Reaching the summit of Hanging Rock was in many ways an act of God. And we arrived at the top at the exact moment He intended us to, as our 15 minutes exploring the rock outcroppings and enjoying the beautiful and breathtaking views were secondary to the way our hearts and spirits were moved through 2 brief encounters.
The day we hiked this trail was the second day we trekked to the state park, which was about an hour from our campground. The day before, we had arrived hoping the weather would cooperate, only to find it colder and blusterier than when we set out. There was no way we could take the girls on any hike, let alone one to the top of a mountain. We reluctantly turned out of the parking lot and vowed to return the following day.
When we finally set out on the trail, we nearly turned back several times in the first 0.25 mile of paved trail. Not because we were cold (though it was still rather chilly and breezy) or because we were struggling physically. No, we almost turned back because we are humans who spend virtually every waking moment together, and we were on each other’s last nerves. We were that couple standing at a bench along the trail having the conversation that stopped when other hikers passed. We love this lifestyle, and we are still adjusting. We are still figuring out how to live in 300 square feet while giving each other the space we need. We are still figuring out how to balance ourselves, our relationship, our parenting roles, our hobbies and passions, our work, literally everything. And, for better or worse, this is where we needed to flesh a few things out.
Even though we both said we were going to turn back and let the other one go ahead, we are both stubborn enough to want to reach the top of the mountain, so we spent the few short minutes of tense conversation to get to the heart of things and press on together. The sucky thing about hard conversations is that they are just that—hard. But, in our experience, things get so much easier after these conversations. And that was the case with the rest of our hike.
Hanging Rock State Park is just north of Winston-Salem in North Carolina and is one of several mountains in the area that rise above the flat Piedmont below. We visited Pilot Mountain State Park the day before our hike, and its geology is very similar to that of Hanging Rock and is only about 30 minutes down the road. We only briefly stopped at the observation areas at Pilot Mountain and were blown away by the views and knew that Hanging Rock would be even more rewarding.
The first part of the trail winds up a hill and traverses along the saddle between a smaller mountain and the more prominent Hanging Rock. As we walked along the saddle, the wind whipped across making it feel so much colder than it actually was. However, as soon as we rounded the mountain to make our way up the backside, the combination of the rocks and sunshine brought the temperature up significantly.
The trail is very well kept and was incredibly easy to follow. What started as a paved trail, turned to a nice, wide trail with a crushed rock base. At the base of Hanging Rock Mountain, the trail transitioned again to dirt between larger rocks, which were placed to make nice stairs for much of the climb up (there were a few areas where the stairs had been washed out, but in these areas, there were nice bypass trails that were easy to navigate).
The elevation gain to reach the top was around 800 feet in the 1.5-mile trail, so it was moderately challenging in places, but definitely doable for a range of hikers. We saw quite a few people on the trail, and several groups were scattered around the rocks at the summit when we arrived.
It was at the top that we were reminded TWICE of how blessed we are. We had heard a family a distance behind us on the trail (which is always great motivation to keep pushing onward), and we were speechless when they reached the top behind us. There were 2 adults, 2 teenagers, and 2 toddlers (each in a backpack on one of their parents’ backs). Since Will primarily carries Little Bird in the pack, I am always in awe when I see other moms carrying their toddlers at higher elevations. And then there was the dad who was carrying the older toddler. He is mostly blind and had made his way up the mountain using his white cane to judge his footing and find the edge of rocks. I struggle to be sure-footed, and I was beyond humbled to watch him navigate a tenuous trail with confidence. As we waited our turn to get closer to the edge of the rocks, we observed this family with awe. Suddenly, our concerns about having personal space and whatever we had discussed at the beginning of the trail felt so petty and insignificant. We saw a family with circumstances we cannot comprehend living with incredible grace. We only exchanged some pleasantries with the parents about toddlers and hiking backpacks, but I cannot articulate the impact that interaction had on me.
The second reminder of our blessings came in the form of a couple who were out on the rocks enjoying the views and taking photos when we first arrived at the top. As they passed us to head back down the mountain and allow us to get out on the rocks, they stopped and said words we have heard a thousand times “that age goes so fast, enjoy every minute.” They have teenagers and had apparently just been reminiscing about when their kids were toddlers. The wistful way they looked at us and Little Bird hit me hard. Every time we hear this sentiment, we are reminded that we are living the absolute best lifestyle for our family and for the limited time we have with Bird. We are in the unique position to both be present every day. I no longer have to recount the cute things she does or the things she is learning to Will because he missed 90% of her waking hours while he was at work. The blessing of this time is something neither of us take for granted.
After these 2 encounters, we made our way out to the edge of the rocks to enjoy the incredible views with hearts filled with gratitude. We spent several minutes pointing out landmarks below and soaking in the beauty. After taking in the views, we made our way back down the trail with realigned perspective. We certainly got more out of this hike than we expected, and it is 3 miles I would do again and again. God works in incredible ways, and we have no doubt He was working to remind us of what is truly important.
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