photos courtesy of Sue Wasserman
It’s impossible to believe two years have passed since GSMA’s last annual member meeting. Having come late to program registration, I was closed out of my top picks. Since I had little experience of the Smokies at that point, though, I was still excited about the outings I secured.
Out of shape at the time, I was a little unnerved about the hike to Ramsey Cascades in the Greenbrier section of the park. The eight-mile excursion was described as “strenuous,” which, I imagined, was why only two of us were signed up.
In the first few moments, it became clear my trail leaders intended this more as a sprint than a stop-to-see-everything-along-the-way stroll. Apart from the President’s Fitness Test I tried to pass when I was young, I have never been a sprinter.
Truth be told, even had I wanted to, I couldn’t have kept the pace. Early on, I told one of the group leaders to power on without me; I wanted to experience the trail more fully. The other leader told me she was obligated to hang back with pokey me, which I understood from a liability standpoint.
I stopped for the light. I stopped to look more closely at fall flowers. I stopped to look at rock outcroppings. I stopped to look at the water’s lyrical flow.
While my now-personal guide had hiked the trail several times, she said it had always been more of a speed trek. She was enjoying this slower pace and the opportunity to notice things she had previously missed.
Slow took on an entirely new meaning as we got to the three-or-so mile point. It wasn’t so much that the trail had grown steep; it was also strewn with boulders, which had to be clambered over and around. My attention turned from the scenery to my footing. Struggling to catch my breath, too, I questioned whether I could make it. Thanks to a gifted pack of energy gummies and a short break, I regained a semblance of my positive outlook.
Ultimately, the last boulder was behind me, and I was standing in front of the “cascades.” Given a recent dry spell, the water flowed as more of a trickle than a cascade, but having proven I was “the little engine that could,” I was elated.
That night at a member dinner, there was ample sharing of each other’s experiences. Listening to individual reflections from like-minded peers is always a gift. I also paid close attention to my own, something I did more deeply after retreating to my hotel room.
While I'm delighted for people who want to speed up a mountain, it’s simply not for me. My thoughts echo those of naturalist John Muir who believed people should saunter in the mountains rather than hike. As much as I love walking for exercise, for me, the magic happens in those moments of thoughtful meandering where my sense of wonder gets the greatest workout.
The beauty is there is no right or wrong. It’s just a matter of personal preference. My wish for you is that you choose your adventures and your adventure partners to reap the greatest personal rewards.
If you’re like me, you may even transform a speedster or two into happy lollygaggers. I like to think Mother Nature gives bonus points for that.
Sue Wasserman is the author of A Moment’s Notice and Walk with Me: Exploring Nature’s Wisdom. She has also written for the New York Times and Southern Living. She currently lives in North Carolina.