Hike Twenty-two: Virginia’s Spy Rock

I’ve been avid to hike longer trails, paths leading to camping, and I didn’t want to wait anymore.  Winter has stretched itself endless, and I was no longer going to be patient.  Camping was on my mind so camping was where I would go!  As expected though, winter protested something strong and fierce — The weekend we planned to go, there was a winter storm advisory and heavy snow headed our way and below freezing temperatures.  But my wilful personality knows no bounds . . . I just needed to convince Andy.  I knew if I worded it right, he would see this as a challenge and if there is one thing Andrew doesn’t back down from, it’s a challenge.  So the words “training for the Appalachian Trail” may have been used, and a “let’s go” from him may have been said.

So we pulled out our massive packs and began stuffing them while our rascals looked and smelled and wormed their way into our gear.
IMG_2853IMG_2822IMG_2817All was glorious and happy so we set off into the mountains.  And were greeted with this.
IMG_2493.JPGAs we drove, the snow became deeper and the visibility, less.  We watched as the temperature dropped past thirty degrees and reached the twenties.  Then roads were closed.  Then “No camping” signs were seen so in the end we had to turn back.

I was miserable, to say the least.

We waited, leaving our packs packed as if willing winter to end.  And it sorta worked.  The following weekend carried warmer temperatures and beautiful weather so we were out once more, this time to George Washington National Forest’s Spy Rock:

  • We chose hiking Crabtree Falls to Spy Rock, which is fourteen miles.  (However, there are shorter trails to Spy Rock.)
  • 3,610-foot elevation gain
  • Rated Level Four of Five difficulty

I was eager for this hike: First, Spy Rock had been on my To Hike List since I started, but I was also happy for Andrew to finally see Crabtree’s waterfall.  You may remember Crabtree Falls was my starting-out second hike, which I intended to invite Andrew but admittedly forgot him, only remembered I forgot him when I was at the mountain’s summit.  He hasn’t let me live this down so I was happy to finally put an end to the fact that he had not hiked the Crabtree Trail. (More on this story in my This is Us post.)

Anyway we set off on a pleasant day, a day so lovely it begged pulling over to take pictures on the way up.  Whenever I snap pictures, I see people rushing by the moments I have paused at — They believe the destination is more important than the journey.  I disagree, strongly.  In the past, I was too focused on the destination and missed appreciating the journey there.  This is why I hope to always pause and not only appreciate the path but also reflect on where it started and where it is headed.IMG_2501.JPGIMG_2503.JPG
Pulling into the parking lot, we pulled on our packs and began walking.
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Crabtree Falls is made of a series of waterfalls — understandably called the lower, middle, and upper falls — where the water flows from Crabtree Meadows to the Tye River.  In all, the waterfalls drops 1,080 feet though hanging valleys rare to the area.
IMG_2508.JPGIMG_2512IMG_2514IMG_2517Continuing past the lower falls, the neighboring mountains came into more view.
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Soon we were at the middle section of the falls.  Each portion is different — For instance, the middle is a single drop of ninety feet over moss-covered rocks, which are closer to trees and plants.
30070557_10160264676265711_1198481789_o copyIMG_2528IMG_2540Moving up still, we followed switchbacks that twisted again towards the water.IMG_2580IMG_2542IMG_2572With the upper falls in sight, we trekked on until we reached the top of the falls, which plunges 200 feet over a cliff.30074411_10160264676375711_126667292_o copy30074463_10160264676185711_687035536_o copyIMG_2563Above the upper falls is a lovely vista of the area, but our journey didn’t end here.
IMG_2592Moving back to the Crabtree Falls Trail, we followed Crabtree Creek for a little over a mile.
IMG_2594This part of the hike was one of the most beautiful — The sun streamed in at the right angle, making all appear rich and colorful.IMG_2600IMG_2604IMG_2608.JPGIMG_2607IMG_2597Crabtree Falls Trail leads to Crabtree Meadows, which we passed it on the right.
IMG_2611IMG_2612Trekking on, we reached a forest road that intersects our beloved Appalachian Trail.  There, we were greeted with more amazing views.IMG_2616Turning south on the white blaze, we had a camp destination in mind: a small site on a grassy clearing.  With about three miles left to go, the sun began to drop behind neighboring mountains.  Soon pastels lit the sky, which gave way to a blues blended together as if in a watercolor painting.IMG_2613IMG_2624IMG_2703.JPGIMG_2636And that is where camped for the night, our first camp of the year — Tucked behind large boulders and nestled above plush tan grass, we pitched our tent on the edge of a cliff face with a look at the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Passing up the opportunity to build a fire due to the freezing temperatures, we crawled into our tent and cuddled up under our sleeping bags, listening to the wind howl and shake our little tent.  Unable to stake in a portion of our rainfly due to the rockface, the rainfly became more like a flag, thrashing back and forth throughout the night, starting on Andy’s side when we went to sleep until it whipped around to mine when we woke.  I normally love listening to wind howl but it does keep me on edge when camping in the mountains, probably due to our ghostly-experience at Dark Hollow Falls, which I couldn’t seem to get out of my mind despite the fact that I felt safer at this spot more than any other we’ve camped in.

