I can do this

I recently discovered a new hiking destination — a gorgeous waterfall stuck back in the far reaches of Yancey County. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors; I love to hike and camp. And I’m now in the process of planning and conditioning for my first backpacking trip since I got pregnant with my first son, about five years ago.

I am relatively young, hip, kind of an earth mama, passionate about live music. I think my dog is the absolute coolest animal on the planet. I try to eat right and get adequate exercise. None of the above is particularly remarkable for a North Carolina mountain girl. Oh, and one other thing: I’m fat. I’m a size 22, and at 5 foot 10, I weigh well over 200 pounds. I am not what you’d expect to find huffing and puffing along in the wilderness, but I won’t let other people’s preconceptions prevent me from doing the things I love.

After my children were born, I made numerous excuses as to why I couldn’t get up off my lazy behind and hit the trails. It was too hot. My kids were too young and unruly to manage in uncharted territory. I couldn’t find shorts that didn’t chafe my pudgy thighs. A possible rainstorm loomed on the horizon. I didn’t know where to go to hike that wouldn’t be too long, too steep, too hard, too crowded, too far away, too hard to get to, etc.

But when my husband and I began discussing the possibility of getting away for a few days, the idea of a backpacking trip came up. So I started thumbing through back issues of Backpacker magazine at the library, reading articles in Blue Ridge Outdoors and Mountain Xpress, checking out packs and tents and miniature espresso makers at local outfitters — and trail fever hit full force. I knew I simply had to get back out there, bulging mom belly and desperately inadequate cardiovascular capabilities be damned!

I tied on my tennis shoes and took to the streets, tackling my neighborhood’s biggest hills without any preparation. My efforts were rewarded with unbelievably sore legs. After taking a few days off to rest my weary calves, I began again — this time with gentler, easier strolls. I bought new batteries for my trusty portable CD player and began walking laps — around and around and around the block. I visited the Toecane District ranger station and picked up a free booklet showing local hikes, including several rated “easy” that were short enough not to be too daunting.

Soon after, I made my first solo foray in the woods. I packed a lunch and a water bottle, dug out my Tevas (still packed from a move last September) from the duffle bag in the garage, found the extra spiffy leash (hey, our canine friends deserve to be stylin’ on the trail), loaded the dog into the car and pulled out of my driveway (destination: Briar Bottom Bicycle Loop, which begins at the Black Mountain Campground).

A bit down the well-maintained gravel path, I saw a turnoff to the right, marked Setrock Falls. Being an adventurer at heart (and having noted the signpost announcing “Rating: Easiest”), I confidently broke with the plan, opting to follow the yellow blazes. Setrock Creek sang for me, a beautifully babbling ditty full of promises of pristine falls ahead that kept me company along the trail. After only a few hundred yards, my labors were more than adequately rewarded when I spied two lacy streams of water cascading down the face of boulders looming two or three stories high.

The pool at the base was about ankle deep, and as pup and I stepped in and frigid water surrounded my feet, I let out an involuntary squeal. I waded across to where the stream splashed down the sheer rock amid a cloud of effervescent mist. I lingered as the delicious spray washed over my face and neck, basking in the refreshing coolness.

After that invigorating break, the trip back down the trail seemed like a walk in the park. OK, so technically it was a walk in the park, but I did it with a little extra spring in my step. I felt full of verve, even joie de vivre. Who’d have imagined that a chubby girl like me could trip along in such a sprightly fashion?

My journey that day was as much spiritual as physical; I accomplished something far more significant than just a two-mile hike. With every breath of brisk mountain air, I gained self-confidence and self-satisfaction. By any standard, it was an easy hike; but still, it was more than I had been doing, and more than most women my size are willing to attempt for fear of failure — or even fear of looking silly in other hikers’ eyes. And it was definitely a start.

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and in my case, a three-day backpacking trip in late summer began with a short hike to a waterfall in early June. I can do this.

[Black Mountain resident Katy Clyde likes to hike with her husband, two preschool-aged sons, and Cheyenne the Wonder Dog.]

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