Cafe de Desiree

November 22, 2016

Stillness

Filed under: hiking,life,spirituality — desi83 @ 5:04 am
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Life is full of noise and chaos, and even when I have the opportunity to escape it, my mind plays a recorded loop of noise and chaos. We all do it. We stare at our phones, checking Facebook or Twitter only to stress ourselves out or be entertained by mindless click bait posts. We take selfies so that we might receive validation online. We binge watch shows on Netflix until we fall asleep on the couch. Even dating has evaporated into “Netflix and chill” instead of dinner and a movie for most young people. My job is a constant flow of chaos wherein I have to make quick decisions and improvisations depending on how my young students are behaving or responding at that moment. Sometimes I can go by my script, but it’s counterproductive to continue the script when it’s clearly not working. I’m exhausted at the end of the day, even though I enjoy what I do, it is taxing.

I run and lift weights when I need to escape the chaos and the noise loop. I play music on my headphones to block it out. It works temporarily, and it does clear my mind and rejuvinate me. Yet, when I try to just be still, I can’t. I can’t resist looking at Facebook or reading the news, or turning on the television. When I do attempt meditation, my mind is enveloped in chaos, and I begin fixating on a issue with my job or with my relationship (and even when there isn’t an issue, I create one in my mind sometimes).

I have questioned my spiritual beliefs ever since I was a child when I attended a church, and the youth pastor asked me where people go when they are lost. “The police?” I asked. Everyone laughed. “Hell,” he said, “lost people go to Hell.” Hellfire and brimstone continued to be preached to me at various churches. Later I discovered Unity church, which had a more positive and metaphysical approach to Christianity. I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea of God. I still can’t. I decided to study Buddhism, and I even attended a few Buddhist meditations. This belief system resonates with me more than Christianity ever did.

I think it is important that people find a spiritual practice to get away from the noise and chaos of life, and to realize that we are so insignificant in the universe, so our problems are definitely not world-ending problems. I struggle with practicing because I am so busy and because I haven’t figured out how to quiet my mind in the stillness. The closest I have gotten lately is hiking. When I am in nature, I feel like I am with God, or at least a spiritual presence that I can’t define. Nature is my sanctuary. Yet, I can’t escape to the mountains in every day life.

In the evenings, I hope to begin the habit of meditating, even if it’s only for five minutes the first few times that I try it. I challenge you, reader, to try it with me. Unplug from your phone, tv, and computer for 5-10 quiet minutes. Go to a peaceful place in your mind, and get lost there for a time. Then, just stay in the stillness until the chaotic noise loop takes over again. The stillness makes the chaos easier to manage. The world will not end if you escape for a moment.

waterfall

July 6, 2014

City Hiking

Filed under: Exercise,Health,hiking,photography — desi83 @ 10:12 pm

I am a hiking snob. I don’t consider it a hike if the trail is paved, or completely flat, or less than five miles. That, my friends, is a walk in the park. Before discovering a couple of new hiking trails, I used to only consider it a good hike if I had to drive an hour and a half in the middle of nowhere through the mountains. I want to see waterfalls and climb boulders at some point during the hike. I want to feel like I just had my ass kicked. When my entire body aches, I feel accomplished. I did not think that Nashville could offer a satisfactory hike that would leave me sweating, panting, and sore from head to toe. That was before I joined Meetup.com and was introduced to several new destinations. Mossy Ridge, also known as the red trail at Percy Warner Park, is a 4.5 mile loop, and it takes about 2 miles to arrive at the beginning of the loop. I hiked a total distance of about 9 miles. I should have used my GPS to track total mileage, but I tend to put away the technology when I hike. I have hiked much longer distances than this, but the deep inclines and declines made it a challenging 9 miles.

MossyRidge8

This is the first trail that I have hiked where the majority of the hikers weren’t hiking at all. They were trail running. I have always been intimidated by that because I can be rather clumsy. I decided that this would be the perfect trail to test my skills. Even though it is hilly, there aren’t any terrible obstacles to hinder a runner. It is fairly smooth with just small rocks and a few tree roots. There are a few spots where I had to climb rocks, but they were almost more like steps in their arrangement. I ran occasionally, and I power-hiked. I did stop to take pictures, because this blog is just more appealing to read with pictures! I also noticed that the hikers and runners on this trail are much friendlier than those at any other place I’ve hiked. Everyone at least waved as I walked past. Everyone seemed happy, healthy, and enthusiastic about what they were doing. My favorite human encounter on the trail was a runner approaching me from behind singing “Buddy Holly” by Weezer at the top of his lungs. This guy was happy in his own little world, and he has great taste in music.