“Chap?” I whispered as he was about to fall asleep.

“Lass?” he whispered back.

“Chap, if I have to pee in the middle of the night, will you wake up with me?  You don’t have to come outside but just in case something happens to me — I fall off the cliff or get attacked by an animal or killed by a person — will you just be awake to account for me not coming back?”  This seemed a logical request.

“Okay,” he answered and the wind roared louder.

“Chap?” I whispered again.

“Lass?”

“Will you stay awake with me for a bit?  I feel safe here but I haven’t gotten used to the sounds of the wind yet — It’s making me nervous.”

“Of course,” he responded and I immediately felt grateful to have him by my side until he let out the loudest pattern of deep-breathing snores and I knew he had fallen asleep after the word ‘course.’

This is how our camping normally goes — He is able to pass into deep sleep the moment his head hits the pillow while I seem to do the opposite and waken.  I never sleep much when we camp — I am too alert — so morning can never come soon enough.  This morning though was exceptionally beautiful with fiery pinks and oranges, melting to purples and blues, all stretched out in a calming sky.
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“Good morning,” Andy whispered to me when he woke, hearing me get back into the tent.

“Hiya,” I whispered back.  “What would I have to go to convince you to get up right now and hike Spy Rock on the chance we could catch a incredible sunset?”  I knew I’d need to do a large amount of convincing and that he could fall asleep again — in the middle of conversation — just as easily as he did last night.

“Is the sun rising now?” he asked, yawning.

“Yes, just barely coming up — It’s the most vibrant of colors.”  I held my breath.  I hike for sunrises and sunsets, never seeming to be in the right place at the right time.

“Alright, let’s go,” he said without hesitation, surprising me.  And so we were off, racing against the rising sun.
IMG_2640Packing essential supplies in the top removable portion of my pack, we ditched our tent and gear then headed back on the AT towards Spy Rock, which was a mile and a half away.
IMG_2641IMG_2642But if the rising sun was what we aimed to see on the summit, time was running out — The intensity of the sky’s color was fading faster and all around was slowly becoming lighter.
IMG_2645Finally at the base of Spy Rock, we rock climbed, scrambled up.  There are no paths or blazes here: You simply pick a route and keep trying until you reach the top.
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IMG_2683.JPGIMG_2691.JPGAt the top, we watched as the last light oranges and pinks faded into a very cloudy sky.IMG_2659IMG_2654Spy Rock is rewarding to say the least — It is a massive rocky dome boasting a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, which Andrew was able to capture here.
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360 degree view

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A southern view, showing all of the following major mountains from left to right: The Friar, Tobacco Row Mountain, The Cardinal, Mount Pleasant, Pompey Mountain, and Cold Mountain.
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A closer look at the Piedmont between The Friar and Tobacco Row Mountain.
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Looking west, a close Maintop Mountain, followed by a sharp peaked Torry Ridge, distant Trayfoot Mountain and Bucks Elbow Mountain, then Devil’s Knob, Wintergreen and Humpback Mountain, Black Rock, and Three Ridges are seen from left to right.
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A closer look at the distant Trayfoot Mountain and Bucks Elbow Mountain.

