Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail at Elkwallow in the Shenandoah National Park

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

We, or let’s be honest, I have chosen poorly for tonight’s motel stay in Luray, Virginia.  I choked.  Having just hiked three hours in the Shenandoah National Park in late April, Hannah and I arrive just before 7P in this town famous for its caverns.  Pulling into the first motel that we see, a Days Inn, we inquire about a room.

It’s two double beds for $62 and with a minimalist continental breakfast: Raisin Bran or Fruit Loops, mini store-bought bagels, oatmeal in a pouch, OJ, and coffee. That’s not good.  It’s a classic deal breaker!  But I’m soft. Having driven from Richmond this morning, hiked, and then driven 90 minutes more, I am just ready to kick back with an evening glass of wine with Hannah rather check out more in-town motels.  I convince myself that the breakfast can’t actually be as bad as what the motel clerk said it was.

EW  Luray

Downtown Luray, Virginia (population 4860)

As expected, the breakfast is dismal.   Neither fueled for our hike on the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah National Park or energized for the 600+ miles of driving home after we hike, the breakfast does prove to be the source of another good life lesson.  Take the time to get three bids for our business. That said, this hardly qualifies as even a first world problem.

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

With temps in the low 40s, it’s pants, long sleeve tee-shirt, and sweatshirt weather for our morning hike.  Leaving Luray via Route 211, we immediately climb the switchbacks of the three lane highway to the mountain top Skyline Drive as the temperature continues to drop. We select Elkwallow as our point to access the AT. (By the way, the verb “wallow” means to roll about or lie in water, snow, mud, or dust. The noun “wallow” is an area where animals wallow.)

Appalachian Trail HIker

Appalachian Trail Hiker

Pulling into the parking lot at the Elkwallow Camp Store, we jump onto the AT ready to begin a hike with 900 feet of elevation gain towards Rattlesnake Point. We’ll hike parallel to Skyline Drive, though we often can’t see the road from the trail.

EW 1B  H on trailApproaching from the north, we meet a young woman hiking a section of the AT for the past three weeks.   As soon as she sees us, she asks if we know what the weather will be. Though it’s sunny and 43F now, she has been hiking in rain and cold temps, colder than what she has expected. Whether it’s the cold or her caution or us, she is not into much conversation.

EW 3A  H on trailWe do learn she is from New England but shares few details of her life. Though one detail she does is telling – her dad didn’t want her to hike the AT alone.   She reminds me that females can feel and be more vulnerable hiking alone on the AT.  I think to myself, what would my advice be if our daughters Robyn or Molly wanted to hike the AT on their own.  My first reaction is that I’d be all in, supporting their goal to complete this daunting challenge.

There have been few hiking related deaths on the AT among thousands, millions(?) who have hiked this trail.  A notorious one in 1996 when two young women were murdered spooks people who are inclined to be spooked.  If Robyn or Molly are so inclined to hike the Appalachian Trail, I am on board and will be  cheer lead from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  I’d love to meet up and hike with them from time to time, buy them a meal, and treat them to an overnight in a motel.

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Once past Matthew Arms Campground, the trail levels out to ridgeline hiking; our core body temperatures warm with our steady pace. With no leaves on the trees, we see vistas to the valley below. The downside is that we have mostly brown trunks and brown branches as company in our hiking day.

As 10A approaches, we look for a turnaround point 90 minutes into our hike. We’ll straddle the Skyline Drive on our way back, though we are rarely close enough to hear the few cars that pass on this cool pre-season spring day.

EW 3 Trail north of Matthew ArmsThen another backpack toting hiker approaches. We learn his trail name is Early Light; we share with him that we, too, are early risers.  As another three week section hiker, he is hiking north from Roanoke, VA. He’s so happy to be within a day of getting off the trail at Harper’s Ferry, WV where he will get a bus to head back home to Massachusetts.  After weeks on the trail, he openly laments that he finds the hiking quite monotonous.  Rarely has he seen vistas and lakes to punctuate the sameness.  I’ve heard that thru-hikers call the AT the “green tunnel” once the leaves come out. When you hike, you could really be anywhere; it all looks the same. It’s no surprise that a beer and pizza are what he looks forward to.

