When I hike alone, the process is usually about discovery, solace and hope. I approach the woods in stealth mode, hoping to spy some member of the animal kingdom, paying attention to types of trees and what bird calls I recognize, and relishing the quiet time alone.
Yesterday’s hike with two of my best friends was more about relief, celebration and delight. It was a social time of catching our breath, reflecting on the huge changes going on in our lives, and preparing ourselves for the unknowns that lie ahead.
We went to the Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky after a weekend of physical work centered around the fact that I recently got a contract on my house in Kentucky, and so Mary and I are preparing to move on to different living situations in the next month and a half. I chose the trail in Natural Bridge State Park that was the first one I went to for refuge last summer not long after my mom’s funeral.
It’s the 7.5 mile Sand Gap Trail, but don’t get excited; we only went 3 miles. Some of my favorite aspects of this trail are its changing terrain – sometimes shrouded in deep thicket and other times offering wide vistas across ridges with glistening streams below – its many moss-covered rocks and older trees, and the solitude it provides.
My modus operandi on Sand Gap is to start at the bottom, from the Sky Lift parking lot, and hike “up.” Normally, unless it’s high season, I never run into a single other party because any traffic coming “down” the mountain would have had to have taken the chairlift up, and then chose to come down the 7.5 miles (or picked the trail inadvertently, as I’ve seen folks do). I occasionally find others who, like me, will hike in on this trail and just pick a turn-around point, but even this is rare unless it’s peak hiking season.
Alone out here, I’ve sneaked up on groups of Pileated Woodpeckers, hearing their high-pitched warning calls and watching them flee once my presence has been made known. But today, I knew they’d stay far off the trail, hearing our good-natured banter long before we approached their nesting grounds.
The weather was exquisite, between 70 and 75 degrees with a gentle breeze, the streams were running fast and furiously with new rainfall, providing an aural backdrop that could only signal the coming of spring, and, no, we didn’t see another soul.
Sometime before my house closes in late April, I’d like to do the full 7.5 miles of Sand Gap down from top to bottom. The Sky Lift doesn’t begin operating until mid April, so fitting this in around moving to North Carolina could be dicey, but I’m willing to commit to it if someone wants to join me.
Distance traveled: 3 miles
Difficulty: easy to moderate in places
Trees of note: Beech, Sugar Maple, White Pine, Hemlock, Oak and Hickory
Guest photographer: Joseph Lamirand