An Eerie Calm on the Eve of Florence

In the days leading up to Hurricane Florence the woods are saturated with an eerie sense of calm. Mist gathers into rain drops on the leaves, a continuous gentle patter among the trees from which the only other sound is an occasional muffled bird call. It may be the quietest day I’ve ever experienced on the trail. Whether this is due to my own anticipation of what is to come or because nature itself senses the impending storm, I don’t know.

My hiking partner and I are in the George Washington/Jefferson National Forest, having slipped southbound through Shenandoah National Park a day before ridge runners swept the trail and ordered hikers off. We knock out a few last miles before returning to our bunks at Stanimals Hostel in Waynesboro, VA, where we expect to be socked in along with a slew of others.

It is, given the circumstances, a good situation to find ourselves in. An affordable, comfortable hostel filled with hikers to commiserate with. Still, we’re antsy. With itchy legs we move from room to room, unable to sit in the same place for too long. Robbed of our labor, hiking, we take to our other main task: Eating. While the weather holds out we flock to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet and other restaurants in town. Then, we hit the grocery store.

Up and down the aisles families rove in herds, stocking up for the storm. “Dehydrated food,” a man comments. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” says the woman pushing the cart beside him.  The latest forecasts indicate that Waynesboro may be spared the severe flooding projected earlier on, but people aren’t taking chances. Locals fill their cars with sandbags made available by the city in an effort to protect their property and possessions.

Water sells out quickly as locals prepare for potential flood conditions.

Which has me wondering if maybe I should have picked a top bunk. Lucky for us hikers, we’re well accustomed to dehydrated food, and if need be our possessions can be quickly packed and moved upstairs. Any consternation over time off the trail is quickly checked by the understanding that I am only a visitor in these parts. My home and family are far away, safe from this hurricane’s reach, and for that I am very grateful. There is a lot more at stake here than miles.

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