NOAH WIESE PHOTO
Going gets rough
It’s not uncommon to find church, or at least sanctuary, in the mountains. On a Sunday morning hike early last spring, I also came face to face—or foot to slippery rock, in this case—with a trail of metaphors for new parenthood.
My husband, our five-month-old, and I had spent the weekend in North Carolina’s High Country and were heading home to Asheville. With our baby napping in the backseat, we decided to take the scenic route, by way of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Between Blowing Rock and Linville we planned to stop at the Rough Ridge Overlook, where a short hike along the Tanawha Trail leads to a boardwalk offering a stunning panorama overlooking the Linn Cove Viaduct.
As we pulled onto the parkway near Boone, the skies opened up, a hard-driving rain pelting our windshield. But this was spring in Southern Appalachia, so just as we decided to ditch our hiking plans, the downpour stopped, making way for blue skies and sunshine. The baby stirred in his carseat; we shrugged our shoulders at the timing and pulled over at milepost 302.8.
I strapped on our baby carrier and tucked in my son—his chest pressed against mine, legs bowed out at my hips like a frog. As soon as we stepped onto the trail, we realized our good fortune was not without its caveats. At first, it was just a bit of mud reminding me to tread carefully. Then, puddles of water filling the center of the trail forced us to awkwardly step from rock to rock, and me to steady my balance with a hand on my husband’s arm.
As the trail became more and more washed out, and our footing ever more precarious, it became increasingly necessary to take each step in tandem in order to keep ourselves—and our defenseless child—upright.
We’ve never turned back on a trail, and didn’t want to start now. But this supposedly quick leg-stretcher—a mere third of a mile uphill from the parking area—was putting us to the test: Was it foolish to forge ahead? Selfish even? Underneath those immediate worries was an unspoken question driving our stubborn perseverance: Were we cut out to be mountain parents? Was a little rain really enough to dampen our plans? Surely we could handle a few puddles.
Because the climb involved such intense focus, we were a quiet bunch. I couldn’t help but reflect on the parallels between our conundrum and life as a new mom—first and foremost the way a baby complicates even a seemingly simple walk in the woods. Whether I’m carrying my son in a canvas pouch or nursing him, my body sustains his. My husband, although steady in his support and essential to our well-being, walks separate from us, free to choose to stay in lockstep or stride a few paces ahead.
Eventually, step by careful step, my family worked together as a team and arrived at the boardwalk, a 200-foot ascent over fragile vegetation that spans the Rough Ridge crest of Grandfather Mountain. Alone except for a photographer with a tripod, we stood on the wooden platform and silently breathed in the scene: peaks rippling like the sea, a foamy layer of clouds, a horizon that stretched endlessly. Our five-month-old seemed unimpressed, but for me, few vistas have ever been quite so sweet.
The slippery slog back to our car was just as nerve-wracking as the way up, but the summit had refreshed our spirits. By the time we got back to our car, our son had fallen asleep again and the clouds had taken back over, obscuring the views from the parkway. As uncertain as we had felt, our timing, it turned out, couldn’t have been better.
About the author: Katie Knorovsky is the managing editor.
The author and her infant son take in the vista from the boardwalk of the Rough RIdge Overlook, off the Blue Ridge Parkway.