Friday, September 14, 2012

Mountain Musings

Back deck view from my "home" from the next week!
Maggie Valley, North Carolina - September 14, 2012

Even though I woke up with my left knee killing me and my whole body still dragging from one of my hardest hikes yet, I was still filled with an amazing sense of joy and gratitude for the life I am fortunate enough to be living.  Sometimes a simple change of venue, albeit temporary, can put things in a clearer perspective and remind us that even though life is always full of both physical and emotional pain, it is when we allow ourselves to focus ONLY on that pain, do we become impatient and whiney.  I'll be the first to admit there has been a good deal of whining going on in my house recently.  Yes, I hurt and no, I will not minimize the fact that the pain of Acute Rheumatoid Arthritis is something no one should ever have to experience, but since I was first diagnosed in 1983 at the very young age of 28, it has never, nor will it ever, define me!  And neither will it ever defeat me!

What does define me?  This picture, horrid as it is, does!

September 13, 2012

With another mile or so left to hike, I had just completed what some call the "worst" trail (I beg to differ) in the GSMNP.   It included a 2,000 foot elevation climb in 2.3 miles at the END of a 9.5 mile hike.  At that point, although exhausted, nothing was hurting just yet and the smile says it all.  You may see something altogether different, but I see someone happy in her own skin, doing what she loves most, in the place she feels at home, with a new and already very special friend who hikes for the joy of hiking.   I see someone who is at a healthy weight, has blood pressure and cholesterol levels most would envy, feels energetic from following a diet of 99.9% good things and is no longer embarrassed to have a rather non-flattering picture of her posted on a blog.  I see someone who was looking forward to a week in a cabin on the North Carolina side of her beloved mountains and a fun evening just ahead with Becca watching Dirty Dancing, a movie we both love.   No gossip, no hidden agendas, no bingefests, no negativity, just good clean girl power fun!  Once rested up (she hopes), Mr. B arrives for a weekend of visiting Justus Orchard to pick some early fall apples and Biltmore Estate to check out the progress of the fall mums.  We'll enjoy dinner at The Sweet Onion and lunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe.  I suspect there will be plenty of walking and some naps.  And after all that, I see some remaining days for more hiking and more introspection continuing to remind myself that we are only limited by those things we give permission and room to limit us.  I will continue to visit my doctors regularly and follow their instructions as we experiment with new meds for controlling pain while keeping the disease in check, but I will not be defined by it, nor will it dominate my thoughts and actions.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, you may look at the glow on my skin in the picture and assume that it's the product of this wonderful healthy eating plan, but Becca and I both know that it's just plain old sweat!     Plus, the grand plan of watching Dirty Dancing never happened.   I was in bed asleep by 9:45 and I suspect Becca wasn't far behind!  We had a lot of fun and just think, she and I became friends through this blog!!  She joins a long (and hopefully ever growing) list of treasured friendships formed because of this blog and I am very grateful for every one of them.

Now back to that hike..........This wasn't my first hiking day this week.  I hiked on Monday with Gene and Judi (also a friendship formed through this blog) to Jakes Gap, a hike that begins in the Elkmont section of the park.  Judi, who write much better accounts than I, wrote about it here.

Thursday's hike was unique in several ways.   It originated on the North Carolina side of the park and included parts of Cataloochee Divide Trail, Hemphill Bald Trail, Caldwell Fork Trail and all of McKee Branch Trail.   McKee Branch is the one people give varying descriptions of in their hiking accounts.   It is steep, deeply rutted due to horse usage, extremely muddy when wet and some would say has no "ah" factor i.e. a waterfall or views.   It is an internal trail which means neither trailhead is at a road and in fact, the least amount of distance one must hike before even starting this trail is a mile and utilizing that option will cost you!   But to treat ourselves, that is the option we chose.  

The Swag is a VERY exclusive (translate: expensive), yet quite comfortable inn just outside Maggie Valley, North Carolina whose property borders the GSMNP.   Therefore, the Cataloochee Divide hiking trail runs directly behind the length of their property.   The Swag's longtime owners are hikers and the inn is considered hiker-friendly.   But because the property is gated (and the gate is 2 1/2 miles below the actual property), in order for day hikers to park and access the trail, one must purchase, with advance reservation only, the brown bag lunch that is offered to all their guests.  By purchasing the lunch, you are considered a "guest" and have access to all common guest areas and the restrooms not to mention easy access to MANY trails.   So to treat ourselves, that's what Becca and I did.

