mountains.
It was at least 2+ miles of going up, up, up… and then up some more. And not just up a trail. Up a face of a rock with a cable. Up another face of a rock with wooden ladders. Scrambling up over boulders and up through caves.
It was easily the most physically challenging 3-4 hours or so of my life thus far. (I have had a very, very easy life, I know) At every new ladder, new face of something to scale, I thought “Maybe I should just go back and call mom to drive up and pick me up at the bridge….” But then I would grit my teeth and slowly climb hand over hand, rung after rung and get to the “top” only to see that there was something else to climb. And then something else.
Finally, at some point, I did reach “the top.” Somehow, some way, I did it. I hadn’t done any strength training at this point. No CrossFit… just 3 slow jogs a week. It was incredibly difficult, both mentally and physically.
But the top… the summit! It took my breath away (what breath I had left at that point). You can’t be at any vista in the North Carolina highlands and not think of Jamie and Claire Fraser. I thought of them at every viewpoint on this hike. How fitting. Diana Gabaldon’s characters had been the seeds that had germinated over months and emerged, gloriously, into this unforgettable moment for me. Truly.
Somewhere near the top, I met another solo lady hiker and we joined up to head back down the mountain together. I have to say, it was nice to have the company at that point. She also knew the trail so I didn’t have to figure it out on my own.
We walked, slid and chatted all the way down the mountain. And we arrived at the base trail head right at dark.
I limped to the car where my mom and my three watching girls were waiting for me. I had not been so physically exhausted in years. But my soul was soaring. And I couldn’t stop smiling. I had conquered my first mountain. The summit, the peak, made the journey, the pain, the fear, all worth it. I must always remember that.
And I knew, then, that this journey I had started in April was the right one for me, and was a lasting one. Mountain tops were my destiny.
Postnote: The next day? I hurt from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet something fierce. I don’t know if I have ever been that sore in my entire life. But each wince reminded me of such a huge victory. This mountain trail may have been a breeze for some people, but it was my Goliath at the time. And I conquered it. I was on my way…