Damn Gravity: Oh Hell, This Mountain Hurts Me

Last Saturday, my friend C and I pushed ourselves harder and further physically than ever before.

I set off for my second hike of the spring with my good friend C. After my first hike of the season, Mary’s Rock (the week before last), I was pumped and full of excitement about experiencing some new trails this year, seeing some new scenery and taking some photos to document the adventure.  So, I did some research and came up with Big Run Loop, a trail in the South District of Shenandoah National Park on Brown Mountain. It was deemed an “easy to moderate” hike by the trails book, of approximately 5.8 miles set fairly deep in backcountry (read: bears).

view from the trailhead

I prepared in advance this time (and for that I give myself a huge pat on the back), making sure I had the first-aid kit, munchies, a hat and gloves, a water bladder and my fleece. When it was all said and done, I’d folded and smooshed about 10 to 15 pounds into my small Gregory pack. C and I hit the road a little later than anticipated, around 9:30 and set out for the Rockingham County entrance of the Park. By the time we reached mile 81.01 of the parkway, it was 11 o’ clock and we knew there were going to be serious thunderstorms rolling into the area in the afternoon, so we promised each other to huff it in hopes of missing the downpour (and forecasted lightning and thunder).  I handed C the trail map and we ventured into the forest.

We set off, goofing off and laughing, crossing a small stream at 1 mile. Then, later we came across a couple of (incredibly good looking – TWIN) backpackers coming the opposite direction, stomping up with the path with determined steps. After a few more steps, we heard a loud howl and happened upon the remaining backpackers making their way back to their car. They were sitting on rocks, sweating profusely, trying to catch their breath. We smiled and kept moving so as not to lose our momentum (or as I like to call it Hiking Mojo).

Right before we were about to reach what I knew was our two-mile marker (a larger stream that we had to cross), I asked C to break out the map. I knew we’d have to change trails and couldn’t remember what direction we were heading; that’s when I heard what no one wants to hear when they’re on a mountain with storms rolling in: “Oh, shit. I think I dropped the map.”  Evidently, our visual guide had slipped out of her pocket when we stopped to chat with the passing backpackers.  I decided that instead of panicking, it was smarter to try to recall what I’d read the evening prior about our trek.  We reached a cement trail head and looked for an arrow to point us in the direction of the remainder of our journey. When I looked up, all I could see was a nearly vertical climb. That’s when I started panicking. The guidebook had touted this route as  “easy to moderate”;  after beginning the ascent, I decided it was best to turn back and backtrack, easily making our hike a bit over four miles.

I’ll state now that this was the absolutely worst decision I’ve ever made.

We turned back, crossing the second stream and began our ascent. About five minutes later, a quick glance down at my heart rate monitor made exceedingly clear that I was indeed ascending. And my body was working really, really hard. For the next hour and a half, I pushed my body harder than I’ve ever pushed it before.

My heart rate stayed between 160 and 168 as I took each agonizing vertical step. At the beginning of our journey, it never felt like we were making a sharp descent, my steps were evenly paced and the ground felt like it was making a gradual and easy loll. Not this way; this way was pure hell. Here is a visual of the trail:

Big Run Loop: The Trail from Hell

See the first part of that trail, where the elevation drops from about 2900 ft. to about 1000 ft? That is the part that made me hurt.

Every step was a struggle. My calves burned, my hips ached and my knees throbbed . Sweat soaked my back (and stomach). I’ve done many different trails throughout Shenandoah National Park and never once have I ever uttered these words: I don’t think I can do this.

But this past Saturday? I said it. I sat down on a rock, panting, watching the numbers on my heart rate monitor blip backward, ever so slowly…168…167…166. And then, I said it. I wanted to throw my fifteen pound pack to the dirt, fall to the ground, curl up in a fetal position and pant until I could breathe regularly again.

But, I didn’t. I kept moving. Slowly but surely. I’d take fifteen to thirty steps, bend over panting and find a tree or a rock to lean on or sit, watch the numbers on my heart rate monitor blip down while my thudding heart banged loudly in my ears. I sat or leaned and waited for the thudding to fade, softer and softer. Then, I stood, gritted my teeth and put one leg in front of the other.  Incidentally, each of my legs felt like they weighed a good twenty million pounds at this point.

C and I kept up this pattern for an hour, bitching to one another about how unfit we both felt, how much we hated the mountain we were on, and how we felt like we wanted to throw up and faint at the same time.

Then, somehow, we did it. We reached a point in the trail where a clearing in the trees gave us a glimmer of hope: we could see the stone wall that bordered the parkway! We were almost there.

And then, I bit it. I tripped and down I went. I felt like I was falling in slow motion and the only visual that flashed through my mind was me rolling down that God forsaken mountain and making that climb again. Luckily, I didn’t roll downhill. I dug my shoes into the ground, shook my head, caught my breath and stood up looking forward to reaching flat ground again. At the backcountry sign, I stopped, breathing heavily wanting only to cry. The only thing that stopped my tears of frustration and physical pain was the fact that I’d have a large audience: the large group of backpackers we passed? They’d reached the top of the trail. So, C and I took deep breaths and put one foot in front of the other until we reached the top of the trail.  When we were asked if we’d had fun by the friendly backpackers I responded honestly, “That was fucking brutal.”  It got a good laugh.

I learned two very important things last Saturday:

1)      Always have two copies of the trail map. Keep one in my backpack.

2)      I’m physically and mentally stronger than I ever thought I was and now I know I can push through anything.

Despite the horrific physical strain that Brown Mountain put on us, I’ll continue hiking – though I’ll be sure to read every review that I can possibly find of a trail prior to venturing out.

