Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Maybes to Can-Dos... Get out and live!

On a whim, the Saturday of this past Memorial Day weekend, I took a chance and decided to road trip, along with my soon to be 13 yr old son, to Baltimore, Md.  You see, my cousin’s daughter was graduating from college, and well, Baltimore was less than 8 hrs away.  Soon, flashbacks from 2011-2012 flooded my mind with memories of the many, many, many weekends I drove from Dayton to Saint Louis, a boring, yet predictable, 8 hr drive.

So, kid, pack an overnight bag, we are going to Baltimore! 

About 4.5 hrs into the trip, on a grove, cruising on and getting close to the exit to get on the Pennsylvania turnpike, I realize the GPS is making us get on St. Rt. 40 after a few miles on the turnpike. Ugh, 40. I had driven to Washington, D.C. once before paying attention to the GPS indicating driving on rt. 40 was the best alternative. It took forever. I was dreading it, but with the kid in tow, I was already on a roll and was not going to mess with the lady from the navigation system.  Where’s my Triple A, or Rand McNally map, as in a REAL map… Did I mention I love maps. Well, I love maps, real ones.  Anyway, squirrel! ;)

Cringing I get off the turnpike and continue on 40 towards Farmington, PA. Mountainy, scenic, I quickly changed my mind and begged the engineers responsible for the digging and paving of the infamous road I had so many times cursed previously. LOL. It was a crispy, sunny Saturday afternoon. Hilly and full of cars, big and small, hatchbacks, cross-over SUVs, humongous SUVs, all excitingly taking their precious cargo to whatever destination awaits. Bikes, canoes, kayaks  trailers, RVs. All headed northwest and many turning left towards whatever destination the bright blue and green sign ahead, pointed to. As I get closer I gasp: “Luis, quick take a picture, we’re in the Laurel Highlands!!!!!”

I couldn’t believe it. Just a few weeks before I had heard of the Laurel Highlands trail, stretching 70 miles through western Pennsylvania mountains. The Laurel Ridge and Ohio Pyle State Parks hosted most of the trail and we had planned to attempt to hike it, some day. I didn’t know where it was, where it started, where it ended. Suddenly, I was there, right next to the area where it all takes place. I was ecstatic.

Fast forward and it’s 4th of July weekend. Guess what? We’re driving west on I-70 to hike the Laurel Highlands trail!!!  We confess, the two of us saying “yes” to this adventure, not knowing what to expect, except for NOT running into a black bear. J

Thank goodness I read Wild, watched the movie and read and re-read on the how -tos and what to and what NOT to pack... Also, kudos to my planning and hiking partner, who diligently prepared our packs, made sure our supplies were ready and that I had a poncho in case it rained. It had rained days and days in Dayton, and the rain was following us to PA.

I had called the Pennsylvania State Parks office to reserve a shelter, but when we got to the Laurel Ridge State Park no one was there to verify we had a registration form, or anything. We didn’t really know if we were in the right spot to begin hiking towards the shelter areas. Should we go north or south? Well, intuition and a sense of direction won!  We had a map and at the foot of the trail, next to the pole with the box with paper and pencil, I registered our hike and answered all the necessary questions in case of emergencies.  Pack on, let’s GO!

It had poured all the way to Laurel Ridge and it stopped as soon as we arrived at the park. I don’t think I had ever seen such deep greens and intense browns as those reflecting from the grass, leaves, tree trunks, trail mud. The air was crisp, clear, clean.  How clean do you think the air can be so you yourself can feel it clean.  I promise you, it was very clean.  I took deep breaths. I looked down as I studied the trail, step by step.  When I could and knew it wasn’t treacherous terrain, I looked around. The rocks were huge. What fun games of hide and seek you could play, adults and kids alike.

We took a turn and saw the trail heading down, deep, and steep over rocks. OK, here we go. With one hiking stick each for balance, we managed to make it down, not wanting to think that we had to hike UP on our way back… Moving on. The trail went on. More greens, emerald green, I mean, really. For a minute there I felt like Dorothy on the not-so-yellow brick road already at the Emerald City. It was gorgeous.

A few miles into the hike and you could feel the sprinkles. But, you know what else you could feel? The joy in ourselves, the smile in our faces. We were doing this. We were happy, rain and all.---- If you know me at all, you know I am NOT a fan of rain, so this must have been quite a moment---- J
Maybe ten more minutes and the sign so anticipated: Shelter Area à  Yeah! Luis was in heaven. The 5 million star hotel at close range!

There were 6 shelters in the area plus a nice and wide camping area for tents.  Thank goodness for the shelters because the ground was way too wet for tent camping and no sleeping bag would keep the humidity out. Aside from the 3 plus hours it took to build a fire- did I mention everything was wet?- everything was just fine.

Camping food was delightful and along with the smuggled spirits, proved for a fun camping evening. The fire smelled delicious. The smell of smoked wood mixed with the SNAP of the same wood cracking, plus the hiss of the water coming out of the wet logs, provided quite the spectacle, in 3-D and HD! ;) I love the smell of a campfire. It is pure, real and only brings memories of sitting outside with a glass of wine with loved ones, telling stories, having meaningful conversations.  By a fire, find me any clear night.

Rustic is an understatement. I have a bad back, let's be clear here, but, no complaints here! It was all worth it. The open, dusty, wooden shack was just that, a shack. What I think I valued the most was the non-essentials: luxuries, material things, stuff, mere distractions. It was just right. 

Regardless of the assurance that no bear would join our camping party, open shelter and all, I admit waking up more than I hoped. Every subtle noise reminded me, well, that we were in an open shelter. All in all, it was great. It was also good to know there was another camping crew two shelters away.
The next morning, like good campers and AFTER coffee, we packed up our stuff.

Back on the trail as we started to backtrack, the sun was shining. It rained during part of the night, but by 9:00 a.m. the warm sun had dried up the trail. It almost looked different than the day before, wet and damp. The sky was clear, blue and with no clouds to cover and brighter than it had been. Still the many trees provided a nice, cool shade along the trail.  I could almost hear “blue” saying, “move over, green, blue needs some space in this canvas.” All I could do was, again, take deep breaths and thank God for the gift that was that day, the last 48 hours, that moment.

When we reached the top of the steep, rocky section of the trail, we stopped to catch our breaths. Suddenly, “toc toc toc toc toc toc toc toc toc toc”—a woodpecker, OK, use your imagination! ;) it was so loud we could hardly believe it. We looked up and there it was, right above us. It stopped for a few minutes and then went on with its morning work. Smile. “Well, good morning, Mr. Woody, nice place you got here. Thank you for letting us visit. Have a wonderful day. “

We agreed that we wished we had more time to hike a few more miles…just a few more… We did find a rare sight, a little haunting, but eerily calming and for some reason, I thought, fitting. On the trail we noticed an American flag waving. Then another one, then a few more. Right there, in the middle of the trail, a cemetery. The flags make me believe it might have a Civil War connection, which of course made it even cooler because I always enjoyed learning about the Civil War and all that came with those four years in American history. We paid our respects and hiked on…

About 3 miles in it was time to go back, so our adventure on the Laurel Highlands trail had to come to a temporary halt. We will come back, for I did miss not finding some of the mountain side views and outlooks I looked for. There’s a whole new side of the trail we didn’t even come close to. Remember it’s 70 miles long. We will be back.

I share this experience because it is now added to the “can-dos” from a list of “maybes.” My wish for you is that, like items on a bucket list, if you have your own list of “maybes” move them over to the “can- do” list and DO THEM. J And, weather permitting, every time you can, get out a HIKE! Get out and live!

No comments:

Post a Comment