Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Summit atop the Dunes

Mountains-to-Sea Trail complete!!!

On Thursday, July 21st, I set out from Oregon Inlet Campground, made my way down the mosquito infested Bodie Dike trail passing wax myrtle and beach holly, glimpsing salt marsh ponds, a lighthouse in the distance, as well as an osprey nest perched atop a bare branched tree. Reaching the Bodie Island Lighthouse, I hit the beach, and this is where the party began. Donned in proper summit attire: bright violet beach shorts that showed off some killer tan lines, heart-shaped sunglasses, and a sparkly gold cowboy hat, all special items acquired during my trek, I did my 11m cat-walk with a permanent grin stretched across my face, waving to the many  beach-goers (some looking rather perplexed), and let the waves wash up over my shoes and ankles. The temps were the hottest they'd been since I hit the islands and the beaches were crowded, but the sand was nicely compacted, there was a light breeze, and I was in pure hiking bliss. Leaving the beach, I passed a Shell gas station and Taco Bell, rather surreal and again reminding me of how this trail is not only one of wilderness but of civiliazation and people. Around 2pm, I entered Jockey's Ridge State Park, met up with my friend Amanda and little girl, Claire, making my way 1/3 mile down a deep sand trail, and climbing the final summit of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.

A family that joined in my celebration, offering me an ice cold bottle of water and cheering me on when I was just 5m from the end: (not in order) John, Jesse, Mickey, Marvin, and Patrick. What a posse of fine bronzed men to be surrounded by! Thanks guys!

It was around 100degrees, with the sand at about 130degrees and the sun beating down upon bare rolling sand dunes as far as the eye could see. Once atop the dune, the sound could be seen to the west and the ocean along with the town of Nag's Head to the east. Haze lied thick on the horizon but the blue water still shown in bright contrast to the white sands of the dunes. It was an appropriate end to the MST with no blazes or markers to guide the way and not even a sign atop the summit dune.

Climbing the dunes of Jockey's Ridge State Park - the biggest climb I'd done since the beginning of the piedmont.

Had it not been for an awesome ranger named Lora, my friend Amanda with daughter Claire strapped on back and I would have walked off into the sunset of the seemingly endless dunes only to eventually reach the sound. I felt blessed to have a dear friend with me for my final steps and thought back to my first steps for which my father had joined me. I'd made the trek on my own but with strong support back home and with many helping hands I met along the way.

Me and Amanda (and Claire on back)  toasting our Sonic Strawberry Slushies courtesy of Ranger Lora

Claire - this little girl had the endurance of a hiker, hanging out for 2 days and 2 nights at the beach...however some fun in the ocean certainly made it worth it

Ranger Lora and Me - Lora and I had communicated through email thanks to Scott Ward (author of MST guidebook) who'd put us in touch when I expressed to him my concern of places to stay on the Outer Banks - thanks Scott! Lora spotted me as I was approaching the park and with big bagpack and all, figured it must be me! Thank you Lora!
 And so in the course of  10 1/2 weeks, my feet carried me from rock overhangs 1000's of feet above the valleys below...

to Ocean level where the waves lapped at my toes...

I watched the plants change from mountain trillium to roadside wild carrot to beach evening primrose. I savored wild greens in the early spring, and when the bugs emerged in the piedmont made good use of spit&chew plantain poultices, and marveled at the alien (to me) plants of the shore. Along the way, I came to realize something I think most all of us know deep down but often fail to acknowledge, that beauty is medicine as well. Not only does the earth offer us plants and water and soil and shelter by which to sustain our existence, but it also offers us the beauty of its rocky mountains, rolling hills, setting sun, morning mist, and waving marshland grasses. We live in a society where so many of us have little daily exposure to nature's ever-changing ever-giving colorful canvas, that it can be easy to go without, not notice, yet still know there's something missing. I think that 'something' could be simply this natural beauty. The gasp and thrill and awe of something so real and so pure and so ever-present, not only around us but inside of us, the very stuff of which we're made.Stunning vistas, quiet wooded paths, and crashing waves are our reminders, lest we begin to forget. To be so intimately a part of such beauty, such raw reality, such life, well... it's pretty cool, eh?

Along the way, I was met with many questions from the the people I passed. "What compelled you do this?" , "How do you keep going?", "What's it like to walk 20miles a day everyday?", "Don't you get lonely?", and "Aren't you scared?", amongst many'll have to read the book (which I'll explain more about in the next post) to get the answers to all those questions...but really what I came to realize is that, hikers themselves or not, people are intrigued by the idea of long distance hiking. Not only are they intrigued, but for the most part, they are supportive. I think it comes down to the fact that to meet someone who is taking on such a feat is a testament to what we, as human beings, are capable of. We are capable of creating the life we wish to live, doing that which seems impossible, unusual, or just plain crazy if we believe in it enough, and we can not only endure the challenging but through that endurance, truly thrive, truly live.

I'd like to give a big thank you to Amanda Riley for coming out to both join me and pick me up from the coast, driving me back to Asheville. I'd also very much send out endless thank-you's to my parents, Pam and Doug Houskeeper, for their endless support and encouragement, always there on the other end of the line when I needed someone to gripe, share, or trill to, as well as getting me to the trailhead and shipping me some much needed gear items. I can't tell you the number of times I heard "We're real proud of you and if you need anything, remember we're only a 12hr drive away" - and they meant it, "only" 12 hrs. More thank-yous to Rachel, Robin, and Jodi, my support team back in Asheville, who provided me a place to rest when in town, sent me maildrops, and cheered me on. And of course, gratitude to all the kind people along the way who helped me along and made the hike what it was! Gratitude to the plants!!

****Please see the next post for info on upcoming book, future of the blog, and what's to come "next"!

1 comment:

  1. Way to go Heather!!!!! - you are an inspiration; strong, brave, free and full of wonder. We await your book and further posts!