Knowing Your Limits

A year or so back, I was invited to do a winter hike in one of my favorite outdoor spots, The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As a self proclaimed outdoorsman, I quickly accepted the invitation, thus starting the tedious process of checking my gear, packing and preparing for what would be one hell of an adventure.

The trip started with an early 4a.m. departure from Lafayette and one solid clear directive - Make it to the Smoky Mountain Brewery in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee before night fall. After 12+ hours of driving, we eventually made it into town, a little past sunset, greeted by the promise of cold temperatures and delicious beer. The exact details of that night at the brewery live in legend, but can be summed up as followed: Beer - Pizza - Music! Shout out to Chad McWilliams - total Boss! 


The next morning we awoke feeling slightly hungover but ready to tackle whatever mother nature could throw at us. This year's hike started a little different, we had gathered knowledge earlier in the morning that the road leading to our usual trail, Alum Cave Trail, was closed due to a catastrophic event. Instead of turning away at this ominous sign we pressed on, taking the scenic, less hiked, Rainbow Falls Trail, instead. For those not familiar with the area, Rainbow Falls Trail is a beautiful 6.6 miles (total lie) of scenic overlooks and up hill hiking. Sort of a hikers dream, right?  

Hiking conditions that morning were sunny and calm but as the day and hike progressed temperatures started to plummet and an apocalyptic haze rolled in making the trail look more like an scene from The Bourne Identity and less like a beautiful portion of the Appalachian Trail.


With an ambient air temperature below 20° we trudged on, tackling frozen waterfalls, ice slicks, deep snow, and damn near treacherous uphill hiking for miles, breaking only to eat when we could. 

Around hours 3 of hiking, feeling somewhere between confused and out of my mind, my body started to shut down. The struggle was real, I literally hit limit.

I remember distinctly, every three or four steps I had to rest, covered in sweat, shivering, cold, breathing heavy, reaching for calories, water, literally standing in position thinking nothing but listening to the voice in my head telling me to "Sit down...take a break...close my eyes and rest."

I was experiencing what countless individuals whom have been in this situation experience, "The little voice in your head. I heard it clearer than any voice in my whole life. Those words were so real, so vivid. All I wanted to do was give in.

In that moment, if it wasn't for my mates, in front of and behind me, pushing through, encouraging, and enduring the same struggle I was enduring, I would probably would have turned into a popsicle. 


On the mountain that day, I admittedly hit my upper limit. The struggle of that accent, for me, was real but for others not so much. Unarguably, each person has their own limits and pushing oneself to those limits is the only way to discover what they truly are. 

- Cliff