Monday, October 23, 2006

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

The alarm clock sounded, piercing the pre-dawn silence. My mind fought to swim to the surface of reality from the murky depths of intense r.e.m.
I drug myself from the bed and into multiple layers of clothing all the while wondering WHAT I was thinking to be vertical at such an ungodly hour and on a Saturday no less. To all of you "morning people" out there, let me just say a collective: "Bite Me". I don't trust anyone that springs from bed instantly personable without the aid of caffeine or Kellogg's. Seriously.
I staggered into the living room and grunted something resembling "Good Morning" to Nikki, who in return squawked back that it was time to load our gear and depart. At this point, we are single-minded in our mission: Coffee.
A few miles and a half a cup later, I begin to feel human once again. Dawn's rosy fingers were just beginning to brush the skyline, painting the clouds my favorite shade of pink. I hum along to the radio, driving north to the mountains and leaving all traces of the city behind. Rounding a bend, I am startled to see a lone hot air balloon drifting across the horizon giving me the irresistible urge to grin.
The further we traveled the more primitive things became, testing the fortitude of my little economy car to the uttermost. After a solid, teeth-jarring hour traversing what the US Forest Service has the nerve to call a "road", we arrive. Not so much at a destination, but rather at the beginning of the real journey.
Backpack? Check.
Hydration system? Check.
Pocket Knife? Check.
Chapstick? Check.
After a thorough survey to assure all systems were GO and a few squeals of "We're finally doing it!" we pushed thru the underbrush and took our first steps as hikers on the notorious Appalachian Trail. I believe we actually skipped along the first few yards, the excitement was so palpable.
I'm a planner, people. And this excursion was no exception. The combined amount of research performed by myself and my cohort would rival that of a large scale military operation. Hours spent scanning the internet, books and local outdoors stores had escalated to almost obsessive level. We'd discussed gear and strategy ad nauseum and so to FINNALLY be out there doing it seemed almost surreal.
The first mile of the hike was practically vertical, and I begin to wonder if the 10 mile goal we had set would prove to be unattainable. How would I ever accomplish trekking the entire 2,140 mile route at THIS pace? But, as the day wore on, I found my body settling into the rhythm of the trail and I became absorbed in the staggering beauty of the environment around me. I lost focus on the target destination and surrendered to the experience. Apparently, Nikki did the same for when we stopped for an afternoon snack and to scan the guide book, we were STUNNED to realize the distance we had traveled. That 10 mile objective - we obliterated it. Try 32. I am still staggered by that number, but with each step today, my body is reminding me that it was certainly not a dream.
Everyone seems to be plaguing me with one question: WHY?? The truth is, until yesterday, I wasn't exactly sure myself. But, standing atop Springer Mountain, suddenly all the unnamed swirling forces that had driven me to that point seem to crystallize. Certainly, I hope to challenge my physical stamina and endurance. But, on a deeper level, I am in search of a change of perspective. For nearly 30 years, I have viewed life from a certain angle, and admittedly, it's not been a half-bad view. But, life is equally as fleeting as it is exquisite, and I wouldn't want to miss something spectacular because I wasn't facing the right direction. I wish to move forward exposing myself to unknown outward landscapes, and perhaps in doing so, I will find a new way of looking at things on the inside too.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single footstep.".....Confucius


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