In the fall, I seized upon an opportunity that I inadvertently stumbled across whilst googling
“bucket list” “inexpensive midwest usa bucket list”.
In a trifecta of awesomeness, I found an adventure that is completely in my husbands wheelhouse, won the hard-to-get reservation lottery at the destination, and planned it as a surprise getaway weekend for us. Adventure dating… it might be Brad’s love language.
What is this awesomeness? I arranged for us to have an overnight stay at LeConte Lodge in Tennessee, inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (If you are a hiker/outdoor enthusiast and you haven’t heard of LeConte Lodge, you’re welcome.)
The reading and researching continued… the anticipation of such trips is fun for me. I learned that there were five different trails that lead up to the top of Mount LeConte, and they ranged in distance from 5.5 miles to 8 miles. In my mind, I was envisioning a hike… which is essentially walking… for that distance. No problem. I can do that even with 1 1/2 lungs. (Haha!)
What I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to was the elevation at the base of the climb versus the elevation at the top of the climb. The elevation gain for our hike was 3820 feet, culminating at the top of Mount LeConte, which sits at 6593 feet and is the highest peak in the Great Smoky National Park.
After the trip, I was explaining to Chief Sister how it was harder than I had expected. Her response, “Um, yes Jen. There is a major difference between a hike and a summit. You summited a mountain.” Darn sister–so wise!
Because I am a total procrastinator, I began digging into the details of the trip about three weeks before the actual trip (3/28-3/29). The “reservation lottery” I won dictated the date: the first opening Saturday night of the March to November LeConte season. As Brad and I began reading up on the adventure, we realized that this was not going to be “spring hiking down south in Tennessee”. All of the pictures/blogs from LeConte in March show snow. Yikes. Um, I was not prepared for this. A further look at the forecast showed even-colder-than-normal temperatures. I decided to focus on the fact that at least there would be no rain: it would either be dry or snowy. Wet and cold is the worst, right?
Our accommodation — a very rustic cabin — accommodated four, so we had a think and a pray about who would like to do an outdoor adventure with us. It’s funny because it’s one of those things where you’re either thinking yes that sounds amazing, or no that is a nightmare. There is very little in-between when it comes to cold temperature and a serious
hike summit. We ended up sharing the adventure with new old friends; we’ve known of each other and been around each other, but this was the first time we got to spend a lot of time together. They are authentic, funny, and good-spiritied. It was perfect. Brad and I are still laughing about how they may never hang out with us again after such an intensely physical (and beautiful, and scenic, and refreshing), but still it-was-a-really-hard-hiking weekend.
We drove down from Cincinnati on Friday, stayed in a hotel, and made our way to the trailhead on Saturday morning. Along the way, we stopped at an outdoor store because I forgot my hat, Brad wanted some hiking gloves, and the local experts recommended we get ice cleats to strap to our hiking boots. Let me reiterate again that this is outside my comfort zone: ice cleats??? Are you kidding me?
At the bottom of the trail there were dustings of snow, and it steadily got snowier as we climbed. We wore relatively thin layers since we were carrying heavy packs and, ahem, sweating our way to the top. This made our stops and rests quite short because, with temperatures in the 20s, we got cold quickly when we stopped moving. It added to the physical intensity; we ate granola bars and almonds on the move.
A challenge for all of us was that there weren’t many indicators of distance along the way. We all were doing rough estimations and calculations and surveying the peaks around us as we climbed to ascertain how far we’d come and how far we had yet to go. I’d say for the last 2 miles of our 6.6 mile hike, we were all thinking “we’re almost there.” The hardest mental moment of the trip was when we got to the sign that said, “LeConte Lodge 0.6 miles ahead” with an arrow pointing to a trail that was seriously steep. We all used the last of our hutzpah to make it up that last point six.
(See the ice-and-snow-covered trail? That’s why the ice cleats were necessary!) There was probably about eight inches of snow on the ground at the top of the mountain.
Wow, it felt good to make it to the top.
I really enjoyed pushing my body to the limit of what it is capable of, and I demanded a lot of my body this particular weekend. My scars and overall health did not limit my exertion. My calves were so sore from good old-fashioned hard work that the following week I felt like a hobbit. My soul was rejuvenated by the conversation and scenery. My mind was renewed as it was as much a mental battle to scale the mountain (especially that last point six) as it was a physical challenge, and I (we) emerged victorious.
Adventure dating… I do believe my husband is on to something!
No testing has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so you can stand up under it. –1 Corinthians 10:13