I had no intention of hiking all the way to the White Oak Falls when I started out from the Hawksbill parking area along Skyline Drive. I figured I’d hike as long as the Cedar Run Falls and then make my way back. Once I arrived at Cedar Run, the water flow was a bit disappointing. I wasn’t impressed at all so I had to decide whether or not to seek out better opportunities for a good shot. As a non-experienced hiker, it was obvious to me that there was great risk in continuing. It was my last day in the Shenandoah Mountains so I just couldn’t pass up the chance. With little Gator-Aid left, a few energy bars, burning thighs and a long slog ahead, I knew I’d press myself to the limit going forward. I was right. In fact, I under-estimated how challenging it would turn out. This was the most physically difficult thing I have accomplished since a forced road march thirty years ago, during the Army years.
By the time I reached the valley, I was out of drink and exhausted. Half way finished and high and dry. What kind of an idiot am I, anyway? Morale seemed more bruised than body. Then came the realization that this trip was several months in planning and there was no time for remorse. The deed is done. Take pictures to ease the pain. So I did.
Then a stroke of fortune happened upon me. I came across a fellow hiker/photographer whom I asked for pointers on the return hike. Joe was a real gentleman, fantastic photographer and experienced hiker. Joe, in his kindness, took out of his time and provision enough to share his water and knowledge, point me correctly back up hill and offer encouragement. What a great guy. If you’ve lost faith in your fellow American, you haven’t met Joe.
Eventually, I reached the lower falls and breathed a sigh of relief. I had made it, finally.
Would I do it again? Yes, I would. I would do it again with a new found respect for mountains and hikers everywhere.