Friday, June 13, 2014


I recently completed a 40.2 mile section hike of the Appalachian Trail, starting at Dick's Creek, GA and finishing up at Winding Stair Gap, NC.  This was actually my third long distance section hike and, while each has provided me with its own unique challenges, this particular one forced me to face and work through one of my deep-seated fears:  my fear of heights, the "edges" that come with heights of any kind, and my own lack of confidence in my physical abilities (very little balance, knee weakness, ect).  As our climb of Albert Mountain began, the fact that we would come across a bypass route stood looming in the back of my mind.  I've never opted for the "easy route" during any of my section hikes, but all the doom and gloom I'd been hearing about what a difficult climb this particular mountain was going to present us with made me start to actually consider using the bypass rather than climbing the direct route.  When the time came, however, up we went.  The trail held true to its mere 18-24 inch width, adding slick rocks, mud, and tree routes to the mixture of obstacles it tossed at us.  Add to this the fact that when the vegetation growing along the right side of the trail offered a glimpse of what lay below, what I saw was nothing.  We were, in fact, skirting the edge of the cliffs.  One wrong move and all could go very, very wrong.  Still, I managed to make my way slowly up that treacherous mountainside by keeping my eyes focused on the trail and what was ahead of me rather than looking off to my right.  There were a couple of places where the dense vegetation gave way to some breath-taking views:

There were also times where we were almost plastered against the side of the mountain as we made our way down the narrow trail:

As we moved ahead, the trail met us with lots of rocks, roots, and stairs that had been placed to assist with the climb, which were challenging enough on my tired legs but the final push to the summit opened up to an almost 90 degree grade that required us to pretty much climb up on our hands and knees, taking great care not to straighten our posture which would have ensured that the weight of our packs would have easily pulled us over backwards.  At one point, my brother moved in behind me because I could feel my uncertainty in my own ability to complete the climb threatening to take over.  With the top in sight, I was suddenly overcome by it all.  I remember saying, "Not only is this hard for me but I'm scared," and panic took over.  I began to do what I now laughingly call my Howler Monkey imitation and could feel myself starting to hyperventilate.  My sister had already reached the top but she later told me that she'd never seen such a look of sheer terror on anyone's face and she knew that I was in trouble so she quickly made her way back down, took my arm, and with the help of my brother behind me, I made it up to a point where I was able to stand securely and just let it all out.  There was nothing I could do to stop this lovely display of emotion.  It just had to run its course...but thanks to all the positive words and encouragement from my sister, brother and our two hiking companions, Mr. Wonderful and Morning Glory, I regained my composure and finally made it to the summit.

Morning Glory and Mr. Wonderful

We all reached the summit of Albert Mountain feeling more energized than we had at any other time during our hike.  I suppose it was more of an adrenaline rush but whatever it was, we all felt it.  We slowly climbed the fire tower, and the panoramic views we were met with made the whole thing worth it:

I'm sure that if you asked many of the hikers who have made this climb before me, they would probably say that it was quite the challenge but for me, it was so much more than that.  It certainly wasn't one of my proudest moments.  I'm not use to putting my emotions on such public display.  But the whole experience taught me a couple of very valuable lessons that I hope to carry with me into the future:  I CAN do so much more than I give myself credit for; I CAN push through my fears and challenge myself like I never thought I could; and there is NOTHING wrong with needing a little help sometimes.  My brother, sister and I often joke about how the Keith's aren't quitters and this mountain helped me prove that to myself.  I was terrified, more so than I can ever remember being, but I didn't freeze up.  I didn't take the "easy route."  I made it to the top, with a little help from my family.  What lessons could be more valuable than those?

Happy hiking everyone!

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