Saying goodbye to one of the best views we’ve seen hiking thus far, we headed back down Spy Rock towards the Appalachian Trail.
30125543_10160264676230711_295727800_o copyIMG_2678IMG_2679IMG_268030122989_10160264676150711_2101231650_o copyReturning to our campsite, the blues in the sky appeared burning, and it was under this sky we ate breakfast.IMG_2633IMG_2701The temperature felt as if it were dropping so I layered up — two pants and four shirts under my raincoat — and we set off down the AT.IMG_270930125611_10160264676405711_1201083858_oThe farther we hiked, the more my feet began to slip in my boots under my pack weight.  Previously I had done only day hikes in my Danner boots, which means my thirty pound pack was absent and therefore unable to exaggerate boot issues.  This was the first longer trail I walked with them, and unfortunately it was here I learned the tri-fold tongue issues increased.  I wrote more about these issues in my Gear Review: Hiking Boots II post, which I’ll ruin the ending: I had to return these beloved boots.  Among other issues, the tri-fold tongue prevents the boots from being laced tight so my toes were hitting the front of my boots and the balls of my feet, heels, and ankles were rubbed raw from the sliding movement.  This is why Andrew took pictures like this of me, absolutely in feet-pain and refusing to walk further until I had a good fifteen minutes to rest.  I was miserable and even considered hiking in my socks the last three miles to alleviate the pain.
30074260_10160264676115711_666425255_o copyThose last three miles dragged out too so much so that by the time we got to the car, Andy and I jumped in, ready to rest our sore feet.IMG_2952 copyDramatically more happy with our hiking boots off, we drove home proud of ourselves.  Sometimes people can let the end of a journey, if bad, dampen the experience; but we found the opposite.  Laughing and smiling as we zipped through the mountains, we felt our first camping trip of the year a success — We had jumped from a Level Two to Four, dramatically increased altitude, and went from an average five mile hike to fourteen.  Whatever was in store on our future trails, we felt ready — eager and ready for more journeys and more mountain tales.

Hike Twenty-one: Virginia’s Apple Orchard Falls

I had a headache.  But there was no way I was cancelling this hike.  That’s because my sister was set to come.  My sister is kinda sorta maybe getting into hiking.  She’s hiked area mountains a couple times before, but her interest was piqued after she and her husband made plans to hike on glaciers in Iceland.  What a way to get into hiking, right?  Anyway, I had been dogmatic, obsessive even, begging her to hike with me since I first started.  I pictured us — sister duo, trekking up and down mountains, traveling on trails — we, a force to be taken down.  She though didn’t see it that way so my begging was to no avail . . . until a nameless Saturday when I casually invited her out.  “I could go next weekend,” she responded without hesitation.  I about fainted.

Jumping forward to that weekend, I woke with a major headache.  But there was no way I was cancelling because this hike could be the one that got my sister on future trails.

Let me say here, I’m not actually good at picking out trails.  I normally either:

  • pick one closer to home
  • . . . or pick one farther from home
  • or simply wander to the mountains with a selection of maps then decide once I’m there (which, for the record, isn’t actually safe.  Don’t be like me — Tell someone where you are going.)

However, this was different.  I needed to impress my sister, get her addicted to mountains and hiking boots the way I am.  I needed a hike with mountain summits, waterfalls — all the charm — and that’s when I found Jefferson National Forest’s Apple Orchard Falls:

  • Five-point-six mile loop
  • Level Three of Five Difficulty level
  • 1,680-foot elevation

A storm with high winds and heavy rain rolled through the night before, and we saw the effects of that right away.  It was a slow process to arrive at our hike — dodging massive holes in the last long dirt road and stopping often to jump from the car to remove large limbs from our way.  It wasn’t just limbs though; at one point, it took Andy, my sister, me, and a stranger in the vehicle in front of us to move a tree that had fallen across the roadway.  The four of us shoved and pushed and finally it budged just enough to clear an opening for the stranger’s massive truck to slip by.  Many moments later we too arrived in the parking lot to begin our hike.IMG_2125.JPGIt was a clear, crisp day — The type created for mountain hikes.  The sun shined bright through the bare trees, and the temperature was cool enough to warrant a couple layers comfortably.

