This hike was bittersweet. It marked the end of one meaningful moment in life but the start to another. That’s because this was the last hike Andy and I could go on before he left for England, left for his home, left for good.
Before we even met, when we were sending private messages to one another about hiking, we were aware that his time in the US was short. There was a deadline — Five months, that’s all we had. But that was okay because meeting was sold as “occasional hiking friends.”
But life is never as expected.
We met, were immediately attracted to each other, began dating, and fell in love, all the while hearing the ticking of the clock. So that now, those five months have passed and Andy is back in England.
That’s why I say this hike was bittersweet. While it marked Andy’s and my last, it also meant we didn’t know what the future held and because of that, we could quite possibly be in store for something really amazing, really remarkable. We would simply have to adopt our hiking motto of “wait and see.”
So on the last weekend before Andy boarded a plane, we set off for Shenandoah National Park’s Jones Run/Doyles River. First, the details:
- A little under a seven mile circuit
- There’s a 1,455 foot elevation
- Rated a Level Three of Five difficulty
With us knocking out harder hikes, this one caught our attention because it seemed short, tranquil, easy . . . so for those hoping we would get eaten by bears, chased by wild moose, bitten by a snake, perpetually lost in the forest, or harassed again by park rangers — that, plain and simply, didn’t happen. And I’m sorry. For you — that you wished that on us. Shame on you. We did, however, have a moment of sheer panic, which I’ll tell you all about later.
We began by stopping at Bojangles for a little breakfast, but let’s be honest — it is mainly so that I can inhale two extra large southern sweet teas. This pit stop has become a tradition for when we set out to camp so we thought one last celebration was in order even if it was only a day hike. . . . Unfortunately, whenever we go, my two extra large sweet teas constantly remind me that maybe I shouldn’t have had two extra large sweet teas before trekking into the wilderness because they catch up to me fast — We are barely able to get in the vicinity of our hike before I’m begging Andy to pull over because I have to pee . . . and pee again ten minutes later . . . and again fifteen minutes later . . . and let’s just say we now take bets on how many times I have to go after Bojangles (which by the way, I lost at three. Andy won at five. The man knows me, what can I say?)
Continuing the story: We eat, drink, and are merry . . . until (as expected) Andy has to pull over to — golden treasure of the day — two little porta potties! I’ve never been so happy to see a porta potty in all my life and trust me, those gems were much appreciated because can you just imagine how horrible I’d be trying to hide to pee when it is winter and all the leaves are off the trees?! Geez, I’d never find a place to hide and go.
After we took care of business, on the way out, we found this:
This “Bear Essentials” lead us to nostalgic memories of our bear situations:
- First, in the car with Usua when I had to slam onto the breaks due to a sudden cub running across the road
- Second, when Andy’s verbal machine-gun-scream of “Bear!Bear!Bear!” scared the animal so much it tucked its tiny tail and ran away
- Third, hearing consistent super loud bear roars while camping at Dragon’s Tooth
- Fourth, when we were almost mutilated by a mother bear with a cub that wanted us as its play toy
But apparently this poster — with smiling black bears modeling those curious faces and precious little black-bear eyes — brings back happiness for us and not fear because I look at Andy and say, “Awww. Aren’t they sweet and cute? Maybe we can see one on our last hike!” and he smiles at me before saying, “I was just thinking that! The leaves are off the trees so we can definitely find them more easily!” and we kind of sigh and nuzzle into each other, looking at the pictures again before moving on . . . and moving onto this, which I joke not was maybe ten yards from where we just peed, from where we just stood, from where we just hoped to see a black bear.
So we let out a stream of cuss words (because what else is there to do in a situation like this?) and then we begin finger-pointing (another totally logical action when a bear is nearby) and Andy screams, “WOT the BLOODY HELL, L!!! You are insane! You can’t WISH for a bear! Why do you want to see a bear?!?! It will literally eat your face!” (which, by the way, is something he constantly reminds me of) and I give him that look — you know “the look” — because I remember, oh most definitely do I remember, a very different special moment at the porta potties between me, him, and the bear family pictures.
Meanwhile, our bear — our poor poor bear we soon realize — meanders on, looking extremely confused and sad, which I realize is an odd thing to say, but he was very scared and ran up the hill then would pause to look around as if he was lost before roaming a bit, look around again, then roam once more. He was definitely a younger bear as he wasn’t huge but larger than a cub. I later called the park rangers to ask about him and one woman said it sounded as if he was about two years old and therefore recently separated from his mother so he may be confused as to how to make it on his own. She passed me off to another park ranger and that person was less caring. She said the bear was looking for easy food. When I told her Snickers seemed to be the last thing on his mind, she said they would send someone out — and I quote — “to scare him back into the forest.” That broke my heart. I understand the bear can’t be swaddled but purposely scaring an already terrified bear seemed a bit harsh.
