Sometimes life works in reverse. Sure, we’re supposed to focus on the present moment and only peek into the future or past, but there are those cases where putting the proverbial cart before the horse supplies some interesting perspective. And this month’s reflection on a time not that long ago fits well, in reverse, with last month’s visit titled Into the Light.
It began on a cold and windy night. Sounds like the beginning of a dark mystery novel, doesn’t it? I don’t sleep well when I have to set an alarm. I wake up every thirty minutes, paranoid that said wakeup call will not occur as scheduled. Chalk it up to a fickle relationship with technology. In any case, there was some mystery involved with what was about to happen next, and it most certainly included the idea of darkness, so perhaps the dark mystery analogy isn’t that far off.
Waking up from my top bunk promptly at 5:30am (technology for the win), I jumped down to the hardwood floor of the rustic cabin and pulled on my hiking pants, donning a fleece jacket and outer shell to prepare for the prospects of potentially hazardous pre-dawn weather. It was a goal for this trip to the top of a remote mountaintop: to see a sunrise from one of the tallest peaks in the Smoky Mountains.
Turning on my headlamp and heading out the door, the view was bleak. Misty clouds moved across my field of view alongside periodic exhalations of breath. With temperatures hovering in the low 40s, each one of those previously mentioned clothing layers was a crucial element of this endeavor. The hike was not that long, just under a mile, but in the darkness and with the prospect of unknown terrain and direction, there was a definitive anxiety accompanying each and every step.
Rock scrambling and tactical placement of trekking poles led me to the final steps up to Myrtle Point, where the mix of complete darkness and whipping winds created an environment worthy of a setting for a science fiction movie. Little did I know at the time that whole sci-fi vibe would become even more apparent with time.
As the sky began to lighten ever so slightly with the approach of dawn, wind chills dipped below freezing as those same fast-moving cloud layers from the beginning of the hike deposited moisture on the lenses of my eyeglasses, obscuring the view. As it turns out, there never was much of an actual sun rise to behold. Those pesky and persistent cloud layers lifted for about half a minute, revealing the image shared above. But the funny thing is, with an investment of several hours into the realm of the unknown, that thirty seconds was worth everything. Have you ever experienced that flutter of adrenaline or joy or awe, or whatever it’s called, when witnessing something surreal? That was what happened here in this moment. And while it was against my normal mode of operation, getting up before the sun rises to hike a mile into uncertainty, it’s one of the most memorable moments of the entire trip. Such is the case with embarking on something challenging and new and slightly unnerving. It often leads to unexpected memories that become some of your fondest.
It was on the way back, after the sun had risen, that the entire cart before the horse thing mentioned at the beginning hit me. Hiking in the dark obviously hid much of what was around me at the time. Seeing all that surrounded me when the light of a new day presented itself was eye-opening, both literally and metaphorically. The perilous drop-offs, the stunning vistas, the cozy canopies of foliage. There was so much to see and appreciate, even if my attention had to be finely focused on each new step when taken in the dark.
It reminded me that while we might like to focus on taking that next step Into the Light from last month, sometimes it’s just as important to find our way Out of the Dark.
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