We began by crossing the wooden bridge, heading towards the blue blazed Apple Orchard Falls Trail.IMG_2061.JPGIMG_2066IMG_2075.JPGIMG_2191IMG_2198.JPG

There is something comforting about water trails — The ability to see a flowing water next to the path brings a sense of calm.  For this hike, we were either bordering or within sight of water ninety percent of the time.IMG_2203.JPGIMG_2090.JPGIMG_2096.JPGWhat was also special was having my sister and fiance on the same hike.  My sister and I have always been close, but within the past few years our lives rarely cross.  I can go months without seeing or talking to her, which is both heartbreaking and understandable — We have separate lives we are living.  Still, I would love for her and her husband to be around Andy and me more, to get to know him more, to get to know us together more.  This hike provided a bit of that, so I was grateful for this path in the woods that brought us together even for an afternoon.IMG_2085.JPGIMG_2094.JPGIMG_2128.JPG
Onward we wound through the mountain — the bare trees seemed to become the skeletal structure of the forest, and they allowed views to stretch so that sights of neighboring mountains were visible.  And it is sights like this that make me appreciate winter mountains.  Normally, I’m a spring/summer girl.  I love green forests so dense it is hard to see the sun and sky directly.  I will walk yards from my destination for the chance to see or smell a wildflower, and I will consider spotting a hummingbird or butterfly drinking nectar from a flower the highlight of my day.  IMG_2132.JPGStill late-winter hikes provide an opportunity to catch the first glimpse of coming-spring, like these buds on the tips of trees; and there is something special in that — watching the forest be born before it becomes a mature green.
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As we do on any water hike, we dart back and forth from the path to water, drinking in all the trail offers.
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Look closely — This massive fallen tree split another right in the middle of its two trunks.

I’ve written before of how deeply I notice fallen trees, and this hike was no exception.  Intricate and beautiful patterns were etched into the wood of these.IMG_2205IMG_2206IMG_2308

 

Continuing through, we reached two bridges, which were about one mile from the falls.IMG_2217.JPGIMG_2216 2.JPGIMG_2234Climbing more steeply, we followed Andrew up.IMG_2297IMG_2303.JPGIMG_2305Then there, in the spotlight from the sun, we reached the bottom portion of Apple Orchard’s 200-foot waterfall.IMG_2318.JPGIMG_2329.JPGIMG_2341IMG_2339IMG_2342
Eager to move higher to witness the top of the waterfall, we continued on while remnants of colder temperatures greeted us.
IMG_2361.JPGScreen Shot 2018-04-03 at 4.19.39 PM.pngWithin sight of the waterfall again, we crossed a wooden platform near the rock wall.
IMG_2365IMG_2366Screen Shot 2018-04-03 at 4.26.20 PM.pngThere, we arrived at the top of the falls.IMG_2397.JPG
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The exciting news was that our hike wasn’t over yet — Climbing a set of wooden stairs, we had one last view of the waterfall before a vista.
IMG_2409.JPGIMG_2411IMG_2426IMG_2428This side of the mountain was warmer, allowing flowers to begin to open.IMG_2412However, a couple steps more and thick icicles once again clung to the rocks.
IMG_2434.JPGIMG_2435IMG_2437Interestingly enough, we found this: long needle ice.IMG_2433IMG_2423Needle ice is a natural phenomenon that happens when the soil is above freezing but the air is below freezing.  The ground’s water (that is flowing under the earth) is brought to the surface in a capillary-esque action, forming hollow needle-like columns that freeze, hence the name needle ice.  Normally needle ice is only a few centimeters long; here the delicate ice was at least three inches.IMG_2430
Coming to the end of our hike, we began to walk down the mountain, following the Cornelius Creek Trail as the sun lowered in the sky.
IMG_2451.JPGIMG_2455Then it was time to forge Cornelius Creek two times.IMG_2477IMG_2461IMG_2468IMG_2467IMG_2471The setting sun turned the mountains bright gold. and we followed it all the way to the parking lot.IMG_2476
Before we realized it, our hike was over.  Getting into the car once more and driving home, I lowered the window to snap pictures of the passing mountains.  The sky was a light pink, making all feel soft and warm.IMG_2487.JPG
Often I want hikes to last longer than they do; I want time to slow.  This could be for a variety of reasons: The view is so beautiful that the minutes, hours I have to take it in — It is never enough.  Or the memories created at that spot, on that trail, on that mountain — They are ones I desire to hold onto because I know they will escape and fade, despite my attempts to grasp them.  Or, like this day, I could want the hike to last for a more simple reason: To stretch time in the wilderness with my sister and fiance before life gets in the way again.
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This is Us

