Yesterday, freedom of the road opened up to me.
I drove almost straight through to Front Royal, VA and was shaken by the cicada’s call the instant I turned onto Skyline Drive. The mountains closed in around me and I recognized their strong embrace. Despite being a fairly grey day, the seemingly endless mountain ranges are rich with color. Ridges gradient with every hue: forest green to a hazy blue and every shade in between. I spent the day driving, slowly and stunned, but not surprised. The day was cool with a forest’s air about to spring its rapid growth. I was impatient that the azaleas weren’t in full force, but had plenty of other wildflowers to enjoy: Queen Anne’s lace the size of my head, mountain laurels and a monster Dandelion seed puff, whatever you call these things. I hoped in seeing all of the seeds pods soar beyond the mountain scenery that it would result in an equally enormous wish. Speaking of wishes, although it was more a summoning, on the way here I was thinking hard on seeing a bear. A gathering of people crowded at a random section of the road and I curiously pulled my car up on the far side of the road to see what all the fuss was about. I was ecstatic to see that it was a Mama black bear and not one, not two, but three little cubs! She sat guarding the bottom of the tree while the three cubs played and perched 15 feet up in a big Pine tree. One of the cubs, as if adoring the attention sat playfully crawling about his branch. They were just too cute for words; watching their interaction warmed my heart.
I stopped at a fairly dull little Wayside restaurant at Big Meadows. I’m aiming to eat out only once a day, but we’ll see how that goes. They were out of the first three things I ordered, but you can never go wrong with a BLT. I hurried to finish my food and catch the fading daylight, stayed for a Johnny Cash song, bought a postcard and hopped back in my car.
The shy Sun didn’t decide to show her face until she set but, when she did… When the trees broke between every overlook I’d catch a glimpse of the beautiful powder pink and increasingly bright orange light. She finally shut her eyes and then a light rain began. It was the interim of evening after the setting sun and before darkness; when families retreat to gather around campfires and the animals emerge. Well, the wildlife comes out in the most restful sense. I spotted wild turkeys roosting and am guilt ridden in my thinking of how delicious recently eating my first wild turkey was. Deer bed down in the fields; bucks with fuzzy antlers. As the night comes to it close, I arrive at my campground after dark.
It has been a long day of driving. I’m out of breath by the time I inflate my sleeping pad and am extremely anxious to lay down after I roll out my sleeping bag. I set my alarm for a half an hour before dawn in hopes to see the sun again, rising and revealing a new day.
In the maybe 10 minutes I lay awake and listened to the rain hit my car’s roof, I thought of other times spent within these mountains. My first backpacking adventure ever at 8 years old! There are too many sweet memories to recollect here.
It’s my last trip to the Shenandoah’s that weighs heavily in my mind. Day after day hiking through the forest, I had never felt so aware: of myself, of living, of nature, perhaps because one month later I would forever lose my ability to walk when our car crashed. I remember the rays of sun streaming through the fresh leaves of trees, illuminating the dust kicked up from the trail and the insects flitting about. I remember the blisters on my heels, which I didn’t give a shit about, for hiking was all that mattered. Although the physicality of my life’s been altered, I’m still alive; alive and taking adventures like this. There’s no room to be bitter , just thankful.