Hike Eleven: Virginia’s Cold Mountain

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With Andy back in England and me in the States, so far we have been surviving on hopes of visits a few days each month and glimpses of one another through Facebook messenger calls.  I don’t need to wax poetic of how a five hour time difference is hard or of how being approximately 3,656 miles apart is tougher (not that I’m counting).  I realize there are couples that know this and there are couples that have it worse.  Yet, that doesn’t change the fact that this is hard, that it is tough, that I do miss him.

What I will go into detail on is what happened once his plane landed in the States in January, when I knew he would be all mine for a few days.  I couldn’t help but shriek with delight when I saw him walking down the gate in the airport and I couldn’t help but run, collide really, into him.  This is why — despite the fact that it is hard, that it is tough, that I do miss him — this is why I consider myself lucky.
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For the most part, we desired as calm and as quiet of days as we could get . . . but we did have one goal: to go hiking.  Hiking started it all between us and hiking sets about a feeling of normalcy so even though we cannot be together-together, hiking makes us feel as if we are ‘normal.’  So, on Saturday, we packed our packs and headed to George Washington National Forest to hike Cold Mountain.  Here’s more on our trail:

  • It is an almost six mile circuit
  • There’s a 1,490 foot elevation
  • Rated a Level Three of Five difficulty

We got there without any problems . . .
20170121_131824then passed the white blaze Appalachian Trail to head towards the blue blazed Hotel Trail.
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This hike immediately startled me as there were noticeable signs of a horrible forest fire.  The bases and sides of trees were singed and the ground was scorched, leaving only a dead black behind.  I did research and found that two months earlier, in November, almost 5,000 acres were destroyed by flames here.
img_0184IMG_0177.JPGimg_0185Nature seemed starved, stripped of its minerals, dry and dehydrated.  But fighting.
IMG_0192.JPGimg_0191img_0196img_0197img_0194It was heartbreaking to see the forest I had come to love be marred.  I had sought refuge beside these trees, been covered by their branches and leaves when I felt weak and damaged after my divorce.  Those trees had stood tall, protecting me and keeping me safe, nourishing me until I was strong enough to go on my own.  Now they were the victims, standing naked and scared with scars so large and dark, nothing could hide.  It was a humbling experience to say the least.
img_0207img_0203img_0199img_0200Yet, as we continued around bends in the trail, there would suddenly be areas untouched by flames and harm.  And these spots glowed of hope with oak trees that stood taller and prouder in that winter air.
img_0211img_0213About two and a half miles later, we approached the Appalachian Trail again, which would loop around for a few more miles then take us back to our car.
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For the most part, this hike was all Andy and I were looking for together during his brief visit.  But . . . there was one story to share of a — well, let’s call it what we called it: a forest fire.

We were walking uphill towards the summit of Cold Mountain and had a little more than a mile to get there when we paused to admire the mountains through the trees.  “This has been a great hike,” I said to Andy and he smiled.  All had been tranquil, wonderful really.  “Wow, look at that,” he soon said and pointed towards a slow, gradual white cloud rising up over the mountains.  “It’s so pretty, isn’t it?”
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Soon though, what we suspected to be fog wasn’t acting like fog — It was becoming a grey-ish in color and billowing above the peaks.  Billowing.  As in smoke.  Then lifting further into the sky before breaking apart.  And that’s what I told Andy: “It’s strange but what we thought was fog . . . it looks . . . it looks — ” and he finished the sentence for me: “Like smoke.”

Keep in mind, we had been wandering in a forest that suffered extensive damage from a forest fire so flames, smoke — that was what was on our mind.  We stood frozen, fixated, watching the grey roll over the peaks and swirl upward.  What was odd was that the affected area seemed contained to a portion of the valley but not the entire valley.  We continued to watch as the grey swelled and rolled into the air, up and up.  “It’s so crazy,” I whispered, “how it truly looks as if it is smoke.”  “I know,” he murmured back, “it really does.”

That’s when it dawned on me — What the hell were we doing?!  Standing transfixed, staring hypnotically at smoke in a dry forest.  If there was a fire, we were in the absolute worst situation with no way to readily escape.  And the smoke was moving in our direction.  “Andy . . . Are you noticing . . . ” and he finished my sentence again: “That the smoke is moving towards us?”  My heart began beating rapidly and I started looking for ways to get away, which was ridiculous because we were in the middle of a forest.  “We need to GO — NOW!” and I took his hand and raced forward on the trail.  In that moment, I was thinking a few things: One, we weren’t sure if the smoke was indeed smoke but two, it definitely looked like smoke.  It even smelt like there was wood burning, which really panicked both of us so three, we needed to hustle and get out of the forest because we were in the most serious hiking trouble we’ve yet to be in.

