On this day, the fifth anniversary of the beginning of our weekly Hikes Oddity, there was ample time and inclination to reflect on the walk on February 14, 2004 vs. the walk on February 14, 2009.
On that first day, while we had hats and gloves, we were nowhere near the gear nuts we've since become. The winter packs now carry not just a full change of upper layers (plus two or three extras), but also several intensities of gloves, ear-band style warmers as well as full hats, an extra pair of socks each; not to mention those little seven-hour hand warmers that The Day Hiker occasionally resorts to; and the fancy bladder full of ice water. But this day's weather was in stark contrast to that first day's, when several inches of iced-over snow covered the ground and for much of the walk, ours were the first human prints in the white. On this sunny day, temperatures moved to around 50, the breeze was light and there was nothing on the ground but last year's fallen leaves. Not much of a test for the gear at all.
On that first day, we ascended on the Cornelius Creek Trail, with its multiple stream crossings and its half-mile section of a significantly steep climb. On this day, as we have done most times since, we took the far-gentler Apple Orchard Falls Trail up. On that first day the falls were significantly fuller than they were on this day, when we could hear ourselves talk just fine.
On that first day, a walk of about seven and a half miles was a daunting thing – something that rendered us proud enough, when we were finished, to go out again the next week. And the next and the next and... The Greatest Day Hiker Of Them All has over the five years toughened us so thoroughly as hikers that the walk now feels more like a pleasant visit with an old friend than a challenge. In fact, with a late start and an early dinner reservation, we'd have been running awfully tight back then, and Gail would have worried. And not just about time, but about darkness and maybe bears. For years now, she has rooted for bears as hard as she roots for sunshine on winter days. And on this day, she talked about the time only iwhen I brought it up, and had us out of the woods a half an hour before my projected time – on a day when she did not feel particularly well.
In that realm, it could be noted that over these 260 weeks, there was only one – of the 13 total we missed – that was because of The Day Hiker, and even that was only half her responsibility. Eleven were for a knee or achilles of mine; one was to move a son to Philadelphia; and one – just one – was a weekend when she felt badly enough on Saturday to vote to wait till Sunday and on Sunday I felt badly enough to vote that we should have gone on Saturday.
Total mileage for the five years is 2,425.5. Longest hike is 19.3 in Northern Virginia into Harpers Ferry. Shortest is 3.4 up and down the Star Trail here in Roanoke. Among the scores of points of true exhilaration over the five years, two stand out from the most recent year: walking to just under 10,000 feet on Oregon's Mount Hood and finishing the 546 miles of the Virginia Appalachian Trail last summer on a glorious day that included the Mount Rogers summit, friendly ponies and a perfect precipice for lunch.
May our luck and will and health continue to allow us to continue to spend a part of our weekends in the woods.
February 14, 2009