MossyRidge7

I came across this random chimney when I was close to the end, and I imagined being out here with some friends during autumn. We could collect a few logs, build a small fire in the chimney, and roast some hot dogs and marshmallows while singing badly, talking too loudly, and just enjoying the moment together. I am sure someone has done that at some point in time at this chimney.

mossywater mossyrocks

This, unfortunately, was the only water source on the trail. I think Nashville needs more rain. Normally, there is a small waterfall flowing from the top of this small cave. There used to be a visible stream flowing through that area. It was still a fun area to explore today. Luckily, I didn’t meet any creepy crawlers in there!

hillatmossy

This is what I call the “Oh Shit” hill. I was trail running, and somehow I made it up this massive hill. The picture really doesn’t do it justice. There was a bench not far from the top of this hill, and I sat for a few minutes to catch my breath. “Good job, Mossy Ridge. You win,” I mumbled between breaths. “We made it!” the lady behind me exclaimed when we approached the top. She was at least twenty years older than I am, but she kept power walking past me. This hike makes me want to live somewhere else even more than I already did. Murfreesboro is flat; there are no challenging trails here at all. If I lived near a park like this, I would go a few times a week so that I could be in the shape that these seniors are in. I met a man on the trail who is 70 years old. He was energetic, had perfect posture and form,  and he was hiking at a fast pace. He told me that he used to run marathons, and he did a cross-country bike-a-thon once with his best friend. I told him that he was now my idol.

MossyRidge

I stopped to meditate for a few minutes, because it is easier for me to meditate outside away from civilization than it is to meditate indoors. I sat on a roughly carved wooden bench with a plaque glued to it with an in Memoriam message engraved in it. I wish I would’ve taken a photo of that; it had someone’s name on it, and it stated that he used to enjoy walking on these trails. I imagined an older man walking on the trail, completely at peace with himself and his life. We can only truly be happy and at peace if we can enjoy life’s simple pleasures. I sat on this bench and closed my eyes. I could hear the wind rustle the trees, and I could hear the squirrels and other small animals rummaging for food or shelter through the woods. My mind was clear and empty of distractions. It was a blissful moment of peace. Whatever your path is in life, whatever it is that brings you joy or serenity, take the time to enjoy these moments away from the stress or problems that you may have in your life. Even in a bustling city like Nashville, there are hidden areas of nature that are mostly untouched by civilization that are there for your enjoyment.

August 14, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies-Getting out!

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking,photography — desi83 @ 10:07 pm

(Please read the previous two posts beginning with “Hiking in the Smokies” before you read this if you haven’t yet done so)

(Yes, we climbed down these rocks and weeds)

I gathered my sleeping bag, tent, and backpack, and I took a deep breath as I stood up and looked down at our destination. I took a step forward, and I felt a sharp pain shoot through my leg. My ankle and knee had been banged up pretty badly the day prior. I dreaded the idea of climbing down the mountain with fifty pounds of weight strapped to my back on a bum leg. “Hey, Zack, do you mind helping Desiree carry her pack?” Mike called to him. “Sure thing, man,” Zack replied. He already had his own bag on his back that probably weighed at least as much as my pack. I strapped my sleeping bag and tent to my backpack and handed it to him. He strapped it to his front. “Alright, now I’m more balanced,” he joked. “Alright, I’m going to help you slide down this thing,” Jeff offered. “Slide?” I asked. It had rained some the previous night, so the ground was wet. “Zack and I got a little wet last night while we were sleeping. Did you manage to stay dry?” Jeff asked. “I did, I wrapped up in the thick hammock that Mike let me use. Mike was under me, so he didn’t get rained on,” I replied. Jeff laughed. “So, Mike was under you all last night, huh?” he joked. “He slept in a sleeping bag on the ground under my hammock. Shut up!” I said laughing. I limped over to a clearing, and I knew that I was going to just have to ignore the pain. “Hey guys, I’m going to go ahead and plow down this mountain to try to find us some water. Just meet me at the first stream,” Mike announced. “Alright, but you better not get water for yourself and take off,” Jeff shouted. Mike had the purifier, and the last thing we needed to do was risk ingesting bacteria and having it come out both ends the rest of the hike. “I could, but I’m not that mean,” Mike answered him. Miked took off down the mountain, literally plowing his way down. We could no longer see him. Next, Zack started struggling down with both of our packs. He was still moving down it pretty quickly. “Go towards your right when you come down. You’ll avoid the thick brush,” Zack advised. “You ready?” Jeff asked. He sat down. “Okay, I’m thinking the easiest way to do this is for us to just slide on our butts,” he advised. I looked down at the wet mud, but I reluctantly obliged. We started sliding down as if we were about to plow down a water slide. I wished I was at a water park right now instead of atop a scary mountain. I felt the mud soak through my pants and then through my bikini bottoms. I wanted so badly to be in clean underwear and clothes, but there wasn’t anywhere to change up there. A shower was going to be the most beautiful thing I’d experience once we got away from the trails and to the facilities. It wasn’t nearly as horrifying as I had thought, though. We were literally sliding, and it became kind of fun and surreal. Jeff made an animal-like noise, and Zack responded. “It sounds like he’s towards the right,” Jeff noticed. “I don’t think we’ll be sliding down those,” I pointed out. There in front of us was a shallow stream covered by several large and small rocks. Jeff got up and carefully stepped down the rocks, leaning backwards. I took his hand, and we made our way down the rocky death trap. I had taken possession of one of Mike’s walking sticks, so between that and Jeff, I felt confident that I wasn’t going to fall down the mountain. I took a step forward, and I felt my foot slip on a slick rock. I held onto his hand as I almost fell. “Be careful,” he said. I led myself with the walking stick so that I wouldn’t have to put pressure on my bad leg. I let Jeff walk ahead of me. We came to another muddy, grassy area and slid down a bit.

