Fighting Fears and Finding Beauty: Dragon’s Tooth

This weekend was full of not one, two or even three adventures… but four. I felt quite a bit of sadness as this three-day weekend came to a close. The adventures I went on this weekend were incredible. The people I went on these adventures with turned incredible to out-of-this-world.Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

I’m usually pretty good about putting words on paper the same day of an adventure, or at least the next day. To be completely honest with you… it was hard this week. I usually turn to writing when I’m feeling down or anxious but this week has all been a little too much. I needed to breathe.

On Wednesday I went in for a colonoscopy and endoscopy (yuck) so of course, that meant my Tuesday was shot and consisted of nothing more than green jell-o, water and some god-awful chicken stock… annnnnnd the bowel prep. I started writing then, but I just couldn’t make it happen. My mind felt foggy and I was feeling truly sad that the momentum from the weekend of adventures had come to such a screeching halt. My doctor found a polyp in my colon, which he removed and is sending it off to test for pre-cancerous cells.

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Pre-cancerous…what? I’m 23, dammit. A close family friend lost a battle to colon cancer a few years back and that is the FIRST thing that came to my mind. While my doctor seems optimistic since I am otherwise completely healthy, the word ‘cancerous’ sent my emotions and any grip I had on my anxiety spiraling. I remembered Suzanne and all of the adventures she had before she was diagnosed, and then those she had after. The life in that woman radiated over the tops of the mountains, past the ozone layer and on to the moon and the stars…

 

SO here I am. Writing this. Because this is what makes my heart sing.

We set out on a near 4-hour drive to tackle Dragon’s Tooth. Tyler and I jumped in the car with one person I only knew from work and another we had met five minutes prior. Riveting conversation made the ride itself an adventure. Shit, what else are you going to do with 4 hours in the car?

Both “be brave” and “fearless” are tattooed on my skin because while fearless is a quality I resonate with, sometimes I also need a reminder to be brave. There are a few things in this world that I can say with certainty I am afraid of: trains (I’ll write about this one day), the dark, serial killer animals, failure, lack of control… When we got to the top of Dragon’s Tooth in Jefferson National Forest, I confronted both failure and lack of control all in one. I literally said to Tyler, “do you think I could survive this fall?” He laughed. I was kind of serious.

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But nonetheless, I made it up there. THEN IT WAS TIME TO GO DOWN. As I calculated my route down from a literal tooth-shaped rock in the sky, I looked deep into my soul and said “who is this girl? Why are you up on this rock where you could probably fall to your death if made one wrong move?”

I was on that rock because I felt SO alive. Because I looked at the people around me, and I couldn’t think of a place, in that moment, that I would rather be.

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Don’t get it twisted, I was completely fucking terrified. Tyler was trying to coach me down and it was stressing me out, so I told him I had it. I’m not kidding, within five seconds I said “babe, how do I get down?”

He looked at me and said, “I literally was just trying to tell you…” God bless this man who loves me and my backwards mind so fiercely.

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I spent most of the way down getting to know another new friend, Chelsea and found so much comfort in a like-minded soul. I felt like we’d known each other for years and in reality, it hadn’t been more than 6 hours. We even lost Tyler and Jon on the way down because they were so caught up in conversation, they forgot to keep walking? Who knows.

Either way, these two people felt like family and when we got back to the car that was accidentally parked on only 3 wheels and halfway in a ditch (oops), we set out on another adventure to find the Hanging Rock Overlook. We ended up at the end of a dirt road in a small trail-head parking lot with a literal bag of (what looked like) human shit hanging in a tree. I’m not kidding. I guess someone really had to go… It was only half a mile to the overlook, so we climbed down to the bottom of the ‘hanging rock’ and then back up just for the hell of it. We snapped this gem even though it took a million tries (shoutout to iPhone self-timers, but could we add a 15 second one?)!

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The ride home was beautiful, spiraling through the mountains as the sun was setting. There were moments where the car was silent, and I thought about how much I will miss these people when we leave. The military gives you friendships in places you’d never expect but often has an uncanny ability to rip it away from you just as quickly as it was formed. I sincerely hope that these friendships last a lifetime (K2, we’re comin’ for you someday).

