You never know, do you, where a simple decision might lead? How wonderful that a chance resolution can bring great adventures into your life! In the past few years, Wade and I have become hiking enthusiasts. Some of our fondest memories come from exploring the natural world on foot. Our closest friends are now fellow explorers. Together we’re rediscovered the joy of our childhoods – playing outside!
It all started several years ago when I accepted an invitation to join a book club – a “no-brainer” as I’ve been an avid reader since grade school. As expected, I formed friendships and enjoyed cookies and tea during lively discussions of fiction and nonfiction. What I did not expect, though, was to be so captivated by some of the selections. Many book club choices were titles I would never have picked up on my own. (I prefer contemporary fiction with strong female heroines.) The book that “rocked my world” was A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, Bill Bryson’s hilarious tale of how unprepared he was in his forties for rugged hiking. The author totally captured my imagination and encouraged me to challenge my fitness level. As I read, I relayed Bryson’s adventures to Wade, who also wanted to experience part of the Appalachian Trail. We set out for Maryland, since it was a perfect place to meet our son Wyatt and his girlfriend for a visit. They were interested in the Civil War history of the area. We warned them to be prepared for a workout.
We planned on day hiking only, of course; we had no desire to carry sleeping bags and cooking utensils on our backs. We bought hiking boots and hats. We packed backpacks with sunscreen, bug repellent, water, granola bars, fruit, a camera, tissues, rain ponchos and sunglasses. The day we selected was one of the hottest and most humid July days on record that year, so we appreciated the cooler temperatures of the dense forest. Wade, Wyatt, Kelly, and I stopped often to rest on the steep and rocky climbs, enjoying the butterflies that landed on our shoulders and the conversations with friendly hikers. The up hills and switchbacks soon had us dripping with sweat but we persevered and were rewarded with spectacular views of Harper’s Ferry. Perched on boulders high above the historic town, munching on apples and oranges, and marveling at the panorama of sky, rivers, and rolling hills, life seemed complete. We were hooked on hiking.
The following summer, Wade and I planned a vacation to Shenandoah National Forest to hike with a couple whose enthusiasm rivaled our own. The abundance of trails and maps there encouraged us to tackle long and short hikes to waterfalls and overlooks that took our breath away. By trial and error we figured out how to read the painted marks – blazes – on trees to determine which way our path meandered. Being lost became part of the adventure. What could be more fun than trekking along on a forest path where you have never been before, while around the next bend is a view so splendid you could shoot an entire roll of film? Wade, Hope, Harry, and I climbed rocks like kids one-fourth our age, snacking as we cooled off on huge boulders at the base of splashing 4-story waterfalls. We delighted in spotting chipmunks and whitetail deer. Harry taught us to carry a whistle and a knife in our packs for emergencies. We laughed at his attempts to read his compass. We met hikers of all ages. Time stood still. Peace descended.
Smoky Mountain National Forest was our next summer’s destination. All four of us were enchanted by the grottos. The rhododendrons were in glorious bloom. Even when showers made the rocks slick, we braved the treacherous ups and downs for the rewards of a stunning vista and a sense of accomplishment. I took a sudden spill, which certainly hurt, but I didn’t complain at all. I was so thankful that I wasn’t bleeding or in need of x-rays! It was a good thing Hope had booked us a cabin with a hot tub. Soaking away our sore muscles at the end of our days on the trails was a necessity.
Each location we have visited has its own unique foliage, wildlife, and land formations – beautiful and delightful in their own ways. I’m not sure where we’ll hike next. Wyatt would like to return to Harper’s Ferry to explore more trails there. Wade has set a goal of hiking part of the Appalachian Trail in every state from Maine to Georgia. I’m deeply grateful for the chance to share these adventures with my family and friends. I keep my backpack ready to go. It seems to me that humans were created to roam beneath canopies of thick green foliage; to picnic on rock cliffs; to listen to the music of waterfalls and bird calls; to sniff fragrant wildflowers along sun-dappled paths; to pause to marvel at nature’s masterpieces; and to laugh with new and old friends.
Read a book this weekend and see where it takes you! Even if you don’t live near the Appalachian Trail, you would be surprised how many nice hiking trails are all around you. A quick google search will turn up dozens of results.