Bite-Sized Moments from a Day Hike

Photo by the author

This week I went on a hike in Shenandoah National Park. I had been on this trail once before, and its lovely river and waterfall views drew me back. I got to the park early, around 7 a.m., which is an ideal time for avoiding the crowds, and parked in a refreshingly empty parking lot at the trailhead.

I started the hike slowly, not wanting to make my shin splints flare up by gallomping too enthusiastically down the trail like I did the last time.

I was hiking along, looking down at the trail, thinking, and a swallowtail butterfly startled me by flying by my face. I paused and noticed flowers and yellow and black butterflies on them, beating their wings.

The hike was beautiful and rocky. I came to a river crossing and remembered how the last time I hiked this trail, two women eating their lunch nearby saw me slip on a rock and almost wipe out. This time I thought, “The water looks lower. I probably won’t slip again.” The rocks are tempting to walk across because the river is beautiful and the rushing water sounds lull you into approaching.

I gingerly ventured onto the rocks. And I slipped again in almost the same place in the middle of the river. I didn’t fall, though. I laughed at myself. No one was around to witness it, and I was glad.

I went a little farther down the trail, sat on a rock, and took a break. I got up to leave, and then I heard some human voices. For some reason, I sat back down, pulled out my water bottle again, and waited for them to pass me. I think I was deciding whether to turn back at that moment, and when I heard them I couldn’t decide what to do at all. Two fit people in their twenties bounded up the trail. Their sporty and minimal stylings — the man didn’t have a shirt and the woman was in a sports bra — made me feel shlumpy in comparison in my thin and baggy long-sleeved sweatshirt. I wear it because I don’t want to get bitten by a bunch of mosquitoes. I thought the young people must not care about how many mosquito bites they get.

On my way back, I passed the butterfly flowers again and there was a man taking pictures of them with his cell phone. As I approached him I gave a friendly smile, and he turned and glared at me. I had ruined his photo op and scared away the butterflies.

A little farther on, a young woman venturing in the direction I’d come from — she was hiking with a different shirtless man, which was a theme that morning — asked me if the trail was nice. I said yes, but it was a little tiring on the return hike, which was true.

When I drew closer to the parking lot, I started hearing high-pitched cries. Up ahead I saw a group of hikers with dogs on leashes. I thought one of the leashed dogs, a foxhound with a wagging tail, must be whining. Then behind them I saw a woman carrying a mini Doberman that was shrieking out of fear or excitement. I smiled at them and the dogs, and I wondered whether she was going to try to carry the dog all the way down the trail.

Back at the parking lot, which was now full, I was loading my backpack into the car when two teenage girls next to the neighboring car started profusely spraying themselves with bug repellent. They were oblivious to my presence. I didn’t want to get hit with the wafting spray so I closed my door and pulled out, being careful not to hit them. They finally noticed me and stepped aside, then continued spraying.

When you’re hiking, these quirky moments pass by and disappear like a leaf in the river. I try to treasure and laugh at them before they’re gone.

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