Sure! I hike…a lot. It’s a means of getting from point A to point B; from the trailhead to a waterfall or maybe to a gorgeous mountain view.
There are times when I push hard to make miles. And sometimes, when I follow a whim or find some magical place in the woods, I’ll simply sit on a log, quietly contemplating, or explore the immediate vicinity, or play in a stream. No desire whatsoever to make miles. Just be.
Hiking isn’t always about trails, packs, and putting one foot in front of the other – for me, at least. I don’t need a destination to go for a hike. Hiking, as cliche as it sounds, is as much about the things you see and do while you’re walking as it is about getting somewhere.
Recently, I came across a rocky beach and a stretch of calm water on the Upper Nantahala River within Standing Indian. I fully intended to hike, but…there were round, flat stones everywhere and the water was like glass. I couldn’t pass this up! Could you?!
I love skipping stones. Always have. It’s definitely NOT something I’ve out grown – or ever will. It’s an…hmm…art form. Yeah. Or…maybe an exercise in mindfulness. It’s definitely meditative. Mm hmm! That’s it! It’s a meditative art.
Just the mere act of winding up for the throw and letting a stone fly across the water and all is right in the world, like when you were a kid. No cares. No worries. No thoughts. Just you and the ripples on the water.
Talk about relaxing?!
You should try it sometime. Or, maybe pick it back up again if you’ve lost touch with your inner rock skipper. I’m sure you’ll find it very therapeutic as well.
And here! This will help get you started – a quick tutorial on skipping stones. I say, “Go for it!”
What could be better?! The day was clear and blue. The temperature was crisp and refreshing. And a gusty wind carried the scent of Spring in the air.
Earth Day 2015!! We were so fortunate this year. The weather around the mountains of western North Carolina is rather unpredictable in April; 70 degrees one day and snowing the next, but this Earth Day was the best one in recent memory.
And what better way to celebrate it than having a Yoga class on top of Standing Indian Mountain in the Nantahala National Forest?
Eight of us intrepid Yogis strapped on our day packs, filled with water and snacks, and hiked the 2.5 miles on the Appalachian Trail from Deep Gap to Standing Indian Mountain. It was a crowded day on the trail, filled with AT section hikers and thru-hikers making their way northbound. I counted 23 in all!
Imagine their surprise when they stepped off the short blue blaze trail and into the small opening on Standing Indian with a bunch of yogis striking poses…and OM’ing? But that’s another story.
It took just over an hour to reach the top of the mountain. We weren’t in a rush; we had all day. Two of our Yogi’s, Bill and Sharon, being past presidents of the Nantahala Hiking Club, regaled us with AT stories, trail history, and an ongoing seminar on spring wildflowers. Very informative!
And, Jean, a member of the Franklin Bird Club, offered her keen ear to help identify the calls of all the birds we could hear, but as nature would have that day, couldn’t see.
All in all, it was an amazing Earth Day watching Mother Nature awaken and start to redecorate her woodland mantle, with spring wildflowers.
Having the theme of Earth Day, our Yoga class consisted mostly of partner Yoga poses. Everyone was invited to explore their partnership with Mother Earth as they learned Yoga poses that relied on another person. Each pose honoring and expressing gratitude for all the things on Earth we take for granted.
We finished our Yoga class back to back with our partners in a seated meditation. As we quieted our minds and our hearts, I invited everyone to see if they could sync their breath with their partner. Once they had accomplished this, I invited them to sync their rhythmic breath with the rhythm of their other partner, Mother Earth, as we gently sat on her shoulders.
Something magical happened on top of Standing Indian. After about 5 minutes of meditation there was a pause – a pause in the howling wind, a pause in the song of the birds, a pause in the Earth. For about 15 seconds nothing moved, nothing was making a sound. It was the quietest moment I’ve ever experienced.
You could feel the stillness. You could touch the stillness. In that one moment we were connected to each other, to the Earth, and to something bigger than any of us collectively.