It’s April Fool’s Day — a time for jokes and pranks and hoaxes.  A time to instill doubt, second-guesses, concern, dare I say a smidge bit of worry.  A time when trusting individuals are turned to fools, and loyal individuals become tricksters.  April Fool’s Day — a time when . . . let’s be honest . . . a time when Andrew proposed to me.

That’s right.  On this day — exactly one year ago — Andrew knelt down on a windy, freezing rocky cliff in the mountains to ask me to marry him.

You see the videos, hear the stories where the female gasps, “Are you joking?!  Tell me truly if you are serious!” and truth be told I have found them ridiculous.  Of course he is serious — Look at him!  He is on his knee!  He is tearing up!  He gave you a sentimental speech!  He even has a ring!  Yep, I once found those females frustrating, annoying, silly . . . that is until my boyfriend chose April Fool’s Day to pop the question.  Now I understand there are circumstances that can warrant such behavior.

So this post is a look-back at this zany proposal and this equally quirky and untraditional guy I said, “Yes” to because my life hasn’t been the same since meeting him and somehow, he finds a way to keep me on my toes every day, just like April Fool’s Day.

* * * * *

At the time, Andrew’s six-month stint in America was over.  He was living again in his home country of England.  Previously, he had been in the US for work — His English job had given him an opportunity to stay in America to help a company improve their research capabilities.  It was during this blip in time — this itty-bitty moment when monumental meant-to-be events just align — that I met him and him, me.  Magic and, without knowing it, we needed each other.

In England, he had come out of a ten-year relationship that ended with his girlfriend leaving him for someone else.  At the same time, I had locked myself in my apartment following my divorce.  Our lives were parallel — countries away — so that several months had passed for both of us where our lives were stagnant and, around the same time, we chose to begin to branch out.  He came to America, moved into my apartment complex, and was keen to make friends, explore.  I was eager to get away; I yearned to walk — walk as far as I could, walk until I couldn’t walk anymore.  That’s when I determined I would become a hiker.  The only problem was I had no idea what I was doing so I made a post on our apartment website, asking if anyone wanted to hike with me.  Several people answered, including Andrew: “Hi, I did [hike] when I was home.  I’m from the U.K., here for six months.”

I remember telling my family how this was the first time I could recall feeling happy since my life fell downhill and off-course.  I wanted to meet this Brit — I knew conversation would be easy because I could ask him about the UK and about hiking there.

I began planning the hike, inviting those that said they could go the following weekend —
two people from India and one from Spain (my dear Usua), and we all trekked our merry way to the mountains for our hike at Crabtree Falls, which was beautiful by the way.  It was also where — when I was standing at the highest point on that trail — I realized I forgot the Brit.

He likes to joke that he had waited for my message on hiking plans but as the days slid by, he said he had given up: “I thought you’d either changed your mind about wanting to hike or you didn’t want to hike with me.”  A week slid by and, depending on the day you ask him what he did next, his answer changes from either his tale of woe: “I just assumed you wouldn’t get back in touch — and I was too shy to message you — so I went to drown my sorrows in beer” to this top-notch attitude: “I just assumed you wouldn’t get back in touch so I said, ‘Well fuck it.  I’m going for beers.”

That was Friday night.  The next day — the day of my hike — I sent a private message of apology his way: “Hi Andrew! I am the worst — I forgot to post a public follow-up message for the hike.  I remembered today when we were there so I wanted to apologize.  I don’t know how often you hike, but I want to go often. Would you still be interested in one? Let me know!”

