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Hiking the Appalachian Trail with the Savannah Striders

Appalachian Trails hiking trip with the Savannah Striders -slide0
BJ English

When a few of my running friends invited me to go with them on a four day trip to Western North Carolina to hike the Appalachian Trails, I thought, ‘yeah, I can’t afford that and I can’t afford to take time off work either.’

On the border of two states
BJ English

It sounded nice, but being somewhat of an introvert and often awkward in close social settings, I feared I would not be good company. Still, something seemed to be calling me and I really needed a break from a job where everyone seemed to think I lived to serve with a smile on my face always at the ready.

It wasn’t that I hated my job; it was just that people were so needy, not even able to read for themselves or follow directions and getting angry when they were at fault not me. It got old after a while. So yes, I needed a break to regroup and regain some peace of mind and spirit and the mountains and good friends seemed just the right way to get there.

The trip from Savannah to Beech Mountain in western North Carolina took less time than I thought. You can get there in about six hours if you travel a bit over the speed limit and take the main highways.

Twelve of us traveled in four vehicles. My hosts were kind enough to pay for gas, which was a big burden lifted from me, though I felt guilty about it. We got very good rates on a studio room overlooking the ski slopes of Beech Mountain. The room came with a refrigerator, microwave, oven, pots, pans, utensils and even a dishwasher, though we weren't in the room long enough to enjoy all the amenities. The price came to less than $33 a night split between two people. It was all very doable on a budget.

Beech Mountain is considered a ski resort town, so it seemed a bit odd to be going there on the first day of summer. Since I had not planned the trip, I really didn’t know what to expect. I had some idea of where we were going and what we were doing, but for once I did not bring a map or tour book and just went along for the ride. It was kind of like being a child again going on family vacations and the crew we went with was a blast with so many different personalities, but so many common interests that it made the trip pleasant, even fun.

The Savannah Striders is a running club in Savannah, Georgia. They have been around since the 1970s when a group of professors at Armstrong, then a state college, decided the town needed an organized running group. I had joined the striders in the late 70s or early 80s, left the group for about 20 years and then returned around 2005 when I signed up at a health fair I was ironically hosting at a church where I worked at the time.

I didn’t really go to meetings though until they announced a training group for the inaugural running of the Rock N Roll half and full marathon. I never imagined myself running in a half marathon, but I did and the Striders pulled me through. I would never have been able to do it without their training and support and here I was again, doing something I thought was long in my past… hiking the Appalachian Trail.

I think every hiker/camper/outdoor enthusiast and most runners have this inner drive to do something big in life and hiking in remote wilderness areas, up the side of steep mountains or just venturing into “uncharted” territory is high on the list of must do adventures.

Mind you, we were just traveling a well marked set of trails out and back into woods and on moderately difficult terrain, but still, it felt good to be getting out of our element away from the flat savannas after which our town was named; away from the oppressive heat and humidity and into a cooler, drier more vibrant environment where deer and bear wandered and “Christmas trees” or firs grew naturally and adorned almost every front yard, occurring as frequently as palm trees back home.

Before the hotel room we stopped at a local Food Lion to stock up on extra bottled water, snacks, sandwich bread, peanut butter and jelly, grapes… whatever we could think we might need along the trail. I grabbed a cheap $2 bag of peanuts and dried cranberries and some Dramamine after having to borrow a motion sickness pill on the way up.

The ginger I had brought to prevent stomach upset apparently met its match on the switchbacks and turns where acceleration and deceleration and sharp turns seemed to pull my stomach out my abdominal cavity, though I did okay up until then.

After settling in our room, we met in the lobby and walked across the street to Skiway Drive where a series of Swiss style chalet/apartments lined one side, a pond filled with Koi on the other and a strand of uniquely designed homes that looked like they belonged on the cover of Architectural Digest dotted the edge of the ski slopes.

Two of the Koi in the pond were as big as baby sharks, at least two feet long and spotted orange and creamsicle colored beneath the almost glowing green water. The fish came up to investigate as we walked through an opening between houses that lead to a grassy field full of wildflowers and strange black fans on posts and water pipes in half cut barrels, not to mention the egg whisk style wire baskets that looked more like they belonged on a golf course than a ski slope.