The whole purpose of Yoga is to connect to this Oneness and, speaking for myself, I’ve never felt anything like this before. Was it the day? Was it the people? Was it our intention? Was it being on the proverbial mountain top?
Or, maybe it was just a coincidence.
Who knows?! But…it happened.
Though a little chilly, the sky was clear, the sun was out, and the view was amazing on Earth Day 2015.
And none of us will soon forget this experience. That’s for sure! And all the way back we talked about making this an annual thing; The Earth Day Yoga Hike.
Maybe you can join us next year? Or, if Earth Day doesn’t work for you, I’d be happy to lead you and your group on a Yoga Hike to Standing Indian or any other mountain top in western North Carolina. Think about. And let me know. Namaste.
“Guys! C’mon. We haven’t even gotten out of the car yet.” says their…wait! Haha! You thought I was going to reveal my age, didn’t you?
With kids, you’ll quickly discover no two hikes are ever the same.
Now if you’re thinking this is going to be an anti-kid hiking post, you need to know right now I adore my kids. They’re funny, adventurous, playful, and fully self-expressed in all the right ways.
And they love hiking! Well, most of the time, at least…except when we have to go uphill or we’ve run out of trail mix, which – both – happens more often than not.
But, they’re a busy bunch and getting busier as they get older. Finding a break in their schedule to go hiking – and particularly a break that coincides with perfect weather – is getting as rare as an external frame pack.
The two monkeys on the right blessed me with their company for this hike.
The stars finally lined up – Mercury was no longer retrograde (as my friend is fond of pointing out), the weather was amazing and our two youngest kids were sitting around with nothing to do.
The thing about kids – and hiking – is no matter how old they are you still need to be flexible with your plans. It might not look like the hike you envisioned, but it’ll be fun…if you’re adaptable.
“My favorite thing about hiking, Daddy, is going downhill.”
“Say! How much trail mix did you bring, Dad?”
Being a rather impromptu hike, I didn’t have much time to plan it out. It was one of those, “Quick! Change your clothes, put on your boots, grab an apple and some water and let’s go,” kind of hikes. In situations like this I like to go on familiar trails. This way I know sort of what to expect.
I chose Kimsey Creek Trail at Standing Indian. At just over 4 miles from the Backcountry Info Center to the top at Deep Gap and the intersection with the Appalachian Trail, Kimsey Creek Trail is a very scenic and enjoyable hike.
“It does have downhills, doesn’t it, Daddy?”
“Did you put raisins in the trail mix this time, Dad?”
GORP – Good Ol’ Raisins and Peanuts; aka Trail Mix.
It’s a relatively easy to moderate hike, with long grades, wide trails and plenty of beautiful landscapes and water. Water, water everywhere! And like many trails in Standing Indian, much of the water – for most of the year – runs right down the middle of the trail – an entertaining distraction for most kids.
Sometimes you’re left wondering which is the trail and which is the creek.
But don’t let the wet trails discourage you. Even in the wettest season, they’re still passable and it’s kind of fun hopping from rock to log to rock to railroad tie. Just be sure you have hiking poles or a walking stick to help you with your balance. You might also want to leave an extra pair of shoes and clothes in the car for the kids for the ride home.
I expected my son would have gotten his shoes wet, but not this time. It was my daughter, the one who likes going downhill, who soaked both of her shoes…numerous times.
Our two youngest kids are quite the comedy team, playing off each other like a non-stop Vaudevillian act. Think of Dean and Jerry, Harvey and Tim, Lucy and Ethel or even Gilligan and the Skipper and that’ll give you some idea of what it’s like being around them.
And they were in rare form today. We’ve always whiled away the time on the trail by playing games; word games, concentration games, whatever their hyper minds can think of. Today – my daughter’s choice – we were playing “Would you rather…?”
