“…are we on the Road or the Trail?”

Posted on Friday, Oct 23, 2015

It was classic.

Eight kids go into the woods.

None come out.

…well, that’s a little melodramatic. We all made it out. But for a while there, we didn’t think we would.
It started off innocently enough – a day trip to Shenandoah National Park. We woke up with the sun Saturday morning, eager to be off on our adventure. The morning was crisp and perfect with a promise of fall colors in the breeze.

That promise held true. Our first glimpse of the beauty we would be immersed in all day came at an overlook right inside the park. The valley was alive with color – light greens, brilliant yellows, warm oranges and a few interspersed, blazing reds. Mountains rolled lazily off into the distance, and if we were quiet enough, we could hear the soft echo of the wind blowing through the trees. Our smiles were those of children dreaming of pirates, astronauts and cowboys. Oh yes; adventure was sweetly inevitable.

The Rose River Loop Trial is where we met our fate. Or, at least that’s what we thought for six hours of hiking. We made it to the first falls, Dark Hallow Falls (ominous much?) without a sweat and took lunch at the top of the cascading waters. Continuing onward towards Rose River Falls, we took the path on the left (marked clearly on the map as the path to take).

We would never make it to Rose River Falls.

Again with the melodrama.

Falls-(1).jpgSix hours and an exit into a backwoods neighborhood later, we realized we had been traversing Rose River Fire Road as opposed to Rose River Loop Trail. Really helps out that the trail makers just say “Rose River”. And that the two couples and the group of girls walking their dogs we ran into were just as confused by the map as we were. No matter how many times we consulted amongst ourselves or with wayfaring strangers, the map did not make sense. It was faulty.
At least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.

“Yeah, it’s a seven mile uphill-hike back to Fishers Gap,” the man said from his porch. His knowing eyes told me we were not the first lost hikers to come knocking. I vowed to myself right then that if I ever live close to a national park, I would place a sign on my front door reading “Lost hikers welcome”. “Most folk around here will charge you $100 at least to drive you back into the park. See, there are only four entrances via car, so it’s a fifty mile drive just to the closest entrance, and that’s not including taking you down Skyline Drive to wherever your car is parked.”

So us cash-poor, exhausted kids were walking our butts back up seven miles with only about two good hours of sunlight left.

“Oh, and you are most likely to run into bears this time’o day. That happens, get real close and look big. Don’t scream or anything and don’t run, but talk loud and walk outta there. If there’s a mamma and her cubs, well… you don’t bat an eyelash.”

…ok.

Hightailing it back with a fire lit under our pants, we crossed paths with one of the couples again. They were walking back towards the neighborhood with a man named Jeff.

Thank the universe for all the Jeffs of the world.

He had offered to drive the couple back to their car, which was the same place we had parked. “I’d be happy to take all of you back as well, but I only have a little three-seater truck. But I can take one of you and you can follow me back here to pick everyone else up. I’m camping here with my wife, so I’ll have to come back here anyways.”

So I hopped into a truck with a stranger in the woods.

I can hear my mother’s internal screaming.

The drive was beautiful. Jeff told us stories of Alaska and grizzly bears and hiking with his wife. He told us of salmon fishing and distant lands he had traveled. I tried to give him money for gas three different times. He refused. We reentered the park with the sunset. The mountains had turned blue with the fading light. I caught brief but glorious glimpses of the giant ball of fire slipping past the horizon through the trees and various overlooks as we raced up the mountain to Fishers Gap.

Hills.jpgIt took almost three hours to retrieve the car and return back to the neighborhood. I threw the car into park and ran out to embrace my friends. “I was so nervous for you guys!” I exclaimed. “Victoria, we were nervous for you,” they assured me.

Jeff endured our chorus of “thank yous” with a soft smile. “You kids be safe,” he said, driving off to reenter the dark forest.

We piled into the car and ventured back to Fisher Gap to pick up the second car. They recounted their stories of going to the bathroom in the woods, adventuring down backroads, and discussions of cannibalism. I told them all about Jeff, a true legend. We laughed as we devoured the snacks I had quickly grabbed at the gas station when Jeff had to fill up.

10 pm rolled around as we made it back to Fisher Gap yet again. I don’t think any of us will be going back to Fishers Gap for a while, nor hiking the Rose River Loop Trail (Fire Road, whatever it is). Before leaving however, the sky called our attention.

Stars. Millions of them. The clarity of the night was pristine. The dust of the Milky Way was sprinkled across black obsidian, sparkling and ever-ready to take our breath away. Cuddling together to keep warm at the edge of the overlook, we basked in the glory of the misadventures that brought us to that moment.

A two hour drive stood between us and Washington. Our bodies were tired and shaking from the cold.

No one had had a real meal since noon.

All of that was rendered utterly inconsequential.

Victoria Kennedy
Global Cold Chain Alliance
Washington, D.C. - Fall 2015