Beneath the grass in places there were large chunks of granite rock and clay soil with banked turns and dips. It was hard to imagine the place covered in snow, but we half expected a skier to come zooming past. It was, as artists like to say, a bit surreal.

The chair lifts hung overhead on long cables running up and down the mountain with giant poles that looked like metal crosses marking an imaginary Indian burial ground beneath the rocks and trees. The whole area seemed oddly unfamiliar like no place at home and we were rather fascinated by it.

Jenny Kyle, one of the strongest runners in the group, tramped up the steep embankment as we followed at a distance, hauling air into our lungs with great gulps and feeling our hearts pounding and our legs straining just to travel fifty feet. The ground was so steep you had to walk with your feet turned sideways on the way down to keep from sliding or tumbling head over heels. This was definitely not Savannah.

While there wasn't much of a smell to the air… no fresh pines, no earthy aroma or even the smell of grass, the air quality was different. It was a hot day, comparatively speaking, but the air felt cleaner and easier to breath, when we weren’t going uphill that is. It was a nice feeling and the exercise felt good, though many of us wondered, if we were struggling this much to go this short distance, would we be able to keep up with everyone on the actual hike up the mountain!

That evening we ate a huge meal at an Italian restaurant called Bella’s. I got a platter of spaghetti marinara and ate nearly the entire three person serving size. The water tasted horrible even with lemon in it. It tasted like dirt and chemicals and was almost undrinkable… so much for sparkling mountain water! Ick! The food was good though.

My friend Sherry and I watched as Parmesan laced butter rolls were placed at the table. She is gluten intolerant and I have respiratory allergies to all things dairy, though we both were drooling and wishing our genetics weren’t so fickle. Almost everything Italian has gluten or dairy in it, so it was a challenge, but we both survived and ate well.

We went to bed early that night and left the next morning for the first trails at Pisgah National Forest to Roan High Knob, so technically we hiked from North Carolina to Tennessee and back again by my understanding. I still had no idea exactly where we were and didn’t touch a trail map the whole time we were there. It was kind of nice to follow people who knew where they were going and not have to worry about getting lost… something I am pretty much an expert at doing.

I nearly bought a T-shirt at the local trading post that said, “I chose the road less traveled… now I am lost…” I even got turned the wrong way around in the store. It’s kind of pathetic.

At one point on the trail we passed under a series of tall densely packed trees that blotted out the fog shrouded sun so that those with sunglasses had to take them off to see where they were going. We couldn’t help think about the Robert Frost poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening and the words, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep…” it was awe inspiring even if it was “just trees”.

It was the end of the mountain laurel growing season. A mountain laurel flower looks an awful lot like an azalea flower that got stuck on a long leaf magnolia tree, only the bark is different too and turns and twists in long narrow gnarled fingerlettes, rather than the straight strong trunk of the southern magnolia tree.

The primary colors of the flower are purple and pink and white and they grow everywhere along the trail. They too, do not have much of a smell and it makes me wonder if the higher altitude and lower humidity block out some of the floral, earthy smells we get at home when hiking in the woods.

It is only when I bend down to examine the moss on a rock and a friend stumbles on the trail that I smell the clay and rock dispersed by the scuffle and then I notice the lack of smell more than the presence of it.

It is funny because when Sherry says, “oh look at all the moss,” I immediately look up in the trees expecting Spanish moss before realizing we are too far out of our growing zone for that and she is actually talking about the moss on the rocks under our feet. I feel a little silly and wonder about myself at times like these.

The weather is predicted to be wet later in the afternoon and we are hoping to beat the showers. It is cool and moist with a thick fog that flows past in visible clouds within clouds. It is still early, before 10 o’clock. We can see the sun through the fog, but just barely and it shows no signs of clearing; still we travel up the trail, enjoying the company.

We feel and look a bit like Hobbits. Susan says we remind her of ants winding along the trail. The trees are tall, straight and thin and form a thick canopy overhead with few branches down below, another difference from our trees at home that have low hanging branches and thicker twisting trunks.

