It’s a wrap. After almost six months in America, I need to go home. Need to, not want to. How hard it was during the first weeks, because my autopilot was completely switched off, the easier it is now to find my way. My head is back on autopilot and new routines are made.
Did I do everything I wanted to do? Achieved what I wanted to achieve? No, absolutely not. Not even close. When I made my plans to move to America, I could never have imagined the obstacles that I encountered on this trip, but they have taught me a lot. I even got to know myself better.
With only a few days left, I am looking for a last amazing trail to walk. I decide to drive to King’s Mountain. Google says this is an easy trail, with a great view. Sounds perfect as a final treat to myself. So when I woke up early on a very sunny Sunday morning, I decided to pack my things and drive into the mountains.
After arriving at the start of the trail, 45 minutes later, I notice that I am completely off the grid. I can not even make a phone call. With only one trail going up, I start walking. Soon the path gets steeper and steeper and I have to stop more often to catch my breath.
During one of my many stops, I am overtaken by another hiker who walks up the mountain fully prepared. We nod kindly. This seems like someone who knows his way around so I decided to have a chat. “May I ask if it is still far to the top?” I felt like I was almost there. The man laughs. “You’ve only walked 1 km, you have about five more to go.” I look at him, swallow a slight panic and feel a hundred thousand thoughts rushing through my head. If it’s already that hard, am I going to make it? As if he can hear my thoughts, he continues. “It’s much steeper higher up.” Even steeper than this? I think to myself. “Without these poles, you won’t make it.” He sees the disappointment in my eyes. “But there’s a picnic table halfway there. You can rest there before going back.”
Okay, okay, halfway, I could still make it, right? I have nothing else to do, and nobody is waiting for me at home. As he stuffs the rest of his protein bar and bottle of water back into his backpack, he offers one final piece of advice. “Take it easy and don’t forget to drink.” He checks to be sure whether I have water and food with me. I nod and think of that one bottle of water and a banana in my cute bear backpack like I wanted to go for an hour’s walk in the park on a sunny day. What was I thinking?
Step by step I climb higher and higher. With my eyes on the top and the picnic table halfway in my mind, I keep going. All I hear is my breath, the pumping of my heart, and the racing thoughts in my head. “Don’t fall, Don’t fall.”
I pass the sign at 2000 feet. I keep going, higher and higher. Suddenly I see a sign with “View Point” I follow the sign and walk to the view where I find two other hikers puffing. When I push aside the branches of the trees and see the view, the pain in my legs suddenly seems to disappear. Wow. Just Wow! I have no words for this. They were right. This view is beautiful.
After a short break and a chat with the two hikers, we decide to continue. “Walk with us back,” they say for my safety. Unlike the other hikers, I hike alone, which can be dangerous at times. If something happens, nobody will be able to find me. “How far is it up?” I ask, my eyes still on top. “It’s only 0.3 miles to the top,” they say. I hesitate but decide to continue anyway. I’ve already come this far. I have to finish it.
Pretty soon the path disappears in a thick layer of snow. I zip up my jacket. It suddenly feels very cold. The path is getting slippery. I hold on to trees and branches but keep climbing. I stumble over rocks, hoping I won’t fall.
“You made it!!” I suddenly hear and I look up. It is the hiker I met earlier. He smiles and looks genuinely surprised but also proud to see me there. “Only 400 meters and you’re at the top,” he shouts as he continues walking down. “Don’t forget to put your name in the time capsule.”
It’s the hardest 400 meters of my life. The thin air, the cold, the snow, the rocks. No one knows where I am, flashes through my head. If something happens now, they won’t find me until the summer, I think dramatically as always. Eaten by bears and wolfs.
Still, I keep going, step by step. I push away one last branch and then I see it. The highest point with the time capsule. Wow, I made it. I turn my head to the valley for the breathtaking view. White. Everything is white. Not from the snow but from a very thick fog that hangs around the mountain. I laugh and remember that this can only happen to me, walking twelve km for a foggy view. It definitely teaches me, it’s not about the mountain top, but the walking in between.
I made it there but I also had to get back down again. I couldn’t stay there forever. It was cold, wet, and misty. Going up is hard but going down? That’s easy, I thought to myself. I couldn’t be more wrong. Going down may not be hard on my heart, but it is heavy on the muscles in my arms and legs. In the first part, I swung from tree to tree, trying not to slip and slide in the slippery snow.
But when I got past the snow line, I was hoping it would get easier but it only got worse. I started to lose control of the muscles in my legs so I fell hard. Not once, not twice but three times, I lie flat on my face in the dirt. Fortunately, nobody saw me diving into the mud and luckily only my ego is broken. Getting up gets harder but I have to keep going. I can’t stay on the mountain forever. So after every fall, I got up again, brushed the mud off me as best I can and started walking again, step by step with my eyes on the endpoint.
After five hours, one bottle of water, and one banana I’m back at my car. My legs have completely given up when I fall into the car seat. I made it. I feel a wave of pride, joy, relief, and stupidity going through my body. What the hell was I thinking?
In the following days, I can hardly walk, even getting up or sitting down seems almost impossible. I only waddle from bed to kitchen and back again. The bruises from falling are the last visible reminders of my adventure. But the feeling of making it to the top is insane. Mind over matter, keep going, don’t stop, eyes at the top, and all those sweet encouragements from my fellow hikers who kept saying I was almost there.
I reached the top and left my name and company in the time capsule, forever on the top. I’m fucking proud of myself. Not only that I reached the top of the mountain but also that I managed to find my way in a foreign country on my own, built a life here, and got to know myself even better.
The mountains have taught me a lot in those six months: If you’re afraid, do it anyway. Keep going. You can’t stay on the mountain forever. It’s not about the mountain top but about the walk you take and the people you meet along the way. It was quite the adventure and I hope to be back as soon as possible.