Last Sunday, my friend April and I went for a hike at Sky Meadows State Park off I-66 at exit 23 in Virginia. I exerted all the self control I could muster to make it out the door. After waking up at 6:30am, I somehow managed to find myself back in bed not an hour later. (“Why, hello, pillow. Fancy seeing you here. Let’s have a chat.”) It was so warm and cozy cocooned in my blankets.
I live in an apartment building with an older ventilation system. In the summer, the building management switches the system to air conditioning mode, and in the winter the heat’s turned on instead. The problem is that the dry heat can become oppressive, so I tend to keep the windows open in the winter. I know this is a waste of energy, but there is no turning the heat down. It’s our only option. (And, incidentally, as soon as they turned on the heat in mid-October, I stopped lamenting the fact that I’m leaving my beloved apartment…if any of you recall my previous post.)
Sunday was one of those rare mornings in October where the cold crisp air invaded the apartment with full force, making the ambient temperature perfect for cuddling with my pillows in bed. But alas, I had committed to going for a hike, so by golly, I forced myself out of bed and loaded a pack.
We made it out the door past 8:30, but being a Sunday, we still had the road mostly to ourselves (relatively…I mean this is still the DC metro area). We made it to the park, paid the $4 entry fee (in case of interest, bring exact change or a check for the fee envelope), put on boots, made a pit stop at the bathrooms, and got on our way to the trailhead by about 10.
I’d been to Sky Meadows before, but the last time we went, we’d chanced upon an annual strawberry festival, which means we hadn’t hike. Point being, I’d never taken this maze-like eight mile route before.
It was a great hike with a wide variety of terrain. The first leg had us climbing steeply so that we rapidly ascended above the initial tree line and opened up to a view of the valley and farms below. When we stopped to rest by a well-placed bench, we noticed a high-pitched whining noise. After a minute or two of postulation, we concluded that a nearby tree was begging for respite from the cold blustery wind.
As we continued on, the trail leveled out and wound through a stand of trees. After a couple of miles, we bore left and began to climb anew. Eventually, we intersected with a stretch of the Appalachian Trail and followed it until we spotted a diverted trail with purple (“or is it mauve,” as the author of my hiking book wondered) blazes, which used to be a section of the A.T. that has since been re-routed.
We took the mauve trail for a ways, and at one point we could’ve sworn we heard a (loud, big) wild animal. April and I stopped in our tracks to assess what we were hearing. After a while, I said in a very loud voice (even though April was but a few short feet from me), “Maybe we should speak in a loud voice to let whatever is making that noise know that we’re coming.” And April, at an equally impressive volume, responded, “This feels really silly but OK.” We carried on as such for a ways, discussing all the gnarly wild animals one must consider and the prescribed method to protect oneself.
If nothing else, I’m pretty sure our loud talking effectively scared away the tree that we had heard roaring and moaning in the wind.
I want to point out that during most of the hike up to this point, I was wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt…and gloves (or fingerless mittens actually). It was a wee bit nippy at about 50 degrees, and I think I’ve mentioned before that I have really sensitive hands. In fact, I had taken the gloves off for the first mile or so before realizing I couldn’t bend my fingers. And even though I put the gloves back on, it took a couple of hours to regain full dexterity.
Despite what is known in the medical community as “ice cube hand syndrome,” I still tend to heat up pretty quickly. So April was wearing an insulating jacket, the likes of which I reserve for 30 degree weather, and I, on the other hand, was sweating through my t-shirt…with gloves on.
Anyhoo, the trail met back up with the current A.T. and interestingly routed through an open field. We were completely exposed to the sun’s rays for a ways, and I could see needing a hat to shade my face in Summer weather. At this point, we started passing more hikers, which was a clear indication that we were close to the end of our loop.
And truth be told, my book’s author saved the best for last. Once we took a sharp left for the last time and climbed gently for less than a quarter of a mile, the trail opened up to a vast panoramic view of the mountains and pastures beyond. A few dozen people were scattered about picnicking and enjoying the view. After taking in the view ourselves, we descended the steep hill for about a half mile before having some face time with the resident cows and meeting back up with the trailhead (or is it foot?).
Beautiful day for a hike. Now if only we had chanced upon another festival. I was kind of in the mood for pie.