Monday, February 7, 2011

My Humbling Hike up Hawk Hill

Originally, this post was supposed to be about my triumph over the eleven mile road walk at Cade's Cove. As I thought about it, though, there wasn't much worth talking about the walk itself. You can gather most of my experience through the album of pictures I took. In short, the weather was chilly but nice, the scenery was amazing, and the going was tough at times. At my lowest points on the walk, I found a timely porch for a needed sit, and words of encouragement from a stranger. In the end, my feet hurt and I was wiped out, but I accomplished it, the longest one day hike I had ever completed.

The next weekend I walked from Cravens' House to Point Park and back on Lookout Mountain. I took it slow on the ascents, stopping every sixty steps or so to catch my breath. This strategy, while resulting in slower progress, kept my progress steady and allowed to complete the hike without much trouble. Climbing almost 600 feet also created a false sense that I was really starting to get in great hiking shape. I was ready for my first benchmark hike: Hawk Hill at Forest Glen County Preserve near Georgetown, IL.

As long as I can remember, Hawk Hill has been a particular nemesis of mine. It is a fairly small incline, just about 60 feet over about a quarter mile or so. However, it has caused me problems, especially as I got severely out of shape after high school. I have to stop about halfway up to catch my breath, often times causing my more fit companions to stop when they really don't need to. It's a bit embarrassing for me, and I've made it a goal to get from bottom to top without stopping. As I was back in town for Thanksgiving, I thought it was time for me to finally realize that goal. Therefore my brother and I headed out there on Black Friday to conquer that blasted hill.

Maybe it was the lack of exercise since I had hiked up Lookout Mountain. Maybe it was residual stuffing from Thanksgiving, or I ate too much at Breakfast. Maybe it was the few extra pounds of weight in my backpack, or me setting a pace I couldn't possibly keep. Whatever it was, I most certainly did not make it to the top without stopping in the middle. My legs were willing, but my lungs had to stop. It was a humbling experience, and the first obstacle I had encountered that I hadn't quite beaten on this journey. I had walked to the top of Lookout Mountain and Brasstown Bald, how could a little ridge overlooking the Vermilion River kick my ass?

At the time, I was pretty disappointed, and felt a bit discouraged. I wouldn't get a chance to do a real hike again until this past weekend. Some of that was due to the holidays, lousy weather, and dealing with my car's tires. However, a good part of that was the amount of discouragement I felt after failing to walk up Hawk Hill without stopping.

As I've gotten farther away from that experience, I've taken a more positive view of it. I was unrealistic to expect to just get up that hill without stopping in the middle. The reason I made it up those much larger (and steeper) inclines was because I kept to my system. It didn't matter that I stopped to catch my breath, just that I made it to the top. Eventually I'll get to where I can take that hike up from the Vermilion in one stretch, without having to catch my breath part way through. But until then, pacing matters more than some abstract accomplishment. That, coupled with a gorgeous weekend, led me to a return to the outdoors and the mountains of North Georgia.

But that story is for another time...