“Hey, there is a karn!” Jeff shouted. I remembered it. Oh, it felt great to see something familiar. “I think we’re about half way down, and it’s only been about thirty minutes. It took us almost eight hours for the whole hike yesterday. I’ll bet we finish this in four hours today,” Jeff guessed. I laughed, “I don’t know about that, but it definitely won’t take as long, that’s for sure.” We continued down, climbing over rocks, sliding down mud, hacking away at thick brush and weeds. “Hey, guys, I’m at the next karn!” Zack shouted. We were catching up to him. I felt guilty that he was carrying my pack. However, I don’t know that I would’ve made it down the mountain if I had worn it. We made it to the karn, and Zack was waiting for us there. We were at a fairly large creek bed, and we were almost to the bottom. Zack and Jeff studied the area and the direction of the karn to figure out which was the best way to go down. “Mike better stop and wait for us, because I’m fucking thirsty,” Jeff complained. We were completely out of water.

We continued down, and I kept hoping to see the the bottom of this mountain, to be walking on a somewhat flat trail. Then, we came to the “wall of karns”. It was this huge wall that someone had made with the river stones. We were there, at the bottom, and it had only taken two hours. We were all shouting with glee. “Oh man, now I have to deal with those damned nettles again,” Jeff complained. Nettles are devious little plants. They look soft and feathery, but the little hairs get in your skin and sting for a good hour or so afterwards. Apparently, they release formic acid, serotonin and histamine into your skin. Jeff was especially freaked out by these things.

We made our way through the first batch of nettles and rhododendron by hacking away at them with our walking sticks. Jeff and Zack had picked up a couple along the way. Once we made it through this first part of the blinding, unmarked trail, we came to a clearing, and there was Mike at the creek.

“You made it! Alright, hand me your bottles,” Mike shouted to us. Zack and Jeff through down the packs and dug out all of our bottles. I couldn’t look Mike in the eye. I was embarrassed about throwing a temper tantrum when he said we’d half to climb down the mountain. He had been right-we made it, and it wasn’t as bad as it had been climbing up. “Okay, do you guys mind taking the sleeping bag and tent from Desiree’s pack? I need to take some weight off,” Zack pleaded. Now I felt really guilty. I asked myself the question, can I make it the rest of the way holding my pack? “I can take my pack, Zack. Thanks for hauling it down for me. I think I can take it if you guys can handle my sleeping bag and tent,” I offered. Jeff took my sleeping bag, and Mike took my tent and shoved it into his pack. Mike handed us our bottles one at a time, and we guzzled down the water as if we hadn’t had any for days. Well, it had been about a day, and we had come a long way on a difficult trail. He ended up refilling our bottles a second time after we drank the first fill. “Do you guys mind if I take off ahead of you? I want to make it to the road before dark so that I can get a park ranger to help us out. I figure we can meet at the old houses that we passed before we got to our camp the first day. There is a dirt road that leads to the main road nearby. I’ll find a ranger who can get us a ride to our car, or we can hitch a ride,” he suggested. We agreed. We would agree to anything that would get us home. He handed us the remains of his trail mix and some beef jerky, and he practically did run through the trail. We passed around the mix and jerky, devouring it until it was almost gone. I kept a little bit of the mix in my pack for later. We strapped on our packs, and I leaned heavily on my walking stick. I didn’t even feel the pain. I just felt confident and determined at that point.

“Okay, we crossed the creek about ten times yesterday, and there were karns at every crossing,” Zack remembered, “so we should come out of this area and to the first stream crossing.” We hacked through more nettles and rhododendron, and Jeff hiked his shorts down almost to his feet. “My bad, but I just can’t deal with more of those fucking nettles,” he apologized to me. I just laughed. As we plowed through the dangerous plant life, we noticed something awesome. There were tons of fresh blackberries! Jeff grabbed a handful and gave some to me. We munched on them as we hiked, and I grabbed a few more off the bush. We came to the first crossing and saw a karn. We crossed this section, but the next time that we attempted to cross the stream, there was no karn. There wasn’t a clear, distinct trail any where in sight. Zack headed down the creek to see if he could spot a clearing, but there was nothing but thick weeds and shrubbery all around us. “Okay, guys, we know that if we follow the creek, we’re going the right way. So, let’s just keep walking down the creek,” Zack suggested. I sighed. We walked over the rocks and through the creek. By that point, we had given up trying to avoid the water by stepping on the slippery rocks, and we just stomped through the knee-high water. We did this for awhile, and I was growing impatient. “Do you guys not see any sign of a trail or a karn?” I asked. “No, do you?” Zack asked. I stomped out of the creek and scoped out the woods for a sign of a trail. There was nothing. Zack was further down, and he checked out both directions. “Hey, there is one over here!” he shouted. “Thank God,” Jeff muttered. We stomped through the creek toward Zack, and we finally made it to the bank where Zack was. “Look, it’s a karn,” he pointed out.

