Oats on the Appalachian High Route: Day 3

Today I walked past the gazebo where I had the initials of two different high school sweethearts carved next to my own. This was my first visit to the Craggy Gardens gazebo that I was unable to locate either of my memories etched into the wood.

Today I walked through the site of my undergraduate research in college. I visited often throughout the semester and was gathering information on the structural geology of the area, collecting data and marking maps along the way. I took my Dad once, and felt like a hyperfixating teenager all over again as I dove into telling him all the fascinating tales the rocks around us told. I also took my college sweetheart who truly had an appreciation of the natural world. I’d crack a joke about some “gneiss” outcrop we passed and he’d retort by dropping some esoteric cacti knowledge.

Today I walked past a fallen tree that my brother and I always climbed as kids. It was the perfect distance from the Folk Art Center to take some gallavanting wanna-be adventurers for a hike, and always left my brother and I squealing with delight when we’d topple off. I’d watch in awe as he’d venture to the furthest branches that rose just above my head. “Just be like the Little Engine that Could!”, he’d chime up at me when I gave it a go myself. “I think I can I think I can!”

Today I walked past the spot where my best friend Mia and I exchanged Lunchables and imaginary tales under a bridge in a cow field. We had recently discovered a series of audio episodes depicting an apocalyptic zombie-filled future where the listener playes the main character, running through the woods to supply drops and communicating with camps by radio. For a time, it was fun to listen to the same episodes and playfully taunt each other as the audio cut in and out over our music. The real treat came when we parked ourselves under a bridge in the cool dirt of the cow pasture marking our turnaround spot for the day and let our imaginations run wild. From ATLA bending-style powers to plot lines for stories, our conversation was colored with tales of adventure and fantasy.

Today I walked down the trail where, the day after my parents told me they were getting divorced, my Dad took me and the family dog for a hike. I was 12 at the time and my brother 15. The night before, he told me I could ask him any question I had about what was going on and what was going to happen. So that’s what we did – and he answered every one of them.

Today I walked across railroad tracks I once led a boy down on a first date. We ended up scampering up the cliff that ran parallel to the tracks and kissed when we reached the top. After savoring the moment we decided to look for an easier way down – and found none. His admission of being scared of heights coupled with having to use a flimsy rhododendron bush to swing himself back down the slope ensured our next date was probably going to be indoors.

Today I walked past a fallen tree where a triathlete kissed me at midnight on his 23rd birthday. He teetered away and I tottered back as we took turns balancing on the branches, caught in a strange woody dance. Suddenly we realized how close it was to midnight, so I asked wide-eyed, “What is the last thing you want to do as a 22 year old?” to which he replied with a teasing pause, then taking me in his arms and kissing me, the fallen tree illuminated by headlamp.

Today I walked over a creek I used to take the big brother of the kids I babysat during hot high school summers. He was my age and only in town for his break between his senior year and college, so we made the most of the time we had. He’d lay back as I read aloud from my favorite book. We’d later decide to send the book back and forth with notes in the margins, and even later quietly decide to stop. But for that summer, we had the creek and our book and that was enough.

Light on the hiking today in my journal, but the hiking was easy which allowed nostalgia to run wild. My Dad picked me up just 2 miles from his home at the Folk Art Center at the end of my long day, and I decided to slackpack myself an extra 3 miles on my old running route to make tomorrow’s harrowing 23.8 miles a bit more manageable. I was grateful for the shower and resupply, but as I lay in bed I secretly dreamed of my next night in the woods.

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