A Day Hike on Appalachian Trail: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I was so looking forward to going back to Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer. This plan, of course, was if my relocation went according to my timeline. The dissertation gods were vengeful and spiteful this summer, and so I never got my re-treat summertime trip…. I am going to just have to wait for that spectacular firefly light show another year. Then, I might even get some more time to do something I loved: hike the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Perhaps I’ll make a drive out for a weekend and maybe will get lucky spotting some late autumn color. But first, I must finish the dissertation draft!

A day hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail

Two summers ago my Alabama family brought me up to Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smokies for an RV camping trip. We sucked in all the Pigeon Forge tourist delights, including dinner shows. I swooned over the quaint cuteness of tiny downtown Gatlinburg, the gateway to the Smokies. One day, I got to play “hiker girl,” and left the hot mess that is Edie with them while they dropped me off at one point in the park and let me hike through to Clingmans Dome so I could get a tiny taste of the Appalachian Trail.

Smoky Mountain National Park Appalachian Trail

I was barely healed from a fracture in my right foot (less than a month), which occurred too soon after healing from the double spiral fracture of my left tibia and fibula (thanks, Edie). I was still in physical therapy for both injuries so I needed something long enough to be full day consuming but fairly gentle on my cardio and limited strength/stability. I found a trail that would take me through Newfound Gap and end up at Clingmans Dome. 

A day hike in Smoky Mountain National Park on the Appalachian Trail

My family dropped me off at my predetermined starting point and we agreed to a general window of time to expect me at the pick up point. I was more excited than they were when my check in with a park ranger revealed there was bear activity reported in the area. While I have no desire for an up close and personal encounter (I saw The Revenant), I still very much desire to see a bear from more than a tiny brown dot in a distance.

Smoky Mountain National Park

I did not have any black bear sightings, but I did have a near encounter with a wild boar. That was heart rate inducing but not exciting. I am – so – glad the park service has numerous boar deterrents and barriers (I also saw Old Yeller). I am not so glad my camera decided to konk out on me and I got almost no pictures, and all bad ones at that…. Another reason to… go back!

A day hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Appalachian Trail

I cannot wait to go back, and after the first glimpse of the great Smokies, you have absolutely no question as to why Rocky Top is University of Tennessee’s fight song and why it is one of the state’s official songs. Whether by birth or adoption, Rocky Top will be a welcome home to any nature lover. And I haven’t even begun to wax poetic about Cades Cove or the waterfalls or the synchronous fireflies — which I WILL see… someday. Oh! And I nearly forgot – the USA’s most visited national park has no entrance fee.

A day hike in Smoky Mountain National Park on the Appalachian Trail

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My Rebuttal to Aging Gracefully
My rebuttal to my sweet friends who attempted to convince me that being denied purchase to a cheap $9 red blend from Trader Joe’s is because I look so youthful. <<Psssh.>> My rebuttal to the guy who was in line behind me was lobbying to the associate who thought it a good idea to card me that I apparently looked well over the age of legal consumption (thanks, Captain Frigging Obvious)… was probably just trying to flirt with me last night. <<Grrr!>>
But, seriously, even my mom agreed, there comes a time when carding someone is no longer a compliment. It’s a demonstration of complete absence of any critical thinking, and is just frigging ridiculous, and not even laughable.
Yes, at my age, I should have my driver’s license in my wallet. But, last night, I did not. It was an on-sale, $9 bottle blend. It was California, 2008, and a combo of syrah, zinfandel, and cabernet grapes. It was not going to be excellent… it was $9. BUT, I wanted it. Because I had a busy, crappy day. I had rice crackers, a bag of organic lettuce, wedge of blue cheese, a bunch of irises, and pre-made pizza dough in the basket. I wasn’t trying to buy schlitz or goldschlagger. Clearly, I did not look like I was trying to throw a party… at least nothing other than a pity party… actually, not even that. Just a come-down-get-through-hump-day personal party. My rebuttal to the immediately remorseful cashier who requested identification proof of my age… <<I’m fine being denied sale, I understand. *Sigh*>>
My rebuttal to the friend who expressed that good music is timeless and to not be freaked out that I heard NIN on “The Mix” radio station on Monday; the same radio station that also plays Kelly Clarkson. <<eye roll>>

 My rebuttal to aging. No!
My rebuttal to my friend who attempted to explain to me that my super sore knee following my hike of the Superstitions on Saturday (as my dad would say, that gave me a “whupin'” — and that particular hike is supposed to give everyone a beating) is a result of a grueling workout, because “muscles are supposed to be sore.” <<None – I was too whupped.>> Well, yes, muscles should be sore after an ass beating, but the cartilage in knees isn’t soft tissue, so I can’t really take, although I appreciate, the rationalization. I will be walking Pat’s Run this year….
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Montana Is

I’ve never spent significant time here, but, as I return, I just feel something. Like, I have a sense of what little is left in the world and the preciousness of how wild this place is. And, for me, this wildness is accessible and tangible. In my world… my work and my life in my little condo in the concrete center of a vast metropolis, I can go into auto-pilot mode. I lose my senses. Hearing — dulled from traffic, clutter of sounds that don’t matter; smell — obscured from the stink of pollution; sight — distracted by traffic lights, street lights, florescent lights; taste — stunted from absently eating on the go and in multi-tasked fashion in my car, at my desk at work (working through lunches or working as lunches), in front of my computer at home, walking to the light rail; touch — wow — how infrequently do I deliberately touch something not synthetic, something not manufactured — how rarely do I touch another human in comparison to the constant, daily, CONSTANT interactions I have, how rarely do I anymore pet a dog, or touch the bark on a tree, or feel dirt gripped in my hand? How rarely do I remove myself from my concrete jungle to really explore the sensory gifts I could have?

