Virginia’s Blue Ridge Tunnel Hike Attempt (Our Cat’s Second Hike)

It was the start of February and I was desperate to get away so, while snow rolled over the mountains, Andy and I packed our day packs to head out on a hike . . .

The only problem was that we could not open the door to leave because our kitten Lysander wanted to come, too. Wailing and rubbing his little body against the door, he was undoubtably begging to accompany us — though in his kitten mind, he desired a walk through the courtyard, a roam on the sidewalk, or a stroll through the park. Basically, Ly was not thinking about walking in the mountains.

“Should we take him?” I asked Andy and at that question, Ly knew he had won. Pausing in mid-tearful wail, he waited patiently for us to make our decision. Then — to encourage through little yips — he rubbed his back against our ankles before stretching his little paws up to our waists so that we could pick him up. All of this is well-rehearsed by him, you have to understand, in an effort to make him more appealing and ultimately convince us to slide his harness over his bitty head and body. “We did say we wanted to take him on more hikes this year,” I reminded Andy.

The truth was though in that moment it was not about Ly hiking — It was about me. I suddenly felt as if I could not leave without Ly — that I could not function without him — and so I froze, brimming with emotion that blurred heartbreak, confusion, anger, loss, madness, sanity, more.

This is because what was left unsaid (but understood) was why I could not leave Ly — I could not leave him because Paris had left me.

Paris Rose — my chihuahua-miniature pinscher mix who I rescued in college when she was four weeks old — passed away a couple weeks earlier. She was seventeen and battling many health problems when Andy and I rushed her to a veterinarian emergency room on a Sunday a short time before midnight, and it was there we made the painful decision to put her to rest.

This is the last picture we have of our Paris

I hope to one day write about my girl — my child, my love, my world. I have opened and re-opened a page to start typing countless times but how to possibly put into words — to make you understand, to make you feel — how important and how pure and how beautiful Paris was . . . it is impossible. I do know as I type this — almost three months after she has passed, it does not get easier. In fact, each day is harder than it was before. People lied when they told me that it would get easier — They lied. The only aspect that gets easier is lying — lying and not caring that I lie to people. I am not okay, and Paris was not my dog — She was every part of me and the better parts of me. Without her, I am hollowed out — empty . . .

and so losing my Par is why I wanted to get away and go hiking this weekend . . .

and losing my Par is also why I could not leave Ly. I was terrified the moment he was out of my sight, Ly would find a way to leave me too. Plus, denying our son such simply pleasures that a walk can provide — when we were already going walking — felt intentionally cruel.

It is possible Andy understood what was left unspoken because he, too, lost Paris — Pari was his first dog, his first child. She and Ly — he always admitted — were the reasons he fell in love with me. “Alright,” Andy sighed. “Let’s take Ly . . . ”

And so I bent to scoop up our boy but in that moment I was lifting more — I held love and hope in my arms as I covered his kitten body in kisses and lightly cried into his fur . . .

and Ly was wide-eyed and truly smiling between eager chirps that, in his mind, lead us to the door . . .

and Andy slipped on Ly’s harness over his kitten sweater while whispering of adventure in his tiny ears . . .

then we were in the car and leaving . . .

I want to pause to mention Andy and I also have a daughter named Peach and while we wish we could bring Peach with us, she is not ready — nor would she enjoy the trip. Peach is our rescue cat with a sad and rough past before us. We adopted her exactly a year prior to this hike and, while she has made incredible bounds , Andy and I are both well-aware that leaving Peach to quickly nap in our bed is fulfilling every dream she could have for this day.

Therefore, as Andy drove over the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains, we did think about Peach but we mostly thought about Ly and his first-ever mountain hike.

As the start of hiking in 2021 proved tricky for us with no parking options and closed national parks — our planned hike for this day was also impossible due to the Blue Ridge Parkway suddenly being closed so we diverted our plan to a noteworthy spot: George Washington National Forest’s Blue Ridge Tunnel.

  • A little less than fives
  • A low 470-foot elevation gain
  • Level Two of Five difficulty

True, this hike is in no way a challenger; however, it fit the peaceful outing we wanted for Ly because this was only his second time on a trail. His first, you may remember, was at Virginia’s High Bridge where he bossed the longest recreational bridge in our state and one of the longest in America. This tunnel-hike was similar to that in both length and design (meaning it was ‘constructed’ — there were paved paths and man-man elements such as the bridge and the tunnel).

