Sunday, May 7, 2017

McAfee Knob, Appalachian Trail, Virginia

I am not all that talented at any one particular thing.  I am not athletic.  I am really not competitive.  I do have some smarts up in this brain of mine though, but mostly, I am happily average in just about everything.  I've lucked out in a few aspects of life and gotten my heart blown to smithereens in others, but for the most part, I'm just your regular happy gal who likes to keep to herself because she's super awkward and doesn't know how to fix it.

But the couple of things I do have... ambition and a husband who supports me no matter what.  And with those two things, I've managed to accomplish things I never imagined were possible.

Eric and I can be obnoxiously eye roll worthy (it's annoying, I know).  We support each other completely and fully, and inspire each other to do all sorts of things, no matter the idea, no matter how crazy it may seem.  Together, we can do anything.  So when I tell my husband about a funny little idea I have to write a blog, he becomes my biggest fan.  When he says he wants to get his masters degree and get commissioned into the "big Army," I pick up the slack while he studies and writes his thesis.  When I say that I want to see every single State in the U.S, he goes out and gets me a National Park passport and we get our first two stamps that same weekend.  And when he says he wants to hike part of the Appalachian Trail, I get my butt out of bed at 4:45 in the morning and get my hikin' shoes on!

Thank goodness for ambition and having the hots for the guy waking me up so damn early!  Because without either of those, I would never have gotten out of bed to hike 8.8 miles up a real life mountain.

Eric was inspired to hike to McAfee Knob after watching the movie 'A Walk in the Woods' starring Robert Redford, and added it to his bucket list by the time the movie was over.  When Eric wants to add something to his bucket list, I don't argue!  The thing is though, is that we watched that movie while we were still in Germany, so when he said he wanted to hike that part of the Appalachian Trail, I totally blew him off.  Yeah sure, it looked beautiful in the movie, but hiking any part of one of the most famous trails in the world will never actually happen.

But Eric is ambitious like me, when he sets his mind to something, he does it!

So off we went!  At barely 5:00 in the morning, driving our sleepy legs 3 hours to the base of Catawba Mountain with the intention of hiking 8.8 miles up and then back down a real life mountain (but actually, it turned out to be up both ways and I'm still trying to figure out how that worked)!

The Appalachian Trail spans 2,190 miles over 14 States along the eastern side of the country, with 3 million visitors every year.  And McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed parts of the entire trail!  USA Today Travel even declared the Knob to be one of the best hikes in the U.S!  
The Knob is located at the top of Catawba Mountain with an elevation of 3,197 feet and a steady incline of 1700 feet the entire way up.  There are two ways to get there: 1) the Appalachian Trail or, 2) the Fire Road, both of these trails converge at the same exact point where there is then 1.3 miles still left up to the actual Knob.  Eric and I took the Appalachian Trail (A.T) up, and the Fire Road down, for a grand total of 8.8 miles.

We started our hike at the 311 parking lot, and were surprised to find that it had already started to fill up.  I knew that the Knob was one of the most popular parts of the entire trail, so I don't know why it surprised me that there were people all over the place getting ready to do the same thing that we were, but it did.
We saw all sorts of people getting ready to go up the mountain and I started to feel a little self conscious, I didn't look like any of those sorts of people.  They had fancy hiking gear, we didn't.  We came prepared with a back pack of snacks, water, and my camera, but everyone else had cool walking sticks and hiking boots, and they all looked way more ready than I did.  I don't know why it even mattered, but all of a sudden I felt like they could tell that I didn't belong.  But we were there, and we were determined, so even though I could have argued that the Blue Ridge Mountains were breathtaking from the parking lot and we could consider that good enough, Eric assured me that we would get to the Knob together, and that I was a better hiker than anyone on that trail (even if was just in my heart and only he could see it). 

We knew that the hike would be tough, we just didn't know it would be that tough.  We should have known though, I mean it's the Appalachian Trail for goodness sake, but in our defense, we're the kind of people who consider daily walks with our doggy babies a workout.  

It was hard.  

