I guarantee a few folks just had a “Wait, what?” moment when they read the title. They’re wondering if I’ve gone mad and have decided to forsake my alma mater. No, I haven’t, but I thought it might be fun to make a few folks wonder…
OK, so what’s this entry really about? Well, it’s about new traditions and a day walking in the woods. Here’s the deal, over the last 3 or 4 years, a couple of new traditions have been started at Young Harris College. In short, at the beginning of each school year, members of the incoming freshman class hike the old wagon road from Brasstown Bald Mountain down to the YHC campus, a trip of about 7 1/2 miles. The hike to campus symbolizes their entrance into the Brasstown Valley and “the beginning of their YHC experience.” Conversely, in the spring during commencement week, members of the senior class hike from the campus up the old wagon road to Brasstown and gather for a picnic and Vespers Service in the parking lot below the mountain’s peak. The hike up the mountain symbolizes their leaving YHC to go on to further studies, to pursue careers or to otherwise chase their dreams.
This past year was Ashley’s senior year at YHC. Back around Christmas we were talking about graduation and such and Ashley asked me if I was going to hike the mountain with her. Of course, I told her that I would. I’ve hiked the mountain before, once up and twice down and I remembered down being much worse than up. Of course, the last time I hiked up was over 30 years ago when I had younger legs and a slightly less, ummm, let’s just say ‘robust’ physique.
Fast forward about five months to Thursday during commencement week in May. The hike up the mountain was set to start at 2:30 but a small group of us, made up mostly of faculty and students from the Biology Department, decided to start an hour early…and in the end, it was a good thing we did. The pace we set wasn’t overly fast but considering that nearly half of the elevation gain for the hike is in the first mile and a half, we were moving along pretty good…and building up a good dose of lactic acid in the legs as we went along.
The old wagon road enters the Brasstown Wilderness a mile or so up the trail from campus. We stopped at the wilderness sign for a photo op and a drink of water.
One of Ashley’s bio professors, Dr. Schroeder, and Rev. Moore, the campus minister, caught up to us as we rested, Once we were moving again it became apparent that Dr. Schroeder and I hike at a very similar pace and Ashley and her classmate Hana hung with us as those with faster legs moved on ahead. At this point our little group was made up of three biologists and a geologist.
Needless to say, we made plenty of stops to look at plants, rocks and wild flowers in addition to rest stops, water breaks and stops at scenic overlooks. Though Dr. Arnold had moved on ahead, Ashley and Hana would have made Dr. Arnold proud as they pointed out almost every plant they knew the name of along the way.
Things were going along fine through the first four miles or so until I felt a twinge in my right calf, a twinge that steadily grew into a full-fledged cramp despite my efforts to stretch or rub it out. To make matters worse, it wasn’t long before both legs were cramping. Lactic acid is hateful that way. Now just to be honest, I had not prepared for this little adventure other than to eat a good breakfast and lunch before we left. I hadn’t hydrated during the week before the hike, nor had I done any hiking or walking other than the walking I do normally on any given day. Add in the early pace and I had pretty much set myself up for cramps. Fortunately stubbornness and determination took over and with a lot of starts and stops, water and a bottle of PowerAde, I made it through the next couple of miles. Once the cramps let up it was fairly smooth sailin’ the rest of the way up the trail with just a few stops to rest a bit and enjoy the views.
About a mile out I sent Ashley and Hana on ahead so they wouldn’t miss any of the Vespers service.
When I finally stepped into the parking lot I was met by ConnieLou and Jenna who were practically in tears. They were glad to see me…not so much because hiking the mountain was some major accomplish but more out of relief. Apparently someone had told them that early in the hike I was hiking with great difficulty and stopping a lot and was practically dead on the trail which, of course, conjured up visions of rescue teams and medevac helicopters and such…basically creating an unneeded panic when, in reality, I was fine.
We caught the end of the of the Vespers service and nibbled at a little bit of what was left of the picnic before enjoying a ride down off the mountain and enjoying a soak in a steaming hot Jacuzzi tub at the hotel. THANK YOU Holiday Inn Express Hiawassee!!
Two days later the students that had gathered at the top of the mountain received their diplomas. Some said their goodbyes to YHC and others, like ConnieLou and I did 30 years ago, simply said “see ya soon” and began thinking of excuses to come back to visit.