EW 3E  white blaze of trailAs for me, sleeping in shelters with others, hiking in bad weather, and my balky knees after all day hiking are three of many reasons why I wouldn’t hike the entire AT.  Another reason is that hiking for 8 t0 10 hours a day would be tedious.  Early Light says he understands why kids have their iPods and their books on tape; he has not come around to those diversions.  Given his doubts, I wonder whether he’ll finish all 2180 miles of the AT in sections after finishing these 250 miles.

EW 3D  more of trailAfter three hours on the AT, we arrive back at the Elkwallow parking lot knowing we are staring at 600+ miles of driving home through the traffic-clogged Northeast. But I wouldn’t have missed the chance of three hours on the AT in Virginia just to get a jump on the long drive. These are golden moments.

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Dan and Hannah Hike the Jones Run Falls Trail in Shenandoah National Park

With the Vintager B&B in the background where we stayed

The Vintager B&B in the background where we stayed

Heading west on I-64 from Richmond, Virginia, Hannah and I have just had one of the Top Ten weekends of our lives this late April day.  Our son Will married Laurel Ann Crane yesterday under rainy skies; rain that was a blessing – a blessing because that kept the twenty- and thirty-something energy in the modern day barn all night long rocking to the music.

Laurel Ann minutes before the ceremony

Laurel Ann minutes before the ceremony

Because of the rain and mid-40s, 30 degrees below normal, everyone stayed in the barn. These young’uns never stopped dancing.   Given their father’s reluctance to dance, you might never have guessed that the York Rothermel kids can boogie.  Can they ever!  Robyn didn’t miss a beat.  For her rocking style at the wedding, Molly earned a bronze medal for her moves.   Will and his cousin Abby rocked on the dance floor all night long for dancing supremacy. The judges could not decide and awarded each the gold medal.

Proud Mama Bear with her cub

Proud Mama Bear with her cub

And, yes, I got my groove on and danced, and then danced some more. Since there were so many people dancing (thanks to the rain) I could hide in the crowd and catch my dancing groove. My secret? I’d watch the kids dancing and mirror their moves. It was all very cool, even if I wasn’t quite as cool as I thought I was.

Will and Laurel kiss with all attendantsHave you classmates in the Fair Lawn High School class of 1966 or others of that era got to this point in your lives? There was no traditional “couples” dance where the dj asks all married couples to come to the dance floor. She then asks those married, say five years, to leave the dance floor. More music is played and then those married ten years or less are asked to leave.   As it turns out, our nearly 43 years married would have won!  Tonight, we needed no such attention.  We’ll take our notoriety in being the parents of the groom.

Ready for a wedding in the Modern Barn

Ready for Will and Laurel in the modern barn

Driving from the site of Will and Laurel’s wedding at the Vintager B&B in Quinton, Virginia, we leave behind our new family, Will and Laurel, her parents Sandy and Ken, and her sister Courtney and husband Josh.   The forecast for the Shenandoahs this morning is for clearing as we drive past Charlottesville to the Skyline Drive heading north. (By the way, heading south at this point is the Blue Ridge Highway.)  The ranger directs us to the Jones Run Falls Trail which has three waterfalls for our hiking pleasure.

At the southern entrance to the Skyline Drive

At the southern entrance to the Skyline Drive

Throughout the park, the Skyline Drive is a winding ribbon of highway along the ridge of the Shenandoahs.  Just after the ranger station, we see a mother bear and three cubs crossing the Skyline Drive directly in front of us; the cubs no bigger than a foot long (they looked like black lab puppies). Once safely across, mama bear raises high on her back legs to make sure that we are moving on. Mother bears of all species would do the same.

