Overcoming Overwhelming Obstacles and Reaching New Milestones—Virgin Falls

If you are a friend or family member, you may have read this Hiking with Your Honey blog when we started it five years ago. We had dreams of leaving our day jobs by monetizing this blog and getting accommodations and meals for free to in exchange for reviews. However, those dreams were dashed on Memorial Day Weekend 2016.

That’s when I got really sick and was diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. For those of you who don’t know, this tick-born illness can be fatal. I was blessed in that we found the tick in 24 hours—and I had the minimum level of bacteria to have a positive test, but eight hours is enough time to catch a tick born illness. That’s why it’s important to check yourself for ticks as soon as you can.

Even with the least amount of bacteria, I was really sick for a few months. God is so good, though, and when two rounds of uber strong conventional antibiotics didn’t work, He led me to an alternative treatment. I took it, and although I still get flare ups now and then, I can tell when they come, and I have a remedy to treat them. A whole host of other illnesses followed as the antibiotics destroyed my gut lining and inflammation invaded my body. Hashimoto’s came as that inflammation attacked my thyroid, and uterine fibroids came as inflammation attacked my reproductive system.

The inflammation has also attacked my joints resulting in frozen shoulders, degenerative arthritis in my lower back, and bursitis in my hip. All of those conditions made my exercise shift from being able to hike five miles to struggling to get in two miles. So, our hiking adventures stopped—for a time.

We also stopped writing on this blog, because it was too painful that we couldn’t do something we loved as easily any more.

But God. He knows our desires and how much we love to be out in his creation together. He has healed us somewhat, and He has asked us to do our part.

So, what is our part to overcome these illnesses? How do you get back out on the trail after life or health has thrown you one curve ball after another?

Take one step at a time. I started doing 10-minute walks August 1, 2020. Then 20. Then 30. Then 45. Then one hour. Then up hill. Every day I did something. For one month. No matter how tired I was. No matter how much I hurt. I went. I just modified. Some days, I had to turn around and stop short. But I always did my best.

And when we were ready to take on an amazing adventure a month later, that perseverance paid off.

We embarked on a six-day waterfall adventure commemorating our six-year wedding anniversary in September 2020. On the sixth day, we were planning to set out for our longest hike—more than nine miles to Virgin Falls—up hill, over rocks, on a strenuous path.

After some of our other difficulties at Cummins and Fall Creek Falls, I had asked Seth if the Virgin Falls trails were more difficult. He had said no—they weren’t harder, just longer.

He was right. We had learned and prepared. We had discovered what snacks (protein bars and apples) helped us to keep going. We had figured out when to take breaks by simply bending over, and we had learned when to sit down. We were ready for this longer adventure. But I was still nervous. What if I couldn’t make it? What if I disappointed Seth and he didn’t get to see the one waterfall he really wanted to see on the trip? He’s so wonderful. He assured me that it was OK if I couldn’t go that far. He was happy that I was out there with him doing my best. He said we would grow and learn, and if needbe, we would try again at another time.

I did my part by dressing the part. I wore my “Look like a beauty, train like a beast” shirt. Although I don’t feel nearly as lovely as I did when we began our hiking with your honey adventures five years ago when I weighed 15 pounds less than I do today, the shirt still reminded me that I had been training. Each time I took a step, I was helping my body stay as fit as it could be.

We got in the car and headed out. At the trailhead for Virgin Falls, we were amazed to see a large family with six children including three or more under five years old, and a baby that mom was carrying on her back. They were getting out of their very large van—more like a small bus—getting ready to head out for the day

Some of the kids, even in the parking lot, were expressing themselves with ear-piercing shrieks. Let’s get on the trail fast and get way past them, we thought to ourselves. But another part of me thought if that mom and dad can do this with all those rug rats, surely, we, as middle-aged adults, could hike this trail with only ourselves to worry about.

