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It’s an adventure!
March 29, 2010

Spring Break–one of the choice events afforded me by my teaching career! It is only Monday and I’ve already experienced quite an adventure.
I left school Thursday afternoon packed and ready for a hiking trip in Sedona, Arizona with two friends, Karen and Cathy. We were to fly to Phoenix on buddy passes provided by Karen, AKA Hikemaster, rent a car, and Priceline ourselves into a comfortable room at a reasonable price and enjoy a few days of rugged trekking in the Southwestern sunshine. Excitement, eagerness and giggles filled Hikemaster’s cute little, red, Ford SUV as we rounded I-70 West.
We learned a few things that Thursday evening:
1. Parking in the airport shuttle parking area on the flight departure deck will result in honking and rude hand gestures from the shuttle driver who seems to think he owns the spot.
2. Hiking poles will not make it through security. Airlines are touchy about long, sharp objects.
3. Do not attempt to fly standby during Spring Break, including to Phoenix on a Thursday night.
Undaunted, we sat in the airport, enjoyed a glass of Chardonnay and sculpted Plan B. Set on a rugged outdoorsy kind of adventure, we decided to drive to Gatlinburg and hike the Smokies. Now, being that we were close to home and knowing we had packed for Phoenix, one might think we would have dropped by our respective homes, grabbed some warmer digs, and taken off a little later or even the next morning after a good night’s sleep. Nope! We were too invested in “get out of town mode,” and off we went. We drove through the pouring rain stopping only for salads and coffee and free WiFi at McDonald’s where we made our first successful Priceline bid on a 4-star hotel for $69.00 a night. We were pumped!
After a fitful night’s rest atop fancy schmancy linens that one may duplicate for a mere $3000, we raided the breakfast buffet. We helped ourselves to a peanut butter sandwich and an apple for our afternoon hike and headed out, full tilt, for the Smokies.
Our attempt to Priceline Gatlinburg hotels was less successful so we negotiated on our own. Using Cathy’s I-Phone, which made my little flip phone look like the something out of the dark ages, we checked in to what we thought was an okay place at a reasonable price. It was Cathy who nailed this one when she said, “guys I feel like we are checking into Wally World.” I don’t know if it was the blinking neon lights out front, the constant stream of traffic, the loud music from the mini-golf next door, or the 6 over sized trash dumpsters by the back door, but somehow she figured it out and we exited.
Settled into our quaint little place by a running stream, we filled our Camelback water thingys, packed our stolen lunches, borrowed rain gear which we totally needed, and set out for hike #1. Now, Hikemaster’s goal is to select a hike so that at the end of the day, we have only enough energy left to crawl back to the car, exhausted. Knowing we had only a few hours of daylight left, she chose Trail #7; Chimney Tops, Distance: 4 miles, Difficulty: strenuous. Well, I would say “strenuous” was no exaggeration, but by golly, we did it, and for three fifty-somethings, in a short amount of time. That evening at dinner, we were 3 quite proud, quite tired, and quite hungry ladies studying the trail maps and planning Day 2.
After a great night’s sleep atop a lumpy, but comfy bed outfitted with plain ole nothing special sheets, we set out for a hiker’s breakfast followed by Trail #14, Alum Cave/Mt. Le Conte; Distance: 10 miles round trip, Difficulty: strenuous. Knowing that I had made myself perfectly clear to Hikemaster regarding my trail specifications, I trusted her, leaving the trail choice completely up to her. My only request was please, please, no steep drop-offs. I can hike all day, I can handle strenuous, I can do anything except steep drop-offs. My love for nature, the out of doors and exercise wanes quickly when a panic attack over height issues ensues. For me, total bliss can turn to total nightmare in one turn of the pathway if it juts me out on a narrow path over a steep cliff.
Trail #14 treats its hikers to boulder filled waterfalls, vistas and views that make the strenuous part well worth the effort. Being the highest point of elevation in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the hike is a popular one and we met many nice folks with whom we chatted along the way. Hikers tend to be friendly and more than willing to share information. The higher we climbed the more tales we heard about “the hard parts ahead.” Curious, I stopped a friendly hiker person and asked for clarification. Yup, steep drop-offs up ahead and snow covered at that. The sunshine and the park rangers who were there shoveling out the cables (you know, the hand cables that hikers grab onto for dear life so they don’t fall off of the side of the mountain) were “making it better.” Hikemaster had “forgotten” about that part. Now what was I to do? I could rightfully claim my wus card and turn back or forge on and hope I could keep the panic under control. I forged on.
At one point we met a large group of fun people who were interested in selling an extra reservation for the night’s lodging at the cabins on the penacle of Mt. Le Conte. Apparently, these cabins rentals are difficult to come by and one family in their extended group had experienced a plague of strep throat right at vacation time. Their poor fortune was about to become our good fortune as they offered the cabin to us at a fraction of the cost. We promised to consider it and see them at the top. We trudged on, considering our options, deciding if we could overnight with what we had in our packs. I stopped a descending hiker and asked her to phone BF to tell him that I’d be spending the night on top of Mt. Le Conte, sans phone service and I was fine. We were sure we could bum some contact lens solution from a fellow camper and that really took care of the necessities. Besides, the reservation included family style dinner with a bottomless wine glass and a healthy breakfast to start the next day. We couldn’t go wrong. We were going for it And then . . .
We hit the scary part. Pure treachery. A one-foot-wide path covered with snow and ice with a steep, steep drop-off to our left. With four hikers behind me, I had no choice but to inch forward moving toward the sharp turn in the path around which I could not see. I had no idea what was upcoming and I hated where I was. Moving backward would be dangerous. I had no choice but to put on my big girl panties and move forward. I started to cry and got down on my hands and knees. A kind, strapping ranger who was there digging out the cable held my poles and talked me through it. “You’re doing fine,” he said clamly as I cried and crawled. I honestly do not know what I would have done without him. After about four intermittent, rather short torturous spots, we made it to the top. While the view was lovely, the cabins and lodge inviting, we made an immediate group decision to trudge right back down those 5 strenuous miles to our car and safety, hopefully taking advantage of the ranger/knights in shining armour to help us over the rough spots.
We made it and Hikemaster got her wish . . . moving hard and fast to ensure we made it to the trail head before dark, we ended the day with just enough energy to crawl to the car. We all sat grunting, stiff and sore as we pulled off our muddy boots, relieved, exhausted, and lightly smiling from our hiker’s high.

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1 Comment

  1. Debi,

    We must go have wine and share our fear of heights. Girl, I could feel your fear as you crawled on your hands and knees that would have been me. It was only due to my wonderful husband that got me up to Charlie's Bunyon over spring break – we had snow and heights and steep cliffs like you were describing. Katie R. and Shawn and group watched me hugging the side of the mountain as I was inching slowly along the narrow trail. We were supposed to do the hike you did but we changed our minds after talkiing to Karen. I know I would have been frozen with fear when I would have got to the place you did. I don't know if I could have even crawled like you did.


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Debi Dixon

Debi Dixon

The Universe is guiding me on an incredible adventure: my Plan B. I write here to share bits of my Odyssey, hopefully to inspire, encourage, or extend the virtual hand of friendship.

When I quit teaching in 2014, I could never have imagined the growth I would experience through travel, writing, reading, therapy, and introspection.

I believe human connection and compassion will go a long way toward our healing, and the best way to connect and feel compassion for one another is through the sharing of our stories.

Thank you for joining me here. I appreciate you and may we grow together.

Inspirational Quote

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.”
~Joseph Campbell

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