There are many trees down, but the trail is well maintained with bridges and logs chopped to allow hikers to easily pass through. There are a few boulders that are slippery and wet and some wet spots that are hard to get around, but nothing we can’t handle. Most of us go sideways down steep slopes and steps to save what little cartilage we have left in our over used knee joints.

Our average age is around 62 with the youngest being Holly at 50 or nearly so. This is her first trip with the Striders and she is a little worried about what they will think of her. They think she is great, so there are no worries there. We share a room on this trip, but my non-talkative self does not reveal much or ask too many questions. I am content just to be and she is an amicable roommate who makes the trip pleasant and respects my need for quiet alone time without being judgmental.

I am able to go with the flow on this trip and not whine or complain and only get pouty once when we spend too much time at a trading post where everyone eats ice cream, except me and everyone shops at ridiculously high prices on goods made in China and sold as “old fashioned American”. I am not impressed and act more like a man than a woman, sitting outside and sighing and wondering what is taking so long.

It turns out they left through the back door and have been waiting on me almost ten minutes. I feel bad about my attitude and vow to be less moody, but am still on the quiet side and try not to feel sorry for myself and ruin the trip for everyone. It seems to work and I try to engage in conversation rather than zone out and go off in my own little world as I am prone to do in such situations.

We are rained on most of the first hike. At first it feels like a light sprinkle and we debate on whether to unpack our rain gear, but figure it is better to be safe than sorry.

This proves to be a wise decision as the rain becomes stronger, soon soaking everything in its path and sending little rivers down the trail so we feel as if we are walking on a stream bed rather than a mountain path.

I am not sure where we are headed, even though we have been told. I still don’t know what to expect. The final destination turns out to be an overlook that is more like a wind tunnel; a little blowing rock of sorts where the wind whips up from an unseen valley below. There is only mist; thick fog, a giant cloud that engulfs us making picture taking almost impossible.

Even though you cannot see what is below or beyond the gray rock cliffs, you still get that queasy feeling in your lower midsection that makes you wonder if there is some organ or gland there designed to make you feel this way. It is the same feeling you get when you go past your genitals in cold water and try as you might it never goes away until you stop thinking about it and unconsciously grip the railing even though you know you are not going to fall.

I leave my camera in my protective bag. It has already gotten wet and I am afraid I will ruin it. Besides, it is hard to get a good shot in the mist and flash photography is impossible because it picks up the water vapor and not the subject drenched in it!

While there is no looking out over the outlook, it is still neat to be inside a cloud and feel the wind blowing up what must be a canyon or valley down below. Ponchos go flying and everyone is laughing and pretending to be birds. It is nice to be among crazies who enjoy the rain and revel in the feeling of freedom that only a mountain brings.

On the way down we the come across the remains of an old fire tower with only three concrete pillars and a set of steps that goes up to nowhere. We, or at least, I, did not see it on the way up. There is an old shelter there as well and the remains of a brick fireplace. We meet a few people on the trail, all day hikers like ourselves and a few couples who have come up from the nearby parking lot, wearing flip flops and hiking up the same trail we just came down… we are either woefully overdressed or they are in for adversity.

In the parking lot there is a group of firefighters selling grilled hotdogs and hamburgers. I watch as everyone eats. The meat smells good, but I have given up eating meat for over 25 years and don’t intend to start eating it now.

My peanut butter and jelly sandwich is in my pack, but I am not hungry. It is barely past 11:00 and it is still pouring rain and I am trying to protect my camera from getting soaked again, so wait until later to eat. I am used to watching others eat when I cannot but it is boring and I wander around hoping they will hurry up and get back to hiking.

The trashcans here are bear proof with special locks to open them. The toilets are rigged to suck things down with depressurization so that a slight tap on the handle yields a loud roar and whoosh that make you want to scream and climb on top the sink for fear of being sucked down with the refuse. Supposedly it saves on water flow, but it should come with a warning.

A part of me thinks it is ridiculous to stand in the pouring rain eating a hotdog while the bun melts and turns to mush, but everyone seems to be finding it a memorable experience and laugh that the food still tastes good, so I try to be patient, but want to keep moving.

