And just like that, I have a teenager. My son, my precious baby boy, is a teenager. We’ve all heard it before, and it’s true enough to repeat: time moves impossibly fast. It’s just leaving, right now, right past us. My children, who souls are most beautiful, remind me of this daily. It’s like I have three hearts and two of them beat outside of my chest. They exist, enclosed in the ribs of my children. A nearly perfect combination of me and his father, Blake is a kind young man with a heart of pure gold. He is wonderful with small children, has a ridiculous sense of humor, is sharp as tack and, most importantly, he loves his mama. (swoon) When I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate his 13th birthday, he said he wanted to hike to one of his favorite waterfalls, Whiteoak Canyon, and invite friends and family. His request made me proud. I’ve intentionally been taking them hiking more frequently this year and we hiked Whiteoak in February. Then, the trail was covered in ice, snow and mud and there was hardly any green to be seen. This time, it was a completely different hike with lush life all around us. The air was surprisingly cool for a June afternoon so when we arrived I looted the soon-to-be-dropped-off-at-Goodwill bag in my trunk and tossed sweatshirts out to our shivering group. There were 11 of us total: a good group of adult friends, kid friends and family.
Want to know what happens when I go on a hike with 6 kids: I don’t take many pictures. That’s what. Those kids had my attention directed and redirected all over the place! All six kids and four adults, including me, hit the trails to Lewis Falls. On the hike back to the car, my daughter and I led the pack. We sang songs and talked and laughed. I think it’s safe to say that we all had a great hike that ended with a much needed stop at Jack Brown’s Singlewide on our way off of Skyline Drive. We refueled and headed home. Also, there are no photos of the falls on this post. As mentioned, I was easily distracted and never got a shot. Wamp. But hey, go see it for yourself!
I was the first one awake on Mother’s Day morning. My son returned home after midnight the previous night because of a band trip to Busch Garden’s. He was exhausted and my daughter likes to savor the morning so the house was quiet that Sunday at 7:15am. I filled a small pot with water and scooped some rich grounds into my french press, hearing the grounds hit the glass for maybe the first time ever. Light poured in the window as my coffee steeped, the house still and quiet. I tidied and swept the main floor carefully then tippy-toed the trash and recycling to the bin outside. The kids woke up one by one and greeted me with a hug and a “What’s for breakfast?” They ate sleepy-eyed and I packed our bag for the hike. We arrived at the Doyles River Falls lot around 11am and it felt a little like my house that morning. It was calm and still, as if our presence alone would wake up the residents. Not far onto the trail we rounded a turn and met a deer. Then, one after another, we saw lots of life on our hike: flowers, snails, millepedes (so many millepedes), gnats (so many gnats) and a snake (which I did not get close enough to photograph). We even passed our Harrisonburg friend Danielle and her boyfriend Cody on this trail! Doyles has two falls: upper and lower. The trail guide I have says “two waterfalls with different personalities.” I didn’t know what that meant until I saw the second waterfall. They were equally beautiful but so very different. And, they’re close to each other so you get two falls in one hike which is sweet. On our way back we passed a group of hikers that let us know there was a black bear ahead, peacefully turning over rocks, looking for food. I had a little tinge of fear, I’ll be honest. But it was way helpful to know it was up ahead and that the people who told us about it lived to tell us so… We saw it, I took a blurry photo of it and then we hauled it up the path. On the last leg of the climb, Ben and Blake raced to the parking lot. They each met their match…neither wanted to keep going and neither of them would quit. It was a fun sight for me and Ella, casually lagging behind. The day ended with one more pull-off along the Drive to take in the rolling mountains under gray skies followed by a Mother’s Day barbecue courtesy of my little sister, Brook. It was the perfect gift from her and a delicious post-hike meal for all.
It was me, three kids, a baby doll and enough snacks to survive a week in the wild. Snacks are essential. My kids are not cool when they’re hungry…and that says a whole lot because my kids are pretty cool. So there we were, snacks and all, driving up Skyline Drive. The sun was shining, the windows cracked, the radio up. My daughter and niece wailing T. Swift in the backseat. My son riding shotgun and happy to be next to me. (sigh) Things were looking good…then I rolled the window up and my son did a silent breakdance in the passenger seat until I realized his hand was stuck and those Elvis-inspired hip thrusts were actually jolts of pain. Dang it. He recovered quickly and we were back on our way. Even after that, I wasn’t nervous about the solo hike with three kids because, well, I’m always surrounded by kids: my kids, their friends, my friend’s kids, my family’s kids. Plus, it’s my job. I’m surround by teenagers all day Monday-Friday and they’ve got me well trained to expect the unexpected.
