By Leilah Grace
When the trail calls she can be relentless; she begins with a whisper in your ear and ends with a ruthless roaring. The call to the trail vibrates and reverberates throughout my body, driving and pulling me towards each section. Sunday October 17th it called me back to the beginning, to the place where I turned from hiker to backpacker, Lehigh Gap Pennsylvania. After that initial trip I vowed to never return to that section of the Appalachian Trail until my thru-hike, that rocky section scared me, intimidated me. There were so many memories woven into that section that birthed me into a backpacker, that I did not have the courage and strength to face those rocks and memories together, yet the trail pounded at me to return. From the first moments on the trail I saw the echoes of myself, the struggles of coordinating pack, poles, a steep incline, and a partner lightly flitting up ahead. As I hiked north and ascended out of the gap I had moments to reflect on the changes, the differences, the growth that have occurred over the past 2.5 years since that initial trip.
As the trail climbed upward and wound its way up the anxiety mounted knowing that there was a rock face coming soon, one that would challenge me. Rounding the corner and seeing the wall of rock I knew was coming found me shaking and wondering why I had been called to this place, not simply called, but demanded. On the drive north I resisted the call, parked across the river and attempted to hike on the opposing mountain, yet with every glance I knew I was in the wrong place, knew I was avoiding my actual calling, I returned to my car and drove to the appropriate parking area and found my way. Standing at the base of the face I wanted to cry, yet I turned my feet around, faced the wall and took a deep breath after attaching my poles to my pack. Hands unencumbered I began to climb, heart pounding with each hold, reminding myself to breathe, to release the breath and soon found myself repeating a mantra “You are safe, you are strong, you can do this. I am safe, I am strong, I can do this.” Palms sweating, heart beating and the route steering me to the right with no easily visible moves to direct me up I felt the waves of panic crashing about me. In that moment my internal mantra became external, and I found a tiny ledge to perch upon and breathe. With a few breaths I could bring down the anxiety and fear, and with a few more sentences of self-coaching I could see the route up. All it had required was a change of perspective, seeing outside of my tunnel vision. Two more hand placements and my knee and then foot were on the top of the wall, mission accomplished.
The tears fell. Tears of joy, tears of accomplishment, tears of strength, courage, and determination. It was a reminder that I am strong, capable, independent; that I am enough.