(This is cross-posted at BlogHer.)
When we experienced an unseasonably warm weekend in northern Virginia not long ago, I was determined to spend as much time as possible outside. Although I spend a fair amount of time walking and running around my neighborhood, I rarely take the opportunity to go out on uneven terrain — so I figured this would be a great time to go hiking. There are a variety of places nearby where it’s possible to hike (in addition to enjoying some great scenery), so I decided to drive out to Great Falls to spend a few hours.
I had been to Great Falls once before in early May 2007, but I went with a group of friends — we were there to see the falls and not to hike, so I was looking forward to doing both.
Before I made the drive (about 30 miles from where I live), I checked with a few people to see if they would be interested in going along, but everyone had something else to do. (Did that stop me? Of course not!) I wasn’t worried about going by myself. Great Falls is a popular destination, especially when the weather is nice, so I knew there would be a lot of people walking around.
I took the advice of a blog-friend and parked a few miles away at Riverbend Park (I avoided the $5 parking fee they charge if you want to be right at the main entrance to Great Falls). Since I was planning to hike anyway, and there was a trail from the parking lot at Riverbend Park to Great Falls, I actually liked this parking location better — it seemed like a better idea than starting at the Falls, walking away a certain distance, and then coming back (at least this way I knew I had a specific destination in mind).
I followed the Heritage Trail. There were a few spots where the ground was muddy, or it narrowed and I had to clamber up a hill or maneuver around some rocks, but the difficulty level wasn’t bad at all. The trail meanders along the Potomac River, so there was a nice view of the water for most of the walk. Something else I liked? I could tell I was getting closer to the falls because the roar of the water would grow increasingly louder.
When I was a kid, my parents used to take me and my siblings to climb the Peaks of Otter (Blue Ridge Parkway; Bedford, Virginia). It was a good, steady uphill climb, with an awesome view as a reward once you reached the top. I went there again with a friend about five years ago — it seemed a little easier to climb than I remembered from my younger years, but it still made my heart pound.
That’s what I was thinking about when I hiked the (not nearly as strenuous) trail at Great Falls, but it’s not really a fair comparison. However, it did make me realize I’d like to venture out on a longer, more difficult hike sometime soon.
Something else I realized: it’s nice to have company. When I’m walking or running for exercise, I usually prefer to be by myself because I can go at my own speed. But hiking? Even though I was kind of speed-hiking when I went to Great Falls (there was no reason to linger for too long!), it wasn’t ideal. I was there on a beautiful day and the scenery was gorgeous. I could have slowed down.
I made an addition to my personal agenda: Go hiking. Take friends. It should be strenuous enough to be challenging, but not so much that we can’t afford to stop and take in the scenery.
Do you have a favorite hiking destination?