Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vā’kā: Clingmans Dome

Tracy was in the driver’s seat the whole vacation, planning everything!  Somehow he even managed perfect days; 76°weather with short mid-day showers, absolutely fresh, clean air and both days and nights were totally, completely, utterly free of creepy crawlies (bugs, insects or other South Georgia pests).  He even worked surrounding area attractions into his loose agenda for the week. I was seeing the “Man of the Year” award nominations in his future!

Thursday he had us visiting Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 6,643 feet above sea level.  Tracy thought we would love the spectacular 360° view of the Smokies the brochures raved about.  After finishing a morning of sightseeing, since we were so close (just 15 miles away), we decided we would check it out.

Those close 15 miles, turned out to be well over an hour of driving and a great deal of OMG-ing.  As seen in my previous post, mountain roads can be a slight bit nerve-racking.  When I say nerve-racking, I am referring to the tension of the passengers; where as the driver is having to pay attention to the winding roads, idiots that should never have been given a driver’s license (or allowed to procreate for that matter), the extremely irritating co-pilot yelling, “OMGbecarefulOMGtheyareslowingdownistheroadreallygoingtoOMGnotsoclosetotheedge”, the intensely distressing comments by said co-pilot of not being so sure anymore; all the while continually answering the irritating question, “Are we there yet?”!

Tracy hops out as soon as we claim a parking space (no doubt trying to get a few seconds peace), only to hop right back in with a slow grin.  He asks if Matthew and I still keep a jacket in the car (which we do at all times).  Undoubtedly there was a sweet, but confused, look on my face.  (I’m sure you have no problem believing the sweet part).  As he points to the mirror displaying the temperature, I was quiet; yes, quiet.  I just didn’t understand what I was seeing.IMG_3773 

As Trace hurriedly tells me it’s not so bad with a jacket, a dude walks by (never missing a beat) and says, “Well, not until you get to the top.  It’s a good 15°cooler up there.”  Okay, it was COLD with the wind blowing; but, I was determined not to make things worse by complaining (mostly because I had just used up a month’s worth on that dang dome road).  Deep breath.  Just going to have to suck it up and not let a little (or a lot) of coldness taint Trace’s plans for the day.  So, after a pop (or two) and the evil eye, Matthew seemed to get on board (or maybe it was the threat of losing the go-cart park if he didn’t cut the attitude and let his Daddy enjoy the experience ~ because I certainly had been – NOT!). 

Alright, all bundled up.  Well, as bundled as you can be with flip flops, shorts, t-shirt and a thin jean jacket.  Matthew says, “When people ask what I did today, I’m going to tell them I kissed a cloud.”

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Okay, so it really was beautiful and super cool to actually be walking through the clouds!   Like I said, “Man of the Year” material.  I am basically dragging myself up the “little” hill to the Visitor’s Center, as I start wondering (out loud apparently) were the chair lifts or trolleys were (because I really could not see them anywhere).  Trace (with that same slow grin) says that he doesn’t think there are any, that we are going to walk up there.  “What?  What did you just say?  Walk?  I am dying just from the car to (almost about to make) the Visitor’s Center.

After a few minutes of encouragement from both guys; I must have still been looking sweet, with a hint of doubtful.  Because my (mostly) sweet baby boy says, “Mama, you can just sit in the car and wait on us.  We don’t mind.”  See, mostly sweet.  I assure him that I will be fine; I just needed a minute.  I moved past looks and told Trace I just didn’t think I could do it, not knowing Mr. Ears was listening.  Now he was starting to get concerned with my sweet, but something-more-is-going-on-here look; so he offered to go back to the car with me.  Okay, that sounded good to my body.  However, my head had to make an appearance (grrrrr).  I knew that if I didn’t go, Trace wouldn’t go either.  I knew he really wanted to go up for the spectacular mountain view.  Grrrr (again).  “No, let’s go.  I think I’ll be fine.  We will just have to take it slow.” 

Trace is pumped, ready to go and explaining that it wasn’t far and was a only a gradual climb.  IMG_3775

To get to the summit I knew I was going to have to take the trail (not a chair lift or even a stink’in golf cart), so I best slap on a smile and get with it!  When I say I thought I was going to die, I am not exaggerating (not much anyway).  I literally had to stop at each and every bench in attempts to catch my breathe.  Even though the trail is paved, it is outrageously steep!  As in, straight up!  IMG_3778

All those on the way down from their religious experience would offer up the same words of encouragement, “Almost there!”  As I was explaining quietly to Trace (mostly because I couldn’t breathe) that I really didn’t think I could make it any further; Matthew comes over to offer to sit with me so I wouldn’t be left alone (see, almost).  They keep me motivated and help me to the next bench as 4 or 5 teenagers run past us up the mountain (I do believe I could have slapped one of them and not even felt a little bit of shame).

