Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Waiting for Night

In the last lingering moments of daylight on Saturday, my dad and I reclined our heads to the back of our camp chairs and stared up at the still light sky. The brightest stars had finally begun to poke through and the mountain seemed at last ready to slip into darkness. The time neared 10:00, and my dad said what we both thought, “I can’t believe it’s still light out this late.”

I struggled to hold my eyes open, but willed myself to stay awake at least until the light completely disappeared. My dog Mattie didn’t share the same enthusiasm and had already curled up in a tight ball next to the campfire.

The last time my dad and I sat around a campfire together, he was just a few years older than I currently am, I was in elementary school, and Ronald Reagan was president.

With Mrs. Onthebusrunning gone at a music festival for the weekend, my dad and I took the opportunity to pack up the car and head toward the mountains that you can see lining the horizon on clear days.

We awoke early on Saturday morning and drove the two-and-a-half hours to the southern section of the Shenandoah. Under that cloudless sky, we traced the bends and curves of Skyline drive before finally arriving at Loft Mountain.

After a 48.5 mile week on the roads, I happily traded my running shoes for hiking boots. We laced up and picked up the Appalachian Trail, which spawned the conversation topic of “through hiking” the entire AT. My wife and I often fantasize about taking six months of our lives to follow the white blazes that lead hikers from the Smoky Mountains in Georgia to the top of Mount Katahdin in Maine.

About a mile into the trail, we turned off the AT and onto the Jones River Trail that marked our descent into the valley and put us on a path toward several waterfalls. It was here that it happened. That feeling of totally letting go of the everyday grind, when the quiet and solitude of the woods overtakes you and the rigors of your working life melt away. It’s here that plans to take on new adventures are born, adventures like hiking the AT for six months or climbing Kilimanjaro. It was also here that we received our first warning. A woman passed by us and cautioned, “Just so you know, there’s a bear up ahead.”

We looked at one another with raised eyebrows and anticipation. After ten minutes down the trail, we saw no bear.

The trail carried us down to the streambed and it also carried our conversation. We traded camping stories from my youth and his, and tried to piece together those memories from cub scout camping trips long gone, and his adventures hunting with my grandfather and sleeping on a beach with running buddies.

By the time we reached the AT once again, four hours and 6.5 miles had gone by. The sun blazed in earnest now and our backs soaked our shirts and backpacks as we covered the last two miles back to the car. We followed the ribbon of trail and received our second bear warning, though this one didn’t pan out either.

When we arrived back at the campsite, we remarked at how fast the hike had gone. There was nothing left to do but kick back at our site with a few beers. We never did see that bear, but we did continue to reminisce, and finally, the last trace of blue in the sky disappeared and left us with a dazzling display of stars.

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