Jumping on to the Appalachian Trail to begin the Jones Run Falls Loop Trail

Jumping on to the Appalachian Trail to begin the Jones Run Falls Loop Trail

Twenty miles after the ranger station we pull into the trailhead at Jones Run Trail with room for twenty cars. Our car thermometer shows the temperature has dropped to 43F.  With overcast skies, we take no chances and pull on pants, long sleeve shirts, and sweatshirts for this 6.5 mile loop trail with a 1700’ of elevation gain which is rated “moderate.”

JF AT map

For the first mile we are hiking north on the Appalachian Trail as this ridge hike descends gently into the Virginia forest. Within minutes, we meet up with two AT hikers, the younger of which is a flip-flopper.

Slapshot

Slapshot

As a flip flopper, he started hiking in the middle of the AT at Harper’s Ferry, WV and is heading to Georgia during the better spring weather in the American South. Hiking 1120 miles to Springer Mountain, he will then be driven back to Harper’s Ferry and hike the 1160 miles to the trail terminus at Mount Katahdin in Maine.   He is using a hockey stick as his trekking pole. Hence the trail name – Slapshot.

Crossing the Doyles River

Crossing the Doyles River

Within minutes we pass a young couple out for three days of backpacking. Guys have hit gold when they find an adventurous female willing to sleep on the ground in a tent, eat pork and beans from a can, and think that hiking in the pouring rain is a hoot. My gold is Hannah who likes to hike for three or four hours, return to the motel for showers, a glass of wine, and then sweet slumber.

Doyles River approaching the Upper Falls

Doyles River approaching the Upper Falls

As we hike the Browns Gap Fire Road, we see more day hikers coming back from the waterfalls this Sunday. Once two miles in, we turn east to hike along the Doyles River itself. We are in luck as the leaves are within a week or two of leafing out so we can clearly see the torrent of river; all from the same storm that doused Will and Laurel’s wedding last night near Richmond.

Rams in front of the Upper Doyles River Falls

Rams in front of the Upper Doyles River Falls

Still descending, we come upon the 28’ Upper Doyles River Falls. With melting snows and heavy rains feeding it, we are transfixed by nature’s exuberance – waterfalls. See the video below.

 

Soon we are descending the serpentine trail to the 63’ Lower Doyles River

Lower Doyles River Falls

Lower Doyles River Falls

Falls. We love us some falls. I hope you do too for here is our second falls video.

We continue descending on our trail with rocks that are manageable and nothing like the boot shredding rocks of the AT in Pennsylvania. Two hours into our hike we turn at the Jones Run Falls Trail and make our climb towards Skyline Drive. The temperature has gone to the high 5os now as we are down to tee shirts with our long sleeve shirts wrapped around our waists.

Poles needed for crossing the Jones Run

Poles needed for crossing the Jones Run

River crossings are few, but we come across one where we fortunately find two 5 to 6 foot river-crossing-branches that we use to steady ourselves. Though we must balance on slightly submerged rocks, we successful ford the stream and are on our way.

Soon we come to the third of three waterfalls, the Jones Run Falls.

Jones Run Falls

Jones Run Falls

Into our third hour of hiking, it’s all up hill. But the trail is not one that has us mountain climbing at all.  In fact, it’s gentle rise over two or three miles is pleasant and easy going. The Jones Run Falls Trail Loop with its three falls is a “don’t miss” hike in western Virginia.

Laurel Ann and Will Rothermel

Laurel Ann and Will Rothermel

It’s a good 75 minutes to our overnight stay in Luray, VA. Still aglow this day after our Second Wedding of the Century, we are just so damn happy for them and for ourselves.

Bon voyage Will and Laurel.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Mary’s Rock in the Shenandoah National Park

Farmstead panorama in Reva, VA

Our farmstead panorama in Reva, VA

Throughout the Saturday night of our weekend family reunion near Culpeper, VA, Owen does not want any of us to forget that he is here.  At 1A, 230A and 4A he emphatically reminds us.  At 7A Molly brings a smiling, who me? Owen downstairs, and his grandparents give it a shot.  It’s win/win.  We get Owen and Molly gets some much-needed shut eye.

