On a beautiful Saturday morning, sunny and warm, my boyfriend, my dog, and I packed our respective bags and drove to Danbury, North Carolina. The drive was pleasant, on country roads surrounded by the green and golden fields of late summer. I snapped a few pictures of the adorable dog sitting on the passenger floor between my legs, and my boyfriend, Ben, ever the romantic, decided to participate in his favorite activity, finding the balance between angering me and amusing me. He took on a silly persona, and would not let it go for the better part of an hour. By the time he tired of it I was actually getting sick of it, or maybe he’d noticed the beginnings of my actual annoyance.
After an hour of driving the car went through gates made of painted wood and mountain rocks, the traditional entrance to a national park. The drive partially up the mountain was winding and shady; trees stretched high over the road prettily.
Looking out the window, I admitted, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it.”
“You’ll be able to do it.” Ben assured me. I petted Brie.
Once we entered the parking lot by the trailhead, I noticed a sign advertising a farmer’s market from eleven to two. We decided to attend on our way back.
After a quick bathroom visit, during which I waited in line much too long and knocked over the “Caution: Wet Floor” sign on my way out of the bathroom (Hello, my name is Grace, and it’s spelled I-R-O-N-I-C), we headed to the trailhead.
The beginning of the trail was paved, then quickly became gravel. The path rose and fell at extreme angles. My calves burned on the way up, and some muscles I’d been previously unaware of in my feet were aching and burning from the effort of attempting to cling on to something, anything at all.
I stopped every once in awhile to take a picture, and Ben, who had Brie on a leash, stopped every once in awhile for her. We steadily made our way up the mountain. Suddenly, there were long, wooden stairs ahead. I groaned internally, but we climbed.
“Stairs are so much worse than just walking uphill.” Said Ben.
“Yeah. Whoever designed this trail and put these in should be fired.” I responded. “Are we done yet?” I panted further upward.
But after the stairs was another monster. I looked up, and all I could see was rock, up and up and up, for awhile. My breathing became shallow and quick, and my heart began to sprint. They were almost vertical, these large, mostly flat rocks loosely in the formation of stairs. Luckily, Ben noticed my panic.
“Come here, off the trail.” He said, stepping over to a rock-seat off the path with Brie in tow.
I was still in my spot just off the path. “No, no, I should do it.” I looked up at the steep steps. “I should do it now before my courage fails me.”
“Love, come on.” His voice was gentle and coaxing. “Come sit a minute.” After I continued to hesitate, he said, “I need a rest. Come join me.”
I slowly made my way to the rock. I sat and petted Brie in anxious silence. “I’m just scared of coming back down.”
“It’s okay, love, it’s okay.” Ben pointed out a middle-aged couple slowly and steadily
working their way up the stairs. “See? They’re doing it, at their own pace. You can do it. You can go as slow as you like. As slow as you need to go.”
“I have a problem with looking at the whole of a situation, instead of the smaller, more manageable parts.” I took a deep, slightly shaky breath. “But you’re right. I just have to do it one step at a time.”
“Exactly. And as slowly as you need.”
“But what if I get in someone’s way?”
“Then you’ll step off the path for a moment.”
I was silent for a few seconds. “I’m going to hate myself if I don’t do this. I’m going to hate myself if we’ve come this far only to turn back. And I’m gonna hate myself for not finishing it.”
“So finish it.” He responded, not unkindly.
We climbed up the stairs and were rewarded with a small alcove of boulders with a decent view. I took Brie, and Ben climbed over to a boulder that jutted further out into the air. We rested there for a few minutes.
After a much easier, much shorter hike, we came through some trees and boulders to a panoramic view of the other mountains and the valley below. We sat on a ledge, myself far back, but the more adventurous Ben with his legs dangling from the rock, and ate the sandwiches we had packed, and I was glad we’d done it.