Thursday, August 5, 2004

My Half-Day Summer Vacation

I didn't want to take the day off yesterday. I've been in sort of a low-grade depression for weeks, and if I'm going to be depressed, then by golly I'd rather do it at work and not waste precious Personal Time Off on it. But, I had a doctor's appointment set for mid-morning, and I also needed to get out to Black Balsam and the Art Loeb Trail to get a few pictures for an article, so I needed to take some time off. Grudgingly, I went ahead and requested a full eight hours of PTO.

It was 1:00 before I finally got in the car to head to Black Balsam. This is a popular hiking area on the Blue Ridge Parkway in western North Carolina, about 45 minutes from our house. It's an unbelievably beautiful area that reminds me a lot of the White Mountains, on a less rugged scale. My plan was to hike the Ivestor Trail to the Art Loeb, then loop back around over Tennent Mountain and Black Balsam, and back to the parking area, for a total hike of about five miles. I've hiked these trails before; I really just wanted to get some pictures for the article. After a summer of nothing but rain, it was finally a beautiful day.

It's amazing how easily I forget my love for hiking, and how quickly I remember it. After just a few steps, I can tell that my breathing is easier and my stress level has decreased. A half-mile down, the worried voices in my head start to quiet down. After a mile, I'm thinking more freely and poetically. Why don't I do this more often? I spend at least eight hours a day looking at a computer screen fourteen inches in front of my face. And two hours a day looking at the bumpers of other cars as I commute to and from work. I have the opportunity to spend a least several hours a week walking in solitude, gazing at the beauty of the southern Appalachians from one of North Carolina's many hiking trails, but how often do I do that? Hardly ever.

Granted, it's been a rainy summer. And when you're at work all week long, the weekends tend to get eaten up by things like sleeping in, cleaning house, buying groceries, and well, vegging.

But yesterday was my one day of summer vacation. It was the first day this year that has truly FELT like summer vacation. I walked at my own pace and enjoyed the sunshine. I gorged on blueberries and the few blackberries that were ripe. I chatted with a couple from England and a harried camp counselor in charge of a gaggle of eleven-year-olds. I enjoyed the familiar feel of the rocks and dirt under my feet and tried (unsuccessfully) to count in my mind the number of days between now and when we begin thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.

Dan and I always have fun when we hike together, but we've hiked together so much this year that I'd forgotten how much I love hiking alone. It's a different kind of fun. But it's definitely something I need to do every now and then.

Hiking doesn't cure depression, but it sure helps. And I need to take more days off from work! Wonder how my boss would feel about that ...

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