Busy feet: 44 Hiker Chicks on retreat

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

Wednesday, I hiked five miles. Thursday, I hiked over nine miles. And today I am tired.

I am tired but peaceful because I have spent the last three days with 44 other women who love the out-of-doors as much as I do. We call ourselves the Hiker Chicks and this is the 15th year we have met and celebrated the outdoors together. Every year we take over Hemlock Inn, a lovely old place near Bryson City. The Inn has an excellent view of the mountains and even more excellent old-fashioned breakfasts and dinners. We spend the time hiking, affirming friendships while making new ones, and learning from each other.

Hiking together builds lasting bonds. Camaraderie, exercise and the constant beauty of the mountains bring on conversations that can be funny or heart-breaking or profound. As we get to know each other more and more, our hiking bonds become stronger and stronger.

Last year the group worried in three overdue hikers who were on a 14-mile trek. When they arrived at dusk, a cheer went up. Four months ago, Melba Harmon, the Chick who organizes the hiker retreat and several other events, fell at the end of a 10-½ mile hike. A Smoky Mountains Volunteer Rescue Team lifted Melba to safety via the team’s new rescue bucket which they promptly named The Melba.

Hiker Chick Melba seated with her walker surrounded by hiker friends

Because of her injuries, Melba is currently unable to hike, and this year we celebrated Melba, giving her hugs and conversation and, on the last night of the retreat, a ragtag group of hikers seated Melba and Inn keeper Mort White in front and sang a funny parody of “I am sixteen going on seventeen” from the movie The Sound of Music to them. Laughter and high jinks; more stories to add to the retreat experience.

Long hikes offer multiple conversation opportunities and during one such conversation, a fellow Chick shared her mantra with me: “The words we speak become the house we live in,” The quote comes from the Persian lyric poet writer Hafiz, and I’ve been thinking about those words ever since. When I stopped to admire a beautiful butterfly, the same Chick commented that butterflies are the cheerleaders of the insect world and that while they are beautiful, folks should remember the other, perhaps scary, or unattractive bugs who help so much with our environment. Another Chick lamented the harm to bees that pesticides present.

Cheerleader butterflies. There are four varieties here

During the retreat, hikes of varying lengths are offered and an elegant 81-year-old Chick who, for her 80th birthday flew to Amsterdam for a hiking vacation, chose the 9-plus miles hike. On the days when my knees hurt, or I look in the mirror and am startled to see my mother there, I remember this Chick and that thought brings back my smile.

I hiked a local ridge today. Early in the hike, I glanced to the right and saw a white tail doe standing not two feet from me. Later in the hike, the trail was blocked by two large vultures, stubborn big boys who are used to fighting for space and weren’t particularly interested in clearing the trail for me. Adventures, physical activity, breathing, it was all there. It is always there. I plan to hike as long as I am able, enjoying the world from my own two feet, walking my way to nature, to animals and to friends, one step at a time.

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell


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