The day began with a two hour drive up the mountains (and a stop at Waffle House.) At around hour 1.5 we realized we should have heeded my mom’s warning and stopped for gas before we left… so we turned around to head back into town to fuel up which added about an hour to the trip overall. So in reality, the day began with a 2.5 hour drive up the mountains (and a stop at Waffle House.)
When we finally reached the parking lot, it was filled. Our hopes for solitude were questionable at that point. We soon found that once we left the parking area, being on our own became a usual occurrence. Groups passed us here and there, but for the most part it was just the three of us: my mom, my dad and me.
I was beyond excited. I’d been reading about The Appalachian Trail for months now. I’d spent hours watching YouTube bloggers from the trail, reading posts from people who had been all the way from Georgia to Maine and using the AT’s interactive map (found here or if that doesn’t work, here) to scope out the trail virtually.
In short, this day hike was about to fulfill a new life dream. As we headed up the first peak I couldn’t stop taking pictures…
I was in full-tourist mode until I saw it – the first white blaze. For those of you who don’t know, the white blaze (or small white rectangle thing) is the Appalachian trail marker… it guides willful hikers all the way along the whole 2,190 mile stretch of the trail. Seeing it in person, on the path that I was hiking made it all real.
The beauty of nothing but you and the task at hand, with no real way out except to finish- was what I’d come for. I’ve always been fairly good at letting fear rule my life, but I’m ever growing out of it… fear is the space between the life you know, and the life you’ve been waiting for. I was ready (am ready) for the life I’ve been waiting for. Hiking is the perfect way to face your fear of giving up, because once your in the middle of the trail, your basically forced to “nut up”. There is no magic way to get yourself back to the parking lot instantly. Your only way out is to push forward.
As we continued to ascend, I turned around and got my first good look at how far we’d come in just under the first half hour or so:
Turning back around, I realized how far we had to go.
But I was completely okay with that.
We continued on, ever-venturing further into the unknown of the trail and the capacity of our will. There were hills that never seemed to end, noisy groups of passing teenagers, and times when the packs we carried dug into our shoulders so much you just wanted to leave them behind.
And then it rained.
At first the light, pitter-patter of rain was welcoming. We were prepared with ponchos and the cold mountain rain felt good on a hot, sweaty face. But, as rain in The South sometimes (always) does…. the pitter-patter quickly turned into an all out downpour.
And we were wet. About half way down our first tree-covered section of the mountain, maybe 4.5 miles in, we found ourselves turning around to head back. Relieved at the idea of getting out of the rain, but sad that we couldn’t have gone further. The trail of water rushing down the path ahead of us continued to grow. As we headed back to the car I found myself attempting to hop from rock to rock, but often succumbing to step in a mud pile since there was no better option.
The water level in the path deepened as we worked our way back up the mountain, at times taking what was left of my leg strength to push and pull my shoes through the mud. It didn’t take long for my running-shoes to become filled with water and the shorts under my cheapo-poncho soaked with rain. Between my mom, dad and myself, we kept saying we were going to find a semi-dry place to stop and rest… but we never did. The adventure pulled us forward.
When we broke out of the trees and found the open space (The “Balds”) again, the rain mellowed out to a light mist. I believe it was near Jane Bald that the clouds dissipated and we could once again see the beauty of the surrounding mountains.
And then, while finally taking just a moment of rest at the top of the mountain we saw it. Out of no where, a tiny mongoose and baby rabbit appeared. The looked as casual as if they were out for an afternoon stroll, the mongoose just behind the rabbit. Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, the mongoose lunged at the baby bunny and started killing it. (Naturally, they were not in fact out for a stroll together and were in deed both apart of a hunt…but it did not appear that way at first.) We watched in horror as the mongoose continued to bite and cling to the rabbit, who desperately squealed to be let go… until the mongoose drug the baby bunny into the brush and the squealing eventually ceased.
Side note: rabbits are my all-time favorite animal. Ever since I was a baby.
I love them so much that I’ve got a rather large rabbit tattoo on the lower part of my leg…
Essentially, i’m bunny-obsessed.
So the experience of watching not just a rabbit, but an adorable baby bunny be murdered by another animal – was less than ideal. I was so appalled at the sight and sounds that I couldn’t even talk about it (or anything) for the next twenty or so minutes of our hike. It was agreed that we were not to speak of “the incident” at all, but I figured that it was in fact a part of the trip… and so you should know about it.
[Remembering back now, I can recall that at the time of the incident, we had stopped for a snack and that unfortunately, we were eating Annie’s Bunny Grahams. Oh the horrific irony.]
Once I got over being heart-broken at the death of earth’s greatest creature… I realized that life is …at the end of the day: just a beginning, a middle, and an inevitable end. I took a moment of reflection and looked around once again to see the beauty in my life at that very moment.
As we drew closer to the car, I found myself breathing a little deeper. That deep kind of satisfying breath of an empty heart-spot finally being filled. A dream being touched, if only briefly. Surrounded by the loving company of my parents and the vast majesty of nature, I found myself feeling at home.
Nature is my home.
And I will be back again soon.
Though, I can assure you:
I’ll be leaving the bunny-grahams at home.
Much love and all things wild,