Jera Brown, IL
Jera’s work has appeared in VICE, BUST, Marie Claire, The Week, Daily Dot, and Sojourners among many others. She received her MFA from Columbia College Chicago and has taught creative writing at Ivy Tech Bloomington. In the past, she’s been a tech specialist, an opera, jazz, and folk singer, and an aerobics instructor. She now lives in Chicago where she’s active in interfaith spiritual and social justice communities, and she escapes the city whenever she can with her beloved shelter mutt Sherman to seek out adventures in the wild (even if the wild is a well-marked trail in Indiana).
As a Story Terrace writer, Jera interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.
Ascending Blood Mountain
One ascends Blood Mountain twenty-eight miles into the Appalachian Trail heading north.
Twenty-eight miles is a mere one percent of the entire 2,189.2 miles of the trail, but to my father and me, backpacking for the first time in our lives, those twenty-eight miles were momentous, victorious, and excruciating.
By the time we started up Blood Mountain, the bottoms and sides of my feet were covered in
blisters, and each step felt like walking barefoot over sharp gravel. Dad, worse off than me, had suffered a stress fracture in his back on the very first day.
We’d trained the best we could. That spring, as I finished my first year of grad school and
taught an undergraduate course for the first time, I also trained for my first half-marathon at
Dad’s request. I’d call him after my runs: me in Chicago, Dad in Indiana.
“Ran my first eight miles,” I’d say. “Those last two were killer.”
“Well,” he’d respond. “I don’t think it gets easier; you just learn to go farther.”
Beyond a shared desire to stay healthy and a love of meeting goals, I saw the runs (and the
phone calls) as acts of love. This form of bonding wasn’t for everyone, but it worked for us.
With a life of my own hundreds of miles away from my parents, this became our way of staying close. (The following year, Mom and I would walk a half-marathon together after her second knee replacement.)
Dad and I continued our pain-filled bonding on the trail. Blood Mountain was significant because it was the last segment of our trip. We were stopping at Neal Gap on the other side,
having decided that nearly 32 miles was a good starting point.
I don’t remember much of the hike up except that it was steep and covered in smooth rock.
Instead, I remember my deep relief at the summit as I shed my backpack. Even my feet stopped hurting as we both climbed up a boulder to gaze out at the miles of mist-covered green mountaintops.
And what I remember most acutely was signing our names in the registration book I found in
the stone shelter at the summit. Earning our place among the dozens of signatures meant much more than the accomplishment of climbing a mountain. It was proof that we had done it together.
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