Farm road from Holly Hill Farm

Farm road from Holly Hill Farm to the highway in the distance

Late morning we pack up three cars heading west for Shenandoah National Park looking for a shorter Sunday hike after six hours on the White Oak Canyon Loop trail (see blog for September 28, 2013).  We look for some togetherness, just not 6 hours of rocky trails togetherness.

Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia

Shenandoah National Park in western Virginia

Thornton Gap Entrance is 30 minutes from our overnight stay in Reva, VA.  We’ll hike today, then Hannah and I will head 125 miles southeast and spend some time with Will and Laurel in Richmond, VA while Molly, Tip, and Owen will drive 80 miles to the northeast to Arlington, VA with Robyn.

MR map

At the ranger station, we learn that within a quarter of a mile there is 3.6 mile round trip hike to Mary’s Rock which offers us full 360 degree views of the Shenandoah Valley.  An hour up and an hour back down.  No problemo.

With parking for fifty, again we have found a hike that is popular with others which matches my desire to engage, shoot the breeze with our fellow hikers.  In fact, today our hike is almost entirely on the Appalachian Trail (AT).

Appalachian Trail with Mount Kahtadin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia

Appalachian Trail from Mount Kahtadin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia

We have a chance to see thru-hikers heading south from Mt. Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia. (It’s unlikely that we will see northbound thru-hikers.  On this mid-September day they would still have more than 900 miles to hike over some of the toughest mountains in NH and ME.  Rangers close access to Mt. Katahdin on October 15 because of dangerous wintery weather.)

Robyn, Hannah, Laurel, Tip, Dan, Otter, Tip, Molly, Owen (from left to right)

Robyn, Hannah, Laurel, Tip, Dan, Tip, Molly, Owen (from left to right)

Our band of eight is ready to cap the weekend with a hike to Mary’s Rock at 3500 feet.  One story claims that Francis  Thornton had a daughter named Mary, who climbed up the mountain when she was young and came back with a bear cub under her arm.

Will and Laurel with their pooch, Otter

Will and Laurel with their pooch, Otter

Owen is raring to go!

Owen is raring to go!

Will and Laurel’s golden shepherd literally dragged whoever was holding him up the mountain yesterday.  He’s not quite so peppy today, but still all puppy and a handful.

The trail is 40% less rocky and less steep than Saturday’s White Oak Trail Loop and for that we are thankful.

Again our hike is under the forest canopy with only the top of Mary’s Rock being free of trees.

We hike single file forgetting our aches and pains in the company of our hiking brethren and sisteren.

The drop-offs on the Mary's Rock Trail

A drop-off on the Mary’s Rock Trail

The trail is not at all precarious but is as popular as we thought it would be with many fellow hikers to greet and shoot the breeze with me.

Stone stairway of Mary's Rock Trail

Stone stairway of Mary’s Rock Trail

Today it is Tip who totes Owen up and down the mountain on his back.

Mary's Rock Trail

Mary’s Rock Trail

Near the top, I hit pay dirt as I spot a thru-hiker.  His tell-tale backpack and scruffy beard give him away.

I open with Are you thru-hiking?  He nods and thankfully turns and pauses to talk rather than hurry on his way.  Having hiked some 1300 miles from Mt. Katahdin in four months, he is hoping to be in Georgia by Thanksgiving 2+ months away.

His trail name is Stinky Jesus: Jesus because he helped a fellow hiker with hypothermia and Stinky from the fact that all thru-hikers stink, and I mean that in an affectionate way.  They rarely get to bathe and a strong odor is part of being real on the AT.

I appreciate that he engages me in conversation for ten minutes.   As readers of this blog may have noted, I like the hikes where I meet others, hear their story, and share some of mine.  Since Hannah and I have been hiking the AT over the last four years, I have been looking for a trail name.  She is Two ply (from her humorous use of toilet paper stuck to her shoe).

I have come up empty.  But I am feeling Shooting for a trail name.  Shooting from shooting the breeze with all the hikers I meet.  I’ll wear it to see if it fits like size 34 jeans.

Ever wonder the kinds of hiking shoes thru-hikers wear?  Stinking Jesus is on his second pair and the duct tape is flapping with each step.  He’s hoping to get 100 miles more from this pair.  Good luck.