Advertisements

Fortuitous Meetings and Living Life

*I’d like to preface this by saying I’ve been working on this post for days with hesitancy of posting.  I don’t want to talk too much about someone who’d rather not be discussed, but the individual mentioned below did have a life-changing impact on me and I feel it important to expound on that fact. Life is about transformation and experimentation; because of T, I changed my viewpoint and started living.

If you’re really lucky, every so often you come into contact with someone who makes you question the way that you live your life; I don’t mean question in terms of if you’re living your life “right”.  It’s more along the lines of stepping back and reviewing how you perceive your existence and how you approach the new and different things: the ideas outside of the box that you live in.

I was lucky enough to stumble upon a person who had this effect on me a little over a year ago and I have tried to live my life differently ever since. This particular person, I firmly believe was put in my path for the very reason of self-analysis and transformation. He was a guy, about 30 years old who seemed to live his life with no fear of the unknown; he didn’t question the “what ifs” of any situation. He simply experienced each new venture with enthusiasm. We spoke for hours upon hours on the phone and the first thing I recall being blaringly evident was the fact that joy for living life emanated from him. He traveled because he wanted to and had a passion for experiencing and wandering. He chased tornadoes because he wanted to and he could. He sky dived because he wanted to and he enjoyed it (and, because I believe he was an adrenaline junky).

The way T lived his life was awe-inspiring to me. It made me reflect on the way I approached life and realize that my fears had kept me from trying and experiencing new and different things. In short, this realization bummed me out. So, in typical Lex fashion, I began to think and figure out why I approached new and different with such trepidation and steered clear of attempting anything new.

It’s my opinion (and it could very well be wrong) that my “uptightness” started when I was a kid. I’ve been told I was a rather serious child.  I’m the oldest of four kids and have been told repeatedly that I took over as “little mommy” to my younger sisters when I was very young. I don’t know why I did this; I just did.  I guess I felt an intense sense of responsibility at a very early age.  While feeling a sense of responsibility is a good thing (after all, it was my serious nature and sense of responsibility that kept me out of trouble for the most part as a teenager), taking yourself and life too seriously can only prohibit you from a range of experiences.

I’ll now tell a short anecdote that very well illustrates how I used to be:

I went hiking with a friend (Amber) and her three young children about a year ago. We got to a point in the trail where we had to cross a river; the kids bounded rock to rock and hit the dirt on the water’s opposite bank. Amber stepped, hopped and jumped to the other side.  I looked at her from the other side of the river and said, “How do I do this?” She laughed, pleading with me to just step from rock to fallen tree to rock and onto the bank. “I’ll fall, I know I’ll fall….are you sure this is safe? That sounds dangerous,” I remember saying.  My new catch phrase became “That’s Dangerous” that very day.

Upon further analysis, I have found that I lived life so safely, to avoid being hurt or to avoid the unknown that subconsciously, I viewed living life as “dangerous”. Anything that I didn’t know how to do or perhaps wasn’t comfortable doing, I considered “dangerous” or off-limits. Up until a year ago, I never did anything outside of my comfort zone. Once I realized that I was probably missing out on really fun things that I was either A) too afraid to do or 2) had unjustifiably decided I wouldn’t enjoy. (Hiking fell into category 2). I decided my view simply had to change. I didn’t want to be the girl on the other side of the river, afraid to leap and see what happens. Even if I were to fall, so what? Would that be the end of the world? Would I break? No. Hell no.

I tried expressing some gratitude to T at one point; I wanted to convey that because of his completely different attitude and outlook, I realized a flaw and was working on fixing it.  He brushed it off, saying something along the lines of “get out of here.” He didn’t believe that he’d have in impact like that (but again, I am adamant that he did).

T and I are no longer in touch as we used to be, but he has forever left a definitive imprint.  Once I realized the things that I was probably missing out on due to my fear of the unknown, I started seeking out new adventures and interests. I no longer freeze at the prospect of new things.  The spring and summer that I was acquainted with him, I started actively seeking out new and different things that I hadn’t done. I started hiking and hiking and me began a fast and furious love affair. I went river tubing and despite almost drowning, I really enjoyed it. I went to my first beer festival where I was introduced to the joys of hard apple and pear cider. I went camping for the first time and found that I really, really hate peeing outside.  I was so proud of myself for doing and trying new things that for some reason in my mind, I’d decided I didn’t want to try or do.  I felt more free and happier than I had felt in a long time.

Now, I firmly believe that I will never jump out of a plane or chase a tornado, or even get on a roller coaster (I can’t explain my fear of this but it includes two things that I am deathly afraid of: height and speed. Pair height and speed with moving mechanical parts and all I see is disaster. Some people say this is irrational. My response to this is: I’ll throw up on you if you make me do it.) For the most part, I actively try not to box myself in;  I actively try not to knock something until I’ve tried it.

Since my fortuitous happenstance meeting, I’ve started to create a list of things that I want to do before I can’t (meaning before I get too old to fully enjoy them, or before I die). I’d like to learn how to mountain climb.  I want to travel, specifically out west. I want to hike in Sedona. I want to hike Pike’s Peake. I want to go to a rodeo in Texas. I’d like to try white water rafting and kayaking.  I’d like to attend SXSW. I’d like to see the  Amalfi Coast with my own eyes, not just in photos.  I’d like to walk through and around 13th century Scottish castle. The list goes on and on. I intend to check off at least the majority of the list.

I have found that once you start doing things that are a little foreign to you, you open up to the prospect of more new and different.  This then snowballs into a whole list of new and different you’d like to experience.  The prospect of something new doesn’t scare me any more.  I want to conquer (or at least try to conquer) the things that I never thought I’d be able to do, and actually enjoy the things I didn’t think I’d like. That is after all what life is about, isn’t it? Trying new things and figuring out who you are.