Anyway, Young Bear seemed to be going a wayward left; we were going right so we left our bear views at that. Then, of course, retold our not-even-two-minutes-later tale to one another, laughing and kissing because we both just wanted to see a bear and found a bear and oh, how funny! . . . Can I just say now, “perverse” is a better word for it. Do not ever wish to see a bear, folks. Ever.
Regardless, we moved along all smiles now . . .
towards our deeply desired Appalachian Trail (which side note, we plan to take on soon! EEEEE!!!), and from there we stayed on the AT for over a mile.
The morning was cool and brisk with overcast clouds releasing a drizzle on and off. This was my first winter hike and I felt grateful to be on it. Often when I go, I feel an overwhelming sense of luck and self-worth, and it was during this one I realized I had the opportunity to get out in nature at least every two months since the summer. There, I got a chance to experience the summer and autumn season in a different way — in the forest where life isn’t punctured by society. In the winter though, it felt eerie at times without a world of green around you. I had grown accustomed to heat and humidity, a protective cover, and plants with green leaves that instantly hid me as soon as I walked into the forest. Now that everything was dormant, I felt highly visible which made me nervous at times, uneasy. Our every sound seemed to echo, making me aware of every step, each breathe, every pack movement as the noise bounced off the bare trees.
However, what I was most surprised by was how beautiful the forest was still. All appeared delicate and hanging in an odd balance.
Soon, our hike left the AT and from there we followed the blue blaze Jones Run Trail.
After crossing Doyels River, we found animal tracks, but I’m not sure what animal created them. They were larger (about as big as my hand spread out) yet they do not seem to match bears, mountain lions, or other types of animals. I’m thinking it may have been a large dog, but leave me a comment below if you think I’m wrong!
As we got closer to the water, the more nature began to blossom in a different way by showing off with thick lime-colored moss that draped over the rocks, trees, ground.
We followed the river, followed the moss and after a quick three miles, we were at the top of our first set of waterfalls.
This hike was relaxing and easy and offered pretty sights along the way, such as impressive boulders that parted the acres of trees . . .
odd rock formations . . . and gargantuan trees, one of which I am going to call The Most Loved Tree because after we went and I began blogging, I pulled up facts on our trail only to see other people had hugged this exact tree. At the time, I had begged Andy to hug it too. He got a little prickly though and huffed, “L! I’M NOT HUGGING A TREE! No. No, I will NOT hug a TREE” before puffing away. Who would have known hugging nature was such a horrible undertaking? Geez . . .
So while he walked on and I scrambled to follow, we soon came to this main waterfall.
Seeing the waterfall made me realize how beautiful hikes are in the winter, mainly waterfall hikes. Speckled with icicles and sheets of ice, the water was a contradiction of freezing and rushing at the same time.
It was right around this time, we stepped onto the rocks and were framing ourselves for a picture when a man named Archie and a man that was Archie’s friend, whom we will call Ralph for sake of the story, came strolling through. Archie was excited to see us and instantly offered to take our picture; however, Ralph was more leery, staying put on the trail away from the hazards of slick rocks and a cold waterfall. I handed Archy my camera as he came sliding to us. “Be CAREFUL, Archie!” Ralph hollered heatedly from his standing place. Archie ignored him and smiled at us, which seemed to upset Ralph more. “ARCHIE!!! ARRRCHIE!!! HEY — ARCHIE!!! BE CAREFUL! THOSE ROCKS ARE SLIPPERY! ARCH — For God’s sake — ARCHIE!!! BEEE CAREEEFULLL!!!” I felt tense with Ralph screaming away as if our lives were in peril and his job was to shatter the calm of the forest. It got to a point that with each yell he made, I felt more like he and his hollering voice were perched on my shoulder, roaring at me. Ralph kept screaming too. And daggon it all, Archie kept ignoring him. I couldn’t handle it anymore — I had to address Roaring Ralph. I had a list of all I was going to say to him: Calm down, Ralphy! Archie is a grown man! Archie just wants to take our picture, not ice skate on the river! STOP YELLING IN THE FOREST! — and right as I’m turning to ream Ralph out . . . right as I’ve got my finger pointed and I’m motioning towards him . . . I . . . slip . . . on the stupid rocks . . . that stupid Ralph was bellowing about . . . right as he continued roaring to stupid Archie to be careful. So I slipped, which made Archie say, “Oops! Watch out! It’s slippery!” and he let out a light chuckle which made me want to inform Archie that if he had just once — just once — addressed pal Ralph that I maybe wouldn’t have slipped because maybe I was doing just fine before the two of them showed up! But at that same time, Andy grabbed my pack and hoisted me up, keeping me from falling flat on my bottom, and it was here Andy let out the deepest, most disappointed sigh yet, followed by, “Oooh nooo . . . LLL . . . ” with another dispirited sigh. Andy’s response made me react in hysterics, which faithful ‘ole Archie decided would be the perfect time to take our picture. Thanks for that, Archie-buddy.