Speaking of gifts…. Montana, itself, to me, is a gift. Montana, itself, to me, is magical. In this place, I listened to hear what silence and stillness felt like… and I found it. I went for long hikes in the backcountry, to see solitude and I felt my feet connecting on the ground beneath me. I understood how to taste the simple beauty of being alive. Just being present in those moments with myself was meditative – I didn’t need a guru or guided class. It was reflective, and soothing, and inspiring. My eyes sharpened and I saw, my ears cleared and I heard, my head brought down the guard around my heart, and I learned, and I lived. It was meaningful and magical. And I go back, to do it again, and hope that this time, I don’t forget to remember what it feels like to live a gift.

And, seeing another moose would be totally freaking awesome!!!

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The Three Fish: Gamble Everything for Love
On Gambling: To a frog that’s never left his pond the ocean seems like a gamble, Look what he’s giving up: security, mastery of his world, recognition! The ocean frog just shakes his head: “I can’t really explain what it’s like where I live, but someday I’ll take you there.”
If you want what visible reality 
can give, you’re an employee. 
If you want the unseen world, 
you’re not living your truth.
Both wishes are foolish, 
but you’ll be forgiven for forgetting
that what you really want is
love’s confusing joy.
Gamble everything for love, 
if you’re a true human being.
If not, leave
this gathering.
Half-heartedness doesn’t reach
into majesty. You set out
to find God, but then you keep
stopping for long periods
at mean-spirited roadhouses.
In a boat down a fast-running creek,
it feels like trees on the bank
are rushing by. What seems
to be changing around us
is rather the speed of our craft
leaving this world.
Number One: Do not believe an absurdity, no matter who says it.
Number Two: Do not grieve over what is past. It’s over. Never regret what has happened.
Number Three: Don’t give advice to someone who’s groggy and falling asleep. Don’t throw seeds on the sand. Some torn places cannot be patched.
~Rumi
(Photos taken along the Bear Jaw and Abineau loop trails in the San Francisco Peaks, Flagstaff Arizona. Yes, there will be snow… in June. Yes, you will likely not want to leave. be sure to pack yourself a picnic. Plan on lots of quiet and opportunity to… reflect. And breathe.)
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Misdirection – North… Lost?

“…but to those to whom we can cling to; those are the brilliant gems of life which provide the nourishment we need so often to reach our destinations.” ~ Holly Wheeler

But it’s up to us to what “those” represents for us, individually. I think one of the reasons I find myself so unhappy right now is anger. And most of the anger is directed at myself. Because, the real, cold, hard, truth for me is I haven’t lived mindfully or intentionally this year. I became a slave to my scholarship, and couldn’t say “no” to other requests for my time and attention, and I allowed myself to become completely consumed with “life(?)” that I didn’t really live much. Oh, yes, there were moments when I remembered what it felt like to be really alive. And, although I won’t say I spent 2010 on autopilot, I did not pay attention to details that, had I noticed, because I was more focused and because I was authentically present, I wouldn’t be where I am now, trying to accept the new terms of my self-identity under circumstances that have been given to me… because I wasn’t paying enough attention to what I needed to notice what I needed to do. Make any sense?

One year (and a day later) after I created this blog, honest assessment of the reflection in my mirror is I didn’t do what I set out to do. By and large, 2010 was spent in distractions — the exact opposite of the mindful living I intended.

I make my bed every morning, and I sleep in that same bed I make every night. More lunches and dinners than not were spent crouched over my keyboard and the bright lights of a computer screen. Food I ate without even tasting because I didn’t take time to notice the experience of eating, and feeling the pleasure the experience food can give. Too many gadgets, too many demands, too many schedules and calendars crammed with too many, too much, much too much stress.  Too little time spent with people I love, laughing, too much quantity, too little quality.

I hijacked my own life. And I can so easily recognize when another person is venturing into the same rapids, and I’ll even jump in to help them get out, but I let myself flail and flounder in the bone crushing currents of my self-created rock-filled waters. I have definitely not been forgiving enough to myself as I should, and I created extraordinary demands and expectations for myself that I would not dare impose upon another person — as if I created standards to set myself up to fail.

I titled my blog specifically for seeking and following my own true north, and I’ve been so busy staring at my computer and blackberry that I didn’t bother to look at the sky to find my north star to guide my path for this journey.

And, I don’t believe I’m the only person who does this to herself. It’s as if the opportunities I’ve been given and the mantras I’ve been told about being able to do and be anything I interpreted as I must do and be everything.

I think of the autumn day in 2009 I spent hiking along the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. I was alone, and I reveled in the solitude. I was present, and with my iPod turned off, intentional and active in my movements. I saw birds, heard bugs, and crept up to critters I would not have noticed had I brought along my distractions. And this was one of the most beautiful days I experienced before or since. In fact, the entire week I spent backpacking solo through Yellowstone was one of the greatest gifts I gave myself, because I gave myself the gift of… me. I was flying solo and I loved every second of it – and I paid so much frigging attention to everything around me, and I was such a rich woman for every breath I took by myself.

And as I get ready to reach another birth and calendar year, I have the opportunity to practice mindfulness again. I have the opportunity to forgive myself for failing to protect and serve myself. And I give myself permission to cling to the brilliant gems of my life that serve as my nourishment… and my true north. Granted, the steps must be small – and patience is not my virtue – I will find a way to be satisfied and patient, and trust the process.

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