Not only was this a good starter trail for Ly but it was a location I’ve wanted to see because of the interesting history behind the tunnel . . .

According to a sign there, the tunnel was designed by a French immigrant then built primarily by Irish immigrant laborers between 1849 and 1859. Its purpose was to allow for railroad access to the Blue Ridge Parkway’s Afton Mountain. Sitting 700 feet below the surface, this tunnel stretched almost a mile long, making it the longest in America when it was built.

Later in 1950s, a gas corporation created huge bulkheads with the goal of storing propane in the tunnel; however, they soon removed those bulkheads because it prevented people from walking through (and let’s be honest — propane under a mountain isn’t that grand of a plan either).

Later in November 2001, the tunnel was set to be turned into a public trail, which — after construction in the area on parking lots, trails, and such — the tunnel opened to the public twenty years later. This means a few months after the grand opening, Andy, Ly, and I were walking here.

The day was cool but not bitter and depending on which part of the mountain we were on, snow covered the ground. Ly’s eyes were wide and alert and despite the snow-covered path, he immediately begged to get down to explore on his own.

From the icy path to trees and tree stumps, Ly walked and climbed and peaked his head through every possible area. To our surprise, he did incredibly well progressing on the trail as we sometimes find in new areas he wants to retrace his steps because he is familiar with where he came instead of the unknown ahead. Here though, he seemed excited to venture on . . .

There was a fence — prohibiting people from getting close to the nearby train tracks — and it seemed to help Ly because it cut down on his ability to roam and sniff both sides of the trail.

Therefore, with only the trail and one side of it to focus on, we let him wander wherever he chose to go — even if that was, at times, simply standing to take in the beauty of the area . . .

The truth though is Ly could have stood and admired nature for days and so we did eventually have to pluck our sweet boy from the ground before encouraging him on . . .

Happy with encouragement, Ly set his goal again on proving he was a great trail kitten and so he would squirm and squirm until we set him down again . . .

The challenge of the trail was moving in though and that was the tunnel. Unsure of how Ly would respond to the tunnel, we let him to explore in front of it before picking him up to head inside . . .

All around the tunnel there were beautiful rock formations covered in bright green moss, which Ly was quite happy to sniff . . .

After awhile though, it was onward for us as Ly by now realized our intent was to walk through a very dark hole. Still, he seemed interested and relaxed, maintaining a set gaze and crossed paws . . .

Passing under one end of the tunnel, blackness enveloped us, except for the tiny glowing light ahead.

Ly was alert in our arms but comfortable . . . until people from the other direction took no heed in quieting their booming voices. Scrambling to leave our arms and exit the tunnel, Andy and I chose to turn around instead of carrying on and so in the end, we did not walk through the historic Blue Ridge Tunnel this day.

No doubt we will come back at some point but for now, the simple adventure meant more to Andy and me and hopefully Lysander . . .

For Ly, it was an opportunity to teach him about hiking so that one day he can accompany us on longer trails and even camps. Paris is the reason he is an extraordinarily cat — She taught him how to walk on a leash and explore the outdoors. It is because of her Andy and I long for the day when we can pull our hiking packs from the closet as Ly yaps with eagerness because it means we are heading into the forest together . . . and that will happen, but it takes time. Therefore, we want to hide outdoor aspects he may find scary and instead keep his wonder and excitement alive.

For us though, this trip was about simply getting away — taking that deep inhale of crisp, clean mountain air and realizing life does goes on. In honesty, I never imaged life going on when the day came that Paris would leave me . . . and yet, here I am. I am grateful to have Andy and Ly and Peach in my life — for they give me a reason to live now — so while each day is hard without my P, I am trying to look forward to a future of exploration with them.

Ready for the drive home, I lifted our son from the ground and filled his ears with all the praise in the world.

“You’re such a brave boy!” I cooed as he mewed faintly and kneaded my arm in happiness.

“He always surprises me and does better than I expect,” Andy admitted, scuffing Ly, too.

And so we headed back to our car, knowing and cherishing that Ly is a special cat.

As we drove home, I watched Ly cross over my lap and into Andy’s. His little neck stretched up to see the world outside before he nestled himself into a little ball to nap . . .

Yes, Ly is extraordinary because Paris was extraordinary and so maybe — when I look at our son — I can now see Paris live on inside of him. Maybe now I can see that my beloved Par did not fully leave me . . .

Author: L

We are L and Andy, an American girl and English bloke who are overhauling an antique RV. We seek adventure by exploring the world. Join our journey as we create stories!

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