It’s a simple game. Everyone takes turns asking someone a question like, “Would you rather be stuck in a submarine with Justin Bieber OR eat a plate full of greasy, grimy gopher guts?” (No animals were harmed in this game. Jussayin.) So, as you can see, the object of the game is to trap people in a no-win choice…or if you’re good, an embarrassing choice.
How embarrassing can it get? Pretty bad sometimes, especially when two young teenagers are trying to embarrass or gross out the other one.
The falls on Kimsey Creek – this is as far as we got it today.
“Did I ever tell you how much I like going downhill, Daddy?”
“Can I finish the rest of the trail mix myself, Dad?”
We didn’t get very far on the trail today – maybe a couple of miles. And that’s Ok. We had fun! Lots of fun! AND…we established that my daughter likes hiking downhill, not uphill, and that my son is always hungry. Come to think of it! I didn’t get any trail mix today.
And, in spite of their constant attempts to trap me into an embarrassing situation, it was determined that I’d rather hike Kimsey Creek Trail – or any trail – than kiss Miley Cyrus on the lips – or anywhere for that matter. Yuck!! Sorry, Miley.
How do you keep your kids entertained and engaged while you’re on a family hike? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Yes! Yes! It has been a long time. Too long, if you ask me. Life has a way of going off on a tangent. Six months later you wake up and realize, “Wait! You mean I haven’t hiked since July 4th?!”
“Yup! That’s right, Michael.” (This is my conscience talking, in case you didn’t know.) “It’s been awhile. Something’s gonna snap if you don’t do something about it.”
Hmm. I wonder if my conscience really talks like that. Anyway….
Fortunately, the weather couldn’t have been more agreeable for a day hike. It was 52 degrees and sunny at the trailhead. The sky was clear, blue, and bright. Having lost my trail legs from inactivity, I decided to take the rather flat Park Creek Trail at Standing Indian and amble along the beautiful Upper Nantahala River.
Inactivity. It’s an insidious thing, you know. It builds up. At first you tell yourself I’ll go next weekend, but it never happens and, before you know it, too many weekends pass by like posts in your social media feed.
Anyway, the parking lot at the Backcountry Info Center was packed – the most cars I’ve seen in a long while. Being the end of a beautiful three day weekend, I imagine most of the people had been there since Friday, backpacking around the Appalachian Trail. They’d be heading back soon enough for their long drive back to Atlanta, or Charlotte, or to wherever they call home.
Surprisingly, with all of those cars, we didn’t pass a single soul on the trail. We had it all to ourselves.
The beautiful Upper Nantahala River in Standing Indian Basin.
For me, I definitely reach a point when it’s been too long since my last hike. If I’m being honest with myself, I probably reached that point months ago. When this happens, all I can think about is hitting a trail. My brain shouts, “Enough!” It starts resisting me, sabotaging me, playing little games with my thoughts. It causes me to be forgetful, distracted, OTL (which means “out to lunch”, as in mentally checked out, in case you didn’t know this one).
I’ll find myself standing in the middle of someplace, daydreaming about Silers Bald or Rufus Morgan Falls, then waking up and wondering what the hell am I doing in the kitchen?
Maybe you experience something similar?
We ended up doing 5 miles – a quick out and back, stopping frequently to sit by the river and take in the sights and sounds or gobble some trail mix. Our dog, Phyto, could hardly contain his enthusiasm for being on the trail – or in the water – either. He never stopped grinning.
My conscience has a not so subtle way – kind of like a kick in the head – of saying, “You’re lost. Slow down. Reconnect to what’s important, my friend. So, listen up! Get your ass on the trail…or else….”
I know. My conscience sounds like a big bully, doesn’t it? It’s right, though. I’m always more relaxed, more productive, more creative, more focused, in fact, happier when I’m hiking regularly.
The Blue-blazed bridge over Park Creek, which flows into the Nantahala River.
