Can You Hear Me Now? Disconnecting Phones, Hiking Stone Door, & Getting Real For A Sec

“I really think that being in nature is a basic human need that we have.  It gives us perspective because, when you walk into the woods, or walk through the desert or sit by a river, you realize that you’re only one thing in the great order of things….I know for certain that I myself get incredibly bound up in very minor, ridiculous, temporary conundrums.  And obviously there’s nothing wrong with that. I think we have to get bound up in those things….But if you only live in that realm, you are missing out on something that’s essential and illuminating.”  
Cheryl Strayed in a recent LA Times article discussing her new book Brave Enough
One thing in the great order of things…
I get really frustrated when I sit in front of the TV.  I grew up in a home without cable and never had it myself until I got married and it was part of the binding contract that came with my husband.  For him, watching TV is a way to unwind after the daily labor of his very physical job.  But for me, the more I watch TV, the more I hate it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love BBC shows and could sit for days on end engrossed in proper murder mysteries, period dramas, and reruns of QI…but in the end, the TV is a killer of creativity, a way to ignore the world around us, and a silencer of communication with other human beings.  If we didn’t have one in our house, I wouldn’t miss it (well, except maybe for movies).  In fact, more and more I am noticing the dearth of conversation created by the screens in our home.  Our phones get more face time with us than we do with ourselves sometimes.  I’ve heard of people setting limits on screen time in their homes and I think it’s wise to be aware of the way technology is changing the way we live and interact with each other.  I am a little disgusted with myself over the internal panic that happens when I realize I’ve left my phone at home on a grocery run.  There is a false sense of connectedness that comes with a cell phone.  The problem is that no matter how much you text someone, if you aren’t having meaningful conversation with that person at some point, you are living in a superficial relationship devoid of actual connection with that individual.
This past weekend, we headed out into nature again in another godforsaken part of TN, and it was a relief to put my phone in airplane mode when we realized we had no service.  This, of course, isn’t awesome when you’re trying to get in touch with someone, or need GPS, or have an emergency in the woods…but it is nice to not even have the option of distraction by technology when you’re meant to be appreciating the vastness of the natural world around you.  Sitting around a campfire is much more rewarding when you are actually talking to the people you’re with as opposed to distractedly half-listening to them while looking at the latest Facebook posts.  There was a sense of reluctant sadness when we finally reached the point of having service and the texts, emails, and notifications started rolling in.  I think that lately, being immersed in nature on these weekend jaunts has been a way to reconnect with the neglected parts of myself that have become hidden in daily life, the house work, the job, marriage, the striving that we constantly have to deal with.
 Our home away from home
When it’s you, the trees, and the sound of your own footsteps, things occasionally loom into perspective.  I enjoy going into the woods alone, but I really love when Rob comes along too because there’s the sense of accomplishing something together, working toward an end goal and making discoveries along the way.  This weekend, my body was humbled by the trails at the Stone Door in South Cumberland State Park.  We ended up making a 12ish mile loop by taking the Stone Door trail to Big Creek Gulf Trail to Ranger Creek Falls, then on to Greeter Falls, and returning via the Big Creek Rim trail.  The gulf trail was peppered with moments of astounding beauty – dry river beds strewn with mossy boulders, waterfalls, brilliant colors that stood out in the damp weather, and ascents that set the heart pounding and the legs on fire.
 Entrance to the Stone Door
The Stone Door – a passageway used by the Native Americans
 Ranger Creek Falls
 Greeter Falls Trail
 Upper Greeter Falls

This is probably the most challenging trail we’ve done in terms of inclines, even compared to those in Colorado.  The last three miles on the way back, the muscles behind my left knee were in a lot of pain and I’m still not sure what I did to it because I was completely fine the next morning, but seriously, I wanted to sit on a log in the woods and cry for a minute.  It also rained for a good two miles, but in spite of the knee pain and ill timed precipitation, I kept looking up through the reds and oranges of fall and feeling so utterly blessed to be tiny ants marching along in the forest.
Pippin, the ranger station cat, leads a life of badassness and feline adventure in the wilds of Tennessee.
 Myrle and Maddox enjoy the comforts of our down sleeping bags, preferring that we have the adventures and they have the naps.
A couple of things to note about hiking and camping because my dad accused me of making it all sound so rosy, so I’m going to get real at the end of this blog after you’ve seen all the pretty pictures that make it worth the journey…
  • Sometimes a trail is really hard and you’re in the middle of it and want to die.  Or feel like you’re going to die.  Because you’re breathing so heavily on an ascent and then you try to take a drink of water and realize you can’t breathe and drink water at the same time, so you have to make up for that after a sip and you end up sounding like you’re being strangled, but really you’re just trying to not die.
  • Sometimes you hear a trail is nice and then you go hike it and it’s flat and boring, and you realize you just wasted 6 miles of your life to walk a flat, boring trail with no views.
  • Sometimes you get blisters or your feet really, really hurt after you’ve walked a lot of miles and you want to throw your hiking shoes over a cliff, like Reese Witherspoon in Wild, but then you realize you need those shoes to finish the 5 miles you have left.
  • People are smelly.  YOU are smelly.  After you hike and sweat and sleep in a tent for a few nights and go to the bathroom in the woods for days on end, you smell like a garbage dumpster and look like one too.  I take wet wipes and hand sanitizer and a big headband for my gross, frizzy hair, but there’s only so much one can do when a shower isn’t available.  This is the reality of the human condition.  We are disgusting.
  • Wildlife can scare you sometimes, whether it be a bear, snake, moose, deer, chipmunk, spider, or leaf you thought was a giant bug.  We’ve seen lots of wildlife on our hikes this year.  Some of it scared the crap out of us and some of it was totally awesome (or both).  Be wise, carry bear spray in appropriate situations, realize you’re on their turf now, and deal with that in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
  • Injuries can happen, which sucks.  The best thing to do is have a first aid kit and to assess the situation with wisdom and smarts.  Every root, stump, rock, and slippery leaf poses the risk of a fall, so step carefully.  Remember that states like New Hampshire, Colorado, and Utah now have hiker cards you can purchase in case you need to be rescued.  These cards will keep you from incurring most of the financially crippling costs that are associated with search and rescue operations.

In my opinion, the benefits of being in nature outweigh these things.  There is just too much beauty out there to be chased after, so yeah, it’s rosy in some ways, and totally nasty in other ways…a lot like life.

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