By way of the next bench, we finally made it to the dome. 

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Once you survive the road to get to the park, pull yourself up the maintain to get to the dome, don’t even bother looking for an elevator.  Oh no sister, you will be climbing another 54 feet to the observation tower hanging off the top of the mountain.  I concentrated on putting on foot in front of the other.  Then I would start all over again.  At some point Trace and Matthew realized I wasn’t walking beside them any longer (most likely because my OMG-ing had stopped).  As they came back to see what I was staring down at, they would look from me to my feet.  Apparently they realized there wasn’t anything really there and I was on the very verge of tears (well dang, I thought I was doing a good job hiding that little fact). 

I was paralyzed with fear.  I literally was frozen in place and was not capable of moving.  Matthew certainly does love him Mama!  He rubbed my back, talked to me softly, offered suggestions, telling me over and over again that it would be okay.  They both wanted us to turn around and just go back down (BEFORE I had a full out panic attack).  OMG!  Those two boys of mine have hearts of gold.  But, I couldn’t do that to them when we were mere feet from the summit. 

The kids at the top (yeah, that would be the group that sprinted right past me) were yelling down the mountain, “I love Jesus!  Yes I do!  I love Jesus, how about you?”  Part of their group returned the chant from the bottom of the tower.  “Yes, I love Jesus!  Yes I do!  I love Jesus, how about you?”  I swear that is when God walked up beside me and Jesus took my hand (okay, so he looked like Matthew, but I know Jesus was there inside him).  I can not even begin to describe the concern and love in those eyes.  As Oprah says, it really was an “Aha! moment”!

Using Jesus’ power, grace and mercy, that little boy of mine guided me over to a bench (because I still couldn’t look up, even after making it to the very top).  I was totally exhausted and stiff with fear!  I couldn’t look out at the view; I had to close my eyes or focus on my feet.  Matthew didn’t want to leave my side.  I encouraged him to go.  Reluctantly he let go of my hand and went to stand by his Daddy.  But, I tell you the honest truth…as I sat there in the heavens, I could most certainly feel the hand of God.  Matthew and Tracy must have too, because they came back over to tell me about everything they were seeing and feeling.  Matthew tried to get me to just stand up and look (not go over to the edge), but I simply couldn’t.  They start showing me through the camera…Bless them!

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I can’t tell you where the fear came from.  Not.A.Clue!  It has happened only once before when climbing the lighthouse on Sapelo Island (that is a whole other story).  But, I can tell you that I Could.NOT!Move!

Through Matthew, God was able to break my irrational thought patterns to get me moving again.  After taking the pictures of what I know had to be a mesmerizing experience the guys got me back up and moving down the side of the mountain.

Surprisingly enough, going down was almost as hard as the struggle up.  You had to take slow, steady steps, because any amount of speed could end with a roll down the mountain.  I was having so much trouble with how fast I was gaining speed, I was beginning to get really scared that my flip flops would send me to my death (okay, so maybe only sending me to my knees, butt or for a roll).  Anyway, the sickening feel of panic had my eyes watering again.  And again, Matthew comes over to save his mama.  Slipping his arm around me, he tells me “to lean on him” and he would be my “living walking stick.”

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As we neared the parking lot, I braved a picture and a quick peek of the mountain view.

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As Tracy is getting everything back together, Matthew wants his picture “on” the mountain.

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As we are making our way back to the car, Matthew wants to know if I’m okay, with true concern in his eyes.  Still stifling a tear, I said, “No.  I think I was so scared I wet myself.”  With that, he busted out laughing!  “Mama!  You didn’t pee your pants!  You sat on a wet bench on the way down.”  Guess with my fear of falling coupled with a need to breathe, a wet bench didn’t register (that is until I thought it was pee)!

Looking back at my panic attack that day, I’m thinking no nomination will be coming forth…

* Footnote:  A heart filled, special thanks goes to Tracy and Matthew Sands for their photography skills on this trip.  Had it not been for their incredible thoughtfulness on this particular day, I would not have seen the extraordinary view from Clingmans Dome.

3 comments left with ♥:

tara said...

you go girl!! :) I would not have made it either...but like you said, GOD was right there with you guiding you all the way to the top!! Sounds like a lot of fun...my boys would love to do something like that!!

292 said...

Cool post! I will have you better prepared for "the dome" next year.LOL :)

Julie said...

OMG Melissa~ this is the best post! I got tears and chills all at the same time. It's amazing how you can feel so close to God~ it's like He is staring you in the face when you are there. What great boys you have to take care of you! So proud of you for making it!

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