I’m a novice when it comes to hiking. Sure, I’ve taking the occasional hike, mostly on a whim, during the warmer days of summer, when planning isn’t really necessary (or so I think). And, If I were to be 100 percent honest, planning is not my strongest attribute. I usually leave planning up to my husband, and just tag along for the ride.
When my husband and I relocated to Washington, D.C., we promised each other that, no matter what, we’d make hiking and camping part of our regular routine. We would, never again, take our access to beautiful outdoor spaces for granted. After all, we had already missed out on the grandeur of the Smoky Mountains and Appalachian Trail during our time in Atlanta. This time, we were going to do things differently.
About two weeks ago, we decided to head back to one of our favorite places in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park. The last time we visited was in the fall of September 2011, when we rented a cabin at the Skyland Lodge. The views from Skyline Drive were breathtaking and we were looking forward to visiting the park again. This time we opted to check out the north district of the park, just an hour outside of Washington, D.C. The weather forecast called for sunny skies and highs in the 70s in the District, so we put on a few layers and quickly packed to get take advantage of the beautiful weather.
An hour later, we arrived at the park gate, with overcast skies, brisk winds and low temps. We both looked at each other.
Him: Did you check the forecast?
Me: Um, no. Not for the park.
Despite a strong headwind, we trekked our way to the visitor’s center to get recommendations on a relatively short hike in to see something, anything. Having only packed a few extra layers, we knew it wasn’t going to be the longest nor the most pleasant hike we’ve ever had.
A few minutes later, we were back in our car, headed to the Compton Gap Trailhead with the wind rocking our SUV back and forth.
There were two suggested hikes at the trailhead. The first led to Compton Peak, a moderate 2.4 mile T-hike, with a 835-feet elevation gain that could be completed in 1 hour and 45 minutes.
The second, the Fort Windham Rocks, was significantly shorter at less than a mile round trip hike, taking just half an hour.
Since we were so underprepared, we set out for Fort Windham Rocks while muttering about all of the things we’d do differently next time.
About 30 minutes into the hike, barely a soul on trail with us, and pellets of hail spitting in our faces, we decided to turn back before the weather turned even more unfavorable. We never reached the rocks, and the day felt like a big letdown.
Lesson #1: Weather can turn at a drop of a dime. Take the time to do all of your research ahead of time, and most importantly check the weather….a few times.
A week after our epic fail of a hike, we visited Crowder’s Mountain State Park in Charlotte, N.C. on Black Friday. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, with highs in the mid-70s and bright blue skies.
There were tons of people (and dogs) on the trail, as if we all had telepathically agreed that we would all work off our Thanksgiving meals and #OptOutside to hike King’s Pinnacle. After a 2-miles hike in, we reached the top of the beautiful King’s Pinnacle overlooking Gaston County. It was the perfect view to end a moderately challenging trail.
We couldn’t have asked for a better day or view to round out the Thanksgiving holidays.
Lesson #2: A “terrible” hike can be followed by a hike that will absolutely take your breath away. If you’ve had one bad experience hiking, don’t let it prevent you from getting back out there.
I’ve heard it time, and time again. “I hate hiking because one time….” or “I’ll never go hiking again, because…..” So many people miss out on the outdoors because they’ve had one bad experience, or planning seems like too much. And the reality is, things won’t always go as planned…even when you’ve planned.
If you’re also new to hiking, I can’t stress the importance of being as prepared as you can be AND having an open mind. As much as I like “winging things,” hiking is not exactly a situation where you want to wing it. There are too many variables that can change too quickly, that can make for a good (or terrible) outing. In extreme situations, it could mean life or death.
But, on the flip side, every hike won’t deliver epic vistas or memorable sunsets. They also all won’t be “easy,” or free from challenges, detours or epic failures.
However, one thing is guaranteed. You’ll definitely have good stories to tell.
This is a sponsored post by REI, but all opinions are my own. REI partnered with bloggers, such as me, to get the word out about its retail locations and products. As part of this program, I received compensation for my time.
Toni Carey is the founder of Keeping Balanced, a place where women can learn how to keep it all together, while living their best life possible. When she's not writing, you can find her running or practicing yoga in and around Washington, D.C.