Last week we spent a few days vacationing in the North Georgia mountains. One of my favorite things to do in the Appalachians is to hike to waterfalls. After we visited three major state park sponsored waterfalls, I bought a book that detailed all the waterfall hikes in our state.
Since that time, I have been on a mission to visit as many of the falls as possible. In my typical type A fashion, I plan our hike out ahead of time, photo document it, and then make notes in the waterfall book recording the day we hiked and major items of interest.
Since we only had a few days in the mountains this trip and one of those days was dedicated to river rafting (post to come), I knew we probably had time for one solid waterfall hike.
But which waterfall to choose? I don’t normally like to repeat a hike, but the unhiked options in our area were pretty remote and the ground (and dirt roads) were quite muddy due to recent rains.
I found myself coming back to a hike my husband and I had done after dropping our kids off at summer camp. Raven Cliff Falls was a long hike, but well worth the effort. The falls themselves were unique and captivating as they descend through a cleft in the rock. Jason and I spent a good half an hour playing in the pool at the bottom of the falls and taking various pictures the day of our hike.
But then I noticed another note I had made in the book. “Beautiful hike with smaller falls along the way. Absolutely gorgeous.”
Since my daughter has gotten quite passionate about nature photography, I thought this would be the perfect hike. She could take pictures for the first easy mile and then hike to the great reward at the end.
The day of the hike came. None of us slept great in the RV the night before. We all awoke tired and grumpy. I was fighting off a sinus headache and was still sore from having swim races with my son in the park pool the day before. And rain was supposed to roll in after lunch.
I stared at my family and had a good think about what to do. I REALLY wanted my kids to see the amazing falls at Raven Cliffs. But I also suspected that trying to complete the five-mile roundtrip hike would lead to multiple meltdowns.
So I did something that this type A, goal driven perfectionist rarely does.
I threw out this suggestion:
“You know, even if we don’t make it to the falls, it is a really pretty hike. Lots of places to stop and play. We could just hike until we’ve had enough fun and then turn around and come back.”
The sleepy heads in the RV nodded in agreement. We would do a partial hike.
So we filled up our water bottles, grabbed the camera, and headed out.
We were probably only a couple hundred yards into the trail before we stopped for our first break. Not because we were tired, but because my kids witnessed something they had never seen before.
Rhododendron in bloom.
After a few minutes of picture taking and general awe, we pressed on.
Then we spotted a hollowed out tree. We looked at that tree for about five minutes, speculating on how it came to be and what all lived there and if the heart in the trunk was natural or manmade.
We went on like this for I don’t know how far, as we stopped measuring our hike in miles. We even stopped measuring it in time.
We began measuring it in experiences and our enjoyment of what each moment, each new turn presented to us.
Sometimes we made commentary to each other about all we were seeing and sometimes we hiked in silence, listening to the sounds of the stream rushing and birds calling.
When we finally came to what we think was the first small waterfall, we took a break to soak it in. Literally. We climbed into the river a bit below the falls and let it make its mark on us. My daughter snapped photo after photo. My son picked up river rocks. I splashed around in the cool stream and watched the water flow.
On the way back we stopped at a wide spot by the creek and played a while. We climbed on logs and skipped the rocks. We relished this last bit of our time in the forest before we hiked back to the trailhead.
I have to be honest and tell you that my previous self would have considered this hike a failure for we did not make it to our goal.
But middle-aged, mindfulness practicing, be present in the moment Dena has decided that this may be the best hike I have ever been on.
Because we enjoyed each step of the way.
It turned out that we made it back to the RV right before the thunderstorm hit. As we ate our lunch and listened to the rain and thunder, I felt gratitude wash over me like the pouring rain.
My life is far from perfect and I have “failed” at many things. But my goodness, the hike through the years has been some kind of beautiful.