With the exception of golf courses, the northern suburbs of Atlanta is a difficult place for someone who loves to walk. In particular, where we’re staying there aren’t a ton of sidewalks connecting one strip mall to another industrial park. Instead, sidewalks sort of start and stop around housing developments, or are only along four-lane, congested highways. So for this month while we’re in Atlanta, we’re making due with the tiny little gym in the hotel and driving a few minutes away to a park with a paved loop in the evenings.
On Friday, when Evan had the whole day off, we made the most of it and headed up into the Chattahoochee National Forest. Ninety minutes north and out of cell phone service, we came to Blood Mountain. It has a considerably more intimidating name than the mountain we used to hike in Maryland, Sugar Loaf. Blood Mountain was also about four-times higher than Sugar Loaf Mountain. (Not that we started at the bottom of either; we usually aim for five-mile loops no matter where we’re hiking.)
We weren’t entirely sure where the trail head parking was, so we stopped at Neel’s Gap to get our bearings. Both Neel’s Gap and Blood Mountain are along the first thirty miles of the Appalachian Trail (or “AT,” the trail that stretches over 2000 miles from Georgia to Maine). At Neel’s gap, there is a tree full of old hiking boots, probably 500 pairs with their laces tied hanging in the tree.
I think it’s probably part of celebrating the end of that immense journey along the eastern sea board. The Appalachian Trail is intense: I have a few friends who’ve completed the AT, know of one blogger who is doing it with her family right now ), and a few years ago Evan read (and immensely enjoyed) Bill Bryson’s account A Walk in the Woods. I was very much satisfied to walk along the AT for a few miles, and my respect for those who would commit six months to navigating the trail only grew.
It was a beautiful hike, with a tiny waterfall at the beginning, vibrant orange azalea blossoms, waxy rhododendrons, delicate hemlocks, and tall tulip poplars.
The boulders, warning signs about bears, poison ivy, and rumblings of thunder half way through the hike were reminders of why something so beautiful wasn’t overly crowded. Nature is wild. For some reason it’s mostly the idea of wild animals that can freak me out and cause my heart to race a little.
I remember being younger, when my family would go to Ontario, Canada, and I would stay home from a fishing trip and hear rustling outside the cabin. We have seen bears in camp only twice, so I knew it was not all that common, but even so, my heart would race, and I would (since I was all alone) just start to pray the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 out loud, until the rustling went away and my heart would calm. Last year, when we went to Yellowstone as a family, the idea of bears was also pretty frightening. I found myself praying those same prayers, silently since my family was always hiking with me, over and over. My mom was more concerned about the wolves in Yellowstone. And the truth of the matter is that it’s the buffalo- induced traffic accidents that are actually the most dangerous thing in Yellowstone. It also helped that my family members had bear spray.
But that’s of course the way with fear and anxiety. It isn’t always based on what is actually dangerous: for us on Friday it was driving up the mountain curves. But what fears there are seem to attach to what seems the most frightening: bears and wolves and lightning.
Unlike in Yellowstone, this time we didn’t see any bears, and for the most part I found that I wasn’t burdened by worrying about them. Perhaps, it was because I was more trusting and at peace. Or perhaps it was just that it was the rocky and steady upward climb that took most of my focus. But bears are a part of hikes, as are poison ivy, and thunder, and bee stings, and strange other hikers. We should be smart about those dangers. We need to think about where we keep food, having a plan if we see a bear, keeping our eyes open, and going at the right times. But even with all that, we can’t totally erase the danger, or our fears.
There is some risk inherently involved with being out in the world. On Blood Mountain they are very physical manifestations of danger, but off the mountain they are no less real. Whether seeking a life where you savor beauty on a mountain side or choosing to rest on a Sunday afternoon when there is pressure to do more work faster, life is an adventure that is full of risks. Moving to Milwaukee wasn’t a safe choice, even if it was a good choice. Just like hiking on Blood Mountain isn’t the safest choice, even though it’s a good choice. A good life isn’t a life without risk. A good life has risks that are acknowledged, but not anxiously dwelt upon. It’s a balance we might not always get right, but it’s worth working on. A hike on the mountain—even with the bears and the poison ivy and the thunder—is beautiful.
How do you balance risk and adventure in your life?
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