Monday, August 27, 2012

Shenandoah Farewell

An SNP deer lets me take this closeup
Shenandoah National Park has been my favorite stomping ground since I first moved to the DC area.  My ex and I spent our first mountain trip there and walked on its trails for more than two decades.  We were often joined by our two dogs, Ranger and Buster, two perfect trail mutts who bounded between us eager to see what was around the next corner.  My ex and I would take long day hikes, finishing around 4 p.m. or so, then head back to the cabin or campsite for a beer or two.  I preferred to backpack, which we did occasionally, he preferred car camping or staying in one of PATC’s cabins.  We rang in the new millennium in 1999 there.  We spent the weekend before my Dad’s death there, our last trip in the park together.  In between we soaked up its riches and shared countless happy moments.   We saw our first bear in the wild there, not to mention countless deer, a copperhead or two and once a rattlesnake.  We learned how to set up a tent after you forgot the tent poles at home in those woods.

That’s why I had to take a final hike there before leaving the DC area. 

I wanted a simple hike, so I parked at Booten’s Gap in Central SNP with the intention of camping at Rock Springs Hut, summiting Hawksbill Mountain (highest point in SNP) either that afternoon or the next morning.

It turned out to be one of those hikes that brings to mind the trekker’s adage, “don’t quit on a bad day.”   I’ve been on numerous solo hikes over the past year as I train for the Long Trail.  This was the first time I felt lonely.  Or perhaps it wasn’t loneliness so much as the past clinging to me like quicksand, dragging my spirits down into the muck of regret.

With my spirits flagging, I decided to camp at Big Meadows Campground, preferring the “luxury” of a campground instead of a hut.  It was the right decision.  A large campfire, the sound of children laughing from the families camped nearby and plentiful deer wandering the grounds relieved my melancholy.

As I watched my fire I told myself that I am moving past my break-up grief stemming from the loss of two relationships.  “It’s over, it’s over,” I told myself, trying to focus on the fact that in the coming week I would be finally leaving D.C. and my life here and, more importantly, starting my Long Trail hike and eventual move to Seattle.  Since June my life has been about ending things.  I am about to start beginning things.

Well, almost. 

The next morning I rose at 6:30 and broke camp at 8:30 (truly, if there is one thing I enjoy most, it’s a hot breakfast outdoors).  I hiked the rest of the way to Hawksbill, and summited at 10:07.  The day was hazy and overcast.  Below me stretched the beautiful Shenandoah in the mist.  Flanked by Massanutten and Old Rag.  Never one to miss an opportunity for sentimentality, I could see my ex and I still tromping over those trails below, Ranger and Buster joyously bounding at our feet.  Looking at Old Rag I remembered the many hikes up its slopes he and I led since 1987, sharing the camaraderie that comes from enjoying the fellowship of a beautiful view gained from a day of steep hiking and a rock scramble.

My heart full of these memories and images, I climbed down from there. 

It became hard to see the trail ahead.  Hikers really shouldn’t cry.

View of Old Rag from Hawksbill summit


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