There are so many reasons to love RVA (Richmond, Virginia):
- It’s a small town city with neighborhoods of homes.
- Mild winters; springs and falls in the 70s and 80s
- Virginia Commonwealth University with Shaka Smart and Will Rothermel
- Friendly people where “Ma’am” and “Sir” are commonplace, heartfelt, and genuine
Add to those starter set ideas a #5 – Hiking in the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge Mountains is a mere two hours away.
While Hannah is away with girlfriends in Vermont, today I am in Virginia with Will and Laurel cruising out four lane I-64 from Richmond towards Charlottesville and points west. Sitting shotgun, I think how sweet it is not being the one in charge or having to be the responsible adult. I am literally and figuratively along for the ride. For one who is a planner, organizer, and a make-things-happener, this is a relaxing and welcome change.
Past the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, we take to the country route 250 and then on to Old 3 Notch’d Road which becomes the Brown’s Gap Turnpike. These are not turnpikes in the sense of the Massachusetts Turnpike, but rural roads that twist and turn and are hardly wide enough for two cars to pass.
Our WAZE GPS says we have 10 miles to go in 31 minutes; that must mean hairpins aplenty. It’s farmland with poor man’s horse ranches (at least compared to the affluent horse country north of here in Loudon County, Virginia). We pass the Pony Academy advertising horse riding lessons and come to Wyant’s (General) Store which advertises PowerAde for 99 cents. Though Virginia has not had the brutal winter of the Northeast, on this late April weekend the trees are still not fully leafed out.
Crossing a one lane wood-planked bridge, we are now on Sugar Hollow Road on the way to the Moorman River hike. The last 9/10 of a mile is a dirt road which ends at an informal trailhead beneath the sugar maples.
Beginning the hike along the North Fork of the Moorman River, we first pass an older couple and then a father and daughter pair who both say they turned back once they hit the river crossing. The dad talks about high water. Hmmmm. Last night it rained so hard in Virginia that water was flowing from Will and Laurel’s driveway through their backyard patio.
The Hiking Upward website is the go-to website when Will and Laurel want to hike in Virginia. We learn that this five mile round-trip hike has a number of swimming holes with a fifty foot waterfall at the end. Though it’s a toasty 80F in RVA this midday, it will be a delightful 70F hiking through the woods of western Virginia.
From start to finish the trail gently rises 460’ in elevation over the two and half miles to the falls. At three points on this spring day, we will cross the river on rocks, stepping carefully through the snow-fed stream. Will and Laurel have breathable mesh low-cut Merrell hiking shoes; though being a ten on the cool scale, they unfortunately let the water in when these Virginians cross the river. My clunkier all-terrain to-the-ankle hiking boots don’t let the water seep in at all as I cross in two to four inches of water.
The rounded river stones have a sheen of algae so I step cautiously from rock to rock. As I cross tentatively, Will extends his hand to steady me and keep my picture-taking iPhone out of the drink. Later a fisherman (the Moorman River is stocked with rainbow trout) does the same to support me as I cross the river again. Virginians! Got to love them. My hiking poles in Maine would have been just the ticket to steady myself as I forded the Moorman River.
The Moorman River hike is the kind of hike that Will and Laurel can take their friends on, even if they aren’t hikers. The rushing, running water provides us with soothing background music. Throughout our time on the trails, their Golden Shepard Otter seemingly covers fifteen miles through the forest while we hike five on the trail. Otter does collect ticks that Laurel picks from his fur on our drive home.
Arriving at the waterfalls in just under an hour and a half, we have made it a leisurely, side-by-side walk through the Virginia woods. Though the water is chilly, you can see that this gentle hike is one families and teenagers alike will love. The swimming hole at the falls is fifty feet across and just perfect for cooling one’s jets for an hour or two on a steamy summer day.
Logs crisscross the trail at the falls to clearly indicate the trail has ended. Like a young mountain lion, Will skims across the water rocks like it’s home. Climbing the far canyon wall, he is king of the mountain at the top of the falls.
As we look down the Moorman River valley, we snack on apples, oranges, and trail mix and know we have hit the hiking jackpot.
I do enjoy hiking with young ‘uns like Will and Laurel for they keep up a good pace. I have never been a stop-and-smell-the-roses kind of hiker. A let’s-rock-and-roll kind of hiker.
Further down the trail with their hiking shoes and socks soaked, Will and Laurel say what the hell? and barefoot it across the river that is born in the mountain snows of the Shenandoah National Park.
At our final river crossing we talk with a young female teacher and her husband. They have brought two of her school girls, one of which who has won a school auction to hike along the Moorman River with her teacher. I am so impressed that she is taking her Saturday to make this an experience of a lifetime for these young girls.
After years of educational philanthropy and research, the billion dollar Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has concluded that it is excellent teachers in classrooms that make for successful students. We need bright, caring teachers who want to change the world for our students. Bravo to this young Virginia teacher!
After arriving in Charlottesville, we three, with Otter at our feet, sit outside and feast on pizza and a pitcher of beer at the Mellow Mushroom on West Main Street; we watch the cars and people pass by on this main campus drag of the University of Virginia.
With a relaxing California vacation vibe to my Virginia hiking day, I vow that next winter Hannah and I will be spending more time collecting vitamin D (the sun) traveling south and west where we can hike and sit al fresco, most appreciative of our blessings.