So we were booking it — and I mean full-throttle trail running — through the trees, going so fast we were tripping on roots and rocks all the while with the smoke ever-so-slowly coming closer.  As we were blurs on the trail, optimal speed accomplished, I began to think of the hikers there, before us, that had been walking the area when the forest fire spread.  I didn’t know I had it in me, but I quickened my pace and kept dragging Andy onward!  Twigs were snapping and leaves cracking under our feet, reminding us exactly how dry the area was there.  That’s when I began to worry if we would make it out alive.  Our deaths seemed imminent and ensuring we got out, that Andy was safe — That was the only thing on my mind.  “We need to go, Andy — We need to hurry.”   By this time, he refused to trail run any longer.  He defiantly stopped and may have even crossed his arms in a huff in front of his chest.  Clearly only one of us was concerned about being burned alive in the middle of the woods.  “L.  I’m not running.  I’m not doing it.”  I ignored him — I needed to save us!  I needed to be the hero!  I needed to — squeeze his hand tighter and jerk him forward on the trail until we were safe.  Trudging along, as if to purposely stress me, he continued to lecture me about how — suddenly — he felt the smoke wasn’t actually smoke but fog actually fog.  I’ll tell you one thing: He didn’t even look to confirm this.  And I’ll tell you another thing: He just didn’t want to trail run, I know it, so he had given up and was fine being a dried burnt skeleton by the end of it.  I wasn’t.  I kept tugging his hand . . . until . . . finally . . . out-of-breath and panting, we arrived to the summit.
img_0226And it was only once we got here, we realized that the smoke we had been running from was in fact fog, which was spreading quickly over the neighboring mountains.

Feeling lighter and happier, we kissed and I made him admit that I was the best girlfriend ever for ensuring that we got out alive . . . to which he reminded me it was fog that wouldn’t have killed us . . .  to which I said, “Yes, buuut if it was smoke and there was a fire, I am awesome” . . . to which he sort of just huffed and smiled.  I took that as agreement anyway so we left Vista One calmer.

Off to Vista Two, the area we longed to see most because it had an open meadow.  See, we picked this hike because it was different from all the rest due to the fact that the main view didn’t come from any rocky cliffs or jagged boulders.  Instead, when hikers reached the top of this mountain, the meadow was described as looking more like one in parts of Europe — Scotland, Switzerland.  Sure enough, that’s exactly what Andy said it looked similar to and even felt like as we treked through the yellowing grass.
img_0253What I took secret pleasure in was this view — right here where I was standing when I took this picture.  You can clearly see where a path has been worn into the grass from the hikers that have passed through.  Not only this, but because this is the Appalachian Trail, I was visualizing those before that traveled by — heavy packs on their backs and coming from maybe Georgia and headed to Maine, or maybe moving state-by-state and completing the Virginia portion.  It made me excited to be standing in the very spot few before me had traveled and I felt as if I was sharing a special moment, a connection with them.  Andy and I get overjoyed when we end up on the AT because we hope to start this journey in the summer (more blogs to come about our preparations — which are underway now!) so standing there, imagining the feeling we would have after miles of travel to come to this very spot, this recognized paths and view — It leaves us speechless.
img_0232We stood in the meadow, looking out for quite some time.  To me, the mountains provide a sense of calm and greater purpose; they put life into perspective.  Cold Mountain did more than that — Standing on the peak in the open field, looking at the the 360 degree panoramic view, there was a larger sense of peace than one I had experienced before.
img_0240img_0236The fog began to catch up with us though and soon the neighboring mountains — Pompey and Mount Pleasant and more — appeared to be floating with the clouds, the tip of their peak’s barely visible and just skimming the surface.
img_0255img_0231img_0234Overall, I agree with other hikers when they say Cold Mountain offers views that are “some of the best on the east coast.”  And despite the fact that the mountain is not that high or that hard to climb, it rises to the top of the mountains I’ve conquered so far.
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The best part though?  That I could enjoy Cold Mountain with Andy.  Even if he was back for only a few days, mountains have a way of making time expand, stretch, become exactly what we need.  Hiking has saved me in more ways than one so that even now — when it is hard, when it is tough, when I do miss him — I know we will have more trails together, more walking hand-in-hand next to trees, more mountains to see and climb together.  And it is because of this hike, because of all before and because of all to come — This is why I consider myself lucky.  Very very lucky.
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