Are you worried about your pod? My friend asked, as I stood in the sunlight on the sloping curve of the rock we’d been perched on for the past hour.
“Oh, um yeah, my pod. That’s what I’m worried about.” ‘Pod schmod,’ I thought. “No, no honestly I’m worried about the terrifying moment when I hit that freezing cold water!” I can’t lie to my friends for long. “It’s not terrifying! You’re going to love it!” My other friend chimed in from where she sat, hugging her knees, wet hair clinging to her back. Unmoved I replied, “It’s the cold that’s absolutely terrifying, once you know it, and I’ve jumped in once, it can’t full me!”
We were deep in the woods cuddling up to a tumbling narrow stream in the Black Mountains of North Carolina. I won’t say just where, because it was nice to have it all to ourselves for so long, but you’ll find it if you look hard enough. On the way we glided by birch and beech and hemlock trees and scrambled over tumbled oaks and tulip poplars. On one of these fallen giants a mushroom forest drew a cloud of flies drawn to the fruiting bodies. Underneath one such brown, dank body was a scalloped tail as long as my middle finger, leading to a copper colored curving form with an almost tiger like head. We soon found our salamander’s buddy and realized we might be outnumbered if we looked closely enough in the cracks and crevices of the decomposing tree, so we hopped over and onward.
After a thorough scramble, hand over hand from one rhododendron arm to the next, we landed in the creek. Hopping and sliding up the mossy rocks we pursued the sunlight and climbed steadily and meticulously. Lunch happened, and it was good, as lunch always is in the middle of a hike. My new favorite T1D approved picnic food is the ‘Epic Bison Bar’ with cranberries. As a protein bar it can’t be beat, but it doesn’t come packaged with sugars and processed fillers, so you can munch on it along with some raw veggies and fruit, and then of course some chocolate, to make a complete power meal. I digress, as food is apt to make me do.
So I have to say, I was at the point, sweaty, a little tired, scraped up to a nice extent, and the water was looking better and better. The light played with the current and sprayed sparkling reflections onto the bellies of overhanging rocks. My desire to leap in, even to the shallow pools, was becoming irresistible.
“Woohoo! We’re here! You’re going to want to come up here!” My friend shouted at me and another of us who were lagging behind. We gathered our packs and made for the final scramble, right in time to hear a plunging splash and squeal as one of our friends who led us to the swimming hole like she were tracing a line on her palm, shot off the slick stone shoot and into a pool 6 feet deep and clear as crystal.
Packs down, I belly flopped in like the poor swimmer I’ve always been and thrashed about wildly in the particular sort of ecstasy that unbearably cold water brings. Invigorated, I crawled out to sun and enjoy stillness, a rare commodity lately.
Stillness happened for a long time, sounds volleying for position: the tumble of the narrow cascade, a rush of wrens and tit mice and snowbirds, the bugs and wind and leaves. Lulled. But I was dreading that rock slide.
You know when there is something fun, slightly epic, but also a little unknown and scary, and you just have to do it? You can’t not do it. I mean you could not do it, you could swim, you could nap in the sun, you could have a perfectly good relaxing time, but there’s that little adrenaline-surging slide back into that pool of icy water and you can’t not do it! That’s how I felt and the longer I waited, the more I dreaded it.
Ultimately it was the mango that provided the final push. Yep, my friends know that I respond to snacks. I’d just about convinced myself that I was low (blood sugar wise) when my friend pulled out her bag of dried mango to share. My gal pals were behind my desire to complete the challenge but none of their goading had worked, until I asked for a slice of mango. As I was reaching for it my friend snatched away the bag she had extended to me, swatting at my hand and reprimanding, “Not until you slide!”
I rose, walked to the edge, and my friend who had guided us all this way, rose too, modeling proper form graciously and zipping down the 5 foot chute. Mango in mind and friends behind me, I sat down and pushed off, flying and arcing triumphantly, plunging, smile on my face, into the pool. A satisfaction slide. The kind of baptism that’s only possible at a summertime swimming hole, taking your breath away and clearing your mind. I came up for air surrounded by friends and and bright green tree tops. It’s the last few weeks they will hold those leaves and they remind me to bask in friendship and the way it strengthens me.