Our first week on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail has been filled with MORE than I anticipated. More great views, more mushrooms, more climbs, more rain, more miles, more hardship, and most of all more emotion.

I’d forgotten that it’s not just your body that has to get in shape on the trail, but your heart and mind as well. It was a process to let go of our life off the trail and be present in this new adventure. On day two, I walked into Deep Creek in the Smokies fully clothed, reached down in the thigh deep water, grabbed hold of a rock and then let the current carry my legs out from under me. I held on as the freezing water rushed over me. It was a cleansing. When I came back up, I was ready to focus on the trail, on the next mile, on the next step, and not worry about anything else.

Then, at 12:45 AM that night, we found ourselves at the Emergency Room in Cherokee. I was worried. Brew was having difficulty breathing. When I asked if I could go back to the exam room with the kids, I was told that my husband was having heart issues and I should stay in the waiting room. My worry turned to fear.

After two EKGs, an X-Ray, and a CAT Scan (and an insurance bill that I am dreading to see). I was able to see Brew and we were told that he had pericarditis. It isn’t so much a heart issue as much as an issue with the sac that surrounds the heart. It’s not good news, but it’s also not a heart attack. And with that, we were released to return to our tent in Smokemont Campground.

The doctor cleared Brew for childcare and travel, so we continued. But the miles felt longer. It was difficult for Brew to take care of the kids when he needed rest. And it was difficult for me to hike knowing that. Still, there were reasons to press on. Reasons like the view we shared as a family at Waterrock Knob, the footprints of a bear blazing the trail in Middle Prong Wilderness, and the IPA and sweet potato fries at Boojum Brewery in Waynesville.

One of the reasons you go to the trail is to feel alive. There are more literal and figurative highs and lows than staying at home. And before we knew it we had experienced the beauty and pain for a full week.

On day seven I hiked up to an isolated rock outcropping along the Balsam crest and watched the total eclipse. For a full minute the temperature plunged and the world went black before a flood of color and warmth returned. Sometimes it takes someone turning off the lights and flipping them back on for you to appreciate what is right in front of you.

We continue onward with greater appreciation for the people in our life and the health we take for granted. We are thankful for the medical care that Brew has received and the additional help that has been provided by friends and family. Our expectation is that Brew will continue to feel better – prayers and positive thoughts are welcome — and that we will make it to the coast in November. But right now we are focused on enjoying the gift of this moment, that step, and these people. In the words of the late Allen de Hart (hiker, trail maintainer and founder of the Friends of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail):

“Any hiking, including along the MST, is focused on the present. You are not thinking about what you did yesterday and you are not worrying about what you will do tomorrow. You are focused on the trail you are walking that day – through mountains and forests; along streams, river, and lakes. Be a hiker. Live in the moment. Enjoy the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.”