When I lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, one of the things I noticed was a decided lack of places to walk. Sure, there were plenty of places to fish and boat, and miles and miles of beaches, but finding more than a mile or two of linear footpath strung together was a challenge.
Not so here in Roanoke. Those rocky, steep and often inaccessible things called mountains offer an excuse to set aside rugged and unbuildable land for national forests and state parks. On the pancake-flat Eastern Shore, any land that perked was subject to sprouting a new home, meaning that obtaining chunks of thousands of acres for recreation just wasn’t feasible.
I have some fond memories of trails from my youth. A trail is a gentle reminder than even in the midst of wilderness there is civilization, which can be comforting when you’re wet and tired. Much like old maps, trail names conjure up a certain mystique that is often more potent than the nature through which they meander—names like “Indian Camp Spur” or “Dead Man’s Loop.”
I remember hiking a trail in the Cranberry Wilderness in West Virginia where the forest was so dark and dense it literally blotted out the sun, like in some kind of German fairy tale with witches and gingerbread houses. I recall standing on the summit of Mt. Rogers (which sounds more exciting than it really is), and for a few minutes being the tallest person in Virginia. At the Scout reservation in Pulaski County, we would climb a trail to an overlook that peered down on Camp Ottari below, and then we’d come barreling down the other side, grasping saplings and rocks as we slid a few hundred feet through loose leaves and dirt into Little Laurel Creek below.
Then there was the time we were backpacking and I challenged my friend (and former Cave Spring band director) Tom Springer to eat a dirty, dry, brown leaf—which he did, gleefully. Anything on a dare. And there’s the time we were hiking the Appalachian Trail on Sinking Creek Mountain and got to camp freezing and exhausted. The prospect of fixing a backpacker’s dinner couldn’t motivate any of us to move—but then I realized I had an extra sandwich left over from lunch. A cold, smashed peanut butter and jelly, and it’s still the best meal I’ve ever eaten.
Saturday is National Trails Day, founded in 1993 in response to a government recommendation that Americans get off their duffs and get outdoors. There are several trail events going on in the Roanoke Valley, including the only one that is officially sanctioned by the National Trails Day folks – the American Hiking Society. That’s the Race for Open Space 3K run/walk at Green Hill Park in Salem, starting at 9 am. For more info, call 985-0000 or visit westernvirginialandtrust.org. All the proceeds benefit the Western Virginia Land Trust, and kids under 12 are free.
So get out there and get on a trail—and make some memories of your own.