He kept me waiting.  Then responded days later.  We messaged back and forth, and those messages ended with him casually inviting me to join him Friday night for his regular burger and beers to “chat about the different hikes and places to go.”  He ended with “When do you fancy?” and I smiled, finding it was amusing that there are people in the world that actually use the word ‘fancy’ in every day speech.  That’s when I heard myself laugh, which was startling; I had forgotten that sound.  I remember feeling scared to embark solo, to socialize — I hadn’t done this in years — but I felt a strange drive that I should go: Something really amazing could happen, a voice kept telling me.  So I figured what the heck.  If he is crazy, I’ll leave — in the middle of eating or drinking.  I have no connection to him, he is not even a friend; he is a stranger that may become a potential hiking partner.  Plus, he has to leave in six months so there is zero chance for strings to be attached, which is absolutely perfect.  And, without fully realizing it, I found my fingers typing a time to meet, typing words that I would go.

So we met at a small dive-of-a-bar, which I blogged about before in my “I Pushed Him Out of a Plane” post.  We stayed until the bar closed and then we walked around the city until 3:30 a.m. talking and laughing — both of us were laughing.

From that moment on, we were inseparable.

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Our first picture together a couple months after we met

Four months into knowing him, we were dating and spent practically every weekend in the mountains, hiking and camping.
20160917_133635We went skydiving.  He took me to England and I met his parents, his friends.
20161123_150817We cherished every day because we knew there was a limit, a deadline, a point where he would have to go.

And that time came . . . one month after we had started dating . . . five months after we first met.  We didn’t have a plan.  We simply took each day at a time.

The good news is he did come back — In March, he was sent by his English company to return to America for work, which meant we had a chance to see one another again.  And it also meant a weekend in the mountains, which felt our home, a place we could escape the world and pretend — even if for an afternoon or a couple days — that we could be together, time could be uninterrupted.

That weekend of April Fool’s Day arrived.  Our packs were ready for our first camp of the year.  We set off to one of our favorite hikes thus far, Franklin Cliffs on Hawksbill Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  This would be the second time we walked this trail, making it still the only place we have re-hiked and re-camped.

In only one picture before we began walking, Andrew’s facial expression gives away that he has something planned, and I remember being amused when I glanced at my camera to find his eyes wide.  Giggling, I questioned why he had done that and he told me it was because he hoped we wouldn’t get into our regular mishaps — you know, bears, getting lost, no water.  At the time, I supposed he was right — This was the place where we saw our first bear after all — so, in an effort to calm his heart, I kissed him: “We’re going to be great this year,” I remember telling him, and he smiled back.  This smile stayed with him the entire time, but then again so did mine.  We were together.  We were home.IMG_0354IMG_0313

The day was beautiful but extremely cold, which summarizes a Virginia April well.
IMG_0324This month is a mixed bag — often it feels more like winter and can bring snow, but there are occasions where April represents spring well.  On this hike, there were glimpses of spring — moss was the most vibrant green, red buds were noticeable on the tips of trees, and little plants were stretching towards the sky.IMG_0339IMG_0321IMG_0350 2.jpgIMG_0330.JPGIMG_0371.JPGHowever, signs of colder temperatures were more visible with heaps of acorns and pine cones and layers of leaves on the ground.IMG_0325.JPGIMG_0345IMG_0338IMG_0323.JPGThere was also a sense of sadness — Fallen trees were everywhere, yard after yard and stacked on top of one another.
IMG_0368IMG_0363.JPGIMG_0336 2IMG_0334.JPGIMG_0358Whenever I see this many fallen trees, I often think of what author Bill Bryson wrote in his memoir A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail:
“The Appalachians are the home of one of the the world’s greatest hardwood forests — the expansive relic of the richest, most diversified sweep of woodland ever to grace the temperate world — and that forest is in trouble.  If the global temperature rises by 4° C over the next fifty years, as is evidently possible, the whole of the Appalachian wilderness below New England could become savanna.  Already trees are dying in frightening numbers. The elms and chestnuts are long gone, the stately hemlocks and flowery dogwoods are going, and the red spruces, Fraser firs, mountain ashes, and sugar maples may be about to follow. Clearly, if ever there was a time to experience this singular wilderness, it was now.”
This is precisely why we love the mountains — We want to see it, celebrate its beauty, breath in its life so that every time we are out, we silently pray to Mother Nature that she has the strength to endure.  This is also why we crave to hike the Appalachian Trail — This fabled trail is one we found ourselves talking of the first day we met, and the truth is it may not be around always — It has already changed, drastically, from when it was first created and if we miss one more moment to walk it — that is a travesty.