Finally when faithful Archie and righteous Ralph left, nature seemed restored — quiet, calm, peaceful again.
So calm and quiet in fact that we began to spot wildlife, like this harmless little snail.And then our journey turned not so harmless.
We were about twenty yards or so away from the end of our trail, talking and giggling about how tranquil our hike was — exactly what we wanted, needed — when suddenly Andy starts dancing. Yep, I joke not — dancing. He was jumping up and down, shaking his hands above his head and in front of his chest in this furious dance move I’d never seen. Then he raised his knees up to his waist and made these massive steps in place, all the while making this “HOOO HOOOOO HOOO” puff-pant-thing. And he didn’t stop, which was weird and disturbing because in the past when we’ve broken into beat-bounces, his lasted only a few seconds. Guys, I’m not gonna lie: I felt a range of emotions but alarmed probably describes it best because seriously — what the hell was wrong with him, right? We were almost done with our hike, so I figured maybe he’s excited and celebrating? I don’t know but I wasn’t going to judge. But he kept going, now darting in front and then behind me. That’s when I decided I wouldn’t even ask — I wouldn’t encourage his odd habits and I’d just ignore him, keep walking.
That’s when he shoves me — and I mean forceful, aggressive shove — moving me off the path and down the mountain! “What are you doing?!” I scream at him, for the first time, completely and totally judging all he is doing because in his fit to feel-the-vibes, he almost got me killed. But he shoves me again and comes around to my other side, dancing circles around me. “STOP IT!” I tell him as I try to make it back up the mountain because in that moment, I’m done — I’m done judging, I’m done being shoved, I’m done and I simply want to avoid breaking my ankle.
Then he says . . . in the most serious viscous verbal-machine-gun way . . . “BEARBEARBEARBEARBEAR!!!” And he doesn’t stop. Or point. So I have no idea where the hell this bear is and I’m picturing it charging us like the last major one we saw with the cub so I’m half about to drop to the ground in a bear curl and half about to plummet myself off the mountain to save what mauling may happen. “WHEREWHEREWHEREWHEREWHERE?!” and all communication between us from that point on was a yell that was repeated at least five rapid times to each other. “BEARBEARBEARBEARBEAR!!!” he screams, which didn’t answer my question but from the only pointing he was capable of, his wide eyes lock in place on the bear that was r-i-g-h-t beside me. Let me say it again: Right beside me. So Andy shoves me again and I scream — more from the realization of being shoved near a bear that close — and we turn towards the bear then slowly . . . slowly . . . slowly . . . back away from it, all the while having the bear watch us with wide big eyes too.
“HOLY SHIT, ANDY!!!” I say which causes him to cuss and then we are cussing together and above one another and below one another, and our world is surrounded by cuss words because truly we were less than one yard away from a bear. If I had walked one big step towards the bear, I could have petted it — that’s how close we were. “I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU!!! YOU DIDN’T WANT ME TO SCREAM ‘BEARBEARBEAR’ ANYMORE SO I WAS TRYING TO SAVE YOU! THE BEAR WAS RIGHT NEXT TO YOU — I WAS SAVING YOUR LIFE!!!” he explains, to which I yell back, “ANDY — I THOUGHT YOU WERE DANCING! JESUS — I THOUGHT YOU WERE DANCING!!! YOU REALLY NEED TO GET BETTER AT THIS!!!” And we are still slowly backing away while the bear looks terrified — no doubt, due to the dance moves Andy displaced and his abuse towards me and our joint screaming. So in a quick heat-of-the-moment of “I think we may actually live to tell this tale,” I look at Andy and say the only thing I can fathom, the only thing of utter importance, the only thing that matters in that second: “Andy.” “Yea!” he says, wide-eyed. “Andy. Get my camera” which allows me to take this creeping-away shot of our bear.
Turns out we think this bear was the same one we saw earlier because he wasn’t a fully grown one and he appeared the same mix of terrified and confused. Either way, it was an absolutely scary situation, which I’m sure would have been even more terrifying if I saw the bear earlier instead of having Andy dance-push-shout around me. Scratch that: What Andy did, I assure you, was more terrifying than imagining seeing this little beast earlier.
In the end, we walked back to the car, amazed we saw a bear twice and insanely shaken up that we came that close to it. And that’s when we saw this: Three white-tailed deer.
As we drove off, we held hands and retold our view of the hike to each other, positive about many things: Dangerous, crazy mishaps seem to find us. We’ve been through many high tense, stressful situations but have never once turned on one another, minus when I thought he was trying to murder me by shoving me off the mountain; other than that, if anything, our hikes have made me fall more deeply in love with him. And importantly, despite whatever happens, no matter what, we have the most — absolutely most — fun together.