So out I went. After a string of beautiful winter days I said enough is enough. I don’t care if I have work to do. I’m going hiking! And as I was getting ready to go, I suddenly remembered a poem by Richard Le Gallienne, who, by the way, celebrated his 149th birthday on the January 20th, entitled, “I Meant To Do My Work Today.”
Oh no! It’s not what you may be thinking. It’s not an ode for slackers; people who shirk their duties. Au contraire, mon ami! It’s a call to action. An invitation to awaken from the industrial wasteland. A ballad for the call of the wild rather than the inharmonious sound of a 9 to 5 punch clock.
I imagine people like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson and people with similar sensibilities would wholeheartedly line up with the sentiment of this poem.
Here’s it is…
I meant to do my work today—
But a brown bird sang in the apple tree,
And a butterfly flitted across the field,
And all the leaves were calling me.
And the wind went sighing over the land,
Tossing the grasses to and fro,
And a rainbow held out its shining hand—
So what could I do but laugh and go?
“So what could I do but laugh and go?” Amazing day! It felt good to be out.
I’ve known this poem since I was 7 years old, but the older I get, the more I understand the message it’s conveying. The sentiment gets stuck in my brain, demanding I listen…and take action.
But never more! From now on, when I hear the call, my only option will be to “laugh and go.” This is no longer just a poem. This is my anthem.
See ya on the trail!
What’s it like for you after a long spell of not hiking? How do you get your hiking mojo back? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
It’ll never be the same again. Sure you’re standing in the same spot, in the same scenic overlook, but you’ll never experience the same view.
And that’s what makes Winding Stair Gap so magical.
The light changes, the clouds change, the shadows, the seasons, the color of the sky and the color of the leaves change. Thousands – maybe millions – of variables determine what you’re going to see on any visit to Winding Stair Gap.
You can stop everyday and see a completely different vista, a different mood, a different place. A single magical moment where all the variables come together to produce YOUR unique view; your once in a lifetime view…because it’ll never look like that again.
Winding Stair Gap, on Hwy 64, is much more than a way point between Franklin and Murphy, NC. It’s a destination all on its own.
And should you ever have the opportunity to stop, you should. Take it all in. Take a photo. Send a copy of your pic to me – if you want – and I’ll add it to the Winding Stair Gap Photo Gallery along with any new pics I take.
Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
In the meantime, enjoy these magical views….
An early spring morning at Winding Stair Gap.
Harvest Moon rising over Winding Stair Gap.
Before the storm…
This fabulous pic of Winding Stair Gap was submitted by Mark Zemmin. Thanks, Mark!
This sunrise photo of Winding Stair Gap was submitted by Mark Zemmin. Thanks, Mark!
The brilliant blue sky of a cold January morning at Winding Stair Overlook.
Alright, I’ll be the first to admit it. This may be a little more existential than most people are ready for…BUT – and this is a big but – I’m certain I’m not the only person to have moments like this, especially in the wilderness.
Anyway. I love fall! I love the colors. I love the cooler temperatures. I love the crisp, clear blue skies. And I love the sound of walking through fallen leaves.
Our foliage is nowhere near peak right now – still lots of green in the mountains – and if not brilliant, it promises to be a good year.
I finally got to go for a walk in the woods, first time in a while, and it was the best day ever. Resting next to a bold stream, I found a deep, calm pool below a tiny waterfall. Brightly colored leaves were dancing an endless ballet, telling a story of unseen forces, in the constantly changing eddies.
In fact, if it weren’t for the leaves you would never know there were invisible currents below the surface. Much like life itself.
How could you not take pause to reflect at such a beautiful spot…at such a perfect moment?
This is, for me, what I like to call an “all is well” moment. My life works when I’m in the woods, taking time to notice what’s around me. My thoughts become clearer. My creativity soars. My spirit is renewed. And I come out more refreshed, more focused, more relaxed.
It’s the very reason why I hike so much.
