On Fear: Mount Mitchell

Wooooow, I’m late! I’ve been MIA for the past month or so, but I needed to take some time to find some balance as there is sooooo much transition coming in the next few months for my family. Aside from that, I also wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with this post… but as I sit here today, I think I’ve finally got it figured out.

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About 5 weeks ago, I started taking Zoloft (Sertraline) for serious anxiety and panic disorder that I’ve battled (mostly silently) for years. To say I was scared would be a vast understatement. I was absolutely terrified – the first day on the medicine, I sat there with the tiny pill in my hand, staring at it and wondering, “What is this little tiny piece of condensed powder going to do to me?” I’ve heard all the horror stories… But I also know that our brain and our body works together to react to fear, and often, that’s what causes panic attacks (for me). I put that fear aside and put my trust in my psychiatrist. The last 5 weeks have been full of change in my brain and the way I process things. I feel like this medicine is working for me and I’m able to enjoy the little things, that much more.

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3 weeks ago, the first weekend in December, Tyler and I packed the car and headed to Asheville, North Carolina where we planned on climbing Mount Mitchell. It is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, standing at 6,684 feet. I found the cutest little tiny house (eeek!) on AirBNB, just an hour from the trailhead. We were lucky enough to stop along the route at a dear friend’s house and see her family. Her little one is a firecracker, to say the least!

On Friday night, we googled top dinner spots in Asheville and set out for the “Edison Kitchen”… little to our knowledge, we were pulling into the Omni Grove Park Inn, greeted by a valet and being ushered into the most grand hotel I’ve ever been in. I’ve always thought of an “Inn” as a small, quaint place… The Grove Park Inn was far from small, and the kind of resort hotel that I’ve always dreamed of planning weddings at.

In the atrium, Tyler immediately had his heart set on fresh hot cocoa (it was pouring rain). As we waited in line, I realized the ‘hot coca stand’ was actually a GIANT gingerbread house. You guys… they used 400 POUNDS OF BREAD FLOUR and 440 POUNDS OF POWDERED SUGAR (+ close to 1,000 lbs total of other ingredients). Total, this gingerbread house took the staff 784 hours to complete. And people were standing in it, serving me hot coca?!?

We retired to our tiny house and slept soooo peacefully with the sounds of nature just outside the walls of our tiny cocoon (LINK here to book this amazing little place). The next morning, we woke up early, packed our gear and prayed the rain would stay at bay for this hike… Do bears hibernate on the east coast? Is that a dumb question? Should I have brought the gun or bear spray? It was -4 and covered in snow on Mt. Mitchell 3 days ago, so I shouldn’t worry……… all thoughts spinning in circles through my brain.6391FDEB-E0C3-46E2-BFB6-4913423A6F4C.JPG

BAM, dead bear on the side of the road on the way there. I guess they’re still awake, so that’s cool.

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We pulled into the trailhead and saw another Subaru with two gentlemen, donning fishing gear. It was sprinkling, but nothing unmanageable. They gave us some trail tips, and almost immediately after we set foot on the trail, a torrential downpour rolled in. Like, rain drops running down my face, I might as well go swimming in a lake, kind of downpour. The brush was thick, visibility was poor and I looked at Tyler and said “is this a bad idea?”

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Honestly, in that moment, I was scared. Scared because the bears were awake and scared because we were completely alone on that mountain. There was not another soul on the trail and that was abundantly clear from the silence. I was looking for Tyler to justify turning around and attempting this hike again in the spring…

 
The entire hike, about 6.5 miles from the parking lot to the summit, was full of riveting conversation and an excellent opportunity to connect with my hubby, doing what we love. The trail was challenging, not because of the terrain, but because of the elevation gain and the changing climate. When we first started, amidst the torrential downpour, I was sweating bullets. As we climbed higher, it only got colder.IMG_2248

A close friend was supposed to be meeting us at the summit (you can drive up there, too) to take our Christmas card photos and document this climb because helloooo, highest peak on the east coast! We got to the top and there was no sign of Cynthia. We met two guys (wow, there are other people up here?!) who noticed our microspikes and sparked a conversation. Turns out, he’s climbed Denali (one failed attempt and one completed) and a few of the other major peaks around the world. He was on top of Mitchell scoping out boulders, as he wanted to buy 2,000 lbs of rock to boulder in his backyard. People buy some crazy shit, but that one is definitely on top of the list.

I was frozen. It was near-sleeting at the summit, 30+mph winds and we had stopped moving to wait for Cynthia. The visibility was deteriorating even further. I saw the lights of her jeep come around the corner and I basically threw myself in her car, in front of her heaters, to warm up.  We took some pictures, but froze even more for the 10ish minutes we were outside, and as the conditions got worse… We made a safety call and jumped into her jeep and rode back down to our car. We stopped to take some great shots in these amazing tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but truly couldn’t see more than 50ft in front of the jeep while driving. If you’re in the Asheville area, head over to Cynthia Gilbraith Photography for amazing work with a beautiful soul.

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Some would say we quit or didn’t finish this hike and to that, I say: YES. We absolutely did. My feet carried me 6.7 miles and 3,701 feet up at a 31:41 pace. We didn’t quit, we made a safety call. Cynthia saw a bear run across the road on her way up and we didn’t have any bear spray and we could hardly see. We were sopping wet and completely frozen… so we made a safety call and I’d make the same call time and time again.

