Sunday, January 1, 2012

High Noon at Split Rock

It was called a First Day Hike.

When the first day of the year is sunny and mid-sixties, can there be a better thing to do than take a hike through the woods?

Pocahontas Park was offering what they called a First Day Hike at noon on New Year's Day.

And while I rarely venture to Chesterfield County, the thought of traipsing through the forest today sounded appealing.

I wasn't the only one. The Park Ranger was expecting twenty people and 87 showed up.

Before we left the boat ramp area, he warned us that we might see people packing pistols on the trail since that was now legal.

Ah, Virginia, with every step forward, always a backward glance.

And because this was a 21st-century hike, he provided his cell phone number to the group in case anyone got lost.

This is the world I'd prefer not to have to inhabit.

But I digress.

The hike was short, only two and a half miles, but covered very hilly and steep areas, making for a satisfying way to sweat out New Year's Eve.

It hadn't occurred to me beforehand, but visually winter is a wonderful time to be in a park. With the canopy of leaves absent, the vistas are endless.

With so large a group, the faster walkers immediately took the lead, which put me right up front with the Ranger's nine-year old son leading the pack..

The group made stops periodically so that the Ranger could tell us a bit about forestry maintenance or local history.

He admitted he was also catching his breath and I'm sure that was true of many of the stragglers.

In between stops, he called to his son to slow down and the kid and I looked at each other, grinned and kept right on.

We stopped at the grave site of a woman whose family farm once occupied part of the park grounds.

Her gravestone was still visible and the Ranger mentioned the many graveyards in the park.

Further on we came to Split Rock which had a romantic story to explain its separation.

The rock had been the favorite place of the dead woman who had visited it every day as a place of contemplation.

Supposedly, three months after she died the rock split, desolate at her absence.

The ranger pointed out that the rock resembled a broken heart. That was worth pondering as I looked at it.

A handsome man with slightly Indian-accented English approached me there and said with a smile, "You are keeping up a good pace and we are lagging behind. Good for you."

It was a nice cosmic balance to the Ranger's continuing admonitions to slow down.

Wandering up and down the trail's hills, it felt like the sky was just barely above the tree tops and it was hard not to marvel at the beauty of this January day.

When we reached the end of the trail, the Ranger gave us two trail options to return to the boat ramp area.

My Indian friend and I chose the longer path because the Ranger said it would have fewer people and we were ready to lose the crowd.

In the half mile back, we learned that we'd both gone to the University of Maryland, both had relatives scattered around Maryland and both had been dissatisfied with the pace of the walkers in the Monument Avenue 10k when we'd last walked it.

But mostly we admired the variety of trees, stepped on stones to cross water and walked as fast as we wanted to.

"I had some extra drinks last night," he explained as if he were the only guilty party. "It feels good to be out and doing this."

Amen, my new friend. I wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere else.

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