On our two hour hike to Sharp Top, Greg and Keith would sometimes stop to wait for Pam and me to catch up. So all four of us were occasionally within talking distance of each other; other times, Pam and I were bringing up the rear. In all honesty, I hoped Pam would do well on this rough hike, that she would finish by reaching the firetower on Sharp Top. However, around the midpoint of the hike I began to wonder if I would make it. Greg had assured me that if Pam got “whatever” she could wait while we boys finished the hike, but now I was beginning to wonder if I might be the one to get “whatever.” Would I be the one sitting on Woodchuck Ridge for a couple of hours, waiting for the other three to come down from the top, laughing and congratulating each other on a trip well done? The pressure was on… me! I had hoped that Pam would do well, but now I began to hope that I would do well. “You hike like a girl” kept running though my mind.
The trail got even steeper as we worked our way up Woodchuck Ridge, and once on the ridge, the trail became narrow and rocky. It was fabulous, a mixture of heavy forest and open heath thickets consisting mostly of mountain laurel and catawba rhododendron. The heath thickets were fairly low-growing, providing magnificent views in all directions – both Tennessee and North Carolina, Cherokee National Forest, and the main crest of the Smokies. The best thing about winter hiking is the low humidity, creating clear, crisp skies and long, expansive views. January is a great time to go high and experience the views. And I do mean “experience” the views, not just “see” or “enjoy” the views – experience the views, bask in them.
The second hour of our hike, along the uppermost section of the ridge, showed me that much of the pain in hiking – and maybe life in general – is mental, not physical. This second hour was steeper and slower than the first hour, but I hardly noticed. The views, the steep, rocky trail, the spruce trees, the heath thickets – the surroundings kept us interested and entertained. The second half was actually fun. Yes, fun. Sure, a lot of difficult hikes are fun a day or two later, once you’ve had time to recover and reflect, but the second part of this hike was fun while we were doing it.
It was so entertaining that something new happened on this hike; something that has never happened to me before. As Pam and I worked our way up the ridge, we heard Greg and Keith shouting to us. I assumed that there was another good view from another rocky, heath thicket, so when Pam and I turned the corner on the ridge and saw the guys standing on the rocks, I was shocked! This was something unknown and unprecedented. We were at the top! This was the first time I had ever, ever reached a high, mountain destination before I expected to. My typical MO is to hope and wonder if we are there yet. I’ll sense that we are coming to our destination, only to arrive and realize that this peak is just a preliminary before the real destination. This can happen two or three times on a single hike.
So the shock-and-awe of this quick arrival at the top made me giddy. What a great trip! Pam and I had both made it. Yes, I hiked with a girl, but that was okay because the girl had made it with flying colors. Neither she nor I had gotten “whatever” halfway through; although there had been a few close calls.
And then Pam snookered us all.
While we boys were high-fiving and fist-pumping, Pam quietly snuck around the rocks and into the firetower. She had beaten us to the holy ground that would mark the culmination of the trip. Only seconds after we realized she was gone, she reappeared on the deck of the tower. She didn’t verbally taunt us. She didn’t have to. She just stood there enjoying the views, smiling with just a hint of smugness, knowing that we boys had been outsmarted… by a girl.
So, yes, I guess I hiked like a girl that day. But it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. In fact, it was fine, just fine.
[The names of the creek, ridge, and mountain have been changed slightly – but only slightly – at the request of some of those who made this hike.]
A few clues… Yes, there is a firetower on Sharp Top. Sharp Top is an old, 1920s name of the mountain which today goes by a different name. And “Woodchuck Ridge”… well, you’ll have to figure that synonym out for yourself.