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

Solo Hiking and Why You Need it in Your Life

First and foremost, I want to preface this by telling you that I didn’t want to do this hike today and this post is not going to be about how cool this hike was. My mind was saying no, no, no, noooooooooooo! at every decision point today. I was up early because I had to go into work for an hour. One hour was enough to send my mood spiraling and remind me of this panic-inducing sense that I don’t belong…

After arguing with myself the whole way home, my brain was telling me I was still tired. So I opted for a nap and settled for spending the day doing laundry, cleaning the house and prepping to drag myself to 36 hours of work over the next 3 days.

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Does this person look tired?! NO!

2 hours later, I was done with all of the chores and was excruciatingly bored, watching tv… Tyler called and asked why I didn’t hike today and I immediately felt panic deep in my chest. WHY didn’t I hike?!?! For a few minutes, I let it consume me… I was nearly hysteric with hate for living here, in this “awful” place where I feel like I don’t belong, and where any type of decent hike is 60+ minutes away.

This week has been really, really hard on me. Since I came back from Alaska, the part of my brain that holds the on/off buttons for anxiety/panic has felt broken. I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost control of, well…my ability to control it. On Monday (at work, unfortunately), I had a full-blown, blackout panic attack for no apparent reason. On Tuesday, I came scary-close to another panic attack when I was put in a situation that triggered memories of horror. Panic attacks, for me, leave me feeling like I have nothing left. I was running on empty.

But dammit, my (incredible) husband was right. WHY DIDN’T I HIKE?!

So I got up, put the panic away and I left.

The second my feet hit the ground and my heart rate began to rise, all of the panic that had been brewing inside me this week seemed to dissipate.

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I realized that while my brain said “go home, take a nap, prep for work”, my heart wanted the mountains. And I desperately needed them. I am so grateful for the silence that is nature for giving me a chance to reconnect with my body.

Taking care of your body is important but you guys, taking care of your MIND needs to come first.

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While this is only my second solo hike and I fought it every step of the way, I truly feel like hiking alone has changed me. It gives me this incredible outlet to connect my mind to my body in ways I didn’t think were possible. I feel like I belong, even though I’m completely solo. Instead of the usual sense of impending doom that comes with the night before going back to a job I despise, I feel as if this hike gave me enough mountain air to keep breathing steadily through the next few days of work until I can get back out there. Enough mountain air to pull in when I feel that sense of panic in my chest…

For those of you who are on the edge about a solo hike… I implore you to take a leap of faith, trust your heart AND your mind, and do the damn thing!

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A favorite quote of mine reads, “into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Sometimes, I think we need just that. To find (and re-connect with) our soul. It’s painfully easy to lose that in a world that holds such unfounded societal expectations of humans, let alone young women.

We are ORGANIC, we break just like any other organic material. Finding a way to put those pieces back together and connect the feelings in our heart with those in our brain is when we can truly see clearly.

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Stay wild/xoxo– Dylan