At the waterfall, we let the hours slip by as we followed the flowing water down the mountain. Hopping over the rocks, we smiled and laughed, challenging each other to stone skipping contests in this little piece of forest we had to ourselves . . .
It was a frigid winter day when we hiked to one of Shenandoah National Park’s most famous waterfalls, White Oak Canyon.
This is our home. This is where we feel most comfortable — where the sun and moon shine together and where colors are at their prime. This is where the world stands still but also blurs by and we grasp — keep trying to grasp — that moment where we, too, can freeze in time.
Heading back, I remember thinking, “It will be strange if we don’t see a black bear” so I paused, almost willing their camouflage to disappear, for them to be seen, and it was then a black bear appeared on my right.
The farther we hiked, the more comforted we were in being alone. After forging the river, we had the forest to ourselves. We felt like children, darting across and splashing in the water, jumping on rocks, laughing. Life was innocent, light, carefree — another magical quality of forests.
“I’ll burn my old boots,” I began thinking. “To save Usua and me, I’ll burn my old boots.” I was entering a moment of desiring hope, a moment of needing a pick-me-up, and that’s when Usua turned to me — red-nosed, hat icing over, hands stuffed deep into her pockets, scarf wound four times around her neck — and she looked right at me and said, “Vwe get loust to-gether, vwe die to-gether.” Reassuring.
It seems only fitting that on New Year’s Day, a day of celebration and new beginnings, I would reminisce over the last trail I’ve taken in awhile, the one that comes almost a year after I first bought my hiking boots and set off into the wilderness. And while this trail wasn’t filled with terror or death-defying adventures, it was nice to simply stroll up a mountain with some of my most true friends.
No matter what happens in life, we all just need to keep going. Sometimes you’re given boosts and sometimes people can grab your hand. And sometimes, you have to make it on your own. But in the end, the journey — oh, that journey — is absolutely worth it.
“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 his dance moves, I’m done being shoved by him, 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!!!”
Mercy sakes, this hike was a doozy. To prove that, here are a few-words preview: an almost bear mauling, a haunted campsite, trouble with the law, and let’s just say icing on the cake. I couldn’t exaggerate even if I tried. Promise.
It’s true. This hike was perfect, one of the best honesty. So perfect that after we watched our first hiking sunset and fell asleep on the cliffs of a mountain under the stars.