Reflections of Wilderness

 

Wilderness Conservation Corps Crew Member Emily Patton

Wilderness Conservation Corps Crew Member Emily Patton

By Emily Patton, Crew Member

Citico Creek, Shining Rock, Iron Mountain, Joyce Kilmer, and the Black Mountains. All of which have provided some of the most challenging and equally rewarding experiences in my life. Being a girly girl who enjoys good personal hygiene and the comfort of indoor “necessities,” I am always so surprised by how hard I can push myself through some of the challenging moments on a hitch. Moments when it has been raining and in the 40’s for four days straight and nothing I own is dry, when I consume way more dirt (trail spice) than anyone ever should, when I get bit by a spider in the middle of the night while trying to pee and end up peeing in my tent, or when I have dug perfect toe holes into the inserts of my boots from hiking ridgelines all day would usually make me want to throw in the towel and give up.  Instead though, I find myself looking forward to my times in the wilderness, because I am constantly learning more and more about what I can push myself to achieve. Even on the worst days, there is always something magical that happens that makes it all worth it in the end. Here are some of my most favorite memories from the most stressful days:

Sunrise from my tent.

Sunrise from my tent.

It was day eight of our very first hitch in Citico Creek Wilderness. This was the first time in my life that I had ever gone more than a day without a shower. We were all filthy and sweaty and smelled like garbage, but at least we had each other. Eliza, Woohee, and I had been clearing corridor on a part of the trail that ran along a creek. We were about a mile in when we came across a deep pool of water. This was incredible for us since we barely had a trickle to get water from near our camp. So, naturally we had to enjoy this moment and dunk our heads…or most of our bodies. I will never take a shower for granted ever again.

During our hitch in Joyce Kilmer, it started raining the first day we hiked in. It was easily in the 40’s at night and we girls ended up having to double up in tents at night just to stay relatively warm. We finally had one warm day where we spent most of the day working up the trail clearing the corridor with swing-blades and loppers. If you have ever spent time swing-blading through thick black berry bushes, you know how exhausting it gets. As we were working up the trail, all of a sudden the forest started clearing and it opened up into this beautiful meadow full of wild flowers, known as Bob Stratton Bald. We all dropped our packs and went skipping and screaming through this field like little girls…even James (don’t let him tell you different). We needed this day to get us through the following days of rain and cold. One day in particular ended up being absolutely miserable to begin with but turned into an amazing experience. We hiked in the rain to a place called The Hangover, mostly because it was uphill and could briefly warm us up. The rain started to let off as we climbed up the ridge, and we were finally faced with a view that I will never forget. We were piled on the tip of a rock on the top of the ridge and were surrounded by the mountains that had been hiding behind trees the previous days. The wind was so strong that I felt like it was going to carry me away like the mist it was picking up from the mountains and swirling around like little tornados. At this moment I didn’t care about being drenched and most of my body numb. Little moments like this remind me why I love what I do.

Lunch on the creek.

Lunch on the creek.

Once again we had been fighting to finish work in the rain, except this time we were staying in front country in the Shining Rock Wilderness. We were blessed to have some pretty amazing and temporary sunny times too. It seemed like every day during lunch it would be gorgeous, and we could have lunch out on these huge river rocks. My favorite memory from this hitch though was on a clear night when I was awoken to what I thought was some serious lightning but there was no thunder. I looked out of my tent to find hundreds of lightning bugs flickering sporadically around our campground.

Last, but not least, was my time in the Black Mountains. Our views here were remarkable. It did not matter if it was sunny or pouring rain, it was always breathtaking. We were camped at Deep Gap and would hike a rough mile to our worksite past Winter Star. All along the way were these lookout points with views that made you feel microscopic. Sometimes it would be cloudy in the mornings, but we were up at such high elevations that we were above the clouds. In these moments, I would like to think that the clouds were actually glaciers settled in the valleys. We would also have spectacular sunsets that would illuminate the entire sky with orange, pink, and purple. One clear night we were lucky to have Jake Blood from NC High Peaks Trail Association stay with us. We waited in the gap for the stars to come out as Jake told us about what stars were part of which constellations and the histories behind them.

Happiness.

Happiness.

Of course there are so many other wonderful memories from the trail involving surprise snacks, dance parties, belting Cher and the national anthem, campgrounds with showers, campgrounds with flat surfaces, hoards of salamanders, becoming little spoon, and I could go on forever. All of my experiences this summer have humbled me and made me realize how much I need wilderness in my life. So, thank you wilderness for giving me back so much more in return.