Take time to find your “all is well” moments within nature. It’ll change your life and you’ll never be the same person again.
I’d love to hear what renews your spirit. Maybe it’s a gorgeous view, sitting under the largest tree in the forest or meditating on a lone boulder. I don’t know…whatever. Give us an idea in the comments section.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long…nearly nine months. But it’s not like I haven’t thought about it practically every day since the hike.
I guess some things just need time to process.
It was my youngest son’s birthday; his thirteenth. That’s an important day for most kids – “Woohoo! I’m a teenager!” – and a pretty significant “coming of age” birthday in many cultures.
I wanted to get it right.
This is my buddy, River. He’s always game for a hike.
My youngest son, River, is a good kid and I wanted to do something special for him; one of those memorable father and son things you hope your kid never forgets. Only time will tell if I accomplished this…for him. I mean, I know I’ll never forget that day.
It had to be something fun and exciting; something more than just a gift. It had to be something special so we could use code words and wink at each other like we had a secret. And it had to be something where I could weave in the talk – you know, as in, THE talk. He’s thirteen after all.
Then it came to me. A hike! What a great way to spend the day – dirt, snakes, creeks, backpacks and, best of all, no Xbox, no TV, no distractions and no girls. (No offense, ladies, but you can’t have THE talk with a girl around.)
I remember when I got THE talk. Everything was very serious. “Sit down, son. It’s time we have the talk.” It was heavy, significant, mysterious, cold and clinical. There was no room for levity. Both my parents were present and there were things I wanted to ask that I wasn’t comfortable asking around my mom.
You understand, don’t you?
The Upper Nantahala River at Standing Indian, Nantahala National Forest
Anyway, I wanted something different for my son. It was going to be a conversation – not a talk. It was going to be safe for him to explore any topic. I was going to listen to him as much as I spoke.
Making it part of a fun activity seemed like the perfect way to approach it.
Since it was his day, he was part of the planning process – although I reserved a few surprises for him. He chose Standing Indian for our hike. It’s not very crowded and there are tons of trails to choose from.
For my part, I read about “rites of passage” in different cultures; what they did and what it all meant. And I think I came up with a good plan.
Besides our hike, my plan included some fun things, a surprise picnic and some extra special snacks – you can never have too much food for a teenage boy.
I polished my talking points; the things I wanted to cover. And I made room in the plan for spontaneity.
But I still had to come up with the perfect gift – a gift that would be the BEST GIFT EVAH.
Finding this bear print was one of the big highlights of our hike.
It finally dawned on me. I scrounged around looking for my old pocket knives. He’s wanted a pocket knife for years, but his mother kept telling him he needs to be a little older. I would have given it to him when he was ten – that’s when my dad gave me my first pocket knife, but that’s another story.
I didn’t mention the pocket knife to my wife. You know the old adage, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Besides, he had to be old enough sooner or later.
His birthday finally came. It was the most beautiful November day I’ve ever seen. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the leaves were still in color.
My son, River, decided he would like to take the path that followed the Upper Nantahala River. Now, before that lands on you like, “how apropos,” I don’t think it had anything to do with his name. The trail is flat. He’s not much into hiking up mountains…yet.
After 45 minutes, we came upon a nice spot in the river – rapids upstream, slow moving pool downstream and a fairly level rocky, sandy area.
I wanted to ease into my talking points. Give him a chance to play, let loose and be a boy before I talked to him about being a man. So we poked around here and there, exploring the sand bar. We collected some garbage that someone else left behind, found a big bear print and I taught him how to skip stones on the water.
The Main Event
Eventually we sat down on some boulders to watch the water dance through the rapids. Quiet time.
At one point he put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re welcome. The big one-three. Know what that means,” I asked?
“Yep. We’re gonna have THE talk.” And he smiled at me as if to say, “I’m ready.”
And that’s how it began; me wondering how he knew we were going to have THE talk.
