Grapeyard Ridge/Baskin Creek Trail 8/5 and 8/6, 2017
This is a term that is well known on the Appalachian Trail for thru-hikers….Embrace the Suck! That’s because so much of the trail is hard to do, uphill, strenuous, exhausting, etc. Well, I was reminded of this on Saturday when I started the Grapeyard Ridge Trail. Several days before the hike, I asked our fearless leader (Mr. D.) if he thought I was capable of such a “moderate” hike as it is labeled, and he said, “The question for you is whether 7 miles with a backpack is still too much at this point? Or are you willing to go for it and see what happens?” To me that sounded like a challenge….well, challenge accepted! I should have known better….but wait, there’s more….
So my friend, Eventually, (this is her trail name), gets to my house to ride with me. I am pretty excited about it, but nervous as well. I have meticulously planned, coordinated, researched the hike, my gear, printed my permit, packed, repacked and packed my backpack again trying to cut out any extras that might save some weight because you want as light a pack as you can have. I think mine weighed about 30 pounds which is way too heavy. I am feeling okay about my pack when I remember I hadn’t even added my food or water to the pack….there is a few more pounds. We get all of our stuff together and head off.
On the way to the trailhead, I am looking at my phone trying to figure out where we are going to turn when I look in my rear-view mirror and see a police officer with his lights on in the far distance. I said, “I think he might be after me.” Sure enough, I was speeding, but there was nowhere to pull off. He came right up behind me and turned on his sirens now, so I pulled right over on the road, got out my license and registration and prepared myself. I had no idea what the speed limit was. I hadn’t been to Gatlinburg in years, and honestly I was looking at my phone at Google maps. I know it’s wrong, but I thought I was paying attention. He said, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?” I said, “No, sir.” because I didn’t know. Well, I was going 60 in a 35! Yup, that’s right. I had not been pulled over by anyone in so many years, I was completely flustered and bracing myself for the worst. I deserved it. I even held up my phone and explained that I was looking at Google maps, not the speed limit, which is even worse. I wasn’t going to lie to him, so there you go. He then went into helper mode and told us where the trailhead would be and told me to have a nice day. HAVE A NICE DAY! I couldn’t believe it. I haven’t even gotten to the trail yet, and I have already had so much adrenaline pumping, it was ridiculous. I learned my lesson and drove about 20 miles per hour the rest of the way… SOOOOO GRATEFUL!!!
So that was how I started my hike….jump forward and we get to the trailhead and I have to pee. Well, I better get used to going in the woods for the next 24 hours so why not start now. It wasn’t that bad, and I had meticulously planned for all types of scenarios for that as well. All set and here we go! It quickly breaks up into the fast group and the slow group. Mr. D. is our trail sweep and our teacher as well, and he hikes the whole way with us, one patient step at a time. Seven miles pretty much straight up the first day and three or so miles the next day. It was roughly 500 feet per mile incline which is really steep (at least for me and my unconditioned legs, lungs and body), and we were hauling ourselves up there at about one mile per hour…yes, you heard correctly one mile per hour….SEVEN-ish VERY LONG HOURS LATER….we reached our destination at Campsite 32!!! Literally thought I was going to die…seriously!!!
Now, let me paint you a little picture of those seven miles….First of all, we see a bear first thing walking off in the distance. Then not one mile in I step in a very large pile of bear poo. Nice. Got so nauseated from the ascent that I nearly puked several times, got multiple charlie horses so bad that my hiking buddy had to rub my knee from spasming so badly. Every few feet having to stop to breathe and quit sucking wind, with constant (and I mean), constant encouragement from our teacher not to quit, keep going, you can do this, I was there where you are, etc. etc.! I was so exhausted and sore I almost cried several times. I really ruminated about how nice it might be if I could just lay down and have a bear come drag me off and eat me. Seriously!!! It would be cheaper than a helicopter picking my ass off the side of a mountain, and I just didn’t care!
