In retirement, I begin most days with my Morning Rituals. One of these is repeating affirmations to remind me of my core beliefs. The first of which is This is the best time in my life as I am more trusting and have greater faith.
To give further direction to my day, I then review my five wishes of goals I want to keep foremost in my mind in my day (from Gay Hendricks Five Wishes). My first one is I have a strong, connected, and loving family.
To address that wish, Hannah and I have set in motion a mini-family reunion in rural central Virginia in mid-September. Virginia is this year’s choice since our son Will and his girlfriend Laurel have recently moved to Richmond, VA; our daughter Molly with her husband Tip and our grandson Owen have lived in Arlington, VA for quite some time. Our daughter Robyn will fly down from Syracuse, NY and Hannah and I will drive from our home in Maine to make the reunion happen.
Going online to Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) for the first time (shout out to Scott and Tree for the nudge), we find a modern farmhouse that sleeps eight to the west of Culpeper, VA near the Shenandoah National Park (SNP).
With the accommodations set and the kids making the dinner and breakfast meals for the weekend, we plan active, shared hiking experiences that will give us all a sense of accomplishment, an extended time to be together in twos and threes, and a lasting memory. Such is the plan!
For this Saturday of our two day reunion, we settle on the White Oak Canyon Trail Loop which takes us up the Canyon, across a Fire Road, and then down the Cedar Run trail for a four to five hour hike of 8.2 miles. Today we will learn a new meaning of the word of rocky. Called strenuous by the trail guide, the hike is all that and more. What hooks us is the promise of multiple waterfalls and cascades.
The trailhead is just outside the SNP with parking for 40-50 some cars. Since much of the trail is within the park we are charged $15 per carload. I love hikes where we get to interact with other hikers. Shooting the breeze. We have been on solitary hikes in Yellowstone where bear scat was our only companion. I prefer hikers over ursine creatures.
As we innocently head out, we have no idea what we are in for. The trail starts benignly with an easy grade and few protruding rocks under the forest canopy on this 60 degree morning. Sunscreen will not be needed this entire day as the leafy ceiling protects us.
White Oak Canyon trail is a popular trail and rightfully so. The stone steps are easy to negotiate and the trail has many knee-saving switchbacks.
Pairing off in twos and threes, we step up and over rocks as we will climb 2450 feet of elevation gain. As the patriarch of our little gang, I am conscious of my role as the George Washington of the hike.
As students of history, you know that George made sure all his men were taken care of before he ate and settled in for the night. Hiking in the rear, I am the sweeper of the hike making sure no one falls behind. It’s not about the speed that Hannah and I known for, but the togetherness, so each one of us feels they have a place in our merry band.
The hike is a challenge, which means it has the potential to build a meaningful shared memory. The theory is that such a memory will carry us when we each return to our wide-ranging homes and warm us when the snow flies this winter.
Playfully, our son Will stands tall when his mother is in need.
The Lower White Oak falls lie within feet of the trail. Check out this 34 second very homemade video.
With eight of us including 14 month Owen, we take many breaks. Once we start up again, Owen wonders about his Omi, wearing his hat.
The White Oak trail is two and a half miles of steady but manageable climbing over rocks and more rocks. Once at the Upper White Oak falls and pools, we cross a metal bridge across the creek and head west on the Fire Road towards Skyline Drive which sits on the crest of the Shenandoah National Park nearly two miles away.
The Fire Road is an easy grade but rises steadily towards its confluence with the Cedar Run trail.
After bouncing happily with each step in a backpack carried by his mother up the White Oak trail, Owen eventually falls asleep on the back of his Unkie Will.
Three and half hours into our hike, we turn for the trailhead of the Cedar Run trail. We have no idea what we are in for after the easy-going switchbacks of the White Oak Canyon trail and the gentle uphill slope of the Fire Road.
The 3.5 mile part of the trail is absent of switchbacks and is a straight shot down. We lean on each other to step down over and around the large rocks.
One man said to me, “Too many stones.” He couldn’t have been more right.
As hikers who find three to four hours their optimum for hiking, Hannah and I marshal on in our fifth and sixth hours of hiking and are ready for the cold Corona back at the cars.
It’s just a steady descent on this nearly three mile pile of rocks under blue skies in a sun-dappled forest.
In triumph, six hours later, we unlace our boots, pleased that we have all made it. We ride the 40 minutes back to VRBO rental farmhouse in Reva, VA. Nestled a half mile off the country road, we can relax and unwind together.
By renting a house for the weekend, we have eliminated the isolation that can come had we been separated in four motel rooms. We have no need to go out for meals since we have the use of a full kitchen with all the plates, bowls, and silverware we need.
Hannah leans into a game of washers and the fatigue and satisfaction of our hike give us all a mellow yellow sense of contentment.
Will finds the firewood and starts things blazing.
We each come and go and have all the togetherness or quiet we each want in this farm house. We understand that a Saturday and Sunday of togetherness is just about the right amount of togetherness for us all.
Snuggled in for the night, I have hit a home run in this field of dreams.