We started off at mile marker zero. Jeremy and I were foolishly ambitious to stretch it to thirty six, however, we realized that it would be a difficult task considering we had only nine hours of day light. We realistically looked towards twenty miles, which included the walk from the parking lot to the actual hiking entrance.
We chose to hike Bull Run National Park and the weather was beautiful. The air was calm, crisp, and cool and a subtle reminder that winter was soon approaching. The autumnal winds rushed through the woods and following it we entered it too. As I looked down at my watch it was ten in the morning and we had a lot of ground to cover and so we carried on.
In the beginning we started off with typical conversations about our life and daily routines. We talked about work, weight lifting, girls, and our families, but the topic soon became exhausted and we were left with a steam of conversations, sometimes filled with depth and sometimes filled with silence. It is similar to the back and forth motion of a river. The hiking experience is very much like a river. Our thoughts are more in tune during a hike and I feel we are better able to share our experience, emotions, and our own thoughts.
This may be a little too philosophical, but I think it is an important point especially when it comes to sharing my hiking experience. Our conversations went from one topic to the other and were mostly meditative. However, the conversations were in the present and based upon the natural stimuli from the woods. I hope to write on my experience in this structure because I feel it is the most natural.
We walked at a steady pace; it wasn’t fast, but we were always moving. We were surrounded by trees and we moved from one tree to the next. It was almost hypnotizing and we were quickly lulled into thoughts. Jeremy even asked, “what would it feel like if we were hallucinating while hiking through these woods?” I smiled at the thought and answered, “It would be like walking through a maze,” not that I have any experience of hiking while hallucinating, but it was purely imaginative. Although, it was what I would have felt had I not known where I was going. The trees can by dizzying.
I realized that the hike would be more comfortable with a stick and so I looked carefully for one. It was at mile marker three when I found one and I fashioned it to be a walking stick. It was perfect and it helped transfer the load toward my arms and remove any additional stress from my knees. Jeremy asked me, “What is the difference between faith and hope?” Of course, i realized the question wasn’t simple, but I felt compelled to give him an answer, albeit simple, “I don’t know… maybe, faith is a belief in some idea or thing, while hope is like a wish.”
I soon realized that I was stepping on top of the dead leaves. The crunch of my footsteps echoed through the woods and I wondered if I was being reckless. I wondered if the animals could hear me. I understood that it was impossible to avoid every leaf, but I was determined to try so. I softened my foot steps and tried to observe if there was any difference. It was quite, except for the wind that was rushing past the trees. The wind currents strummed the string of trees and a natural tune resonated throughout the woods and the birds accompanied it with a chorus — I feel like Thoreau! It was a pleasant melody or perhaps a lullaby because, once again, I was lulled back into nature and my focus was much more clear.
By mile marker five I began to pay attention to the gentle rays of the sun as it passed through the negative space of the woods. The soft rays reflected against each floating air particle and the warmth were bent into my eyes, my soul. The rusted leaves were plated gold and filled with life. Energy flowed through the woods and I was surrounded in beauty. My mood was brightened and my pace was lightened as I carried on from one mile marker to the next.
Minute by minute, we continued our pace only stopping for the wild life that caught our attention. Particularly, we spotted an Eastern Box Turtle that hid itself under the rusted and fallen leaves. It hid inside its yellow shell tentatively looking out with its red eyes. Further down, Jeremy spotted an Eastern Garner Snake that slithered its way around a tree. It was very similar to the one I saw earlier in the year. There were were tiny frogs hopping into ponds and little lizards that crawled past us. Life was flowing everywhere and in everything.
We took a break at mile marker nine, but found ourselves lost a couple miles before — The woods can be dizzying! I sat on top a log and chewed on some beef jerky. I also had a chewy bar covered with dark chocolate to brighten my mood, which was starting to fade, but only slightly. I replenished my electrolytes with dried apricots and hydrated myself with water. Jeremy kept on his feet to prevent cramping, but I was more focused on my joints. They wasn’t any pain and I wanted to keep it that way. I was surprised that I was able to do nine plus miles of hiking with ease.
After fifteen minutes we began to head back, which I felt would be the most difficult task. Fatigue had already begun to set on our legs, but fortunately, we were in good spirits, although Jeremy was starting to get a bit restless. He mentioned, “I am getting depressed. Do you remember a few hours ago we were so excited to be here? Now, I am like ugh!” I laughed, because, in a way, it was true. In the beginning, everything is new; but the novelty fades, everything is plain, and we just wanted to go home.
I added, “What if we went all eighteen miles and were just heading back. Heck, imagine if we were doing this hike for six months and camped out in the woods?” Jeremy continued walking pondering over my question, “I don’t think I would be able to do six months. I can definitely scratch out extreme trekking from my hobbies.” We both laughed and I answered, “extreme trekking?” He nodded. “I don’t think this is extreme trekking,” I continued and he just smiled.
The shadow of clouds began to descend upon us as they formed below the clouds. There were shadows upon mile marker eleven and I wondered if there was a possibility of rain and I asked, perhaps to myself, “what would you do if it starts to rain?” We continued to walk and Jeremy looked up, “I don’t know, kill myself!” I laughed and he continued, “I can’t wait to reach that bridge!”
On and on, we went up and down the small hills in the woods and through the millions of trees. We waited for the sight of the bridge, but it was still far in front of us. The sun was beginning to set and the sunlight was quickly descending. The rays of light reached the bottom of the tree trunks and the warm colors were replaced by the cool colors of the upcoming night. There was stillness throughout the woods. We were surrounded in silence. There is always that silence that penetrates between the transition of day and night.
We were past mile marker fourteen and past the bridge as well. The croaks of frogs and toads could be heard in the distance. Night had almost fully descended upon us and I mentioned to Jeremy, who was determined to get back home, “I don’t know why, but the night feels kind of peaceful… It reminds me of my childhood.” Jeremy kept walking and pondered over the question, “You’re right. It’s so peaceful! Although, I remember doing a night hike in Shenandoah, but I didn’t like it”
At mile marker sixteen Jeremy mentioned, “You know… We spent almost the whole day in the woods.” I nodded and he continued, “It is like a nine to five job” I corrected him, “Nine to six!” I pondered over the statement and I wondered what would work be like if it was from nine to five. Would our attitudes change?
We were at mile marker seventeen and we started to quicken our pace towards the last mile marker. We were reminded of this by the GPS in Jeremy’s watch. I pondered over how I would describe our hike using unconventional words and I asked Jeremy. He said, “A nightmare!” I smiled. He also listed, “depressing and treacherous.” I smiled, “I dunno… I would say it has been enlightening, serene, and tranquil. Maybe, heavenly!” He shook his head, “More like hell!” We both laughed.
The night was fully upon us, but we saw an opening in the distance. In front of it was mile marker eighteen, which indicated the end of the trail! We could see the light from the headlights of cars passing in front of us, leaving the park. We hurried towards the mile marker and I saw the eighteen numbered and I took a picture with it to mark my accomplishment. However, when I looked behind it I saw mile marker zero, which pessimistically, indicated our total displacement, which was nothing.
“I am hungry. Lets get something to eat” I said and Jeremy suggested, “how about Pho?”and I pondered over his question and answered, “Its getting cold now… That would be perfect!”