The hike on the A.T is categorized as "moderately difficult," but for two people who don't hike, it was just.... difficult.  It was hot that day too.  Virginia is almost as humid as my home State, and we picked the hottest and most humid day of the year so far to hike.  The elevation truly kicked my ass, and that part of the trail is not even considered high altitude!  I had a really hard time catching my breath, and no matter how far we walked, we just kept going up with no end in sight.  There was never an end. in. sight.  Never.  The trail just kept going and going and going.... and going.  There were very few moments of level walking to allow me a second to catch my breath.  And, the trail is as natural as God made it.  There were a few areas on the A.T where someone has reinforced the soil for safer walking, but boulders, branches, trees, streams, and inclines were all left in the places that God saw fit.  So it wasn't like you could just leisurely stroll down the path, we really had to be careful of our steps, and use muscles that I personally had never had to use before.  I could handle the rocks and uneven terrain, but the parts where I had to climb up in any way made my lungs burn and my legs wobble.  Not only did I feel self conscious because I was the obvious newbie on a famous trail, but I was painfully out of shape too.

I wanted to cry.

An actual part of the trail.

I didn't think I was going to make it to the Knob.  I swear to you guys, I did not. think. I was going to make it.  Eric didn't think I was going to make it.  I lost count of the number of breaks I needed to take, and the number of times I wanted to cry.  I said out loud five different times, "I am not going to make it, you go up without me," and once Eric almost agreed to leave me in a shaded place with some water, because we both did not think I was going to make it. 

It was hard.  

That last 1.3 mile where the two trails converged into one trail leading to the Knob was the hardest climb of my life.  It was 1.3 miles of a constant incline.  If you're a hiker and reading this, please don't roll your eyes at me.  I know that this is an easy trail for regular hikers.  I am not athletic or competitive.  Cut me some slack.

But you know what, me and Eric met people of all shapes and sizes and skill levels climbing that insanely tall mountain, and they were struggling too.  Some people not as much as others, but everyone was struggling at least a little bit - except that one guy who was literally running up the gosh damned mountain, and then he lapped us a little bit later when he was still running, but it was back down at that point (I wanted to trip him so badly, and I was totally within reach to do it too), and that other guy we saw who was going up to the Knob barefoot, but other than them, every single person we met struggled.  I was so thankful for those people's faces, because they all served as inspiration for this average girl who didn't know what she got herself into, and kept me going when I was sure I wasn't going to make it.  The older gentleman that was on his way down as we were almost to the top who looked me in the eye and said: "Darlin, it is so worth it.  You're almost there.  You got this." will never know how much I needed that.  Those people showed me that I wasn't the only one struggling.  

And sometimes, that's all you need... just to know that you aren't alone.  

Panoramic view of the Catawba Valley!

 Photographic evidence of my husband's bucket list accomplishment!

And you want to know what...?  WE DID IT! 


Holy shit!  I did it!   

I F*^KING DID!!!!!

It was glorious!  It was so worth it!  And we did it!  We did it together!  

They say that the Appalachian Trail is a metaphor for life, and maybe they're talking about the entire 2,000 mile Trail, but I get it.... I totally get it.  I started my hike with a naive and hopeful heart - this was just another travel adventure, I thought, like all of the fun travel things we had done before.  I've birthed two babies from my body; I've seen and done all sorts of things, I can do anything, this trail ain't nothin!  But then I quickly found myself stumbling.  Stumbling badly.  And groaning, and then giggling because I thought I was going to cry.  So then I did cry, and flat out refused to go any further; I prayed for endurance; And refused to go any further a whole lot more, but then... I was at the Knob!   

I honest to God did not think I was going to make it... but I DID!  It was the most amazing feeling in the world and I'm still riding high from it.  I have never been more satisfied with an accomplishment in my entire life.  All of you actual hikers out there might be laughing at me right now but I don't care.  I did it!

Machu Picchu is next, you guys!  You heard it here first!  Our minds are made up, we're doin' it!  Machu Picchu, we're comin' for ya!

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