We pulled into an overflowing parking lot at 10:30am. It was filled with cars from all over the U.S. The kids read the license plates aloud as I searched for parking and I found myself feeling very thankful that this gorgeous part of the world is right in the Valley’s backyard. For our hike, I chose Dark Hollow Falls because 1) I know it’s a popular hike, would be highly traveled and therefore help would be near should I encounter a human-eating animal. I kid. Sort of. 2) I’ve hiked this trail with my kids before and they loved it. And 3) It’s a good workout but not a full day commitment. It’s a 1.4 mile hike with an optional .4 mile addition to the bottom of the falls (which we did). I read once that the Dark Hollow hike is .7 miles down and 7 miles back. That seems about right with the seemingly leisurely stroll down to the falls with a heck-of-a haul on the way back up. Shew. We passed lots of friendly hikers and everyone we saw that day greeted us with a smile. The kids enjoyed the day…and I think the baby doll did, too.
Cell phone summary:
My front door was a revolving door of family and friends all weekend, leaving my heart happy and full of the stuff: laughter, love, home-cooked meals, hugs, family. It made sense to keep the good vibes going and complete the weekend with a hike…this time, to South River Falls. Rather than being greeted with snow and ice-covered trails like in January and February, we were greeted with blue skies, dripping icicles and fresh mud. The mountains are thawing…specks of green reaching to the sun. We squelched our way along the trail enjoying this time of transition in nature. My friend, Howard Zehr, is working on a photography series for his upcoming show that compares leaves to human aging. I thought a lot about his series as I walked and watched my kids explore that day, their grandfather by their side. The kids, like fresh little green buds. I also thought a lot about bears. I mean, it is Spring…and they’re probably pretty hungry. As much time as I’ve spent in the woods, I’ve only seen a real live bear once…just outside of DC, of all places. No bears today though. Just a few falling icicles that I was certain would have me for lunch…until I realized they were icicles. And icicles don’t have teeth. Or stomachs.
The kids helped me pack supplies for the day: water, gummies, pop tarts, a Harry Potter book, hand warmers, a loupe, bandaids. My son threw in his fire-starter knife, you know, just incase. Not my standard backpack-o-survival but it would surely get us through the day. Our friend, Erin, met us in Broadway and we headed to Skyline Drive via 211/Luray. The Whiteoak trail was solid ice at first. My daughter hit the deck after three steps…but we laughed it off and kept moving, staying in the brush and stepping toward exposed earth. My son, on the other hand, charged forward. Slipping, sliding, hurdling, clanking sticks, climbing to the tallest points…my little goat…setting my stomach into fits of somersaults. Boys…middle school boys. Lord help ’em. We noticed some large tracks on the trail. And now that I review the photos, maybe they are a bit larger in my head than in real life. I tend to lean toward exaggeration…it’s more fun. That day though, I was thankful I didn’t have cell service. I would’ve googled the paw prints and convinced myself they were the print of a timber wolf…and that’s pretty unlikely. Right? …right?! Ella declared herself “Detective Cheetah” and inspected the prints with the loupe she brought along. Her prediction: a ghost cat. The paw prints led to some interesting conversations about ghost cats, ghost catnaps, animal use of man-made trails, animal communication and relationships compared to that of humans. The mountain is a great place to ask such questions and not expect answers. So we did a lot of that. Just as the kids started getting a little antsy…we could hear the roar of the falls. I’ll never forget my son’s face when he stood on the rock and looked out at Whiteoak Canyon. For a split second, he was all kid again. In awe of nature. Stoked. I can’t bottle that pure emotion but I aim to keep setting up moments like that for my children. We didn’t want to leave but the sun would be getting low soon. We finished our snacks and retraced our steps, content with new memories in our bank.
These protein balls are the perfect hike snack. They’re super easy and delish. Here’s the recipe.
And the tree was happy.
We didn’t set out to hike Rose River that day, but with wintery road conditions closing the south end of Skyline Drive, our plans quickly changed. “It’s the prettiest waterfall in the park,” said the man who greeted us at the gate. What was I supposed to say? Oh nah, I’m good. The directions were simple but after unknowingly missing the very first left turn, navigation got weird. Before we knew it a 2.6 mile hike turned into a four hour hike, I’m guessing around 8 miles. But it was worth it. Not necessarily because of the falls, which were quite pretty (even though fallen trees covered in drooping ice obstructed full view), but because I got to see Ben pretend the ice-covered trail was an adult slip-n-slide and earn a gnarly bruise on his butt. And also because the mountains are so beautiful in the winter: icicles hanging in curious little nooks, river water charging through openings in frozen layers, dainty animal tracks on untouched snow. The silence…broken by moving water and swaying tree tops. Plus, I probably burned like 74,019,457,361 calories that day. So, yeah.