So seven and a half hours later, we had climbed seven miles….yes, 7 miles!!!! OMG!!!! I was beyond exhausted. I was having charlie horses in my knees, legs, and ankles – yes, I said ankles. Have you ever had a charlie horse in your ankle? Well, it ain’t pretty! I was dehydrated, had a headache, and I couldn’t even eat. I laid in my tent and fantasized about being home wondering what the heck I was doing. I couldn’t wait to get home. I laid there for about an hour and finally started doing some stretches in my tent and got up, ate a little bit of food and drank a little water, and I started to feel a little better. Everyone else seemed to be doing just fine and having a great time. I just sat there and tried to think positive even though I was wondering what kind of craziness my life had spiraled into.
As the night progressed I started to feel even better and I finally did some yoga, took some Vitamin I (ibuprofen), and sat around an awesome campfire. We listened to stories and adventures and it was beautiful. We had wonderful weather, a full bright moon, and cicadas singing really loudly. As we wound down the night, Mr. D. told us to gather round the fire for the traditional “thorns, roses, and buds”. This is a tradition where you tell your experience of the day: thorns = what was bad, roses = what was good, buds = what you are looking forward to. Okay, so I know what you are thinking. But by this time, I had a little bit better attitude and some time to think and gather myself. Thorns for me, of course, was the fact that my pack was too heavy. I was too heavy, and I was hurting…duh…no-brainer, but the rose was the fact that I had a great teacher and an encouraging friend to help me up the mountain; to never give up, to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And the bud was that I now knew my limits and what I needed to work on, how I need to train, and that I need to find the Middle Path. Another thing that was really awesome was that Mr. D. said that I was his rose for the day because I didn’t give up, and I was an example of what it means to keep going even when you think you can’t. That meant so much to me! He said that I would be a future story to someone else who was struggling with whether or not they could do this.
So off to bed…well, literally I pretty much passed out. I only woke up once, but I slept really well. I woke up very, very sore. I could hardly move. I didn’t want to get up. I didn’t want to eat but I did, and I tried to drink as much water as I could. We had about 3.5 miles out of the backcountry and we were informed that the first mile out was straight up and then it would be all downhill. All I could think about was getting home. Oh, yeah, and I didn’t mention we had about 8-10 small river crossings…yeah! That was fun, but it just slowed me down. I was on a mission. I wanted to get home. I was tired, sore and now I was hungry.
We had been told that a good steady hiking pace was about three miles per hour, so I asked Mr. D. to show me what that looked like because I wanted to hit that speed at least for a few seconds on the descent. When I finally reached that pace, I thought to myself how cool it would be if one day I could catch the fast group who I knew was probably at least 30 minutes ahead of us, but it was a fleeting thought. The next thing I know we come to a river, and I look up and there is the fast group. We had actually caught them based on my pace. I was pretty excited because every time we hit a flat spot on the way down, he would encourage me to pick up my pace. It only lasted for a few seconds, but then the fast group was gone again. I didn’t care. That was the highlight of my trip, and I was on cloud nine. The rest of the way down the mountain went pretty fast, and I was never so excited to get in a vehicle and be headed home in my life.
I know it doesn’t sound like I had that much fun, and I wouldn’t say it was fun. It was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but the sense of accomplishment that I have is pretty great! I know what I need to work on. I have new goals, and I also picked up a lot of new skills for the backcountry. Even though it was extremely difficult for me, I still want to go back. I want to work up to that, be smarter about my hikes, reduce the pack weight, reduce my weight, and work even harder on it. Once I make my mind up, I don’t give up easily. I still love nature. I still love the quietness of the forest, and I always will. It’s my temple.
A very dear friend of mine asked me when I got back and she saw how sore I was and how hard it was for me to move, “What got you into hiking?” I told her it was the solitude, the quiet, being in nature, and just really getting away from it all, and that still holds true. I love it back there. And the more I do it, the better I will get. To me, the mountain is a metaphor for so much of my life…life is hard. It is a lot of uphill with bumps, twists, turns, roots, rocks, snakes, bears, and so much more. It hurts and sometimes you want to quit and give up, but I don’t. And when you reach your destination, what you have accomplished feels so good, makes you feel stronger, and lets me know that I am way more capable of things than I think I am. This is the mountain. This is life! This is hiking, and that’s why I Embrace the Suck!