I yearned for a hike. My heart was desperate for the mountains, and my body ached in ways it only does when not on trails. Feeling idle is equivalent to feeling hopelessness — My mood plummets downhill as my body is at a standstill, and I feel the slow grip of multiple sclerosis as it builds to wreak havoc again.
See, Andy and I started 2018 off strong — We had averaged eleven hikes in four months from January to April, which may not sound like that much until you realize there were only seventeen weekends within those four months. Looking at it that way, it was impressive. However from May to June, five weekends, I only found one trail. Things happen in life, I get it, but I feel as if I’m constantly fighting myself — fighting the urge to pack my bags and move to the mountains, drop all responsibility, and simply disappear into the forest.
This is what I mean when I said earlier “My mood plummets downhill” — crazy thoughts begin to enter my head, which is why I was lucky to find a trail and two friends to walk on it with me.
It was a Sunday in June when Nikki, Usua, and I grabbed our packs for a day hike at Overall Run/Beecher Ridge in Shenandoah National Park. We did a slight variation of this hike but, because it was similar, I wanted to post its main information here:
- Eight-point-five mile circuit
- 1,965-foot elevation gain
- Level Four of Five difficulty
The forest was a lush green and could not have been more gorgeous — Sunlight streamed through the leaves while we followed the sounds of water rushing next to us and birds singing above.
Large ferns flourished, their massive leaves stretching over others, forming layer upon layer of feathery greens.
Above them, mountain laurel became our guide as we traveled deeper into the woods.
Soon, a waterfall appeared on our left. While smaller than our final target, this one was still large and impressive.Leaving it, we followed several switchbacks before our trail turned more rocky before dipping down.
It was here we were greeted with the view of a massive waterfall, one of the largest continuous falls in Virginia.
Beside it, a summit that rivaled all others. National park rangers told us earlier this was one of the few overlooks in the entire park with no views of development as far as the eye can see.
What was also striking were the flowers, which stretched along the rocky vista — Blooms of all shapes and sizes appeared to swell as if showing off when I stepped by.
At the mountain’s overlook, we were only able to nibble at our lunches as the sound of thunder soon gave way rain, which later turned into a torrential downpour. It was time to go.
Heading back, I remember thinking It will be strange if we don’t see a black bear. The area seemed a perfect place for them — full of protection, vegetation, water. I looked around, sensing they were close but hidden. Beecher Ridge is known for having one of the highest concentrations of black bears in Shenandoah. In fact, the chance of encountering one is so high, our directions even threw in “This is one hike where you are most likely to catch a glimpse of a black bear in the wild.”
I couldn’t get the thought of the animals out of my mind so I paused, almost willing their camouflage to disappear so they could be seen and it was then — honestly and truly — a black bear appeared on my right.Concealed in thick foliage and limbs, it’s rump faced us, waving lazily back and forth as it foraged for food.
“Bear . . . ” I whispered to Nikki and Usua, causing them to immediately stop and turn. “Shhh,” I motioned my finger to my mouth as I pointed into the forest. Tiptoeing back towards me, the three of us bent and stretched on our toes to see it. The bear paused, sensing us, and raised its head — our eyes meeting — before turning back and sniffing more.The bear was, what I’m guessing, a teenager — One unconcerned with humans (which was good) so we soon moved on too as the rain continued, harder on our shoulders.
Our path quickly turned to stream then thick mud as we followed it the last few miles to the parking lot.
In the past, I had been the one to dance around mud and streams with new boots on, but this day I walked through the brown sludge and water, allowing the mud to rise over my boots. I was hiking again, after a hiatus from the forest, and I wanted to see that mud, smell that dirt, feel that rain on my body until it filled me. I wanted to breathe in as much of those woods as my lungs could take and hold it inside of me with the hopes that it would last until next time.
I had missed the mountains and its forests, oh how I missed them, so much so that when I finished walking and replaced my boots for sandals on the drive home, my brand new boots looked like this and I couldn’t have been happier.