The hiking shoes of Stinky Jesus

The hiking shoes of Stinky Jesus

We summit!

Dan and Hannah on Mary's Rock

Dan and Hannah on Mary’s Rock

In a simple hour up the mountain we come to the Mary’s Rock landing that provides the wide open views of the Shenandoah Valley.

A family photo of the Rothermels of York with our grandson Owen tops off the occasion.

Christmas card picture?

Christmas card picture?

On the way down we hit gold again.   We meet Smiles, another southbounder, who beams with delight.  As another thru-hiker, she’s on her third pair of shoes and she too has been on the trail for four months.  Nothing amazing about her hiking shoes.

Thru-hiker Smiles' AT hiking shoes

Thru-hiker Smiles’ AT hiking shoes

I play my role as George Washington again which gives me time for pictures and thoughts of our next reunion.  The Mount St. Helens B and B in Cougar, WA (See blog for August 17, 2013) is my choice.  With this seed, I thee plant.

It’s been a magic two days.  They are all good kids.  I’m proud and happy to hang with them.  Hannah and I are the lucky ones.

Through it all, Owen has been a trooper, now nestled on his Unkie’s shoulder.

Weary Owen with his Unkie Will

Weary Owen with his Unkie Will

Dan and Hannah Hike White Oak Canyon in the Shenandoah National Park

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.

The Commonwealth of Virginia

The Commonwealth of Virginia

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).

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah National Park

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!

Honey Hill Farmhouse

VRBO’s Honey Hill Farmhouse

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.

1 white oak sign

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.

Owen and his parents (Molly and Tip)

Owen and his parents (Molly and Tip)

Hannah, Will, Laurel, and Robyn raring to go

Hannah, Will, Laurel, and Robyn raring to go

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.

Rocky stairs of the White Oak Trail

Rocky stairs of the White Oak Trail

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.

Along the White Oak Trail

Along the White Oak Trail

Playfully, our son Will stands tall when his mother is in need.

Laurel at the Lower Falls

Laurel at the Lower Falls

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.

Owen and his Omi

Owen and his Omi

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.

Upper Falls of the White Oak Trail

Upper Falls of the White Oak Trail

The Fire Road is an easy grade but rises steadily towards its confluence with the Cedar Run trail.

The Main Man

The Main Trail Man

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.

Nearly at the trailhead on the Cedar Run Trail

Nearly at the trailhead on the Cedar Run Trail

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.

We brought our Washers game from Maine for some friendly competition.

We brought our Washers game from Maine for some family competition.

Will finds the firewood and starts things blazing.

Sun setting on our early evening fire

Sun setting on our early evening fire

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.

Moon over Reva, VA

Moon over Reva, VA

Dan and Hannah Hike Hawksbill Gap in the Shenandoah National Park

We are in for a treat today.  The pre-treat is breakfast at a Virginia institution, the Frost Diner in Warrenton, VA on the way to the Shenandoahs.  The entre is hiking with our long time Virginia friend Marianne and her therapy dog Maggie.

Up early and out the door of the Kyker B and B (Innkeeper Amelia is the best) in Vienna, VA by 530A, we are busting away from the Washington Metropolitan area on I-66.   Normally a parking lot, I-66 is free and clear heading west this morning; coming east into DC?  Not so much.  Crawling traffic even at 6A.

Online I’ve learned that the Frost Diner has Dan and Hannah written all over it.  Small town and small time and only an hour from our hike in the Shenandoahs.

Frost Diner facade

Sampling small town Americana, we have a diner that looks like it’s been airlifted from my home state of New Jersey.  They don’t accept credit cards, just cash.  This Friday morning there are only men sitting on the stools at the counter or coming in in work clothes to fill a nearby booth.  We sink into the booths that haven’t been recushioned since the Eisenhower Administration.  Checking out the menu we can see that southerners love their meat: sausage, bacon, and ham.  Often it’s biscuits and sausage gravy for Hannah when we are on the road.  Today we share the two scrambled eggs, home fries and biscuit with an order of buttermilk pancakes.