We hike another hour or two and head back to the hotel where the fog lifts and the light of day seems to scoff at us. As we look back toward the mountain we see the dark gray clouds still drifting over it and marvel that it can be raining above us, but not below. The mountains are a strange place.

We are all drenched. Our group gets back before Holly’s so I shower quickly so that she can have it to herself when she arrives. We take the inserts out our shoes and boots and set them on the hotel heater to dry while leaving the window open to get fresh air. We never close the window the whole time we are there.

While my boots are drying I hand wash my hiking pants and jacket in the sink in case they will be needed tomorrow as well. I have a limited supply of hiking gear.

The hotel has a washer and dryer, but I save the dollar from the washing machine and toss my hand washed pants and jacket in the dryer that spins around one quarter at a time. I have not used one of these in years and am actually almost as amused by it as I am by anything else I have seen that day. It does not take much to entertain me.

I do leg lifts and push ups while waiting for my clothes to dry and run up and down the abandoned dark blue oriental carpeted hall on my toes to keep the old wooden floor below from creaking too loudly, so that Holly can take a nap. I do not do naps. I haven’t since I was five. It is just a thing with me. I guess because I was forced to do it when I was little and felt it was a waste of my time. There was too much to do and see to take naps. It was hard enough for me to go to sleep at night, much less during the day.

The rest of the late afternoon is filled with watching people eat and drink. They like to drink. I do not, so take off on a hike around the hotel, investigating back roads in a desperate attempt to find wildlife or something unique and different, but there doesn’t seem to be much to see other than trees and wildflowers so I come back and go to dinner, hoping I can find something to eat that will not break the budget or send me into respiratory arrest.

We go to a Tapas bar where the food comes in small dishes at high prices. I get humus and pita and grilled veggies. I have not pooped in two days, a result of the motion sickness pills I presume, but possibly just the change in diet. I have been drinking water frequently, but mostly bottled as the stuff here tastes nasty, but I still manage to choke it down hoping it will speed things along.

Back at the hotel room we call it an early night. I am undecided whether I am having fun or not, though did like the hiking part. I am hoping we have a longer hike tomorrow.

I wake up early the next day and decide to go for a run. We have two hours before we leave for breakfast and I am already dreading that part. The restaurants here have nothing healthy for breakfast. It is all white bread and meat, cheese and eggs. I crave fresh fruit and a multigrain bagel, but there is none to be had. Apparently country cooking is not the healthiest fare.

It is fun running up and down the hills. I spot two deer eating along the road and they just look at me, not too concerned. The fog is still thick, so I am cautious along the main road where there is really no shoulder to run on and steep embankments that turn your ankles if you are not careful.

I have to walk after a bit and recover then jog again. I don’t want to go back to the hotel room, but don’t want anyone to worry, so laugh as I tackle the final assent up the road and struggle to keep my footing on the gravel, where it is so steep and rolling that you cannot run on your heels, but have to dig your toes in and push hard while leaning so far forward that you feel your face is barely three feet above the ground, but strangely I enjoy this and miss it already as I think of the flat monotony that is Savannah…I am not ready to go home just yet, nor back to the hotel room, so I circle one last time through a small trail, hoping to see bear, but only see a robin and am content with that and slowly return, dreading breakfast.

There is nothing I can eat on the menu, not anything at all, so I excuse myself from the group and go into the gift shop downstairs and find a pack of mixed nuts and berries and a pint of apple juice that does not taste like apples, but at least I have food. I return as their food arrives… fatty meats and white bread mostly. I wonder how they survive, but maybe they do not eat like this always and they all seem healthy and happy, so again I remind myself to keep my opinions to myself and let others live their lives as they see fit. It isn’t my job to be the food police!!!

As I finish my food and wait and wait for them to finish theirs, I wonder what the trip will be like today. I have not taken any motion sickness medication because I do not like what it is doing to my body and would like to poop before the day is through, though to be honest, I do not feel that bad in that department.

