It was early evening in the mountains, and we’d stopped at a lookout to take in the view. I could hear water rushing somewhere below us, but I couldn’t see it. Oh well, I thought, this is Shenandoah, there will be plenty of waterfalls. As we stretched our legs walking the length of the lookout, a trail appeared to our left. Without much thought, Sadie and I took it. It headed downhill at an angle we NEVER see on our flat beach/wetland trails. Soon, cold water was pouring down the rocks, and I felt a little thrill as it flowed refreshingly into my my new Keens. I looked back at my dog, wondering if she would be intimidated by the slope and the water. She just panted at me, paws already wet and muddy, tongue lolling as if to say “why did you stop?”
Wow, I thought, as we splashed downhill, I’d forgotten this feeling. We were less than 100 yards from the road, and I was already grinning. A few feet later, we ran into another trail, and turned left, heading toward the rushing water sounds. Turns out there was indeed a waterfall:
A glance at a sign post soon revealed that this waterfall was on the Appalachian Trail, which runs right through Shenandoah National Park. You’re never very far from the AT when you drive along Skyline Drive, but I didn’t really figure that out until later when I looked at a map. In that moment, discovering that iconic trail felt like magic.
More than 8 months earlier, I didn’t know that a hike up to Elephant Rock, just outside of Salt Lake City, would be my last real hike. But the coronavirus has changed everything; it’s grounded all normal travel plans, and kept me on flat terrain even as my feet and soul have itched for mountains.
So, this little weekend away was full of re-learning, of discovering how to do things I’d forgotten how to do, like packing a backpack or climbing an actual hill. Had it really been more than 1/2 a year since I’d done that? Yep. Time has both crawled and flown by these last months.
How long had it been since I’d talked to someone at the front desk of a hotel/motel? Or since I’d slept in a bed that was not my own? Thanks to a Disney family trip in March, that memory was fresher, but we didn’t have masks back then.
Did I remember how to use my camera? Not really…my sunset photos from this trip are kind of a mess. But I got slowly more comfortable as the weekend progressed; I remembered what f stops and shutter speed meant. 🙂 .
But by far the best bit of remembering had nothing to do with the changes wrought by the virus.
Almost 10 years ago, I realized I wanted to travel more, and that I was hugely intimidated at the idea of doing it alone. I did it, because I wanted to prove that I could, but the first time, I really didn’t enjoy myself all that much. I was too self conscious, too in my head, too concerned with how other might see me in my aloneness and think me lacking somehow. The last time Sadie and I took a trip together, everything had felt wrong; I hadn’t been able to find it in myself to truly enjoy being out there with just my dog and me.
I have wonderful people in my life, and in those 10 years, I haven’t had to travel alone much, for which I’m profoundly grateful. But recently, while slowly becoming more comfortable in my own skin, I’d begun to wonder if I’d been spoiled by all the grand adventures I’d taken with friends and family. After all, those folks might not always be there to adventure with; had I lost the ability to have fun on my own? As a solo gal living in the age of a pandemic, I’d damn well better be able to make my own fun, right?
I didn’t realize it until it was over, but this Shenandoah weekend was a test to see if remembered how to adventure by myself. I am happy to report that I passed with flying colors.
Sadie and I tramped all over the park, and I never once worried that people were looking at me, wondering what was so wrong with me that I was out there on my own. We hiked scrambled down to waterfalls and up to the top of the highest peak in the park (up the easy trail – she is a senior dog, after all) without ever feeling self conscious. I was able to thoroughly soak up views like this:
Later that night, I sat cozy in my cabin, a breeze coming through the open door, the sun lighting up the trees outside, and wondered if I should pack up the dog and go back out to try to take pictures of the sunset. My attempts from the previous night’s sunset hadn’t turned out well. But I was happy and content to be exactly where I was, and so I snuggled under the blankets, Sadie snoring next to me, and let myself get lost in my Outlander re-read. I’d had a good day, and there was nothing more to need.
What a delightful place to find oneself, when the last months have left me feeling so needy for something, anything, to break up the days.
The next morning, we drove more than 60 miles down Skyline Drive at 35 mph, just to try to catch some views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I embraced my inner teenage boy by stopping to snicker and take a picture of the view from Naked Creek Overlook:
Bacon Hollow viewpoint offered the views I was hoping for, even if there was no bacon to be had:
By the time we reached the end of Skyline Drive, reality was beginning to creep back in. Hailstorms, pounding rain, and the never-ending traffic of I64 did the rest, and by the time I was back home, the trip felt like it had already been over for days.
But happily, this little blog exists to help me call back the memories, and I can still feel the residual effects of those hills and views and waterfalls in my legs and lungs; they haven’t gone away completely. I don’t know when I’ll get to go back, or who with, but it’s a good thing to remember what it feels like to be deep in the woods, or perched on a rock with a valley spread below you. Together or alone, there’s nothing quite like it.
PS: Some things I have not remembered how to do, apparently. Like taking selfies with my dog. What in the world was happening here?