I finally went on my first hike with the "Fauquier Hike n' Stuff" meetup group. It was scheduled for Saturday, just before Hurricane Irene was to hit our area. I was really, really nervous about going. Not because of the weather, but because it has been so long since I've done any real hiking. I was afraid I would be too out of shape to complete the hike, and worried that I would hold everyone up and they would be annoyed with me. I fretted all Friday evening and even considered backing out. But after some encouragement from Billy and from my friend Catherine (who luckily decided to go with me), I hauled out my ratty old backpack, packed a lunch, and set my alarm for 5:50 a.m.
While walking my dogs that morning, I noticed a grey sky full of dense, well-formed clouds. The air was extremely humid and I was already covered in sweat when I headed out to meet everyone. I don't really know why, but I was expecting Matt and Sarah to be some sort of perfectly buff hiking maniacs. I was surprised and relieved to see two normal and friendly people greet me. Sarah was fit, but not in a way that made me want to speed back home. And Matt was actually a little chubby. Both were wearing t-shirts and shorts with bandanas tied around their heads. Catherine and I jumped in their car and headed off to Shenandoah National Park in search of the Little Devils Stairs trail head. We soon made it and met up with the rest of our party, which consisted of a middle aged woman named Julie and her teenage nephew. Under the rolling clouds we headed up the trail.
The first mile of the trail was a steep but steady incline. My heart was already hammering not even halfway through, and I kept turning back to Catherine to exchange knowing glances. I was already having a hard time, and I could tell she was too, but we kept at it. At the second mile, the trail turned even steeper and very rocky. We found ourselves in a gorge looking straight up at craggy rock faces, small waterfalls and hundreds of tall, old trees. I followed Julie and watched her footsteps to see where the loose rocks might be. We came to several areas where we had to use our hands to hoist ourselves up rocks where the trail got especially steep. I had sweat rolling down every part of my body, and my heart sounded like an 808 drum. That's when the rain started. Just a little drizzle, but our leaders wondered if we should go on, worrying aloud about getting caught in a flash flood half-way up a gorge. Yikes. But on we went. Finally off of the steepest part of the trail, we stood panting as the sky opened up and drenched us with a downpour. It didn't last long, and we trudged on up through the next mile until finally reaching the fire road, which led us downhill for another two plus miles. On the way, Matt saw two young bears and hollered for us to stop. When they ran off, we cautiously continued, talking loudly and making bear jokes. I was only a little nervous by then.
Once back at the car, I tore into my lunch like a refugee. The ride back was peaceful, and I reflected on the last four hours. I was proud of myself, really proud. It was definitely a tough day, but not so bad that I should have been that worried. At one point, Matt even fell behind, urging us to go on as he rested his sore knee. See? I wasn't the only human in the bunch. Back at my house, I collapsed in my bed for three hours, woke up to eat and then slept the rest of the night. Four days later, I'm still recovering. Every muscle has been crazy sore, and my neck feels tweaked from the backpack. I've been too sore to work out and I've been more tired than usual. But I'll consider all that just paying an initiation fee for a great new chapter in my life. I got over the fear and I went for it. The next hike is scheduled and it doesn't sound as intimidating, so that's my payback. I know it will continue to challenge me (and I should probably consider some better pre and post-hike stretching next time!), but I feel great that I have taken the leap and accomplished something that I was so scared to do. I feel like there's no stopping me now. Look out mountains, here I come!
Published On: September 02, 2011