Sunday, June 17, 2012

A New Woman

High Rock on Bad Branch
If you asked if I could hike over 10 miles in one day last month, I would have laughed in your face. You've got to be kidding... ME hike 10 miles in one day? When I was in college working as a camp counselor we did a 5 mile hike and I thought I would die before we got back.

And did I mention my fear of heights?

Bad Branch Waterfall
But I did just that and more last week at the Lucy Braun Forestry Workshop at Pine Mountain Settlement School. The first day we hiked around Bad Branch (named for the sulphur smelling water - "branch" being another word for water or creek), then up to the Bad Branch Waterfall. This isn't a closeup photo of the falls, because once we got high enough, you had to climb down large boulders to get a clear view, and I had just enough strength to go back down to the van. The best photo we saw of the waterfall was actually taken from a helicopter!

The day we hiked through Blanton Forest we went to the top where all the rocks are sandstone, and over the eons, large chunks of sandstone have fallen from the top to be wedged in odd angles along the mountainside.

In fact, it was named the Rock Maze, and I think our guides pulled a fast one on us here. When climbing trails, I just followed the person before me, while looking closely at my footsteps to make sure I didn't trip. Suddenly, all I saw were huge boulders. Ben, our leader was nowhere to be found, only Bucky, Val and Pam were with us. We had to decide whether to squeeze through a hole, or try to find a way to climb over or around the rocks. Remember, I'm an old lady with short legs. I have trouble clambering over tall rocks.

"If we get to the other side of all this and I see an escalator," I warned, "I'm going to push someone off the mountain!" I fully expected to find Ben taking his ease after using the shortcut that no one showed me.

"Oh My God! There is no way to get down off this boulder! My legs don't reach the other side, and there's nothing to hold on to for sliding on my butt!" One of the guides told me to put my feet in her hands. "Is this some sort of team building exercise? Do you make corporate executives pay lots of money to do this?" I demanded.

Well, it worked, and I got safely through the maze. The reward on the other side was an enormous sandstone overhang. I kept looking for Ayla and Jondalar from the Clan of the Cave Bear series. There should have been prehistoric people living in this large dry shelter, but how in the world would they have gotten up and down it with game every day?

The other reward was finding rare plants, such as this roundleaf catchfly which ONLY grows in dry sandstone overhangs! The team building was terrific, because I still needed the team's help to get back down - it was just as steep on the other side.

I learned that by just getting out there and doing it, I can accomplish more than I ever imagined. Over the four days, we hiked around 30 miles all together. And I'm not embarrassed to ask for help when I need it. We've talked about a trip like this for years, and can now cross it off our bucket list. Give it a try yourself sometime! It'll make you new woman!

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