Monday, July 27, 2015

This year I've been focused on my goal of reaching 500 miles. I don't know if focused is even the right word, maybe obsessed with would be better but regardless, I'm not going to quit until I succeed. Not torn ligaments in my ankle in February or a broken toe in May slowed my progress. If anything, it made me more determined to keep pushing despite the pain. Through it all I'm now only five miles shy of 300 as the month of July comes to an end.

I've also found balance this year. Working as a salaried assistant manager and being married, I also have responsibilities away from the trail and my personal goals. It seems I've found a new love for life and although I stay busy, it's been worth it all. One of the highlights away from hiking this year was my first true country music concert. Amber and I traveled to Knoxville, TN to see Garth Brooks. For three glorious hours, he rocked Thompson Bowling Arena and I couldn't believe what a wonderful entertainer he was. We didn't leave the arena until almost midnight, finally made it home about 1:30am, and I calmed down enough to go to sleep around 2:30am.

As much as I wanted to sleep in the next day, I had a short hike planned with some Girl Scouts from my old elementary school in Hiltons. Growing up I made many friends at Hiltons Elementary that I've carried into adulthood. One of my friends, Eric Gardner, and I have shared a lot of adventures and bad decision making. The fact that we both are still alive is a true testament to God's grace. Eric has a family now and his wife is the Girl Scout Troop leader for the school. She had asked me a few weeks earlier if I would be interested in guiding a few of the girls on a hike so they could earn their merit badge. I've not done a lot of guided hikes but have helped out with a few fundraisers through work and was glad to give back to a school that I have such fond memories of, and to help out one of my best friend's daughters earn her merit badge!
Hiltons Elementary School Girl Scout Troop and I at the start of Little Stony National Recreation Trail.

When I arrived at the school shortly before 9am I expected five or six kids and a couple of parents. Imagine my surprise when 13 girls and six parents piled into the parking lot a few at a time. My plan was to hike from the upper parking lot at Little Stony Falls near Dungannon, Virginia and hike the girls down past the main waterfalls to a wooden bridge and back to the parking lot making a nice two mile trip with plenty to see. Eric's wife, Kate changed the plans upon my arrival saying we needed to burn more of their energy and wanted to hike them in from Hanging Rock and back making a 5.2 mile trip. I was somewhat surprised but relieved because it would make the convoy there easier as it follows paved roads the entire way. The girls seemed to have more than enough energy for the trip as they bounced from car to car trying to decide who they wanted to ride with. Once we were satisfied that everyone had shown up that was going we were off on the forty minute drive to the trail head.

When we arrived at Hanging Rock I couldn't help but think about my last visit there and how different everything appeared. In the winter, I hiked in knee deep snow with some friends. To read the story of that day visit here:( I parked in my usual spot along the creek as the rest of the caravan passed by heading toward the start of the recreation trail. Normally the gate is locked so I expected them to be back but as I hiked up the paved road I could see that I could have saved myself some steps since the gate was standing wide open. A couple of the parents and a few children had parked with me and we chatted as we hiked up to the join the others. I spotted a small salamander in the grass along the road and let the girls take turns either holding it or petting it. We all posed for a picture by the Little Stony Recreation Trail and I gave some final instructions before hitting the trail. I had already encountered poisonous snakes on hikes and cautioned the girls to stay on the trail at all times. Although I'm not a parent, I felt a little apprehension taking them up the trail since I knew what to expect.
The trail passes by this small waterfall and we the girls had to go inspect it up close.

I tried to stay in the lead but some of the older girls of the group out paced me by a few feet and I settled in to mixing with everyone as much as possible. There were still some nice wildflowers blooming and stinging nettle lined the trails causing some discomfort early on for a few scouts. The parents seemed to be happy being out as well and the principal, Tracy Stallard had came with her daughter. I went to school with Tracy and her mother was my my math teacher in fifth grade. I always liked Ms. Williams as she stood up for me and told me to be proud of being tall. If anything, the hike was a reminder that I was getting old.

Along the way, I pointed out bugs, flowers, and even some abandoned mine shafts to the girls and they seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. We all stopped for an extended at stay at one of the nice small waterfalls and even with chilly water, a majority of the girls took a dip. It was a surreal change to my usual hiking in silence as giggles and song lit up the valley but it was wonderful seeing them all have so much fun. Not all of the parents shared in their joy and it was easy to pick out the few that were more comfortable in a shopping mall. I asked one of the girls if she liked hiking and she gave me one of the more candid and hilarious answers I've received, "I didn't want to be here but I'm a girl scout, and I really want that badge."
We made it to the falls!
The water was cold. These girls are tough!

I was really impressed with Kate's poise as she instructed the girls as we navigated through some narrow stretches of trail and around some downed trees. All of them looked up to her, and I could tell she cared for them all equally even with the presence of her own daughter. Soon we were approaching the first falls which is the highest on the creek. The trail to the base is a steep muddy affair with little to hold onto. One of the parents initially objected to her daughter going but I recruited some parents to make a line to help each child down safely. It was awesome to see everyone work as a team and as soon as everyone arrived at the base, the girls were back in the water. Screams and shrills echoed along the rock walls as they adjusted to the chilly water. I found a rock to relax on but watched them all closely while they splashed around. The cold water was no match for their enthusiasm and they lingered even as the parents started calling them that we needed to head back. I talked to Kate and told her the main falls was only a short hike up the trail and I wanted to show them all how you could walk behind it. She was worried with the girls not bringing a lunch they would get grouchy and be miserable hiking back. Luckily, the girls agreed with me and we all marched on toward the Upper Falls of Little Stony. If the girls energy was fading, I couldn't tell. They beat us all to the waterfall and some of them where already making their way behind the falls when I reached the base. I joined all of them behind the waterfall and we played along the shore for a few minutes before Kate called us all back.
Lower falls of Little Stony.
My favorite picture of the day. The girls and I behind the Upper Falls of Little Stony.

The hike back was much easier since it was mostly downhill and the girls stayed in a good mood as they discussed their plans for later and what was for lunch. I hiked in the back of the group and visited with a few parents and stayed with some of the smaller scouts with their tiny strides. When we all reached the parking lot I felt a huge sense of relief. Everyone was safe and no one had any injuries at all. Kate shared snacks from her vehicle with everyone and the girls each thanked me for taking them hiking. As I made my way back to the truck, they passed by yelling "bye" and "thank you" and the smile on my face was so wide that it hurt. It was refreshing to set my personal goals aside and do something for someone else. The girls added so much to my hike by being observant and attentive even pointing out things to me by the end of the day. Hopefully they continue to enjoy the outdoors many years from now and can look back on the day "that real tall man" took them to Little Stony. Until next time, happy trails.

1 comment: