I had eyed the trail once before on a randomly less chilly day in March but was told by hikers coming down that the snow up there had become a sheet of ice! I put it off until just over a week ago! I really didn't know what to expect as it was a new trail to me. Online reviews said it was strenuous but beginner. May I say right now, those two words don't belong together nor is this trail close to beginner once you get past the first half!!
I am not in shape. While my job keeps me walking I had the conversation with a co-worker about how we don't get an actual work out in very much. It is a lot of walking, stopping, walking, stopping, standing and observing and explaining. So I must stress just how out of shape I am. I was one of those people who did loose weight in chemo but it came back with a vengeance when I was done. At any rate, I knew I was going to have a difficult time.
My plan was to simply take it one step at a time. So I took two puffs on my inhaler, shouldered my back pack with power aid and water on my back, and started up. I am not kidding when I say I didn't make it 1/10th of a mile before stopping and feeling like I was sucking oxygen for my life! The trail was wide but definitely going UP! Remember how I said "one step at a time"? In my mind that was just in case and I was going to fly up this mountain because I was determined and I had survived chemo so there was no way this mountain could conquer me!! Besides, there were literally dozens of people walking up and down around me. I tried to hide the fact I was winded at the beginning and sucking air in. I casually looked around on the first half dozen stops like I was taking in the many trees surrounding me. Then when I was told I was only a 3rd of the way up after what felt like forever I seriously considered turning around. I debated it in my head. Then I took another step forward, then a second and a third and stopped on the fifth. I kept this up until I had decided that this mountain wasn't going turn me back. Then I came to the stairs.
This flight of wooden stairs...I couldn't believe it! They were steeper than the gravel path. But I figured at least they were wide. I only stopped a couple times on them. Surely I had to be close to the top! Oh no! This old, craggy mountain simply laughed at me. The first half was the easy half. Now I had to earn it. The incline increased as did the rocks, boulders and trees I had to climb up and over. My vision was not happy with me as all shades of browns blended together and my ability to tell them apart got worse and worse. On one of my many, many, many (you get the picture) stops I met a lady who kindly encouraged me to keep going. That I could make it. I don't know what pushed me to say this but gulped air, laughed and said that I wasn't going to stop because I had told myself during chemo that I was going to climb a mountain again. That I was going to do this! The woman smiled and said she would see me at the top! I let her (and several more people) pass by before I took another swig of water and pushed on. Up and over, up and over, taking more puffs on the inhaler and focusing on only one step at a time, one boulder at a time. Trying to follow a path that was only discernible by the blue stripes painted on trees and rocks or following other hikers as they picked out a way to go.
And then, after what felt like the whole day but was in fact maybe an hour, things flattened out and I literally stumbled the last bit up to the giant rocks that jutted out from the top of the mountain. The rocks were scattered with people resting and taking in the view. I saw the lady who had told me she would see me at the top and she came over to me with a big smile and a wave and told me to sit down and rest for a minute and then she would have her daughter take a picture of me on the rocks! As I sat and guzzled about half my power aid in one go, the lady's daughter scouted a seat for me up on the rocks and saved it until I was ready to climb up to it. Then, not to get too corny, pictures of victory were taken!
I sat up there for probably close to an hour, looking out over the valley from the rocks and just letting the wind clear my mind and cool me down. I let it push all the thoughts from my head and just enjoyed a quietness and peacefulness I hadn't felt in a long time. There is something about the Blue Ridge that is good for my soul. And sitting on top of it that day seemed to give me an emotional and mental cleansing! I believe strongly in a Good God and that He uses His creation to help us heal and be at peace. Looking at that beauty spread out below me and as far as I could see I felt a calm wash over me.
I looked down and saw what I had come up in one glance and I thought of how many times I wanted to turn back. That I had wanted to turn back after just a few steps. I was so glad I didn't because it showed me what I had accomplished in so many, many ways.
I have been told for over four years now that the decisions I made with my surgery and chemo were brave and I was a strong person to make them. I never felt that way. I felt that it was simply something I had to do. The decision was practically made for me. The roller coaster was pulling away and I was strapped down. I had to ride it. At least that is how I felt. Then I looked back at how quickly that hike pulled me down. How quickly I felt tired and wanted to stop. How I could literally only look at one foot at a time to move forward, and I realized I could do this mountain because I had already climbed it. It wasn't a roller coaster I was strapped to with surgery and chemo. It was a mountain I had to climb. Then I realized I had been climbing mountains my whole life. That was how I was able to climb the cancer mountain and that was how I was able to climb this mountain.
When I was born I started climbing. Being blind as a child was just life to me. But I learned from day one to climb, to keep moving. Onwards and upwards was the only way I knew to go. And I can thank my parents for that. I never let my vision stand in my way. It got in the way a lot, but I didn't let it stay there for long. I made adaptations and just worked with what I had. I think that is how I first became stubborn and determined that things would just work out, one way or another. I just had to keep trying. Even with the giant improvement in my vision from then to now, I still have to keep trying and making those adaptations and not let it get in my way.
When my older brother was first diagnosed with cancer when I was 14 and I watched him go through it and helped take care of my little brothers...that mountain I thought was pretty big. Then when he was diagnosed a second time. And finally a third time. I felt like I was watching him climb Everest and all I could do was stand at base camp and watch. And then May 10, 2008 he reached the summit. Even as I write this I can't stop crying. I don't think anything I have gone through or will go through will equal that emotional mountain I will forever be climbing.
I started back up another mountain back in 2011 and climbed my way to the top of that college mountain, determined that after 15 years I would walk across that stage and finally get my diploma. As I reached the top, I saw my own Everest waiting for me. I was diagnosed, as many of my friends know, in 2013...during my last finals week. But I rolled up to that stage in a wheel chair and with sheer adrenaline, I walked across that stage and got my diploma! Then I immediately started that climb of surgery and chemo. There was no summiting Everest for me. I guess the Good Lord has other plans for now:).
Looking at that climb up the Blue Ridge last week, for me it was putting everything I went through from climbing my Everest into a physical climb over those rocks. One step at a time. That is how I made it through the diagnoses, surgery, chemo and recovery. One step at a time, holding onto the rocks and trees to balance myself. I actually fell down twice coming back down. And I am pretty sure I did a little damage to the back of my left ankle. Each time, there was someone reaching a hand towards me right away to help me up. And then I made it back down to the bottom. My second fall was on the last stretch of the trail, close to the bottom. I was worried for a minute that I had hurt my ankle to the point of not safely being able to walk. Fortunately it wasn't that bad and one last rest was all I needed. I didn't even take a moment at the bottom of the trail to look back. I dragged myself to my car and finished off my water. I sat in my car and repeated to myself, "I did it! I did it!" I don't think I was completely talking about that day's hike. And something tells me I'll be saying that phrase a lot in my life.
This hike was a perfect view for me of how we go through difficulties and how we go through life. Taking one step at a time and when we fall, reaching out to those around us to help pull us back up and get back on the trail. I don't know that I will ever stop having to climb mountains but I do know now that no matter how hard, painful and cry worthy the mountain is, all I have to do is reach out for my rocks and reach out for someone's hand. Those are my parents, my friends, complete strangers and in all of them, my God.
1st Picture: The beginning of the hike, wide, gravel path.
2nd Picture: The stairs!
3rd Picture: Rocks on the path with the top in the background.
4th picture: The rocks are getting bigger. I stopped taking pictures after this point!
6th picture:Looking between two of the giant rock outcroppings over the valley.
7th picture: Ok, I celebrated more than a little! Me with both arms up in the air showing the valley and part of the mountain behind me.
8th Picture: A panorama of the rocks looking out over the valley.
9th picture: Obligatory selfie with the edge of the rocks and valley behind me. Blue sky with some white clouds in all pictures.
10th picture: Scenic pic of the edge of one of the rocks and the rolling valley with mountains in the distance against a deep, blue sky. A little filter at work here :)