Lent Photo-a-Day 3/15: Celebrate -- Baby Steps

Fighting Creek Nature Trail
Sugarlands, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
© 2011 Kristina Plaas
 Today's post is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend at the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Volunteer Appreciation Banquet last night. Though we don't know each other well just yet, our life journeys have recently led us down a shared path -- the unexpected death of a parent. Life has issued each of us some other difficult challenges. Though different in our challenges the struggle is maybe not so different. I shared just a tiny portion of my struggle, though time and circumstances did not permit a more heartfelt, private conversation. One of the things I have learned is that all challenges are overcome by taking baby steps. It's impossible to take bigger steps or get through the challenge faster. I've also learned that all baby steps really are big steps. And so I'm sharing a piece of my story with the hope that it will be of help to my friend, to all my friends who may wonder if they can survive and conquer. I promise, if I can, you can too.

I was 31 years old when I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, though I've had symptoms since I was a teenager. I was a very busy advanced practice registered nurse with ambitious professional goals. It was not a diagnosis I was thrilled to receive. Fibro is an interesting chronic disease in that you may be mildly affected with little impact on daily living, severely affected and completely disabled, and everything in between. I've done all of the above. Most frustrating were the almost 15 years I was severely affected by fibro, lived in almost constant pain, and was depressed and exhausted as a result. Walking from the living room sofa to the bathroom was a struggle some days. I was heavily medicated to address the symptoms, I slept a lot, and it took me many times longer to do everything than was my norm. Life was hard, but I refused to believe that things would stay that way. Hope is my mantra and I refused to give up on my dreams, even when months and years of no progress stared me in the face.

In October 2010 my dear friend Paula and I took a short trip to the North Carolina High Country and explored the Blue Ridge Parkway near Boone, NC. She encouraged me to walk to a couple of waterfalls on short, easy trails. I love waterfalls, so we grabbed our cameras and started out. Paula is very patient and made a thousand rest stops with me, and we made it. It was HARD but I didn't die. No, I wanted more. I didn't care how much I hurt or how tired I was. I wanted more. Paula gave me the vision of what my life could be if I was patient and persistent. I was hopeful.

Hike to Laurel Falls
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
© 2011 Kristina Plaas
On an unusually sunny and warm February day in 2011, I took the first step in what I now call my healing journey. I walked the shortest, flattest, easiest trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Fighting Creek Nature Trail, from Sugarlands Visitors Center to Cataract Falls behind Park Headquarters. The top photo is a bridge on that trail. Walking along the creek, I felt like someone had just given me a Get Out of Jail Free card. I was breaking out of my prison. I had been going through many medication changes and was super sick, but I was determined to succeed.

I spent March and April looking for wildflowers, my passion. I walked short distances in places I had never been -- Chestnut Top, Porter's Creek, Elkmont -- snapping photos and resting a lot. Baby steps, great big baby steps. I bought a daypack and my first pair of hiking shoes. I was going to hike for healing. In May I got courageous and hiked to places I thought I would never see again in my life -- Laurel Falls and Clingmans Dome. And I did it on the same day! As you can see in the Dome photo, I look wiped out, and I was, but I was also jubilant. It didn't matter that it took me a full hour to "crawl" to the top of the Dome. I had just conquered Everest! It was a day worthy of celebration. I don't typically let people photograph me on the trail (hot mess!), but on that day I had many people ask if I wanted photos of myself on the trail. I'm glad they did and that I said yes!

In June I went to Roan Mountain for the first time to see the Catawba Rhododendron in bloom. I slowly hauled my pitiful body to the top of Round Bald and savored the view. I was hooked and I wasn't going to stop. My baby steps were getting me to places I never thought possible. I was still sick, but I was taking less medicine and I was much less depressed. A year later and I had successfully weaned off all fibro meds. Two years after I made that monumental hike to the top of Clingmans Dome I started working as a park volunteer at Clingmans Dome, hiking to the top of the mountain every week. What was once impossible was now routine. it's still hard for me, but I'm addicted to that hike and that view.

It's been four years since my life-changing hike to Cataract Falls, and I am still amazed. I'm still a terrible hiker but I'm slowly working my way through a list of dream hikes. I stop a lot, take tons of photos, I sing, and I breathe, and I let my soul soar. I hope I will be ready to do my ultimate hike in another year or two -- Mount Le Conte. This time last year Le Conte wasn't even on my bucket list because it was too unrealistic to even consider. I have reconsidered. I have faith that I can do it with patience, persistence, and a lot of divine intervention. I'm taking counsel from a favorite scripture:

Let us lay aside every weight, ...and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

My Le Conte experience is waiting. I know it will happen, one baby step at a time. Oh what a celebration that will be!
Hike to Clingmans Dome Observation Tower
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
© 2011 Kristina Plaas


  1. I just read your post. Wondering if you ever made it to LeConte. Hope so. I was once a volunteer in the park and was lucky to hike the Alum Cave trail many times. I met and photographed Margaret Stevenson on that trail as well as Ed Wright who actually mentioned me in his book 1001 hikes to Mt LeConte. Great memories.


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