We continued on without stopping. I was reliant upon my stick to carry me as fast as the guys were going. We made it away from the creek and plowed through the last part of the jungle-like trail with the dangerous nettles and blinding rhododendron, and we continued to scarf down blackberries. “We’ll take a break once we get to our original campground,” Zack suggested. He was proving to be a very reliable and encouraging leader on this hike. We finally came to the old campground, and there was a group of campers sitting by the fire where we had camped our first night. “Hey, how’s it going?” Zack greeted. “Hi, where did you guys come from?” one of the guys asked. “We did an unmarked trail yesterday and ended up sleeping on a mountain last night,” Jeff answered proudly. “Wow, that’s awesome. Hey, you guys are with the tall, bald guy, right?” the girl in the group asked. “Yes, did you see him?” Zack asked. “He went through here about an hour ago. He wanted us to tell you that if we saw you,” she answered. “Awesome,” I said. We didn’t stop there to take our break, but we decided to wait until we came to the creek that we had swam in the first day. It wasn’t far from the campground.

We sat down on some rocks by the creek by the bridge. Zack had brought some military meals, so he pulled out what they could eat without needing hot water. Jeff inhaled a strawberry “milkshake” after he poured some of his water into the container and shook it up. Zack ate some crackers, and I pulled out my last protein bar. “Alright, we’re almost to the meeting point, guys! I can’t believe how fast we’ve gone,” I suddenly realized. “It’s been three and a half hours. That’s not bad compared to the eight hours it took yesterday,” Jeff replied. “Well, let’s get a move on, then!” I said excitedly. We gathered our things and headed over to the bridge.

We crossed the bridge, and I remembered the ice cold swim that we had taken a couple of days ago. I normally would have whimped out and not jumped in, but this trip was definitely pushing me to do what I wanted but was afraid to do. We made it over the bridge, and we were coming close to the meeting point. Then, a strange looking young man with no pack or supplies approached us. “Hi, do you know if it’s too late to camp out here?” he asked. His eyes were darting back and forth. He was definitely high on something. “I think since you made it to this point, you should be fine. There is a camp about a half a mile past this creek,” I replied. “Thanks, thank you so much,” he said as he walked unsteadily past us. I hoped he wouldn’t fall off the bridge.

“Oh my God, what the hell is that smell?” Jeff asked. “What?” I asked. Then it hit me. “Zack, what the hell?” Jeff shouted. “You don’t smell that, Desiree?” he asked. “I do now. Damn those meals,” I commented. Zack just laughed. Then, the foul smell grew stronger followed by a loud noise coming from Jeff. “Oh, man, why did you guys drink those shakes?” I asked. We came to a strange crossing right before we got to the houses. We didn’t know where to go. “Hey, check this out! Mike totally did this!” Jeff noticed. There was a large stick in the ground with grass carefully tied to the top of it pointing to the left. “Oh, that Mike,” I said. We headed out of the trail going left, and we came to another Mike reminder. “Hey, look at that!” Zack pointed to the ground. ‘Jeff Stop Farting’ was drawn into the dirt. “Hey, how’s he going to call me out like that?” Jeff asked. We made it to the meeting point at the old houses, but there was no sign of Mike. “I’ll bet he’s gotten a ride. I say we walk down the dirt road since it’s only a mile long,” Zack suggested. “Well, you’re the leader,” I said in agreement. “There’s no way to miss him at this point. If he’s on his way with a car, we should see him on the road. Those people back there said he’s about an hour ahead of us, so he should be coming this way soon,” I said. “Okay, the sign says it is a mile long, so that’s not too bad,” Jeff noticed. I wasn’t even upset about having to continue walking. We were so close to salvation by now.

We walked down the dirt road fairly quickly, and we were reminiscing about all that we had accomplished. “I think the sign lied. It has definitely been more than a mile,” I said. Zack looked down at his watch, which also served as a gps. “It’s been three-quarters of a mile. It just seems long because we’re tired,” he answered me. Zack noticed there was a car up ahead. “I wonder if that’s our ride?” I asked. “I hope not,” he said. It was a small hatchback, and a fairly old car. The headlights were still on, and it sounded like the motor or at least the radio might be on. There was no one in it, though. “That has to belong to that weird dude,” Jeff said. We came to the end of the dirt road and sat down on a log by one of the small parking lots. “I think we should wait here. He’s eventually got to pass through this area,” Zack suggested. I dug out the small bag of trail mix that I had held onto, as well as a small bottle of hand sanitizer. “Sanitizer, anyone?” I offered. Zack and Jeff both held out their hands. Zack inhaled his hand after he had rubbed it into his skin. “This smells amazing!” he said excitedly. I laughed. “Oh, did you jack this from Walgreens?” Jeff asked. “No, not exactly. It was in a free care package that the pharmacy was giving to new patients. So, yeah, I guess I did sort of jack it,” I realized. They laughed. We shared the trail mix, and Zack kept smelling his hands. “We just haven’t been clean in a long time, so it smells especially nice,” I pointed out.

