Before I close out this series on our time at the cabin, I wanted to share one last story with you.
It might be the most important post I’ve written this month.
If you had a chance to read our other posts in this series, Summer at the Cabin, and How to Bring the Feeling of Vacation Home you already know we had to hike part of the Cherokee National Forest to get to Benton Falls.
But what I haven’t shared yet, is that it almost didn’t happen.
For the sake of full disclosure, creating a bucket list to hike the waterfalls in the areas around the cabin came about after we celebrated the year anniversary of my bestie S’s recovery from a major fall several years ago.
Nearly every day she was learning how to walk again, her goal was to be able to hike part of the Appalachian Trail and to see Amicalola Falls.
That simple goal compelled us to create a bucket list to hike *all* the waterfalls in the surrounding areas in celebration of just how far she’s come.
The drive to get to the Cherokee National Forest from Georgia to Tennessee is a really beautiful one.
Especially, if you take the scenic route.
It’s not for the faint of heart though.
Particularly, if you get car sick because the twists and turns on the drive up can be a lot to handle.
I don’t think I’ve ever publicly shared why I have almost debilitating anxiety in the car, but several years ago, S and I were in a near-fatal accident.
Despite dealing with an anxiety disorder since my late teens and having it mostly under control for years, the accident was the event that prompted a significant relapse.
All this is to say, being in the car is not easy for me and it’s not easy for my family either.
They’ve been extremely supportive.
But I would be lying if I told you they weren’t worried about how it has affected our lives.
So, in the weeks leading up to our vacation as I did with our birthday celebration trip to Savannah, I practiced being in the car as much as possible to make the trip as easy as possible.
Before we left Florida, we mapped out places to stop along the way so I could have lots of things to look forward to.
And while it made for a long trip, it felt doable.
I knew the trip to Benton Falls was going to be a tough one though because there are rivers, rapids, and a lake on one side of the road and straight rock faces dotted with trees on the other.
Even with miles of curves up the mountain, it’s still a busy road and frequently used by both semi-trucks and cars alike.
The first part of the trip wasn’t bad at all. I’m a small-town girl and I love discovering new ones.
But I knew I was in trouble when I realized I was taking such shallow breaths the alarm on my watch started to vibrate.
Then everything sort of went sort of blurry.
By the time we found a place to pull over, my mouth was so dry I could barely speak.
My shirt was soaked with sweat and I could not stop the tears from rolling down my face.
I wish I could adequately convey how embarrassing it is to be grown yet have to sit in the parking lot and gather yourself.
It is such a humbling and vulnerable experience.
Part of what makes it difficult is that in my heart I want to be cool.
I want to be as fun as my extrovert sisters.
The kind of person that “goes with the flow.”
I don’t want to be a burden, a bother, or slow anyone down.
And yet, I have this daily mountain that must be climbed while still living at sea level.
When I finally gathered my composure, I realized the parking lot we had pulled into was the launch for the rapids up ahead.
I watched as people secured their life vests and helmets, checked their gear, and listened to safety instructions.
They were hugging and high-fiving each other like they were about to cross a major milestone off their bucket list.
They genuinely seemed so happy.
Breaking the silence S quietly said, “We don’t have to keep going. “We can turn around. It’s not a big deal. I’m sorry for putting you in this position. I didn’t realize the drive up would be this intense.”
I wish I could say I was brave enough to respond immediately.
But I just sat there watching the rafters prepare to hit the rapids ahead.
“How can they have enough courage to get into boats with very little protection against the rocks and water yet I can’t muster the courage to get up this mountain in a car?” I said, my shaking voice betraying me.
“They chose to push past the fear. And one day you’ll get there too,” S gently replied.
While I have no desire to ever go rafting down a river or navigate small rapids, those words were the encouragement I needed to get back on the road.
“Let’s just get to the Sugarloaf Mountain Overlook and we’ll see how you feel,” S said, “If you’re ok there, we’ll take the next steps to get to Benton Falls.”
As we twisted our way up the mountain, I kept reminding myself I am capable of doing hard things.
I told myself to look at the wildflowers growing in the national forest. To notice the way the light hit the massive rocks and to appreciate how the rapids below brought so many people happiness. I told myself to pray for the train conductor that looked like he was riding on the edge of a cliff and to imagine the view the hawks flying overhead must be seeing.
Before I knew it, we were pulling over to the first Sugarloaf Mountain Overlook.
Then we made it to the second overlook.
As we got out of the car, we waited for a family to take pictures. A mother about my age seemed excited to take pictures with her tween and teen boys even though they kept saying, “Mom, how many pictures do you actually need?” which gave me the giggles.
To pass the time, we read the notes various people had penned on the rocks. Some were funny and some were sweet. Some were totally weird, and some were uplifting.
We were almost to the end of the rock wall when I noticed 4 letters that completely stopped me in my tracks.
Tally, short for Talladega, was the name of my first dog. She was the absolute love of my life and I miss her dearly every single day.
She was with me through the darkest valleys and the highest peaks.
My constant and loyal companion, she loved traveling up to the cabin and being in the mountains.
So, it was really special to see a name that looked like hers on the rock.
Now, imagine my complete surprise when I read the rest of the message.
“God is taking me to big places.”
I still get the chills just thinking about it because I knew immediately the message was meant for me.
After all, had I not made the decision at the base of the mountain to choose faith over fear, I would have never found the message and would have missed the blessing altogether.
A few miles later we found ourselves on the path to Benton Falls.
It’s classified as a beginner-level hike.
But in my honest opinion, there were portions of the hike as you get closer to the waterfall that could have easily been considered moderate level because the rocks did not feel stable at all.
The hike is still a pretty one though.
By the time you get to the falls, it truly feels like you’re discovering a hidden treasure.
We stayed there for a while taking pictures and catching our breath just enjoying the water and the beauty of the day.
For a moment, it felt like time stood still as we gave thanks for such a magnificent place.
I’m not sure if you can tell from the pictures, they were all taken with my iPhone, but the layers of rock under the waterfall are truly a sight to behold.
Especially as the water is rushing over them.
It made me think about all the layers we carry from life.
How we bloom in unexpected ways.
How we navigate difficult times.
Learn to change course and adapt to overcome.
Yet through it all, we’re called to divine appointments and given gifts of love, kindness, and encouragement along the way.
And just when we think we’ve gone too far or a situation feels out of reach, we’re showered in abundant grace.
An unexpected blessing at exactly the time we need it most.
I don’t even want to imagine the number of times I’ve almost missed a blessing because I gave up too soon, failed to trust, or allowed fear to get the best of me.
But I know I came off that mountain changed in so many ways.
As we say goodbye to the first half of the year and begin to celebrate all the good things the second half has to offer us, I want to challenge you to take the first step in climbing to the top of your mountain whatever that mountain may be.
It might look like finally getting help for anxiety, depression, addiction, or another health concern.
It might be dealing with the symptoms of insomnia that have you living half a life.
Perhaps it’s decluttering your house or losing weight.
It might look like setting up boundaries with loved ones to protect your time and wellness.
It might be forgiving someone who’s hurt you.
It might look like finding clarity and taking the next step in your business or being bold enough to scale back and rethink your goals.
Perhaps, it’s taking charge of your finances or responsibility for the choices you’re making.
It might look like finally taking ownership of your life and asking for what you want and need instead of allowing others to make the decision for you, then blaming them when things don’t work out the way you want them to.
Whatever your mountain looks like, be brave enough to take the first step, even when it feels scary.
You never know the blessing that is waiting for you at the top.
I’ll be cheering you on.