I forged a new trail today. Well I didn’t actually forge it myself, I’m sure it’s been there a very long time. This trail is part of an impressive myriad of trails that are a hop, skip and a jump from my front door. They weave their way through the woods and down the mountain and lead eventually to the main trail, which follows the river. From there you can hike up or down river for miles, past several beaches, each of them very different, where you can spend time swimming or getting some sun.
When I say beach I don’t mean a place with a lifeguard and wide white sand. Or parking. These beaches are wild and mostly desolate, and you can only get there on foot. All are not suited for swimming either, based on accessibility, plus whatever may be on the bottom of the river where you put your feet.
I’ve hiked these trails from my house to the river several times over the last few weeks. Getting from the trailhead at the road and then finally to the water takes some doing. There are many side trails and loop trails so it takes some wrong turns and backtracking to figure it all out. And there are lots of big hills to get down (then back up). It’s not at all for the faint of heart or the regular tourist crowd. The reason that today was special is that I finally learned the quickest and most direct route from my front door to the water, as opposed to walking around in circles. All par for the course though in my discovering this new land I live on.
Plus sometimes I’m in a hurry.
The other day I was outside talking to my neighbor. He’s lived around here for a while and knows this area pretty well- which I totally appreciate. He told me a man named Walter walks these woods and that most likely I’d be running into him. Walter is an older gent who takes care of the trails, which didn’t surprise me to hear as for such an isolated patch of what feels like virgin and secluded forest, the trails are impeccable. At first I presumed that they were heavily-traveled deer trails which kept them naturally groomed. So it didn’t surprise me to hear there’s someone out there who spends time here and takes time to tend to them.
I can’t wait to run into him.
I was told it was Walter who built what looks like an altar or “church” in the woods. I’d actually come upon this altar a while back. I used to live down river from here and at that time was hiking UP the main river trail. I came upon this altar in the woods and naturally felt a reverence and connection. I’ve spent some time there since, usually alone, and it’s always quite the transcendental experience. I never knew that I’d wind up living by it that’s for sure. And I must say the first time I came upon the altar from here, it did feel like things in the world were just coming together in the right way.
You know what I mean.
The altar is about halfway down the mountain, before you get to the main trail. There are huge cliffs that frame the altar, so although it’s not hard to find, the last two-hundred or so feet are pretty much straight down. I tried today to find a better way to get from the top to the bottom, but to no avail. So until I find a better way, a way that anyone can enjoy, I’m sticking with the current route.
Personally, I never mind rolling and falling down hills if I have to.
From the altar to main river trail isn’t far, and from there it’s comparatively flat, although there are some portions where the trail is somewhat overgrown with foliage.
Just the way I like it.
Today my destination was a beach that I’ve been going to regularly. And today the weather was hot enough for swimming. There’s a creek that runs down the mountain and empties into the river here, and it cuts this beach right through the middle. When the river is high after a rain, the beach isn’t there. And neither is the trail. Well you can still proceed but you have to go by way of China to get to the other side of the creek. Normally you can rock-hop over it. Today when I got to this beach I put my stuff down and walked around a bit scoping out the scene, intending to settle in and take a dip. While wandering around I discovered a new side trail I hadn’t noticed before. I started to follow it to see where it came out. The trail was made up of river rocks, big and small, and all different colors. When the river floods, this trail obviously becomes the bottom of the river. I slowly followed this river rock trail through the woods and wound up coming upon on a secret beach. Secret as I hadn’t known it was there before, and I’m sure not many do.
Huge selling point.
I sat down and took a long look around. Privacy- outstanding. Swimming potential- excellent. I could see that there were actually three beaches, each going out into the water for a certain distance, like fingers, forming two coves and I’m sure great fishing holes. I got up and walked out into the water, on a finger, and when I got to the middle of the river, the water still only came up to my knees. I went deeper and swam underwater and opened my eyes and was in the midst of schools of baby fish. I popped my head back out and looked up at flocks of geese flying overhead, making their loud honking noises, and blue herons hanging around doing their thing. I took in the big blue Virginia sky.
It took hardly anytime at all to get home. I stopped at the altar on the way back (to be respectful of course) and trekked my ass back up the hill directly to the road. I did take some pictures and video and realized they never do a place justice anyway. And I realized what’s really important are the pictures I keep in my mind.
It keeps me going.