When you get older, I think you worry more about such things, like whether you will be able to make it up a mountain without needing a bathroom break or whether there will be a bathroom at all. It would be nice if you could put eating and pooping and peeing on hold and still be able to function normally, but unfortunately those things are necessary for survival, so one must deal with them, but thankfully the body functions contain themselves nicely on this trip and all the worry is for naught.

I am determined to be in an uplifted mood. Our hike today is in Tennessee, around Lake Watauga, a man made dam and lake system. Denmond reminds us that while the lake is beautiful, it displaced many people and their homes, covered up burial grounds and drowned out thousands of animals in their native habitats.

We wonder what sorts of treasures may lie hidden beneath the lake and the stories the lake floor could tell. It makes the hike a little mysterious and somber at the same time.

The Cherokee National Forest borders the lake as does a portion of the Appalachian Trail. We follow the white trail markers on the trees and boulders through a dense forest of tall trees.

Wild pink rose bushes with one inch blooms that look like Sweetheart roses grow everywhere along with tall growing blackberry vines just starting to flower and set with tiny knobs of green fruit.

At the bathroom where we start, there are cultivated blueberry bushes. We find a few ripe berries as my less outdoorsy friends ask if they are safe to eat. I pop a few in my mouth to prove they are and they marvel at how good they taste, even though they are not quite ripe and still a bit red in spots.

There are flocks of Canadian geese on the lake and we spy a mother duck and her ducklings further up the trail, which is less steep in some ways than the other trail and has less rocks and more earth with wooden steps made from fallen trees so steep and far apart that we climb them like toddlers going up the steps with knees to chest.

It is more like home here with a lower elevation and some familiar looking trees. Gone are the triangle shaped firs and the laurels, but the sunshine is out and that makes everyone happy, even me.

We walk in single file as there is no room to walk double. When the odd person does come upon us, we find a slight clearing and lean back to let them pass or they lean back to let us pass. We are a large group of 12 people so we command respect which is kind of fun really.

We are also a noisy group, though less noisy than yesterday. The toll of travel and hotel sleep have slowed us down a bit and most of us are a bit sore, especially our calves which do a lot of pushing to get up those hills that they are not used to doing at home outside of our Sunday bridge runs.

We are dressed in shorts today and no jackets. Many have adjusted their packs from yesterday carrying lighter loads, though some of the men have added weight with extra water bottles to make sure no one has issues in the heat.

There are no hot dog vendors along this trail so we all pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while Sherry has her gluten free food at the ready.

I suppose I expect something greater at the end of the trail. I am spoiled. I think every hike should end in a magnificent overlook or waterfall or spectacular view that can not be seen from further below or reached by mere mortal means.

While everyone oohs and ahs at the dam and the lake with the mountains overlapping in the distance, I am more impressed with the huge sheets of rock cliff that look as if they could avalanche at any moment.

One side of the mountain is green with grass with a giant claw mark of crumbling rock cracked into millions of pieces. I cannot understand why everyone is looking at the lake and not at the cliff and again I feel weird.

It is still early and everyone decides they want to stop and eat. I literally roll my eyes and want to yell, come on guys, we just got here, let’s take a break and keep moving and find someplace more relaxing than a hot strip of exposed asphalt out in the middle of nowhere, but no one seemed interested in my opinions, even when voiced more politely than thought, so I left them there and hiked up the road a bit trying to find a more remote spot to dine out of the hot sun.

I found a patch of blackberries that had just turned red. There were hundreds of little small berries all on one vine, but none were edible. It seemed like a sign really and a part of me was wistful that I couldn’t come back a week or so later to find the ripe berries waiting. I am never really happy in the here and now and always thinking about the future. It is not really a good trait and makes me too impatient.

I decide I need to turn around and join the group again, but stop to investigate a metallic looking rectangle of dark slate rock. A large flat piece has broken off, so I pick it up and carry it back like a trophy, though no one really seems impressed by it. I plan to paint a scene of the mountains on it and keep it as a souvenir.

Sherry motions me to come stand next to some strange man so we could get a picture taken. I ask why and she tells me he is hiking the entire Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine but I still wonder why none of the guys are in the picture.

