Praise the Lord from the earth . . . lightning and hail,
snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,
you his mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars....
Let them praise the name of the Lord.
—Psalm 148:7–9, 13
It was April in Tennessee, and in the valleys budding trees, emerging flowers, and fields blanketed in green all heralded the warmth and joy of spring. But up on the ridge of the Appalachian range, winter clutched the white and gray wooded landscape with a relentless grip.
Before setting out on my twenty-two mile day trip, I kept imagining the valley picture of a warm sunlit walk in the woods, but at the trailhead, all I could see were gray clouds moving ominously across the skies from west to east. The wind was cold and sustained. This was not what I expected.
I started out with the hope of covering about three miles each hour. This was possible because elevation gain and loss on this section of the trail was moderate. So if I could maintain this pace, I would be able to finish before 5 p.m. However, the game plan did not include 30 mph winds sweeping across the mountain ridges.
And the plan did not allow for blizzard conditions that worsened throughout the day. I had envisioned a clear path, but the snow came hurling at me from all angles; after three arduous hours, I had covered a disappointing seven miles with fifteen miles still to go. The terrain had become clothed in white.
Occasionally, a northbound hiker would emerge out of the whiteness. We would stop and trade information and then quickly go our separate ways because, without movement, the cold would begin to penetrate through the layers of gear. The real benefit of meeting other hikers was the path they left providing me for a time with a marked way forward through the accumulating snow. Eventually though, the wind would erase any evidence of the hiker’s existence. I had to be careful not to lose my way.
Just after nightfall, I arrived at Vandeventer Shelter, located about three thousand feet above Watauga Lake. A few hikers were inside their tents near the shelter, but they did not bother to emerge, nor did I bother to stick around. By then, the storm had relinquished its firm grip on the mountains. Occasionally, the full moon peered out from behind passing clouds. Lights flickered around the lake, giving me the strong desire to keep trekking toward the warmth and safety below. But I still had over four miles of steep downs before reaching my car.
So I journeyed forward toward my destination, even though getting there had been fraught with unexpected twists and turns. Snow, wind, and cold kept trying to divert or turn me but I persisted toward the destination I had set out for earlier that day when I had been surrounded with intimations of a quiet and gentle Spring ridge walk in the Appalachian mountains.