We patiently waited for our ride, making fun of each other and chattering about what had just transpired. A park ranger finally emerged from the road and stopped to talk to us. “You guys need a ride,” the ranger said. We all jumped up. “I don’t know, we’re waiting for a friend to meet us here so that we can all ride together,” Zack answered. “No, that wasn’t a question. That was a statement. You need a ride. Your guy sent me over here to pick you up and take you to the ranger cabin. He’s waiting there, and you all are going to take a cab to your car,” he explained. “Yes, thank you,” I said. We were all so relieved. Yet, we were all in a pretty calm mood by this point. “Can I ride in the front? I mean, is that allowed?” Zack asked. “Sure, climb on in,” the ranger replied. There was a huge gun in the front seat. “Holy crap, look at this!” Zack pointed it out to us. The ranger climbed into the front seat. I was holding my and Zack’s packs in the seat, and Jeff crawled in beside me with his own stuff. “Oh man, I can’t wait to go home and have a shot of whiskey after this,” I half-joked. “I’m coming to your party,” Jeff replied. “You have to celebrate an anniversary with your girlfriend tonight,” I reminded him. “Yeah, if she doesn’t dump me for coming home too late to really celebrate it,” he pouted. “You know what, if she can’t deal with this, she can just go on,” he said grumpily. Zack laughed, “yeah right, you would take her back no matter what.” We arrived at the ranger’s house, and Mike was there waiting. He was a sight for sore eyes, for sure.

We got out of the jeep and sat on the porch of the ranger’s cabin. “So, is the cab headed over here?” the ranger asked Mike. “She said she’d be here in ten minutes,” he answered. “Okay, I’ll wait to make sure that you guys get picked up. I’d take you all myself, but it’d be out of my area, and I’m on duty right now,” he explained. “Thanks for helping us out though, man,” Mike said. “Does anyone need to use the restroom?” the ranger offered. “Oh my gosh, yes, thank you!” I said with glee. I wanted so badly to use a real bathroom after peeing in the woods all weekend. The cab driver called Mike and told him that she was lost. “How can you be lost when you’re a cab driver for the area?” Jeff said. Mike explained what restaurants were near the entrance and that there was a large Smokey Mountains sign at the entrance. It was dark, but still. The ranger was getting antsy, and I could tell that he wanted to give us a ride. He got a call about a lost hiker on his radio. This cab driver needed to get a move on.

She finally pulled into one of the spaces in front of the ranger’s cabin. “Have a safe trip home. I hope y’all will come back and finish the trail to the At next time,” the ranger said as he drove away to try to retrieve the lost hiker. We all climbed in the taxi and headed out. She started talking on her cell phone with one of her friends, and it was apparent that she wasn’t really paying attention to where she was going. “You know what I do every night. I’m driving. No, I only do that one night a week,” she said almost in a whisper. Jeff, Zack and I all had to cover our mouths to keep from bursting out laughing. We missed the sign for the trail head where our car was parked a couple of times, but we eventually found it. “Will you guys wait to leave until I do? I get scared in these woods,” she pleaded. We all wanted to laugh. You are a cab driver, for Christ’s sake. We got into Mike’s car, and we waited for her to pull out of the lot. Her car wouldn’t start. Oh, crap, we were going to have to stay and help fix this cab driver’s car. We would definitely need a refund for the ride if that was the case. With a few false starts, she finally succeeded in starting her struggling van and headed out.

We were IHop bound, because by this time, Cracker Barrel would be closed. We were still in the Eastern time zone, so it was after eleven by now. We found an IHop, our oasis. We walked in with our muddy, sweaty clothes on and sat at a table. Okay, I’m not a huge fan of IHop, but these were the best eggs and bacon that I had ever put into my mouth. My taste buds and my stomach were throwing a party. The coffee was disgusting compared with the instant coffee we had drank by the fire on the first morning of camping, but the food made up for it. I inhaled all of this protein rich food, and then I downed a glass of water. Zack and Jeff downed a couple of pitches of tea between them, along with several pancakes, eggs, and steak. This was certainly the perfect reward for climbing up and down a mountain and plowing through unmarked trails. I did bring in clean clothes and change in the bathroom, because I just couldn’t bear to eat in those disgusting threads that I had to peel off of me. I guess in that sense, I was still being a girl about everything. However, I had hiked the most difficult trail in the smokies with the boys, and I was proud of growing a pair this weekend.

I have been stuck in this retail management job that I hate for the past five years because I’ve been too afraid of taking a risk and trying something else. This trip made me realize that fear is what has been holding me back. It’s also the reason that I have not kept trying to get my book published. It is the reason that I haven’t felt inspired to keep writing my second book. So, I’m finally looking fear into the eyes, and I’m shoving it out of my way as I begin to climb this new mountain in my life. I’m walking away from what is making me unhappy, and I’m pushing the reset button. I’m returning to school to start a new career, a journey to something better than what I have now. I’m having to take a low paying job and live with my parents in order to make this happen, but sometimes you have to walk through a few nettles and crawl through the mud and rocks to get where you need to be.

Let the new journey begin.