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I write all this to remind you that there is beauty everywhere you go. Sometimes the beauty is in the simple conversation that connects people from all different walks of life. There is beauty in looking one (or many) of your fears in the face and then saying, “I fucking did it.” For so long, I convinced myself that Virginia isn’t Alaska, thus it isn’t beautiful. It is. Maybe it is a different kind of beautiful…But over the last few months I have learned that it comes in the most unexpected places and simply pausing for a moment to appreciate the adventure is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I hated the fact that I had to drive 2 hours for a decent view, but in just one weekend I spent close to 12 hours in the car with my life partner and 4 friends I wouldn’t trade for the world AND some of the best conversation came from the open road.

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EMRACE IT, people. Your heart will thank you. Your soul with thank you. Learning that the adventure isn’t always the climb has been hard, but SO rewarding for me.

This one is for you Suzanne, for all your adventures and for all the love you poured into our world… We miss you.suzie 2

XOXO/Dylan

Trail Family… And Everyone Else: Old Rag, Round Two

As my second trip to Old Rag, I must say that I am overwhelmingly grateful that my first journey up this mountain was early-morning on a random Tuesday (read about my first solo hike here). For the first time in my life, I experienced outdoor tourism at its finest and it reminded me that I’m just not built for the east coast. In 6 months, I’ll be packing the car, heading home to Alaska and never looking back (can’t wait to write about THAT adventure!!). I remember my mom telling me of some of her past hikes before she moved to Alaska being other-than-awesome simply because of the literal line up the mountain…

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see all those people?!

Today, I experienced that line. The first 3.5 miles, we powered through, passing the masses of loud music, obnoxious, cell-phone obsessed ‘hikers’ and those constantly shedding layers as they were geared for Everest on a fall hike in Virginia. It was finally quiet, and I felt like I could start to connect with nature…. theeeeeennnnn, it all came to a screeching halt as we rounded a corner only to find a LINE. A damn line.

As much as I tried not to be frustrated with the less-experienced, I was. In all honestly, it was killing the hike for me. You guys, there were older teenagers literally holding up 10-15 people for selfies and an Instagram story boomerang. I am endlessly thankful for good company (+ a new friend) to keep me sane! Today, I needed that.

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There were a few of us (outside of those I hiked with) that seemed to be covertly expressing the same sentiments. They are what I’d call trail family. The peaceful solitude of quiet nature wasn’t an option. But, we made the best of it until my loud mouth half-politely asked the selfie-taking teenagers to please let us pass. Tyler took this smooshed-face, semi-candid natural of me at the summit, trying not to blow off the rock in the piercing wind.

 

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend from my time in Italy and was overjoyed to introduce him (finally) to my husband. There’s something about reconnecting after some time and being able to see the growth in a person a little more clearly that floods me with joy.  Nick brought his friend, Sean, who I was delighted to meet. He shared stories of his travels through Norway and his first experience with the Northern Lights as the four of us bonded over agonizing tourists and exciting boulder scrambling. Solo hiking has been wonderful for me but aside from the (seriously completely annoying and ill-equipped for bouldering) tourists and selfie-taking kids, today was one for the books. Processed with VSCO with fp4 preset

The drive home was full of riveting conversation about the qualms of artificial intelligence and the role it plays in our world and I was once again reminded of just how small we are in this big universe. We even talked about the virtual reality theory and the concept that we are all just pawns in someone’s game… if that is the case, shout-out to my game-player for giving me the best life a girl could ask for (and some pretty badass adventures). But could ya please hit the button to slooooow down global climate change?!

We stopped by 2 Silos Brewing on the way home for an adult beverage (and some added mac ‘n cheese) and I was able to exhale and be truly grateful for the cards we were dealt today because at the very least hundreds of people were outside on the trail and at the Brewery, enjoying a crisp fall day surrounded by family and friends.

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Cheers to reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. 

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Stay wild//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