Chasing Waterfalls

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Hiking is so much better without the crowds…

…and when running water is involved.

A recent Shenandoah hike, Whiteoak Canyon, was the perfect trail to start the New Year. No resolution needed, simply a desire to get outside and check out some nearby wilderness that I hadn’t experienced during my previous foray into the park.

I pulled off the Blueridge Parkway and set out into the crisp winter air. This particular trail followed the Robinson River the whole way, ending at the top of a series of waterfalls. I admired the flowing water that cascaded beside me, tumbling over rocks, under fallen logs, and around natural curvatures in the land. When I stopped to regard the landscape, a tiny field mouse crept right up to my hiking boot, sniffing the air. No “stranger-danger” alarms must have gone off in his little mouse-brain; he proceeded to munch on fallen seeds, ignoring my presence while bustling around. I felt like a Disney princess.

 

 

Continuing on, the river began to gain in both speed and volume. My knees weren’t used to the downward tilt of the land, and I was reminded of how long it had been since I’d done any mildly strenuous hike. Too long, I decided.

Downward I went, stopping at one point to creep out onto a rock that made me feel like I was in the middle of the rushing river. The surrounding mountains formed a chute, ready to careen me forward to be launched into the air. I noticed Old Rag Mountain off in the distance, a steady presence on the eastern Shenandoah landscape.

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Serenity now

Then I saw the waterfall.

It wasn’t the most awe-inspiring one I had ever seen, but it was still gorgeous. I noted the way the water flowed in and around. All waterfalls are special in their own way, unique in how the H20 molecules fall alongside of rock, dirt, and organic debris – shaped by the landscape but also shaping it. This particular one looked like a water slide, which I briefly considered attempting. Nope. Frigid water and bruises wouldn’t be worth it.

At this point, the trail continued down for many more miles, so I had a quick snack before turning around to come back up. Then, just for fun, I decided to walk down a couple more yards to see what else was around. Little did I know that I almost completely missed the fantastic viewpoint! I was so caught up in my little patch of earth near the falls, that I failed to recognize that I was only partway down the flow of water. Perhaps I was too content to settle for a sub-par experiences. With a teensy bit more effort on my part, there was much more to see.

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The actual waterfall viewpoint. Hard to put into perspective, but it’s sizable.

I feel like there’s a life lesson in here somewhere.

The hike back up was was peaceful. I let my mind wander and relished the crunch of the rocks under my hiking boots, the sound of birds floating through the trees. Two red-tail hawks swooped in close and I was caught off guard for a glorious moment. At the end, I savored the keen sense of satisfaction I felt upon completing this 5 mile hike.

I got in my car, drove a mile down the road, and did another one – just for fun. 🙂

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Hawskbill Summit (hike #2 of the day)
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Back to Where it All Began

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It was cold and crisp. I could see my breath wafting into the atmosphere as I stood and relished the sight. The hand warmers in my mittens were keeping my fingers nice and toasty, my wool socks protecting my toes from the sub-freezing temperatures. I scanned the horizon, noting astute differences from when I was here last. The grass was dried out, taking on an interesting orangey hue. The trees were gnarly, lacking their summer greenery, and stood out against the Blue Ridge Mountains. The chain across the road into the visitor’s center signaled that things were closed up due to the government shut-down.

This was Big Meadows. This is where it all began.

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Over two and a half years ago, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. I resigned from my job teaching, bought a teardrop trailer, and decided to visit all of the national parks in the lower 48 states.

I did it. I spent months at a time on the road, enjoying the gems of our country. It was an experience so profound that I could never possibly forget the joy I discovered throughout my park pilgrimage.

That is why, on January 1, 2019, I decided to pay homage to the first park on my series: Shenandoah. A mini park adventure to beat the winter doldrums was also a perfect way to begin the new year. I drove slowly along the Blue Ridge Parkway, reminiscing of Clarence (my trailer/home) and how I eagerly set up camp for the first time in Big Meadows. I was reminded of the blend of excitement and anxiety I felt back in July 2016 as I began my epic journey, not sure how it would all pan out. Never could I have imagined how much fun I would have over the course of the next year, learning how to navigate an extra 550 lbs attached to my car, hiking in all kinds of weather, and managing a (somewhat) healthy diet.

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Fast-forward to present day.

It was colder now, and the landscape looked vastly different. Birds circled overhead, as I sat in silence, leaning against my car eating a picnic lunch. So much has changed in my life, yet many things remain the same.

My love of nature.

My belief that America’s parks are public lands for the people.

My understanding of the simple beauty found outside.

My appreciation for Shenandoah, the park that started it all.

Sometimes the places that are closest to home don’t quite get the appreciation they deserve. Although Shenandoah is my “backyard” park, I chose to recognize its allure by driving its length and exploring its depths.

Shenandoah, I salute you.

The Gunks

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The weather cools down and the leaves crisp up, signaling that autumn is moving in with a vengeance. This time of year is a melange of outdoor senses, an awakening of newness despite the cycle of death urged on by winter’s approach.

It’s also prime climbing season.

With a friend who knows how to fly, escaping to a top-notch rock climbing destination couldn’t be easier. And so that is how I found myself at the base of a climb in the Shawangunks – an immense bedrock ridge within the great state of New York. The rainy morning set things back, but before long the sun came up signaling that it was time to ascend.

 

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Only 2 more pitches to go!