 

 

 

August 8, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies Continued

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking — desi83 @ 7:07 am

So, I left you all stranded at the top of the mountain in my last blog. Now, I suppose I’ll let you know how we made it out of the Smokies alive. Zack and Mike were searching for the unmarked trail that was supposed to lead us to the AT, and Jeff and I were still sitting right below them trying not to think about dying. Jeff was shivering, but he was trying not to show his fear too much, so he just sat there quietly. I was worried about his getting hypothermia, but I was in too much pain to climb the rock to get his pack for him. So, I did what I do best. I started panicking in an annoying way. “Did you guys find it yet?” I yelled. They didn’t respond. “Hey! Is there a trail out of here? Jeff is getting hypothermia, and I can’t move my leg!” I yelled again. “We’re trying,” Mike called back calmly. Mike and Zack were both so calm about the fact that we were lost on a mountain. It was frustrating yet comforting, because as long as they seemed in control of the situation, I wasn’t totally doomed. Also, while my leg was in horrible pain, it was not broken or even sprained. “I want to get married to my girl before I die,” Jeff said. “I want to meet someone who I want to marry before I die,” I said. “I really want to have that meal at Cracker Barrel after this is over,” I said. “Yes, that is a good motivator for staying alive,” Jeff replied. We both laughed. I began to stare at the darkening sky and the tree tops that were now eye level. I finally noticed how breathtakingly beautiful this scene was-we were on top of the world almost literally. I smiled even as I still felt fear growing inside of my gut. “I need to see what is going on,” I said as I began climbing the rock above us. “Hey, be careful doing that,” Jeff said nervously. I was moving aggressively out of fear, so I practically jumped on top of the large and slightly unstable rock. Mike and Zack finally returned, still as calm and collected as ever.

“So?” Jeff asked. “No luck. We’re going to have to make camp right here because we don’t have much sun light left,” Mike announced. “What? No, no I can’t do that. Sleep on top of the mountain? Seriously? This is like some ‘Man vs Wild’ or ‘I Shouldn’t be Alive’ situation. Have you guys seen that show?” I panicked. “Yeah, I’ve seen that,” Jeff said with a laugh through his shivers. “I need to get into a dry shirt, man, can you hand me my pack?” he asked Zack. I had forgotten about his pack. I felt guilty, but I was too consumed with worry to think about anything but escaping the situation. I had found a somewhat level place to sit, but everything was pretty much on an incline. “I can try to call a ranger to see if we can get a helicopter as soon as my phone is charged,” Mike offered. He had a solar/fan powered usb charger. This guy had everything he needed to survive an apocalypse. “Yes, please, get us out of here,” I whined. “I could never look anyone from the guard in the eye if I took a chopper out of here,” Zack commented. He had been in the Air National Guard for quite awhile, and he had been in combat in the Middle East. He could definitely handle a situation like this. Jeff had also been in the guard. “I’m not in the military, nor am I an adventure hiker who watches way too much ‘Man vs Wild’, so I need a helicopter!” I said through tears. I hated being the only whimpy girl there. Mike called the ranger, and after losing signal several times and being transferred to different departments, he finally gave up. “They said to call in the morning. I told them that you have an injured leg, and they suggested that we try to help you down the mountain. They said going down the mountain and back down the trail from where we came is the best route,” Mike explained. I looked down in horror.

“I’m not climbing down a mountain with a bum leg! Are you serious? Is there no way to the At? I mean, I thought that was what you had planned?” I yelled, frustrated. “Somewhere along the way, we made a wrong turn. It is easy to do when there is no clear trail. The ranger said we just needed to climb down,” he said calmly. “I tell you what. Zack and I will try to track down the trail to the AT early in the morning. Then, I will call the ranger again to see if we can get the helicopter,” Mike promised. I felt a little better. He was like the Dali Lama in how calm and serene he was being in this time of doom. I spread out my sleeping bag and dug my pillow out of my pack. I swaddled myself inside of my sleeping bag and propped my feet against a sturdy root so that I wouldn’t slide down the mountain during the night. “Do you want to use my hammock?” Mike offered. “No, I’m okay,” I replied sleepily. “Well, I’m going to set it up, and you can use it if you like. I’m going to try to find a decent place to sleep,” he said slyly. I smiled through my tears. Suddenly, with the realization that I had no choice, I felt a peacefulness settle into me. I was going to sleep right here, next to the tree tops. Then a thought crossed my mind. “I’m kind of by myself over here, what if a wild animal comes? I’ll be the first one it gets,” I commented. They all laughed. “There are no wild animals this far up,” Zack said. I breathed a sigh of a relief. Even though they had gotten us lost up here, I knew Zack and Mike were skilled and knowledgeable about survival situations. I kept feeling myself slide down toward the tree root so that my knees were almost to my chest if I didn’t keep sliding myself back up. Frustrated, I decided to take Mike’s offer and sleep in his hammock. It was also getting cold, so I could cover myself with the hammock as it was quite thick and large enough for two people.

As I began to fall asleep, I heard something rustling underneath me. I covered my face with the excess material from the hammock and stiffened. Then, I heard a slight moan that sounded human. I peeked underneath the hammock and saw Mike lying in my old spot right underneath the hammock. I smiled. I had chosen the best spot in this area for sleeping because he had gone searching for another spot earlier. The temperature dropped dramatically, so I buried myself into the sleeping bag and hammock, including my face. I began to feel very comfortable and sleepy, so I drifted off until the sun came up. I uncovered my face and looked at the sky. The birds were flying closely above us, and the horse flies were surrounding me. I covered my face with the hammock again. Ah, the perils of nature. When was Mike going to wake up? They were supposed to get up early and find us a way out. I almost got up to wake them up, but I decided not to push it.