I was scared at first. Annnnd for most of the hike, to be honest. But I do this because fighting my fears is important to me. If I just lived in a bubble that protected me from all of the things I was afraid of, I probably wouldn’t ever leave my house. I do this because looking down at where we started is so, so relatable. It reminds me that everyone starts somewhere and there is ALWAYS going to be a climb. We aren’t handed anything.

In the next 68 days, Tyler and I will be transitioning from our home for the last 3 ½ years to a new home in Alaska. Ty will be heading to Texas for 3 months of training (in his dream job!) and I’ll be road-tripping back to Alaska with my dad and two dogs (+sedatives for the dogs and maybe dad, too) to start my career. It’s not going to be easy, but everything we’ve been through the past 3 years together, in this year alone, and right now, has prepared us for THIS climb.IMG_2324

Fear is relative. Our brain is trained to interpret perceived threats and process them into what is a real threat and what isn’t – Let your brain do what it is meant to do, let it process and understand when danger is real. And when it’s not, slow down and enjoy the beauty that is LIVING.

Stay Wild

XOXO//Dylan

Old Rag Mountain: My First Solo Hike

I DID IT!!! If you read my last post, you know that solo hiking is something that I wanted (and needed) to conquer.

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Aside from the birth of my little sister, my parents’ wedding day and my own, it was one of the greatest days of my life. I can say that with absolute certainty, me and my thoughts will be venturing into the woods solo again soon.

When I first started this blog, I promised to be excruciatingly real with you… so I’m going to do just that. I wanted to quit. More than once. In fact, I almost wanted to quit before I even started. I layed in bed for an extra few minutes this morning after my alarm, thinking to myself, “is this really something I NEED?”

YES. It ABSOLUTELY was something I need. I think it is something that EVERY young woman should experience because I have truly never felt more empowered in my life. To me, that’s saying something! I’ve done a lot of things that were “empowering” in my life— I mean what’s more empowering than being a barely-18 year old, clueless CHILD moving to Italy?! Talk about a situation that required me to find my inner strength and comfort in my own being.

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November 27th, 2013 was probably the last time I really felt that sense of true empowerment that was derived solely from ME. My first full day in Italy was Thanksgiving. I knew no one, had no friends… hell, I didn’t even have linens in my dorm room or food (other than a measly box of cereal from the Shopette) because the store on base was closed. I also didn’t have any mode of transportation. I walked to the main gate, called a taxi and managed to squeak out that I wanted to go to the Pordenone train station. I hopped on a train (of which I honestly had no idea was going the right direction) and spent the day in Venice, eating pizza and gelato while taking shameless selfies in FREAKING ITALY!!!

Solo hiking was different (mostly because of the animal threat and the impending rock scrambling I’m about to tell you about). The first mile or so, I obsessed over bears. I don’t even know where to buy bear spray in this damn state. In Alaska, they sell that shit at Costco! Then I realized I’ve probably developed a severely irrational fear of serial killer bears, so I put that one to bed.

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The next voice screaming “turn around” came when I got to the rock scramble. There was a point where I was standing on a giant (literally giant) boulder with about a 10-foot drop below me. And a nice blue trail-marking arrow pointing down. WTF?!? I stood there for a good five minutes and thought to myself… how in the actual fuck is my 5-foot, 3.75-inch ass going to get down there to the TRAIL? I looked up at the summit and started to think… well, I made it this far so I still solo-hiked and I don’t need to make the summit.

No, woman, YOU DO!!

Once I turned off that nasty, quitting voice in my head, I re-evaluated this crevice that was the supposed trail. The summit was there and I was here and I needed to be there. So I found a foot-hold, trusted my body and you guys… I DID IT. And then I did it again. A few more times in a few more crevices. Each time, I got down with the biggest smile on my face.

This rock scramble was no-joke.

I did it. By myself. No hand to hold on the way down or someone to push me up one of the many scrambles I had to drag my body up.

I got to the summit and I cried. I thought that the moment I walked across the graduation stage and received my Bachelor’s Degree was the proudest I’ve ever been of myself. I thought I knew myself, through and through. Boy, was I wrong. That summit was, without a shadow of a doubt, the proudest I’ve ever been of myself and it showed me parts of my soul that I’d never met.

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Shoutout to the equally brave woman who scaled some rocks to get this shot for me, then said “wow, that spot was made for you.”

And I’m so damn glad I met those parts because it has forever changed me. I’ve learned that I’m not a quitter. That I’m a strong hiker. That I’m stronger overall than I could’ve ever imagined. That I’m confident. That I’ll shamelessly take selfies until the day I die. That even when I’m scared out of my damn mind, I’m braver than I know.

“Be Brave” (and that damn good, well-deserved brownie) found an entirely new meaning today.

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My dad has always said, “Dylan, you are a force to be reckoned with.” Today, I believed him.

Stay wild, friends.

XOXO/Dylan

 

P.S. Hike Stats:

4 hours, 58 minutes

9.44 Miles

2,432ft Elevation Gain

1,607 Calories