By Leilah Grace
My feet were damp, cooling quickly inside my wet shoes with my stoppage of movement, but the peace of the trail, the blue sky and the strength of the rocks compelled me to stop. Six miles of snow, slush, and a cooling breeze on a mid- April hike in the Appalachians found me questioning my choice of location, yet the peace I found in that moment was healing. Every drive to the trail that gives me a glimpse of the ancient Appalachians I am filled with a quiet power. The Appalachians speak of quiet power and peace, while the Cascades of Oregon give strength, power, and protection. Each mountain range calls to me, each provides me a different gift.
My hike in the snow and sunshine in April in Pennsylvania was reflective of my hikes around Crater Lake in Oregon in May 2021. Sunshine, snow, and a brightness that only comes from hiking in the snow while the sun glows and it is warm enough to hike without the layers required in winter. Spread nearly a year apart the hikes mimicked each other and yet were separate and different. As I hiked the slushy ascent of the mountain, I reflected that there was nothing quite like the Appalachian Trail to make even the most fit person feel out of shape. My feet squelched through the slush and snow, sliding over hidden rocks, as my lungs expanded more to maintain a conversation with Rue and fuel my body. We laughed at the differences in our locations with him on the west coast hiking sections of desert on the Pacific Crest Trail and then the snowy mountain summits of the San Jacintos and me in a surprisingly snowy Appalachian section. As our call ended and my feet continued to struggle to find purchase I recalled the road walks and small hikes I made last May around Crater Lake. In ever awe of the crisp blue water, the sun blinding me and burning me off the snowpack I knew I was in a place of a magic and power. The strength of the Cascades provided a protection that the Appalachians did not, maybe they could not. Peace was offered within both mountain ranges, but different vibrations.
A hike in the Appalachians grounds me, connects me, and provides a temporary peace. It is a place to grow, release, and renew. As I stood there in my wet shoes I was overcome with the ancient peace and magic of the Pennsylvania Appalachians, something much needed in the turbulence that has been my personal life for 6 weeks. It reached into me and released the tension, the rest of the hike lighter now lighter than the previous miles. My hikes in the Cascades brought peace and protection, and a sense of familiarity that I have never quite felt in the Appalachians, despite having lived a majority of my years among them. The mountains of the west were simply different, yet I knew them too. I knew the bends of the trail, the pine needles, and the dusty steps I took, just as I knew the snowy peaks of the Cascades, despite having never been among them before. It was not a homecoming, but an inner knowing. Each coast, each range, has provided me with different gifts, some short term, some more permanent. It’s the beauty of hiking, of adventuring, of exploring the outdoors. It is in these sacred spaces we discover not only the beauty of nature, but the beauty within ourselves.