The hiker calls himself Deacon and keeps a blog of his adventures so we get his website and check on him later to see what he says about meeting us. We are too addicted to social media.

Deacon was wearing a dark blue sweat wicking shirt with tiny holes all in it which he said got in that condition from mice and rats chewing on it while he slept in the shirt at one of the shelters! It was a good thing they only nibbled the shirt and not him.

He seemed a bit haggard as they offer him food and water, then continue to sit in the hot sun as he travels further up the trail on his own. I envied him partly. I think we all did, but it takes a lot to go that long and that far without a support team to back you up.

We joked that he carried a lighter pack than we did and we were just day hiking.

After he left another couple who had passed us earlier with their two dogs, came back down the road where I had just been and stopped to talk a bit. It was nice to see new faces and play with the dogs before finally heading back down the same trail.

To be honest, we just sort of tramped back the way we came, heads looking down at our feet and not paying too much attention to the trees or our surroundings.

A few of us stopped to go a tenth of a mile to one of the overnight shelters to see what it looked like. It was nice and even had a rake, broom and shovel near it and a large pole with a hoisting rod to raise your pack up high and out of reach of bears.

There were signs everywhere warning about the dangers of bears on the trail, but we didn’t see a one, not even a paw print or scat or claw marks on a tree. It was a little disappointing, but I guess really, all for the best.

Denmond did get Sherry by hiding behind a tree and growling at her as she went past. She screamed and I laughed thinking she was playing along with the game, but it turned out he really did scare her and she got mad that she screamed, but we all got a good laugh out of it and she and Pam and Helen later posed for a picture screaming like they had seen a bear for real, so it made for some good memories and to be fair Denmond did have a really deep growl. I thought maybe he just had gas and had moved politely off to the side to get relief. I guess I am dumb that way. I’d probably be the first one eaten by a bear if we came upon one while Sherry would escape.

Holly said she was ready to throw her saved blueberry in for the rescue and run tossing peanut butter sandwiches right and left for distraction. We were after all runners, so we might have stood a chance, though I imagine most bears would rather not have anything to do with most humans.

By the time we got back to the hotel we had almost four hours before eating. We decided to eat at the Mexican restaurant downstairs. It was the best meal I had the whole entire journey and I ate way more than I should have, but it was good.

A blue grass concert was playing in a field across the way, so we all went to watch.

I am not a huge fan of country or bluegrass, but the songs had a gospel tilt to them and I found myself tearing up thinking of my family when I was a kid and all the fun times we had and the values instilled upon us by simple country folk who put God and family before all else.

We watched as a man with too much to drink got up and did a jig under a trellis made of twigs.

I snuck off down the trails again and spied two more deer that did not see me at first. When they did they got nervous and one made a whistling snort as the two of them clattered their hooves on the hard rock and took off into thicker cover. I have never heard a deer whistle before so that was a new one.

I didn’t want to leave the music, but everyone was headed back and it was starting to get dark. As we were half way back they began to play “I’ll fly away old glory”. I had to turn back and listen. I have not heard that song sung in a very long time. The last time was at the funeral of my friend’s mother. I cried again, but it was happy tears and I felt closer to God than I had in a long time and was very grateful to have had the opportunity to unwind in a beautiful setting among friends. Life was good.

The next day we left way too early! I had wanted to stop in South Carolina at a place called Hamrick’s that sells really good quality clothes for really cheap prices, but the itinerary called for eating at McDonalds and heading home post haste to get back by midday so everyone could unpack, retrieve their pets from the vet and get some rest before heading back to work the next day.

That plan was thwarted by a flipped car on I-95 that blocked traffic from South Carolina to Georgia for over an hour.

Our driver was impatient enough when traffic was flowing, but we all survived and called to warn the others behind us to take a different route down Highway 17.

I thanked our hosts as we left and climbed stiff legged into my own truck. It felt odd to drive after four days of being a passenger only! When I got home, all but the cat were happy to see me.

I called my friend who fed my pets to tell her I was back and she said that the cat had disappeared after the first night and she had not seen him since. I got a little sick, but figured he was getting on in years and maybe it was for the best.

