(originally written February 20, 2005)
It has been nine weeks since my back surgery. I am feeling excellent and have hiked a lot the past month. Today was another classic North Carolina mixed bag of rain and of course at elevation, the smooth as glass and very slick verglas that coats everything, the rocks, the trees, and even the flat ground. Rarely do you see many other hikers and today was not an exception. The Middle Prong Wilderness section of the Mountains to Sea Trail(MST) was classic backcountry fun.
For the first time ever, the white blazes of glory that light the path were somewhat obscure. There were blazes, but not as frequent, and the ice seemed to hide the markers and play tricks on my head. The trail was obvious, but the two signs for the MST were welcome relief twice on the route. You start doubting yourself and then this weird latent fear of getting lost creeps up your spine. You know you are all right and keep plodding forward. The rain is incessant and the arms and thigh area of my top of the line Mountain Hardware rain gear are wet. I am warm and dry inside, but I wonder what it might be like to have to be exposed like this all night? Fears moves me forward and suddenly I see MST signs appear like ghosts in the mist. I guess in the wilderness areas, the forest service and trail volunteers do not paint the trail markers as often. I get to the junction with Green Mountain Trail and peer earnestly towards the south, where Mt. Hardy(6110ft.) stands somewhere one mile through the whiteness. For the past hour I have been walking through the thickest soup of clouds and fog I think I have ever walked through.
It is beautiful, but at the same time unnerving. I start to walk over in the direction of the summit, but having no compass made me hesitant. I decided to turn around there, content to hike the summit when I can see it, or untill I buy a compass. The verglas on the rocks made the trail quite slick. You had to inch your way over creeks and down steeper sections. It made for slow traveling and I got back to the car after three hours and forty minutes. I was pretty wet when I threw off my coat and pants. My inside layer was fine and my shoes were only just beginning to get wet inside. The rest of this day hike was sheer joy in wilderness. One time on the descent, I stopped briefly in a small break in the trees. Something white and stark caught my eye. Off in the distance a seventy-five foot waterfall was pasted on the far valley. A chance break in the white out of clouds made the valley open up for a brief time and I spotted the beauty. It doesn’t have a name on the map, but I bet it has been named by someone by now. The moment was one of complete bliss and pure experience. The rest of the hike was very special to me as well. Walking in wilderness when no one is near, not even close, is incredibly fulfilling and meaningful. Being at one with your thoughts and emotions, taking action and moving forward. Creating memories and bringing a sense of calm and relaxation into your being. Hearing the wind and beat of rain and feeling the pulse of life. Rain falling on leaves like the beat of a heart, the beat of humankind. Nature’s power and life, weaving spiritual connections inside your head, merging energies. God, nature, man, trees, ice, water, wind, mind, voice, steps…keep walking.