This Thanksgiving, my family and I decided to get out of the city and do a bit of exploring. We live in downtown Chicago and, like a lot of Americans, we have spent our time looking for alternative methods of maintaining our sanity during the pandemic. Being safe for our families and ourselves is our number one priority, but long periods of being cooped up inside can certainly take a toll on mental health, especially when you have a tendency for wanderlust, so back to the camper we went.
I have already written some about our travels over the summer and our exploration of some of our nation’s national parks, and with a few months being home, the urge to venture back out was strong. So we decided to head East and visit Shenandoah National Park as well as my mom outside of Charlotesville, Virginia.
Taking heed of top medical professional’s warnings, we planned out zoom chats with my husband’s family and arranged a socially-distanced Thanksgiving meal outside (thankfully it was sunny and 68) with my mom and sister, while spending the rest of the week at a beautiful campsite along the edge of the George Washington National Forest.
Fresh air and rounded mountains surrounded us as we worked and my daughter logged into virtual school and once Thanksgiving day arrived, it was time for my mental cleanse before the eating festivities.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite activities to refresh my mind and spirit is a hike in the wilderness (unfortunately a walk in the concrete jungle I regularly live in doesn’t really cut it). So with that knowledge, we drove 15 minutes to the top of the mountain to hop on the Appalachian Trail (AT).
The particular spot we used as our entry point, was near Humpback Rocks, a beautiful outcropping that gives a stunning view of the valley below. The trail is highly traversed, so the parking was sparse and masks were essential at the trailhead. Shortly thereafter though, we were safe to lower the cloth barriers from our faces and inhale the fresh mountain air. With every breath, I felt the stresses of the week and the mental clutter of modern society floating away on the breeze. My fingers itched to tap on some keys as the branches creaked and birds chirped around us.
My body felt light and refreshed as my muscles loosened and I averted my eyes to the Humpback Rock trail. Whereas the AT is a massive undertaking that can take you as far as 2,100 miles across the East coast, the particular stretch we were on was relatively simple from a technical standpoint and my mind needed the exertion to really focus. So veering off, I started the roughly 1 mile climb to the top of Humpback Rocks.
The trail starts with an incline and doesn’t level off until you reach the top. The thing about it though, is that many a hiker feels a bit winded at the halfway point, which is actually the point at which it becomes even more difficult.
Massive rocks and grades ranging from 20-48% are pretty common for that stretch, so controlled breathing and a steady pace are essential, as is keeping a close eye on what is underfoot. Frequently checking my watch let me know that my heartrate was maintaining 145-155 BPM as I shifted from one rock to the next, maneauvering my way up. My calves burned but my spirits were high.
Scanning ahead, I couldn’t help but keep looking up to the rocks above, sitting atop the mountain like a tower, beckoning me forward. I pushed on, loving the challenge as the final ascent before the rocks proved to be the steepest stretch and exhaling loudly as plomped down at the edge. I had made it!
While I saw several people with dogs as well as whole families, the trek can be difficult, so keep that in mind before making the climb, but know that the payoff is worth it. I sat there, taking it in for a good 15 minutes, allowing my creative juices to flow as I let me mind run wild. There is something magical about the grandeur and wonder of nature that inspires me to create; the majesty of our beautiful world.
I eventually made the journey back down, which was just as difficult and steep as the climb, and continued on to Thanksgiving plans refreshed and ready to roundout NaNoWriMo and continue on into the rest of the year of my writing journey.
If you have an opportunity, visit this trail to challenge yourself or maybe a piece of nature closer to you. Use this time, if you are able, to get in touch with yourself and see what you can discover. What do you do to help ground yourself or refocus your mind to meet your objectives?
I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and happy writing!