Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Easing into Nature

Some of us thrive on the outdoors. We depend on the life that it breathes into us. Others, run for the nearest building at the very mention of spending time in the "wilderness". So when one of my not so outdoorsy friends asked me to take her on hike I was excited at the chance to show her why hiking in so great. The challenge; not to scare her away. Like me, she's a gym rat and (unlike me) an athletic rugby player so there was doubt that shes tough but experience also tells me that weight lifting and team sports involvement doesn't necessarily equate to being in good trail shape.

 I settled on taking her on a short, three mile hike at Elk Knob State Park, Todd, NC. The park is fairly new and still under development but there is a 1.5 mile trail that leads to the 5, 520 ft. summit of Elk Knob. I've heard about the trail from  friends and its been on my hiking to do list for some time now. The trail is nice, hardened, with a fairly gradual ascent until the last quarter of mile. At this point the trail detours from the planned route which is yet to be completed and follows a steep, old forest road to the summit. It was at this point that my friend loudly expressed how hard it was. I yelled back to her that the last quarter mile is always the hardest, and I'd see her at the top. Then, I turned around a snap a photo of her struggle at which point she promptly waved a very selected finger. I began thinking I may have ruined her.

At the summit we were rewarded with spectacular views of The Peak, Three Top and Bluff Mountains, Mount Jefferson, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Mt Rodgers (Va.), and the Iron Mountains in Virginia and Tennessee. Oh, and we were also greeted with a swarm of noseums which unfortunately shortened our time at the summit.

We enjoyed our decent back to the parking lot. Despite the lactic acid build-up in her quads, I'm pretty sure she had a good time. If my assumption wasn't enough to go on, I got a text message yesterday afternoon telling me she was taking a friend of hers to Elk Knob to hike the Summit Trail. Mission accomplished.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Finding Balance and New Challenges

If I had endless sums of money and no desire for a career life where I can contribute to the greater cause of environmental conservation then my life's ambition would be to become a trail bum. Hands down. No questions. I have daydreams (and night dreams) about setting off on my next adventure. There's something about not knowing what lies ahead, the unexplored, that pumps adrenaline through my veins and pushes me forward. There is something about the simplicity of trail living that awakens my soul and makes me feel at home. And, there is something about this rugged simplicity that makes me want to challenge myself, to prove to my ever doubting self, that I am truly capable of anything. Then a huge hail storm or thunder storm, or snow storm (or all three simultaneously) comes rushing through the high country, forcing me to awake from my pleasant dreams, and I find myself ever so thankful to NOT be hiking, NOT to be outside, and NOT to be staring mother nature in the face daring her to push me harder.

Yes, I want to be a trail bum, but I also want what so many of use grow up daydreaming about, a career that matters to me, some creature comforts (I REALLY love my iPod, my Garmin Forerunner, and my dog - in no particular order), and a somewhat permanent place to call home. I want to know that I am doing something important with my life. That I am contributing to the greater good. So how do I reconcile the overwhelming desire for adventure on foot with the same overwhelming desire for a career? School breaks and vacation days. Ideal? Not exactly, but it's a start for now. Realistically, long distance hikes will be few and far between and I have spent over a year searching out ways to fill the void that trail life use to take up. Day hikes just haven't been the same and overnights are such a tease. I was in need of a new challenge, something that would force me to push my limits. Answer, running.

I can hear my mother bickering in my ear "You're going to ruin you're already wrecked knees." Yeah, she's probably right. There were days during my thru-hike that I didn't think I'd reach Katadhin. I waited for that morning to come when I would wake up and my knees would be the size of watermelons and I would take the inevitable greyhound home. But that day never happened. It's taken over a year to get my knees feeling decent again, and once they did I knew it was time to hit the trail, well, treadmill. I started in January and there was lots of snow on the ground.

It's now April and I'm gearing up for my first 5k race. I'm not in it to win it, at least not yet. I'm in it to know I can do it. After that, the next challenge is on; to pick up speed at to get competitive.  So far, my knees are doing great.

I'm not giving up hiking. With spring rolling in I have a list of extended day hikes (12-20 miles) that I hope to accomplish on my Sunday's off. In regards to those long distance hikes, the Benton Mackaye Trail (288 miles), the Long Trail (273 miles), and the John Muir Trail (211 miles) are at the top of my list. If I learned anything during my hiking career, it was this: it's nice to have a plan, a vision of what you would like to accomplish, but leave the detailed planning to faith. One day the opportunities to complete these longer journey's will present themselves and I will find a way to go with the flow.