Passing the same white blaze-marked tree where we stopped for a picture only the year before, we stopped again in an effort to re-create that moment, that hike.

Then onward we continued towards Franklin Cliffs where we would set up camp again.
IMG_0341The year before, we came in the summer so all around was lush and green.  It was interesting to come back and see how different the trail looked and felt.  For instance, we never saw cliffs behind us — The leaves were too dense; they blocked our view.  Here though, the cliffs stood out and seemed naked without the protection of the trees.
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After setting up camp, Andy and I ventured to the overlook.
IMG_0375IMG_0383IMG_0382IMG_0380IMG_0381This was the place we saw our first mountain sunset, the one where we leaned back to rest in a rocky nook, watching with captivation as the sun burst into colors then hid behind those blue mountains we know.  This was the place we waited, patient, as the town’s lights twinkled on like fireflies in the night.  The sky was darkening then so we gazed up at stars which shined in different colors too.  This was where the International Space Station zoomed above in the slick blackness and we felt so tiny yet essential.  It was here that we nestled into one another, tucked under Andy’s sleeping bag, and fell asleep at the cliff’s edge; we woke with aching muscles that felt bruised, and that is how we predicted how long we had slept because in the mountains, there is no way to know how much time has passed — The only measurement is sunrise, sunset, and the space between each.

At the cliffs, the wind picked up — icy strong gusts that made it hard to stand in one spot.  We began to shake.

“Let’s go back — It’s freezing and you’re shaking,” I told Andrew and turned to head towards the tent.

“No, we need to stay out here a bit longer,” he told me shaking so severely it appeared he was convulsing.

“Why?” I asked so he told pointed towards the mountains.

“Look,” he said and I remember thinking, The view is beautiful but it is way too cold to enjoy this right now.  Still, I turned back and breathed in, staring at the Blue Ridge.  Meanwhile, Andrew was behind me and pulling a ring from his pocket . . .

“I was very stealthy and ninja-esque, I would say.”  That’s how he describes his actions now.  “And you thought I was kidding.  I had to say, ‘It is April 1st, but it’s not an April Fool’s joke.”

What he is alluding to is how deeply I thought he was joking.  This is because four months into meeting me, he bought an engagement ring and had been torturing me with the fact that he was thinking about proposing.

“Are you going to marry me?” and “Will you marry me?” he would ask each day.

“Are you asking me now?” I would respond.

“No,” he would say laughing so I would laugh too and tell him that there was no reason for me to answer then.

You can now understand why it was hard to believe he was proposing — He had dangled the words before me often and it was April Fool’s.  Once I realized he was serious though, my answer is as it is now: “Of course.”20170401_193801

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The next morning, the sun streamed in just right — the way it does to make you feel light, calm, happy.  We watched as it slowly rose higher in the sky.
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When we left, we stopped by the visitor’s center, as we sometimes do to look at the sightings log.  “I want to record your proposal, our engagement,” I told him but he was nervous, saying it should be a record of nature.  However, when we looked at what others wrote — “Love nature” and “We don’t see that every day” —  it seemed more comments.  Plus, what I wanted to write was a sighting after all — me, seeing my boyfriend propose — so I chose to do it.
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So that is our story and this is us — We met a little less than a year and a half ago, he purchased an engagement ring four months into knowing me, and he proposed — on April Fool’s Day — five months later.

To look back to the time before we met — him in England and me, here — To say we would have any idea our lives would turn out this way . . . impossible.  There are no words to write how surprising life can be, how magical, how meaningful, how important.

This man — this zany, quirky, untraditional, hilarious, loyal, caring man — This is the man I am engaged to.  “A lad from a small village in England,” as he likes to say.  A man I almost forgot.  A man that challenges me in the best ways possible.  A man that has changed my life for the better, changed it in a way I could only begin to dream of before.

So yeah.  This is is our story.  This is us.20170402_125640

Happy one year engagement, Andrew.  How I so deeply love you . . .