Part of my North Carolina plan was to start hiking. I have a friend that I used to work with (shout out to Jan!) who moved here and started hiking. She is so healthy now and I want to be like her. She is my inspiration. Except I really do not like the outdoors, or sweating, or hiking for that matter. I am an indoor, read a book, or binge-watch Netflix kinda gal.
Unfortunately I have found all my years of non-outdoor activity have made me rather soft. Walking the parking lot at the grocery store can cause me to want to take a nap. I am actually afraid that I am so out of shape that I can never recover. Everyone says it’s never too late to start getting in shape, but I think I am the exception to that rule. I am marshmallow soft.
Mike came to visit for his birthday and he gets hold of Jan who happens to be in town and we all meet up. We catch up for a while and then the talk goes to taking a hike. I start to get nervous because everything around here seems so hilly. I am not good with hills or non-paved walkways. But I figure I can tough it out, it is the least I can do.
They decide on Clingman’s Dome and off we go to the National Park. I learned along the way that it is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park at 6,643 feet. Obviously, I realize we are not going to actually climb this peak, like from the bottom of it to the top. That is not an adventure you start at 3:30 pm on a Wednesday. There is a parking lot with a half mile walk to the top. I was much more at ease as I know I can probably walk that amount without major injury.
The drive to Clingmans is worth the experience. The National Park is overwhelmingly beautiful and is beautiful from all angles. As we climbed, in the car, the temperature dropped and dropped from a hot and humid 90 to a refreshing 70. Ok, I was loving this trip so far. We did not see any wildlife on the way in but we did see a black bear and a few elk on the return trip. That was very cool.
After about an hour, we get to the parking lot at Clingman’s Dome. Remembering it is only a half a mile, I put a spring in my step and we started off. Little did I know that, although it would make sense since this is a mountain, that the half a mile was all uphill. Not just up a hill, but intense, steep grades that would make a grown man or woman cry. Luckily, there were benches every few feet and I utilized them all. Finally, I told my walking companions that I was never going to make it before sunset and that they should go without me. They tried to talk me into continuing but I fought them on it. So they eventually went on without me.
As I sat on the bench I watched a variety of people coming down from the top. Each person shouting encouragement and saying how worth it the trip was. I saw older than me people, some were handicapped, some were out of shape like me and many other varieties of shapes and sizes. I was wimping out and became very disappointed with myself. Quitting, especially this early on, was not what this adventure was all about. So I started walking up some more. After several stops, some short and some longer, I made it to the top just as Mike and Jan were heading down. Their faces showed such surprise and happiness that I had made it. It was worth doing just to see them. They accompanied me to the top of the observatory where it is said you can see up to five states because you are so high up.
The scenery was breathtaking and surreal at the same time. It did not seem possible to be over 6,600 feet up, on top of a mountain. My brain was having a hard time believing what my eyes were seeing. It was beautiful. As I took some time to catch my breath, I realized that climbing this mountain, albeit not so much climbing as walking a path, was more than just taking a hike for me. It was overcoming my fears of heights, and fears of having a panic attack due to the strain. The fact that I even made it without collapsing made me so inspired to keep trying new things.
By the time we got back to the car, I was exhausted but in a good way. I was thrilled that I toughened up and did it. Mike and Jan were proud of me and that encourages me to do more. At first glance, the mountain seemed to have won, but I steadied myself and talked myself into completing the journey. I also prayed a lot for strength as I struggled up the walkway. But it got done and I could not be happier.
Muhammad Ali said “Don’t count the days. Make the days count” and that day counted in my book as an accomplishment that I can be proud of. If you ever get the chance to “climb” Clingmans Dome, I highly advise you do it.
Please note: the photographs in this post were not taken by me. I have some great shots that I took. Once I figure out how to get them transferred from my camera, I will post separately.