A year ago I took my first hike with a friend. To a place she recommended but a pace I set. And for the first time in my life I was ready to set my own pace. This was more than a fun scenic hike for me, I reached out to her because I was ready to conquer a fear that had haunted me for a long time - a fear of physical activity with others. It terrified me. Specifically the idea of taking too long in a group activity and being the last one. Being the last one because of my speed, my body. It not being able to move like everyone else’s. Burning calves, heavy breathe. I would panic. I felt bad for them. I felt bad for me. But I always felt worse for them. I didn’t want to hold them back, I didn’t want to be a burden so I would hold myself back and sit out or give up, usually crying, usually after. I never wanted anyone to know it hurt me.
I often have flashbacks to gym class and always being last. The ENTIRE class waiting for me to finish the mile.
Memories of many walks in New York City when I would be a block behind the people I was walking with. One in particular as we were rushing to make it to an event makes me cringe to this day. They were so far ahead of me. I was struggling so much to make it seem like I was “just taking my time.” They didn’t wait. We made it to the concert in plenty of time that I wonder why we were in such a rush to get there.
Looking back to a beautiful dessert hike in Arizona where I should have been soaking up my surroundings but instead I was the last in the group full of strangers that didn’t know how uncomfortable I was. How hard it was for me to have just shown up, over analyzing every detail leading up to the moment we started moving through the dessert. They were full speed ahead and I was stuck in the back, apologizing to the guide the entire time eventually crying begging her to turn around going back. A hike never completed. One I longed for.
A time on The Swamp Rabbit Trail on my very first bike ride telling the group I was with to go ahead without me, through tears and shame.
Looking back on these memories I realized that shame I carried was heavy. It paralyzed me. It took me out of a lot of things before I even tried them. I missed so many experiences because of this and the ones I did try, my mindset got in the way. I wasn’t present. I played out the entire scenario before I took my first step. And when I took that first step I was worried about the next one. It was exhausting. I was tired of being tired.
So I text my friend Danielle and we planned my first hike.
I wanted to stop waiting, I had already waited for so long on so many things. So, we hiked. It was one of the most beautiful days. I cherish all the new beginnings I’ve had this past year and this one holds such space in my heart. I stood on the top of that pinnacle and the girl you see in this first photo is on the brink so much change. You can see it in her smile, I can. But she started changing before she made it to the top. Before she even got out of the car to take the hike, or before she went away on her wellness journey the week after, before she lost any weight. She wanted to pursue one of the things that scared her in the body she was in, just as she was. In the only moment that was guaranteed. The one she was in. So she did. Even though she went slow. Even though her knees creaked with every step. Even with her kind friend stood by her side every step of the way and reassured her throughout. She pursued. And from that day forward the minute she saw the sunset on top of Craggy Gardens she continued to pursue fiercely, deeply and for the feeling she had at the top of the world that day.
There have been other hikes since that first one. And there will be more. But what started there that crisp fall day still remains and always will. A year later I rented a car after my shift at the coffee shop, chasing daylight to make it back to the place where so much began. To see the sunset, to feel the cold air on my lungs and to look around at the 360 degree view. To soak in a full circle moment of growth and gratitude. I went 5 miles above the speed limit while driving and thinking about everything that has happened since the hike last year and I cried the entire way, Mumford and Sons After the Storm on repeat. This lyric more fitting for me now more than ever: “Get over your hill and see what you find there...”
I hoped for a moment of reflection, celebration, while being able to walk up the mile craggy walkway hopefully with a little more ease and a little less out of breathe than last time. And I arrived to be greeted with that part of the Parkway closed for the season. My tires slowed to a stop, I turned off the song, my heart sunk. I text my friend who was with me in spirit. I wasn’t going to get to do the hike I had hoped for, looked forward to. To be able to climb and reflect and pause. I pulled off the side of the road to an overlook nearby and cried some more with the lyrics in my mind even though the song no longer played. I had put a lot of pressure on a moment that wasn’t going to happen. Not all moments are exactly how we hoped them to be. I took a deep breathe, I got out of my car and slowly walked to the edge of the overlook, teetering on the edge, balancing, reminded of the beauty that surrounded me even though the view was different than the one I was hoping for. It was such a beautiful view. A different, beautiful view. The air was cool and the sun was setting under the clouds. I was alone. Peace. Breathe. In and out. In and out. The girl in the last picture was feeling just that. She was having her moment of reflection, celebration and pause that she had hoped for after all. You can see it in her smile, I can.
So parked on the Blue Ridge Parkway, miles away from my original destination even though I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I kept breathing, crying, grateful for the lesson I was learning that day. It was an important one. The lesson wasn’t in this one specific sentimental hike and in climbing to the top again a year later. The lesson was in realizing that I’ve been climbing every single day since I first started.
My sweet friend Danielle packed us a picnic and we sat on the edge even though I was so scared.
And we savored every moment until the last of the sun set.
A year later. Celebrating the hike that didn’t happen but the hike I’m constantly on. Peace. Pause. Reflection. GRATITUDE.