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.
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.
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.