March 15: Hiking the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Leconte

8:00 AM EDT, Airbnb
We are kindly awoken by nature’s alarm clock, a persistent rooster, demanding that the world wake up to see the sunrise over the Smokies. It’s a quiet morning aside from the rooster, and we go about our morning to cook some breakfast before our 10-mile hike, the Alum Cave Trail to Mount Leconte.

10:00 AM EDT, Alum Cave Trailhead
After a hastily-made breakfast and a scenic drive through some of the Smokies, we arrive at the Alum Cave Trailhead, approximately ten miles total. It starts off pretty good; we’re in high spirits and we’re making good pace: 3 miles an hour.

Alum Cave Trailhead

10:42 AM EDT, Alum Cave Trail
The terrain is starting to get a little icy and snowy, as expected since it’s barely even spring. I’m starting to get a little nervous and cautious about where I’m stepping. While trying to step up onto a patch of snow and ice, I fall, face-first, bruising my left knee and my right hip. (Don’t ask me how I contorted myself like that.) I brush it off, becoming even more wary of where I’m stepping.

11:00 AM EDT, Alum Cave Trail
About twenty minutes later, Jaret steps the wrong way on some ice and almost falls off a cliff. I mean, the only things that save him are his quick reflexes and hand strength from rock climbing. He just pulls himself right off that cliff and laughs it off, while I’m recovering from a near heart-attack from that.

11:14 AM EDT, Alum Cave
We reach the halfway point, the Alum Cave, which is this huge, cavernous opening that stretched about a thousand feet over our heads. Naturally, the ice was melting, so the icicles continue dripping from the top of the cave above us.  We take a ten-minute break to snack before getting on the Mt. Leconte trail.

The view from our break spot in Alum Cave

12:35 PM EDT, Mt. Leconte Trail
I have my first big mental breakdown. I’m ready to quit. I’m sore and out of shape; my hips hurt and my feet are swollen. I’m not having a good time. I actually start having an anxiety attack on the trail, but Jaret calms me down.

1:13 PM EDT, Mt. Leconte Trail
I have my second big mental breakdown. This time though, I am adamant about finishing the hike, but this trail is difficult. My body desperately wants me to stop. Jaret calms me down again and recommends I eat a little bit, which helps my energy but doesn’t stop my pain.


1:50PM EDT, Mt. Leconte Clifftops
We summit! My body is in so much pain that my brain completely shuts down. I immediately lose all control of my feelings and all I can feel is anger towards myself for not preparing at all for this hike. But everyone else is ecstatic to be at the top. It’s 6400 feet above sea level and a beautiful view. We start heading down.

The view at the top of Mt. Leconte. Thanks to that girl in the blue for being my model for the picture.

4:36 PM EDT, Alum Cave Trailhead
It’s always faster coming down than it is going up. We finish the hike in about 6.5 hours — 4 hours going up and 2.5 hours coming down. We made pretty good time and we just accomplished one of the hardest trails in the Smokies!

8:40 PM EDT, Airbnb
Jaret and I can’t figure out how to turn on the hot water, so we fiddle with the tub for twenty minutes, call some help, and finally take showers. In an attempt to turn on the jacuzzi though, Jaret sprays the water everywhere across the floor, getting everything wet. But, the jacuzzi bath is nice and relaxing, and we are ready to do nothing tomorrow.

March 14-17: The Great Smoky Mountains Reflection and Advice for Hikers
March 14: Driving up to the Smokies <–  –> March 16: Waterfall, river, and fried catfish!

March 14: Driving up to the Smokies


8:00 AM CDT, St. Louis
We leave St. Louis early. It’s gonna be a eight-hour drive.

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Packed up and ready to go at the break of dawn!

12:46 PM CDT, 30 minutes from Nashville
While driving peacefully for about a couple hundred miles on this two-lane highway, we run into an ornery and hostile person driving a semi carrying flammable liquid. We eventually escape him but we watch him tail some other unfortunate people in the rearview mirror.

5:48 PM EDT, Sevierville
We arrive at our Airbnb, a little, red cottage tucked into this mountain town. The place is equipped with all the amenities: a hot tub, fridge, microwave, cable, and heat.

6:42 PM EDT, Blue Moose Burgers & Wings
Good ol’ American burgers and wings are how we decide to end the night. I got their wings dipped in their Signature Hot sauce and Jaret dove into his Patty Melt and fries. Big meal for a big hike tomorrow!

March 14-17: The Great Smoky Mountains Reflection and Advice for Hikers
–> March 15: Hiking the Alum Cave Trail to Mt. Leconte


Dear World: Confessions from a Graduating 20-Year Old

Dear World,

I’m not ready for what people think I need to do. I’ve done everything that I could to prepare me for you, but I feel like it’s not enough. Everybody said that I was going to be fine, but it definitely does not feel like it. I’ve put in so much effort to look for jobs, to apply for them, and to interview well. I’ve done all those things, but I still feel incomplete and empty.

Is there a word for extreme dissatisfaction?

I’ve never been able to pick just one thing to study. The reality is — I don’t even want to do only one thing my entire life. I won’t be able to sit at a company and act as a cog in their machine. I don’t even care about money or success. I just want to be happy, but happiness is not guaranteed just because a person is rich and successful. My happiness is in a direct correlation with your less fortunate inhabitants and their health.

I want to cure your injustices; I want to heal your hurt. I want to show those that there is so much more to life than materialism and security. I want to scream at the top of my lungs and wake the blissfully sleeping bats in Plato’s cave.

But will they listen?

Will my search for a well-paying company that gives me the best healthcare and retirement plans change you —  change the lives of people who can’t access clean, filtered water? Will my ignorant comfortability save the children separated from their families? How does my middle-class success story help anyone break beyond the barriers of extreme poverty in America?

No. My dear World, I’m not ready for you. People are selfish and I don’t belong out there with them. Is it their fault? I don’t believe that anyone is inherently bad. But maybe, they’re just not ready for me.

A lost but optimistic girl who is hoping to change You someday,