In the scurry to get on the trail quickly, I got out of the car, put on my hiking boots, grabbed my hiking sticks, and day pack and ran off—without my phone. I didn’t realize that I had left it in the car until 2.5 miles in—when we were halfway to the waterfall. I was somewhat worried about because it was a brand-new phone with a bright orange case, and I knew it was lying right in the middle of the car seat for all to see. My husband asked me if I wanted to turn around. He didn’t want me worrying about someone breaking into the car for the rest of the day. I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to let something material take this moment away from my husband. I wasn’t going to not make it to the falls if I was physically able to get there. And I was going strong. We kept going.

At that 2.5-mile mark, we went off the trail and headed down a side trail to a wonderful pool made by rapids in a large creek. On hot summer days, we wear our swimming suits underneath our hiking clothes, and we also carry our FitKicks in our day packs, which are shoe like on the bottom but look like socks. They serve as water shoes and are light weight. We think it is worth it to change your shoes to not get your boots wet. We grabbed a protein bar and then we waded into the cool, refreshing water.

When we were in the natural pond, we saw that large family with the many children walk by us. We couldn’t believe it. They all hiked in line without a fuss. I guess the kids had gotten used to what they were doing that day. Watching that family pass us gave me more inspiration to keep going. If they can continue, so can I, I thought.

We stopped once more after another hour had passed. As we climbed up and down the trail with large rocks, we eventually came to the moment we had been waiting for—at long last, Virgin Falls was in sight.

The pictures dwarf this and the other massive falls we saw on this trip. In reality, most of these falls are about four times taller than they appear in the pictures. The only way to truly experience the beauty of Virgin Falls is to see it for yourself. This experience was worth every sore muscle and every body ache that I had during the last month of physical training.

I was finally able to relax in front of the falls. We got out our lightweight Bear brand tarp, and we just sat there, taking in the view. Without the journey, the end view isn’t nearly so rewarding. We had learned to be patient, to enjoy intermittent conversation, and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Encouraging one another and wanting to finish the journey with each other kept us going. And then we celebrated our victory be reveling in our destination.

There were only a couple times when we were together that we had to abandon our destination because we got lost along the journey. One time was really a God detour—wwe ran into people who we had been wanting to see but we didn’t know their names or how to contact them. Another time was when we legitimately got lost in the woods (link to lost in the woods story( when we were dating. I had grace for Seth I was dating at the time because I had often gotten lost myself before GPS days.

Today, though, we weren’t lost. We took a bunch of pictures at these amazing falls. I watched as Seth did a bit more rock climbing to get closer to the falls so he could get some water to filter. Filtering water is a Godsend because you don’t have to carry so much weight. Seth has amazing filtration gear, and the filtered water tastes great.

After about an hour enjoying our view, we knew we had to head back so that we would get home before dark. The last thing we would want to do after hiking that far would be to drive in the dark.

On the way back, to cool off, we stopped at a destination we had only glanced at on the way down. This time we really enjoyed Big Laurel Falls because we were the only ones there. It felt amazing to be under this waterfall with a similar name as mine.

As we got back toward the last quarter of our journey, the park started getting crowded. It was a Friday, and many people were going to camp near the falls for the weekend. If you could hike Virgin Falls on a weekday—and maybe not a Friday, we would recommend that.

Despite the crowds at the end, this journey was absolutely an amazing day. The trek ended up being more than 11 miles. If you are looking at a lengthier journey than you are used to, I’d like to offer a some keys to success from our amazing journey:

  1. Break the long path into shorter stints. Only consider the next destination. Thinking I had 11 miles to go was completely overwhelming. Knowing I only had 2.5 miles to go at a time was doable.
  2. Never let fear or a setback keep you from moving forward. You can often overcome challenges doing just a little bit to move forward. Little steps of obedience make a big difference over time. It took us four years from my tick bite and other injuries to embark on such an epic journey. But from the time I decided that I could do it, it only took a month of serious training. Making the decision is often half the battle.
  3. Do your best to share your dreams with others, and work with them to make your dreams come true. Two of you together can spur each other on to greater heights. Two of you can keep each other accountable to keep working.

Putting these keys into practice will enable you to scale more rocks in your path than you ever thought possible. Overcome one obstacle at a time, and you will reach a new milestone. But most importantly, enjoy the journey, and stop and savor the beauty. Love the ones you love well, grow together, and you just might have the adventure you dreamed of—just like we did at Virgin Falls.

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