I was not prepared academically, socially, or mentally. In retrospect, I probably should not have gone. I spent a lot of time alone, I spent a lot of time struggling with my coursework at first, and a decent amount of time sad.
I usually jump head first into most things, and for this one I was not prepared. I look back and think that being unprepared was what left me feeling sad, however then I think about how happy I was after I learned to look at the bigger picture.
I chose Western Carolina University for two reasons. First, it had the cheapest in-state tuition in NC so be default it was the only school I could afford. Secondly and more importantly to me was it's location. The campus an hour south of Asheville, NC sits in middle of the North Carolina mountains. It is steps from great trout rivers, 15 minutes, from great trails, 30 minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway, and 45 minutes from the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The campus is literally in the middle of the mountains, the town of Cullowhee is Cherokee for valley of the lillies and the campus sits in this valley surrounded by mountain ridges and peaks. Since I was an avid rock climber and backpacker it seemed like it would be a place for me.
For my first few months I walked around only concentrating on what I was doing and what was in front of me. I was surrounded by tall concrete and brick buildings, like an urban canyon. That is all I saw. One day it dawned on me, look up!
I was walking across campus and the two buildings in front of me, both nine stories tall, were all could see. Once I looked up, I saw beautiful fall mountains a literal stones throw away.
This is one the most important things I have learned in my life to date. My wife will tell you that recount this lesson and this day often. Stop what you are doing at look at the bigger picture. It is simple but it so profound. there were many days after this you would have seen me walking through campus with a smile on my face looking like a space cadet. It is because as I was walking my focus was on the beauty of area.
I often recount this when I am leading hiking trips. I often plan my trips with distance, time and pace in mind. We charge down the trails looking at the pathway in front of us. Then it will hit me again. Stop! Don't stare down the path, look around. You are surrounded by beauty that can be seen in the smallest thing from spider webs to rocks.
If you focus solely on what you are doing you will miss all the good around you.
This applies to healthy living as well. I often think about the workout I am doing or the one that is coming up. I need to think about the long term goal and what the effect of this workout will have on my goal. Also to stop and think about my accomplishments and how my goals have morphed.
As I wrote this I was thinking about what the people who live in large cities away from nature are missing. Then I realized that you can take a large city like Chicago or NYC and ponder the history, the diversity, the architecture, or all of the forces that work in concert to make it work like a living organism and easily find beauty in that. I know I can.
I hope that everyone who reads this will take a moment this weekend to look at the bigger picture; either in the outdoors, in their training, or in their own lives. When you do take this time please come back and share it. I would love to know what your bigger picture is.
I did this on the way to work today just before I turned off the small highway I travel on. I was thinking about the day, what I needed to do at work, chores for the weekend, and holiday plans. Then I looked up and saw the mountains and it reminded my of the first time I did this. Below is a poor blackberry picture of what I was looking at. Have a great weekend!