July 25, 2015
Whether I’m hiking for a week of only a few hours; afterwards I feel at ease with the world. The unconscious tension that builds up over the work week seemingly disappears. My wife will often look at me when I return and remark that I look very much at peace. I’ve never known exactly why this happens, until a NY Times article this week.* “A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.”
My friends and relatives from urban areas will hike and camp with me, and almost every time they seem like different people afterwards. “Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can’t seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show.” This brooding “is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex,” which as this study shows is more common for those living in the cities.
I felt very much stressed when driving to the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) today. The traffic was insane on the interstate, people swerved, cut me off. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I felt tense, tight.
Gracie and I made our way to the Walker Knob Overlook on the BRP at mile marker 359. The Big Butt Trail intersects here with the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST). We started southbound on the MST. The trail was in splendid shape. Many flowers were out including Turk’s Cap Lilly’s, Wild Golden-glow, and Crimson Bee Balm. The hike was great, because I kept running into great people: a young mother and her son, a group of college students, an elderly couple; so many kind souls on the trail.
After a mile and a half we came to the Glassmine Falls overlook. The trail ascends slightly the entire hike to Craggy Dome. After Glassmine Falls there is a wonderful rocky area with many blueberry bushes. They were not quite ripe, but should be in the next couple of weeks. For another few miles the trail twists slightly southward and comes out at the Greybeard Overlook. The turnoff for the route to Craggy Dome is easy to miss. Follow the MST for a few hundred feet. Right before it crosses the BRP, look to the left (south). There is a faint man way there. This is not a long hike, but it is so overgrown. I let Gracie off of her leash because I needed both of my hands to push the undergrowth aside. It’s very hard to see your feet, so I kept slipping in the mud.
For 15 minutes we traversed up the mountain. As I got to the summit, and to my great surprise I heard voices. “Hello,” I said. “Hello” came back from what was obviously the summit. “How are you?” I asked, still not able to see anyone. “Don’t come back here!” “What?” I said back to the summit. “We have to put our clothes on,” it responded. “Oh, ok.” Finally, I got the all clear. For a few minutes I thought that I should just turn around, so as not to disturb anyone. But, I had hiked 4.5 miles just to get to the summit of Craggy Dome. I stood pat and then kindly walked forward to the summit. There was a young couple who were, moments earlier, indisposed, as it were. The dude looked at me, “We didn’t think we would see anyone here.” Me: “I didn’t either!” I ran up to the summit, took a picture and ran back. In the process Gracie decided to walk all over their blanket. Perfect. I apologized and started back downhill. That was most certainly the weirdest summit of the South Beyond 6000 challenge yet.
We leisurely hiked northward back to my car at Walker Knob. It was such a beautiful day outside. We reached the car and headed back home. As I was driving, I noticed a change in me. The world was the same; the cars were still zooming, cutting me off, and aggressive. These people have missed out on something special in nature I thought, as I putt-putted down the road with a complete sense of ease.
Total Mileage is 9 miles.