I’ve been thinking through all of the hikes that I did in 2014 and trying to decide which one was my favorite. I’ve had some pretty amazing hikes, so it’s hard to choose just one. But in the end my first solo hike of the year was my favorite: Graybeard Trail, Montreat, NC
Graybeard was my favorite for many reasons; the views and the scenery was just part of, though it was absolutely gorgeous. Parts of trail led me through magical covered archways of rhododendrons, the sun peeking through, casting a soft glow as the light danced on the rocks below my feet. The sound of a creek rushed by in the distance, the promise of a waterfall up ahead. It was a steep hike, and narrow in places, I found myself pulling myself up over rocks and crossing through shallow creeks with slippery rocks. My dog, Harley, gleefully pounced and splashed around in the cold water, splashing me in the process. It was still winter so the trees were bare and offered little shelter from the sun that surrounded me, warming me despite the chilly breeze. Parts of the path were boggy and muddy due to the melting icicles creating tiny creeks as the sun warmed them, threatening to erase any signs of winter. The ascent was so steep in places that, as a novice hiker with a limited supply of water and snacks, I found myself resting frequently. I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it to the top.
I learned a valuable lesson on this hike. Always, always, always check the mileage. I had mistaken the trail to be close to 5 miles, not 5 miles one way as part of an out and back trail. I had packed accordingly. Still suffering from a knee injury I found that the steepness irritated the muscles in my knee and the descent was painful and slow. I even sat down and cried at one point. What was I thinking? I’m no hiker. I don’t know the first thing about being out here… At that point I couldn’t even bend my knee and my dog was misbehaving to the extreme, making walking an even more difficult struggle. But I made it. I made it to the top of a mountain, on my own, with no help. And I made it back down just the same.
The hike was a transformation. As a newbie to the state of North Carolina, a newbie to hiking, and a newbie to being alone, this hike was everything that I had needed and I hadn’t even realized it. My phone didn’t have service so I had turned it off to save the battery, my first time disconnecting from technology in a very long time. That gave me the peace I needed to turn to my own thoughts, to be introspective. And that day I saw nature differently. I had always appreciated nature and what it had to offer but I never understood everything that it could offer. That was the first time the trails became a safe haven for me. A place where I could go to think and relax. A place where I didn’t have to pretend to be ok, or put together, or anything that people wanted me to be. I was finally doing something for me, reaching a goal that I wanted.
When I was out on Graybeard Trail a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I had to keep going back to the mountains, exploring all that nature had to offer: the peace, the solitude, the confidence, the disconnect from society, the alone-ness, the sense that I wasn’t really alone… I felt all of these amazing things. Graybeard Trail just happened to be the start of my love affair with hiking. After that I spent as much time hiking as I could. I’m not going to say that I was broken, but there was a part of me that was hurting and a part of me that had lost confidence in myself. The trails and the hiking gave me a way to find whatever it was that I needed to heal. Whenever I finished a hike I ended the day with a sense of accomplishment and peace that I had yet to find anywhere else. In the end, the most important lesson I learned while hiking Graybeard Trail was that even when it starts to get tough and it’s painful to keep moving all I have to do is keep moving forward, I’m stronger than I think and giving up isn’t an option.
Whenever I look back at this year and the hikes that I’ve accomplished this one will always be one of my favorites purely because it was the start of something wonderful. Something that I didn’t even know I needed.