I finally heard Mike moving around below me, so I peaked to see what he was doing. He was reading the manual that he had brought with him of the Smokies. I heard Zack and Jeff talking below the boulder. Mike shouted to Zack, and they both took off into the wilderness in the clouds. “Hey, are you feeling better today?” I shouted to Jeff. “Yes, I just needed dry clothes last night. That, and I was fucking exhausted,” he replied. “How are you?” “I am really hoping that we can get a helicopter up here today,” I said. “Oh, is that the plan now?” he asked. “Mike said that he was going to try to get them to send out a chopper for us this morning,” I replied. “Oh, cool,” Jeff mumbled. Jeff called out loudly some kind of animal noise that maybe was supposed to be a bird call. Zack mimicked him. I hoped they were returning with good news. “Did you guys find anything?” I shouted. They didn’t say anything. “Did you find a trail?” Jeff shouted. “No,” Zack replied. “Oh, God,” I said in frustration.

Mike sat down underneath my hammock and continued looking at the manual. “Are you going to call for the helicopter?” I asked. “Yeah, in just a second,” he replied as he read. “Are you going to ride the chopper if it comes?” Zack asked Jeff. “I might,” Jeff responded half-jokingly. Mike grabbed his phone and put it on the solar charger. He called the ranger and was on the same cycle of getting transferred and losing signals as he had done last night. I brushed my teeth with the small amount of water that I had left, and I wiped my face clean with a wipe that I had in my pack. I couldn’t shower, but I could at least have a clean face and teeth. We didn’t have a water source up there, so I hoped that whatever happened, we’d get fresh water. I had some fruit juice and a protein bar in my pack, and I enjoyed that pitiful little breakfast as if it were bacon and eggs. Then I began to think about bacon and eggs. We were planning on going to Cracker Barrel after all of this, and I still wanted that to happen.

Mike hung up the phone and went to talk with Zack and Jeff. I was afraid that he was mad at me for being so whiny about the situation. I couldn’t help it, though, I was deathly afraid. I really didn’t want to die without doing any of the things that I want to do with my life. I’ve been in a slump for many years, and I haven’t done what I need to do to get out of it. I’m just always too afraid of making another mistake or getting into a situation that I can’t escape. Now, I was quite literally in that very type of situation, and I was hoping for a rescue. “Mike, what did they say?” I couldn’t wait anymore. I didn’t know why he hadn’t talked to me about it yet. “They said they couldn’t get out here until tomorrow,” he said reluctantly. I screamed. Then, I sighed. “Is there any way to get to the AT from here, or do we have to go down the mountain?” I asked, afraid of the answer. “We have to go down the mountain,” Mike stated. I covered my face and moaned. “Okay. Okay, you know what? I’m going to grow some metaphorical balls and climb down this fucking mountain!” I said. “Alright!” Jeff said with a laugh. I suddenly felt this self-assurance and strength that I had never allowed myself to reach, because I knew that I had to. There was no one to rescue me from my situation. I had to rescue myself with some assistance from my fellow hikers who were not much better off than I was. “Think of it this way. You will have an awesome story to tell your grandkids one day,” Zack pointed out. “Yes, we will definitely have a story to tell everyone,”

To be Contiued…I had no idea this would span more than 2 entries!

July 30, 2012

Hiking in the Smokies:Conquering the Hardest Unmarked Trail on the Map

Filed under: Athletics,Blogging,Exercise,Health,hiking,photography — desi83 @ 8:12 am

Part One of Two:

I hiked the trail that the book said not to this week at the Smokey mountains. I went with two military guys and an extreme adventure hiker. I was told that it would be mostly a scenic hike with lots of waterfalls and a few rough spots. The whole “most difficult trail in the park” detail was left out of the description of our plans when Mike convinced me to go. I figure he didn’t think I’d go if he mentioned it, but he knew I’d be glad that I did afterward. He was right. The first day, we were supposed to hike eight miles to our campsite. I had a backpack with my tent and sleeping bag tied to it on my back weighing heavily on me the whole time. I don’t really have a good camping bag, so I just used what I had. My shoes are okay, but my toes are now screaming to me that I need some tough hiking boots instead of these hiking/trail running shoes or whatever they are. The eight mile hiked ended up being eleven because apparently the map was wrong. I was exhausted and sore, but it was the prettiest hike I’ve taken in Tennessee. It was tough, but manageable. We took a detour to see an overlook that was led by a narrow trail through some of the most exotic plant life I’ve ever seen. When we got to the overlook, I literally felt the breath escape my lungs and stop for a moment. I could really see now why it’s called the Smokey Mountains, and it was the perfect view of them. We stopped at a creek near the campsite to wash off our sweat. Mike and I got in and braved the nearly icy cold water, and it was quite exhilarating. I shamed the other two guys into joining us by pointing out that “a girl can do it”. I slept amazingly well after a hot bowl of soup from Mike’s camping boiler. It’s called a Bunson burner, I think? Jeff and I tried to start a fire, and the plastic he threw in got it going for a few minutes, but after the rain from the previous day, it was no dice. Mike and Zack piled on the wood they had gathered, and I was blowing on it like birthday candles, but it was too stubborn. I slept in a small one-man tent on an air mattress inside my Wal-Mart sleeping bag. The sound of the crickets and the wind in the trees put me to sleep. I was the first to awaken around seven the next morning, ready to blaze more trails. I couldn’t wait for Mike to brew us some instant coffee, and I peeled open a tasty protein bar for breakfast. He finally got up and boiled the water. I smiled as I smelled the Starbucks Via from my coffee cup. Finally, the military guys came stumbling over from their tents still waking up. Jeff started messing with the fire pit again, still resentful of the failure of it from the previous night. Mike told us that we’d be hiking for two brutal miles, and then it’d be an easy six mile hike to the campsite. He warned us that a blogger had said that it took her and her group five hours to hike the two miles because it was an unmarked trail. So, it’s a matter of finding karns (stacks of rocks) and other signs that other hikers leave to find your way through the trail. At some point, he said, it gets kind of hard for people to leave any marks because of the rough terrain. I don’t think it quite sunk into my mind at that point how difficult he was saying that it was going to be. I just packed up all my gear, threw it on my back, and set out with the guys with full confidence.