 

I climbed steadily, placing tiny pieces of metal into cracks and crevices, hoping that they would catch me in the off-chance that I fell. It was easy movement, and delightful views. I didn’t have to remind myself to stop and take in the scenery – once I escaped the tree line, I couldn’t help but pause regularly to appreciate the exposure. Things not only look different from up high, they smell and feel different as well. High places are a remedy for the suburban blues and an excellent way to reset one’s mental capacity.

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A tiny cam

Despite the energy needed to climb upwards, I am consistently surprised at the respite I find during my favorite outdoor hobby. There is peace in the natural world, one that never ceases to amaze me. Climbing allows me to access a whole new position and perspective in this natural world.

Before all the leaves drop and before the winter winds lay claim to the land, find a place to go that will reset and invigorate your spirit. Even if the mountains aren’t calling you, you can still go.

It’s worth it.

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Taking a moment to celebrate.

 

 

Outdoor Discovery: A Poem and a Scene

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A teacher lies in a field.

A host of colorful rain jackets litter the grass like petals.

Students join the adventure,

Backs to dirt, watching raindrops cascade down from a gray sky.

 

I enjoy being an educator, but there are some days where I simply love my job and the opportunities it affords to explore outside. Muddy Mondays are a regular occurrence at my school, but this past one takes the cake when it comes to the downright fun-factor.

The blurry edge of the Hurricane Florence system meant that there had been a steady on-an-off again drizzle of rain throughout the day. Us teachers were not deterred – our regular outdoor education plans would take a backseat as we simply moved on to Plan B and led our young charges in discovery play. I geared up, eager to be outside and to model how to interact with the outdoor environment during seemingly “icky” weather.

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The trust was evident as the kiddos trailed me out into our field and joined me in our opening activity. Traditionally referred to as “sit spots”, I chose to lay down and face the rain. The others followed suit.

“Look at all the different shades in the sky,” one student pointed out.

“This rain feels really misty, not like it normally does,” another student quipped.

One girl rolled on to her belly to watch the effect the rain had as it hit the thick and sturdy crag grass. These students and I sat in silence (or quietness) for almost 10 minutes. We watched, we questioned, we got wet, and we definitely got muddy. It was peaceful, it was invigorating, it was a fabulous outdoor education lesson wherein I let nature speak for itself.

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The rest of the afternoon was a whirlwind of fun activities. I accompanied of a group to the water run-off on our property, noting how the plants in that area were “hardy” (a students’ words, not mine) and used to dealing with lots of water. Kids took turns jumping over the mini-stream and moving rocks to temporarily stop it’s flow. I took a break and helped a pair of students prop a big stick onto a tree to create the framework of a budding fort. On the far side of the yard, another group eagerly began mixing mud concoctions, trying to find the “just-right consistency” for their imaginative pretend-edible creations.

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We explored until the end of the day before heading inside to gather our things. Mud was streaked on stairwells, doorknobs, and faces. My shirt was soaked through, and many students joyfully commented on my drowned appearance due to flat, damp hair.

Critics may emphasize the fact that there was no formal lesson. For those of us who were there, the depth of learning was so very evident. Underneath the exuberant play, was a rich layer of deep thinking. There was risk-taking, hands-on discovery, and lots of wondering.

Perhaps it should rain some more on Mondays.

 

RRG Recap

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The cabin I shared with friends (and a couple mice, apparently)

Length of Stay:

  • Four days, three nights

Highs:

  • Good climbs, good people
  • Kayaking in an abandoned, flooded mine
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The mine entrance: creepy, yet fun
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A little different feel than my last kayak adventure in Kentucky

Lows:

  • A couple thunderstorms meant a few less climbs than planned

Favorite Climb:

  • Workin’ for the Weekend (10a)

Favorite Treat:

  • Miguel’s Pizza (a Red River Gorge must-have)
  • Ale-8-One ginger/citrus-ale (a Kentucky must-try)
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On the wall, happy as can be…

Blue Grass Escapade

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Kentucky: state of mountains, mines, and impeccable scenery. This region of Appalachia also happens to be one of the best places to rock climb on the east coast. Red River Gorge (RRG) features some fantastic routes in sandstone cliffs forged many moons ago by a tumbling river.

It was the perfect place to spend a long weekend.

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Getting ready for the daily warm up.

Armed with bug repellent, climbing gear, lots of crag snacks, and two competent friends, I enjoyed hour upon hour in this wild space. Muir Valley, named after the “Father of the National Parks”, was a serene location with enough shade to make the Kentucky heat bearable.

I still sweated.

A lot.

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Finding our climb

But it was so much fun to climb real rock – to be 100 feet above the ground hyper-aware of every movement and rock feature. The wildlife was present, but unobtrusive, although I did get to watch a snake eat a mouse.

Kentucky, you’re ruthless, but beautiful.

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Hot Springs Recap

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Length of Stay:

  • 3 days, 3 nights

High:

  • Touring the Fordyce bathhouse
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The original tiling, pipes, and tub from the 1800’s

Low:

  • Hot, humid, and then extremely rainy

Favorite Hike:

  • Goat Rock trail

Favorite Treat:

  • Water – it’s tasteless and odorless but somehow makes my coffee taste extremely delicious
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One of the many places in the town where the hot water bubbles up (this isn’t for drinking, although there are many fountains around town that you can use to fill your bottles)