It turned out easier than I thought. Being prepared helped a lot, I’m sure. And my son’s disarming humor and charm certainly lightened things up.
We talked about responsibility – both to himself, his family and his community. I answered his questions about what it means to be a man – to the best of my ability since I’m still figuring it out myself.
He asked questions about all the changes going on with his body. And, yes, we even talked about sex, love and relationships.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I pulled out a handful of pocket knives. His eyes got as big as a harvest moon. I said, “You’re ready. Pick one.” He looked at all of them, touched them, opened them, turned them around in his hand and finally chose one.
Guess which one River chose?
He suddenly sat straighter. He seemed taller. His shoulders suddenly got broader. He batted his eyes, fighting back the overwhelming sense to cry. He doesn’t know, yet, grown men cry too. I forgot to mention that in THE talk.
He gave me a big hug and said, “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, my heart melted as I said, “I love you too.”
River jumped up and hopped around the sandbar, whooping and hollering. He just couldn’t contain the excitement any longer.
Turning back to me, he said, “Let’s go home. I can’t wait to show Mom my new pocket knife.”
I swallowed hard. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
See ya’ on the trail,
I’d love to hear how you’ve handled or plan to handle this special time for your children. Let me know in the comment section.
Yes, but…this isn’t the hiker trash we’re talking about today.
Now, wait! Before you have a hissy fit over the possibility of being called “Hiker Trash,” you first have to understand, it’s really a term of endearment. In a way…sort of.
I guess it depends on how it’s used and who’s saying it to you.
It’s kind of like “biatch,” or “homey.” Your friends can call you a name like this – “What’s up, biatch? Love the dress.” But, your enemies better not.
Hikers can – and often do – affectionately refer to each other as hiker trash – “What’s up, hiker trash? Love the kilt.”
But, it’s not cool when townspeople call them hiker trash.
“Why, dagnabit, you hiker trash better git outta town. You smell like you ain’t bathed in days.” True as it may be, this is an insult and not how the term “hiker trash” ought to be used.
So for our purposes, consider ourselves sitting around a campfire together, trail friends and hiking buddies. Embrace your hiker trashiness. Own up to it because, like it or not, you are or have displayed the essence of hiker trash in the past.
No worries! You’re in good company. I’m hiker trash and proud of it. I know many others who are too. We have more in common than you might think.
So how do you know if you’re hiker trash?
You Might be Hiker Trash if…
You’ve spent a cold or rainy night in the restroom of a state park.
Hiker Trash “seeking shelter from the wind and rain in this pit toilet.” Photo courtesy of Diane Soini. Read the rest of the story at http://santabarbarahikes.com.
You consider it perfectly normal to go weeks without bathing.
You’ve stopped shaving to save weight in your pack.
You’ve diced Spam or Vienna Sausages into your Kraft Mac & Cheese.
You’ve repackaged the food you just bought into zip-loc baggies in front of the store.
You’ve ever searched a trail town looking for packs of condiments.
You’ve cut the excess handle off your toothbrush to save weight.
You’ve begged food from strangers in State Parks.
You know exactly how much everything in your pack weighs down to the ounce.
You’ve spent the last day before a trail town talking about nothing else but food.
You have, or have had, duct tape somewhere on your body.
You woke up at Trail Days in Damascus and you can’t remember how you got there.
Your friends use your trail name – even when you’re not hiking.
You have the initials of some long trail tattooed on your body.
“Ha ha the 5 second rule. It’s the free candy rule to me. I was hiking
with my boyfriend, who was visiting me for a weekend while I was hiking
the PCT, him in front. We stopped by a lake to rest. I asked if he had
seen an M&M in the trail earlier. He said he had. Then he looked at me
and said, You ate it, didn’t you? Yep. I ate all the candy I found in
the trail. Once I found sweet-tarts in the trail. Score! Once I found a
Snickers bar on a bus. Big score!