The horse buried his head in my chest and snuffled a friendly hello. It was good to be home.

As I pulled out clothes from the suit case and called my folks to thank them for getting the mail and checking on the animals and the garden I heard a frantic cry. It was the cat come home. He was thin and dirty and I spent the next half hour holding and brushing him and telling him how wonderful he was. I have never seen an animal more content. He ate two bowls of food that night. It’s nice to be missed.

I went to bed early that night, still drowsy from the less drowsy Dramamine. I would hate to have seen what the regular formula did to me and think maybe I might have to try some the next time I have insomnia.

I did finally poop in case you were wondering… probably not.

I woke up early the next day longing to head up the hills for a hike, but settled instead for a long run/walk down a shaded neighborhood with a few very slight hills. It would have to do.

Like all good vacations, there is a part of me still stuck in North Carolina. I miss the cool, crisp air, the friendly people who wanted to serve me and not the other way around. Despite complaining, I miss eating out and having other people make my food and plan my day. I kind of even missed having a roommate. It was nice having someone to talk to before going to bed at night other than the cat and the horse, though both are very good listeners.

The next day at work it was all I could do to remain sociable. It was hard to get back into routine. The next day was even worse and when three customers vied for my attention, the phone rang on four incoming lines and my boss asked me to do something I couldn’t get to and then called me by name because she thought I wasn’t paying attention, I actually yelled back, “WHAT?” before realizing that probably wasn’t the smartest move I could make to further enhance my career.

Two days later I was back to saying a prayer and reading my Bible before work to remind me that I was, after all, put on this planet to serve and that this did not make me less of a human or demean my honors degree self, but instead made me better and kept me humble not proud. Still I felt I could be so much more and pondered how I had gotten here and why I wasn’t doing what I thought I would be by now.

How I longed to walk in the woods on a daily basis, to climb mountains, discover old trails and blaze new ones; learn from wiser people, share that wisdom and feel vibrant and alive on a regular basis, but sometimes life does not allow such luxuries on a daily basis and to be honest, if I lived in the mountains they would probably get old and monotonous like the rivers and beaches in Savannah.

I miss North Carolina. I miss our trip and I wonder if the closeness we shared will change the dynamics of the group, or will we go on acting as casual friends.

Andy, one of our oldest walk/runners who reminds me a very lot of my father at a slightly younger age said on the trail that he wanted to hike a portion of the Appalachian over a week or more, then sadly admitted this would probably never happen. I feel that way now myself and I wonder just how much longer my body can continue to take these journeys.

As we were winding our way through the woods like a colorful Chinese dragon, matching right foot forward and left foot back like a giant centipede, or troop of ants, we shared many secrets, many fears, many longings and dreams. We shared insecurities and wishes and wants and needs. We learned about families and past mistakes and egos and tempers and challenges that each other faced.

I think this is the main reason why I run with the Striders, not so much for running advice, but because they have become like family. They are there when you need them. Sometimes they fight amongst themselves and get bent out of shape, but they all mostly work as a team and encourage you to push past what you think you can do.

There is another poem by Robert Frost, called The Road Not Taken. It is also one of my favorites.

It states that the author came across two roads in the woods and became sorry that he could not travel both, but looked down one as far as he could. I did that at our picnic spot and traveled down as far as I dared, still wondering what was around the bend.

The poem goes on to say that the author took one path and kept the other for another day, though knowing he would never come back.

The poem ends thusly:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I think about Andy and my dad and my own aging existence and desire to be more and do more than I currently am or do. I wonder if I will ever get back to that divergent path that seems so far away or if I should be content on the journey and the path that I am on.

We are all works in progress to our dying breaths, but sometimes taking a divergent path, alone or with friends can open up new beginnings and new possibilities, new thoughts, new hopes, new dreams.

I may not have taken the road less traveled, but I took to the road with friends and became closer to them and oddly closer to myself and I guess that, my dear friends, is what really makes all the difference.

Happy hiking and never tell yourself you are too old or too poor to follow your dreams in even the smallest capacity. Where there’s a will there’s a way and it never hurts to have a back up team to get you there and back unscathed.

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