Women, mountains and stardust

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

I’m still smiling after last week’s yearly magical stardust-sprinkled Hiker Chick Retreat. Women only, this is not a lipstick and hairspray group. This is a group of women ranging in age from 45-85; women who love to hike, or if unable to hike anymore, women who gain strength from the out of doors; especially the mountains.

Fourteen years ago, Melba Harmon, a woman full of energy and ideas, hiked with 4 other close friends. Feeling the need for new adventures, the group looked at locations and inns. Melba had been to the Hemlock Inn, a beautiful old place near Bryson City, North Carolina, and the group chose that location. A trip involving an inn situated in the heart of the mountains, with trails nearby, and amazing old-fashioned breakfasts and dinners served country style, the group decided this would be a yearly event. A few retreats later, one of the members died. Unable to continue with a dear friend gone, the group opened the event to friends. The retreat grew and for the past few years, we’ve taken over the entire inn.

Hiker Chicks strong with Innkeeper Mort White

There is a spirituality about this retreat, a retreat without bickering, gossip or boredom. These are smart, interesting women from varied backgrounds, who accept each other and gain strength through that acceptance. We are not sanctimonious. In Melba’s words, stink eyes are given and snarkiness is allowed; but always backed by hysterical events, perhaps slightly bent for humor’s sake.

Tales are told about past hikes. Examples of water crossings such as the one where a smaller chick fell into deep water and Melba “Hauled her skinny ___ up!”

There’s the re-telling of blow-down hikes, blowdowns being trees across the trail. Blow downs are not easy hiking, especially when multiple trees are down. I once sat on a log, discovered I couldn’t touch the ground, and to the delight of all, had to swing myself off. One hike had 28 blowdowns.

Mort White and Melba Harmon

The group never becomes stale. Many invite friends and this mix of old and new keeps us fresh, giving us insights into other lives and experiences. The hikes are always beautiful, filled with wildflowers, mist, mountains, waterfalls and conversations. As I was hiking with a Czech Republic native last week, she described her amazement at American stores’ return policy. In her country, one may only return something if it is broken or damaged. A South African chick discussed life there – the political climate, bribery, corruption and difficulties with government department inefficiencies.

After hiking, we return to the inn. We are ravenous. We eat good old-fashioned food, not healthy, but good to the mouth. We are loud, we laugh, we table hop, the good endorphins released from hiking still kicking in. There is a spirit in the room, an open, welcoming, encouraging spirit started by five women who turned grief into magic, a magic perpetuated by all the members.

The next morning, we have breakfast. Melba thanks retiring innkeeper Mort for putting up with us. A beautiful poem is read while we secretly shed tears. We hug, sad to be leaving, but knowing that another Hiker Chick Retreat is in our future. We are stardust-sprinkled women making bonds, securing and reaffirming our place in the world. We leave knowing we are now stronger, refreshed and strengthened.

“The Mountains are calling, and I must go.”      – John Muir

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

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