The other unique thing about doing a hard trail this way is that you START high, go down and then at the end of an already long day, you gotta hike back UP.   And that's what made this one such a challenge.   But it isn't a "bad" trail and we couldn't have picked a better time to do it.   Little rain recently has left the trails dry so mud was not a problem, creek crossings weren't even rock hops, we just plowed right through.   As you know, I'm working slowly, but steadily toward completing all 900+ miles of trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this loop allowed me to color 5.8 miles of new trail.   It was trail that every single one of my "regular" hiking buds have already hiked including Becca so I have to say a loud "thanks" to her for her willingness to repeat hard stuff just to help out a friend.  We had a great, great time and I see many more hiking adventures in our future!

Enjoy a few more pictures from Thursday's hike.................

 Hemphill Bald Trail - GSMNP

 Thankfully, this was the only major blowdown we had to negotiate!

 Caldwell Fork Trail - GSMNP

McKee Branch Trail - GMSNP

We knew, and now YOU will know, that this is what was waiting for us just up the trail from where the "see exhausted Sharon crumble" picture was taken.

Gooseberry Knob is one of the areas The Swag has provided for their guests and which hikers are encouraged to use as a rest stop (whether or not you have purchased the Hiker lunch).  It is about half way between the top of the McKee Branch trail and the inn itself.   Once we arrived here, we RESTED!  And gave ourselves the credit we deserved for a job well done.  All was well in our world!

Tell me about the last time you "saw" something (i.e. a picture of yourself, a quote, a song, etc.) that caused you to look inward and "define" yourself.   Was is a positive or negative experience?


  1. I love that pic of you! The expression on your face says it all. I love that you hike so much and enjoy so many friends in the process. So cool!! I love how you love to explore the world and new things and you do it! It's just cool. And you find symbolism in what you do and see and share it here. You are a wise and amazing woman. Now... back to my boring day... ;) No, my life is good too!

    Much love!!

  2. I don't know why you say that picture is horrid - you look very happy and like you accomplished something!

  3. I didn't see the horrid part of that picture. I saw a healthy content woman.

  4. Great job completing such a tough hike! Enjoyed your photos.

  5. Sounds like some tough climbing! I always prefer to get my uphill climbing out of the way early in the hike.

  6. Well there you are! I was starting to worry about you again. I'm so sorry you are having this flare-up of your RA. And I admire you for continuing on and enjoying life the best you can. Sounds like you have a super week ahead. Relax and enjoy yourself!

  7. Congratulations on completing McKee Branch. Everything else will be a piece of cake.

  8. You look so happy and that makes me happy! I agree, nothing defines us so much as our contentment with ourselves and how we treat the world around us.

  9. There is nothing horrid about that look like a happy woman who just climbed up a mountain!! It was a wonderful time!

    I have a picture of myself all garbed out in hiking gear, bandana on my head on top of Mt. Leconte taped to my wall above my desk. I saw the picture David had taken of me up there and printed it out because it is a reminder of not who I want to be, but who I am....a badass plus sized hiker. It's who I am... (I just want the climb to be a bit easier is all..ha!)

  10. You do look radiant in that picture, Sharon! Loving yourself really shows.

    Right now I am thinking about what dies not define me: food. We went o a movie and out to dinner this weekend, I did not have anything or even want anything that would not be in my calorie budget. I feel that what is defining me right now is a good sense of what is important: my better health.

    Hope things smooth out with your arthritis.

  11. Wonderful photographs, beautiful places. I am greeting

  12. Awesome pictures as always! What does not define me is my appearance. I want to be known for my family relationships, my faith, and a commitment to good health.

  13. I honestly saw NOTHING horrid about that picture, Sharon. On the contrary, you look content and at peace with yourself...and that is BEAUTIFUL!

    Tom and I have vowed to someday pay for that Swag lunch so we can hike from there----those views are just amazing! I wonder if you can buy just ONE lunch? :-)