In April of this year, my family and I had the incredible opportunity to hike up to Mt. Le Conte and stay the night in their village at the top of the mountain. Every year a select few people get the opportunity to stay in this village. The submissions open up once every year and you have to write an email letter explaining why you deserve to be one of the lucky ones. I'm not sure what my mom said in her letter, but a few months after submitting, we found out that we had been chosen!! This meant that in April, during the set days given to us, we would hike the 11 miles up to the top where we'd stay for one night. Mt Le Conte is the 3rd tallest peak in the Smokies resting at 6,593′.

The day before our trek, it snowed 6 feet at the top of this mountain closing the trail we planned on taking and forcing us to take a 14 mile trail instead. Because of this snow, the trail would be treacherous. As we hiked up, the snow was melting making the terrain a mixture of slippery ice, slushy snow, and mud. With every carefully planned step, we slid back about half the distance. A 14 mile hike is difficult on a normal day. Having to carefully plan where to plant your feet and having to take double the steps because you kept sliding down, made this trail even harder.

Once we reached about the 12 mile mark (of 14) we started to worry. The lodge required check in before 5pm and it was already 3. We had to start hustling. But with each step, our enthusiasm grew less and less. I wanted to give up. The only thing keeping me going was knowing that there would be a dinner of meat and mashed potatoes at the top. I started playing games in my head to keep myself going. "We are just gonna take 10 more steps and then we'll take a 10 second break." I played this game for a whole 5 minutes before it grew old. The number of steps I made myself take before a break slowly decreased until I was taking only one step before I stopped. These breaks I took standing. There was no getting up once you sat down. Eventually though, this game wasn't enough, so I had to create a new one.

My next game was called "that rock looks cool. I want to get close to it." I would pick a spot on the trail ahead of me whether it was a mushroom, rock, or stump, and decide that it was so interesting that I had to walk to it. Forget Mt. Le Conte. I wasn't hiking up there anymore. I just wanted to see that cool mushroom. This carried me another mile.

Since we were on a time crunch, my mom and brother went ahead because my dad and I couldn't keep up. We didn't discuss this. My mom just went ahead and hoped that we'd be okay. And we hoped that mom wouldn't stop and wait for us until she got to the top. So now it was just my dad and I. Taking one step at a time. I'm not exaggerating, and because of the winter storm from the night before, there were several logs down in the path that we had to step over. I'll never forget seeing my dad use a walking stick to take one step over a log and then take a three minute break. I didn't know how we'd make it to the top. We reached a good stopping point and leaned on a large rock while I searched for service to see if my mom had made it in time. I got service.

"You there yet?" We waited three minutes for a response.

"We have checked in."

"Thank fucking god. Slow and steady on our way. You're incredible. If they bring food ask for as much salt and butter as they'll give."

We kept walking.

The service was going in and out. The green bar at the top of my phone screen wasn't budging so I'd try it again. I kept checking to see if my messages were sending, only to know for sure when I'd get a response from mom. I was thankful for these messages until I received this one.

"They just let us get drinks they already closed everything"

"Are you kidding. So there's no food?" It took 13 long minutes before this message sent. And I never ended up getting a response.

I had previously been telling my dad about each text message, until I got this one. When I read that there was no food, I almost stopped right there. Almost completely gave up. I knew I couldn't tell my dad that there was no food. He'd stop too. I just kept hoping that there would be a vending machine of some sort and daydreaming about cleaning it out of all its Doritos and Lays chips to fill our desperately empty stomachs. (Yes, we had eaten, but we hadn't packed enough to last us the trip back down.) So, I kept this secret.

Dad and I kept hiking. Sometimes I would be in front, knowing that I couldn't stop because if I stopped, my dad would stop too. And sometimes I would be behind him, afraid that if I let him get too far ahead, then I'd never catch up. This kept us going for a bit.

At this point in the hike, we were surrounded by a beautiful scenery. Quiet woods with nearly 3 feet of snow. At one point my dad and I stopped to eat this snow. Hoping that the cold might give us energy. Honestly, I'm not sure of his logic. I just know he started eating snow, so I did too. There was a level of bonding that I felt on this part of the trek. We were both so equally exhausted and both so equally dependent on one another to keep us going. Both discussing our wishes to just fall into the snowdrift beside us. Both laughing hysterically about how this was most certainly a simulation because every time we turned a corner, there was just more of the same ahead.. until we saw a trail sign.

This trail sign says .6 miles, but both my dad and I agreed- irrationally, that it said .0 miles. Our psyche couldn't handle the truth. It already felt like we had hiked an extra 5 miles since my mom and Lincoln went ahead of us. So we pretended to be .0 miles away and kept on trekking. Playing games aloud now.

We finally reached the top and the first thing I said to my mom was "is there food?!" She had the chance to explain the misunderstanding that there was in fact food. My dad thanked me for keeping that to myself because if he had thought there wasn't food he would have "flopped over in the snow and the paramedics would have to wheel him out of that mountain."

Sure, we had all hiked up this mountain together, but we each had individual experiences. We sat discussing this over the most watered down, but best tasting hot chocolate and lemonade that any of us had ever tasted.

Once we finished our mashed potatoes, green beans, cinnamon apples and pork, we hiked just a teeeeeeny bit farther to the very top of the mountain where we watched the sunset over the valley. And this is why I hike. Sure, you question all your life decisions when you're six hours into a hike and your thighs are starting to give and your shoulders hurt from your pack. But you get to the top and you see the sun set over what feels like the whole world, and it makes it all worth it. Riding the high of a hike, plus the cold wind and the colorful sky is the best feeling I've ever had. But the stories from this vacation don't end here. That night I woke up at 2am to pee. My options were to hike on the slippery ice to the outhouse past the black bears that had been spotted the night before, or to pee in a paper cup in our cabin. Read my next blog post to find out what I chose.