Taking route 211 west to Sperryville, we come to the Thornton Gap Entrance to the Shenandoah National Park.  On this mid-May morning no one is at the gate; it must have something to do with the sequester (billions in automatic government spending cuts).

SNP Thorton Gap sign

Climbing to the ridgeline of the Shenandoah Mountains, we have hit gold on a 70 degree day with only thunder showers forecasted for late in the afternoon.

The Skyline Drive takes us south to Hawksbill Gap.

Skyline Drive at Hawksbill Gap

Skyline Drive at Hawksbill Gap

Though Marianne and Maggie are coming from the south and we all have no cell phone service, we still manage to meet on time at 830A.  Marianne was a student of mine during the second year of my two year run as a writing instructor in the Summer Writing Program at the University of New Hampshire some 16 years ago.   I think of them as the glory years.  I’m not sure the university feels the same way.

There are parking spaces for fifteen vehicles on either side of the road at the Hawksbill Gap Trailhead.  With new Timberland hiking socks, I follow the leading ladies steadily up to Hawksbill Mountain for the first mile.  

Our effort is rewarded as we have a beautiful 360° view on this Virginia is for Lovers day.  As we look about, I think that you just never know when great things may come into your life.   That summer sixteen years ago brought us a kindred spirit in Marianne.   A former first grade teacher and now a professor, she balances marriage with a grandchild in her life as well as four horses in addition to traveling nearly an hour to her full-time career at James Madison University.   She just impresses the hell out of us.

This simple 2.9 mile loop is something we finish in an hour and a quarter without pushing it.   At 3500 feet, the trees are just beginning to leaf in mid-May, similar to how they are in coastal Maine where we live.

Marianne and Hannah

Marianne and Hannah

After our Hawksbill summit, we find the Appalachian Trail through a path nicely shaded by deciduous trees, not two hundred feet from the trailhead.

White blaze indicating the AT (blue blazes are side trails)

White blaze indicating the AT (blue blazes are side trails)

Skirting the Skyline Drive to our east as we hike, we only occasionally hear the passing cars on this mostly level ridge trail.   Nicely shaded, with a level path with room for two to hike side by side, we catch up like old friends. It’s amazing how quickly three hours go with such good company.

Two flowers and flowers in the trunk

Two flowers

Thinking about our reading of Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (see blog for May 4, 2013), I ask Marianne about dealing with extroverts and taking more control in our lives.  We share stories of our introvertism and “pretend extrovertism” (being extroverted when necessary, or to address a passion in our lives).  After twenty minutes Marianne apologizes and says she has no answer and is sorry she hasn’t really helped.

Au contraire!   By listening to us, she allowed us to reveal our truth within – where the answers live.  As one who understands that letting us talk out our questions is a way to find our answers, Marianne is a godsend.

Buddies

Buddies

A thought for introverts:  Settle down.  Don’t try to change extroverts.  You can’t.  They can’t change any more than introverts can.  It’s in their DNA.  That said, both introverts and extroverts can talk too much, be it one to one or in large groups.  If an introvert, find those extroverts who energize your life with their passion as well as being ones who want to hear your story, as well as tell theirs.

PS  The reason we are in Virginia is to celebrate with our daughter Molly her completion of her doctoral requirements to earn her PhD in Mathematics Leadership from George Mason University.  Dr. Molly!

Dr. Molly

Dr. Molly

Proud Mom and Dad

Proud Mom and Dad

Molly at the center of the graduation line

Molly at the center of the graduation line

Dr. Suh, Molly's doctoral advisor

Dr. Suh, Molly’s doctoral advisor

Not everyone could make it through the two hour plus graduation

Not everyone could make it through the two hour plus graduation

Owen and his Omi

Owen and his Omi

 

Owen on the floor

Molly had the support where it counted!  Congrats to you, too, Tip

Molly had the support where it counted!                   Congrats to you, too, Tip

George Mason's Bright Light

George Mason’s Bright Light