I felt like Indiana Jones or Tarzan in the jungle hacking away brush through this unmarked trail. There were nettles that temporarily burned and caused a rash on our skin. There was so much rhododendron in some parts that we were constantly smacking it away with our sticks and at the same time trying to look down to prevent tripping over stumps and rocks. It definitely made me start to feel like an adventure hiker. We hopped over a creek bed about ten times along the trail, and each time we searched for karns, and we left our own if there weren’t obvious ones marking the trail. The guys got creative and made a carnal karn at one spot. It was definitely a photogenic moment. After several attempts to not get my feet and legs totally soaked, I finally grew tired of risking a bad fall from jumping over rocks. I stomped through the shallow water figuring eventually my shoes would dry enough. We crossed over a narrow bridge at one creek crossing spot, and my fear of heights was tested a bit. Then, there were several logs that had fallen along our path that we had to climb over or under. Luckily, I had some strong and helpful dudes with me to help me with the crawling over. Sometimes being short is a problem. However, I laughed arrogantly when I barely had to bend down in some spots while they crawled through the mud. We took a few breaks; Mike filled our water bottles with water that he purified from the creek. I slammed down tuna, protein bars, and Mike’s trail mix. I have never felt so hungry in my life. It was fun, and just a little difficult. That was the first mile.

We began to encounter areas that were a little more inclined and rocky, but I was able to manage without hurting myself. Then, we came to the mountain. We are so not going to climb that, I thought. Oh yeah, we were. It was just inclined enough not to have to use rock climbing gear. We did have to climb up on our hands and knees most of the way, though. It began with our climbing large, slick rocks. I had bashed my ankle the day before and it was still a little red and swollen. So, of course, I banged it again a couple of times going up these rocks. I cursed and questioned how I managed to hit my ankle in the same spot each time. We stopped a couple of times, and I whined a bit. I kept asking how far. He said we’re almost there. Yeah, no we weren’t. I slammed down some tuna fish and sweet potato chips and drank most of the water I had left. I hoped we’d come to a water source soon. We climbed some more, and I asked how long we’d been out that day. It had been six hours thusfar. We had hiked/climbed about a mile and a half. Well, crap. Mike pointed in the direction where we were headed. Jeff pointed out that we could see the sun, and the tops of the trees were getting closer. Hope was alive, but barely breathing. I banged my knee and screamed out from the pain. They said keep going, you’re doing great. I kept climbing, and then I banged it again. What the hell? My right leg kept getting injured repeatedly in the same two spots-my knee and ankle. I still can’t wear shorts for all the bruises and scars. I yelled to them that I couldn’t go on. I had a panic attack. I cried. Oh, man, am I embarrassed about that, but it was a test of will that I never thought I’d be taking. They said you’re doing great, you can do it. Mike asked had I rather go up or climb back down. I looked down, panicked some more, and nodded my head. He offered to take my bag, and I gladly obliged. After all, I was at least sixty pounds lighter than everyone else on the hike, so it was physically harder for me. We got to a point where there weren’t so many rocks, and it was mostly moss. I scooted myself up by grabbing onto the somewhat tough moss. I slid a few times and looked death in the eye. I grunted and growled as I pulled myself up the mountain. It was the first time in my life I was enduring a truly death defying moment, and I was kicking death in the balls. We called out to Zack, who was several feet ahead of us, and he told us he was almost to the top. We kept crawling, and Jeff was losing steam as he was wearing a wet tank top and the temperature was steadily dropping. He would later be in the beginning stages of hypothermia. We called again to Zack, and he announced that he was at the top, but he didn’t know where to go from there. It was a complete drop off from where he was standing. We were supposed to come to an area at the top that would take us to a trail that was fairly flat as compared to the rest of the hike. We had taken a wrong turn. It’s okay, they reassured. We’ll figure it out once we get to the top. All of us finally made near the top where Zack was standing, but Jeff and I stayed in a somewhat level spot right below Zack and Mike, waiting to see if they could find where the trail was located. Jeff was shivering, and he had thrown his pack over the rock above us, so he couldn’t get out any more clothes. I was nursing a very sore and slightly injured knee and ankle. We both sat and complained about how tired and sore we were, and how we just weren’t ready to die.

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