Resilience via Mountain Therapy

Phew!  We’ve been all over the place lately leaving little time to post meaningful content, but are proud to welcome you to Phase 3 of the “101 Days From Now Challenge!”  We’re over a week into the phase, and I hope you have reviewed your phase goals and are on your way to living the life you deserve.  

If you haven’t started the challenge, why not check out our previous posts.  You can join in now, or start when you are ready.  Don’t forget to subscribe so you can keep up with all of our new articles!

Today, we’d like to share our experience welcoming Phase 3 at the top of Arkansas.  Enjoy!

jaw_20131013-IMG_0549Service members are no stranger to stress and demanding schedules.  Uncle Sam refers to their ability to thrive in the face of stress resilience (or resiliency).  Specifically defined, it “is the ability to withstand, recover and or/grow in the face of stressors and changing demands.”  -DCoE for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.

One important way to build resilience is through an outlet.  It allows you to escape from everyday stresses.  It recharges your mind and body.  For me, that outlet is active and is most always outside.  My focus, stamina, strength, and overall attitude are directly proportionate to the amount of outside time I get.  In fact, exercise (especially when it happens outside) seems to be one of the best ways to build resilience.  It’s science:  “Biologically, exercise seems to give the body a chance to practice dealing with stress. It forces the body’s physiological systems – all of which are involved in the stress response – to communicate much more closely than usual: The cardiovascular system communicates with the renal system, which communicates with the muscular system. And all of these are controlled by the central and sympathetic nervous systems, which also must communicate with each other. This workout of the body’s communication system may be the true value of exercise; the more sedentary we get, the less efficient our bodies in responding to stress.”  Exercise Fuels the Brain’s Stress Buffers, American Psychological Association.

I recently took advantage of an opportunity to serve my country overseas; and will be headed out soon. Even though I volunteered and have had ample time to prepare, it has been somewhat taxing on my family, co-workers, and me.  As time crunches, the stress builds.  I need to get outside…

I find Aaron in the petrol station parking lot napping next to his motorcycle in the late-morning sun.  He is waiting on my tardy arrival but does not seem too irritated at the bit of downtime.  We put the finishing touches on our pack jobs and point the bikes south in pursuit of the top of Arkansas.  A strong crosswind batters us on the highway for the first few hours– we question our transportation decision.  Our efforts are rewarded during the last hour of riding, however, as we twist and turn through the hills all the way to Cove Lake Campground.  We open the gate and make a quick tour of the beautiful, albeit deserted campground.  Unfortunately, the trickle-down effects of bi-partisan disagreements hundreds of miles away affect our plan to enjoy what the lake has to offer.  An un-approving campground caretaker hurriedly chases us out of the “furloughed” site.  Unfazed, we decide to park the bikes at the trailhead and get a head start on the hike and are able to move about 3 miles before pitching our tent trailside at nightfall.

 One overlooked detail was the fact that there is very little lockable space on a motorcycle…  Here, we creatively transfer everything to our backs.
One overlooked detail was the fact that there is very little lockable space on a motorcycle… Here, we creatively transfer everything to our backs.

Somewhere around this time, and unbeknownst to Aaron and I, Erica AKA “Team Rambo” decides she will join the trek.  She moves around some obligations, jumps in the car with a few pieces of gear, and heads our direction.  By the time she is in range, however, we are too far from the road for her to find us in the dark.  We decide to meet at Cameron Bluff in the morning.

trailheadjaw_20001231-IMG_5286The night is very restful for us, and the weather in the morning is cool and calm.  After some hot breakfast we break camp and continue south towards Mount Magazine State Park.  The 9-mile approach to the park is well marked with white diamond blazes.  This really is a beautiful part of the country.  The trail gradually rises up a ridgeline, and offers some great vistas to the west.

ark leaves
By my very scientific calculations, we are 11 days and 4 hours too early to view the peak of the season’s color. There are still quite a few opportunities to take in the sights, though.

The final 2 miles up to Cameron Bluff are quite steep, and the most strenuous of the trip.  Erica has secured a nicecampsite at Cameron Bluff, and we meet her for a well-deserved lunch break.  The last bit of trail from Cameron Bluff to Signal Hill is very moderate (especially without the heavy packs from our first 9 miles!).  The three of us enjoy a leisurely cruise to the top and share photo ops with a few other folks at the top.

jaw_20001231-IMG_5362The rest of the day is spent relaxing and checking out a few other trails around the rim of the plateau.  We eat like royals at dinner around the campfire making plans for a sunrise photo hike and some rock climbing.

cliffsOur luck with the weather runs out after dark– a very strong cold wind picks up and drags a thick blanket of clouds over the mountain.  The grey, chilly, blustery morning quells any motivation of the previous night’s plans.  We investigate the beautiful cliff-side lodge, and break our fast in a scenic pavilion on the edge of Overlook Drive.

jaw_20001231-IMG_5368The ride back north is exhilarating…  Until we hit Oklahoma where it proceeds to dump freezing cold rain on us under-prepared riders for over 2 hours.  A break in Tulsa to warm up and dry off allows the storm to pass, but delays our arrival into Wichita until well after dark.  It’s good to be home again.  I’m physically exhausted, but mentally recharged.

The Ozarks and Ouachita range are definitely places I will spend more time exploring.  At the least, I plan to head back to explore more of Mt. Magazine next year—or approximately 1 year, 11 days, and 4 hours after this trip.

Thanks to the USAF 7 Summits team for being the catalyst for me to choose the top of Arkansas to recharge and reset.  They are currently recruiting Air Force folks from around the US to assist them in carrying the USAF flag to the highest point in all 50 states.  Following my tour overseas, I definitely plan to catch up with them and inspire more people to join me in finding the top of their state.  You can get involved as well!  Head over to their website or FaceBook page for more info.

While digging around on the interwebs for support material for this story, I found The Real Warriors Campaign.  They’ve put together a really interactive site that provides support and education for service members and their families.  I found some very informative articles about building resilience by way of a healthy mind and body.  Even if you are not a service member, you should definitely check it out!

Thanks for reading!  Sharing is appreciated.  Stay tuned for some more nutrition and meal planning ideas from Erica, and some insight on embracing failure.


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