Fall in West Virginia is my favorite time of year. This state is beautiful year-round, but fall holds so many charms that it’s hard to beat. The summer here can be hot and humid, but in the fall the mornings are crisp and cool and the afternoons are warm, but not hot. The beauty of the fall colors turns the lush greens to fiery reds, vibrant oranges, golden yellows, and earthy browns.
The fall harvest is also a special treat with delicious, juicy apples and fun, awkward pumpkins that make not only great Jack-O-Lanterns but also mouthwatering pumpkin pies.
The fall brings with it an excitement inside me that calls me to the outdoors; however, I am not a spry, young teenager. I am a mom in her late thirties and not in tip-top athletic shape either, but nonetheless, I still love to hike the trails. I usually hike with my two young children and my husband on trails that are only one to two miles long. However, my husband and I had heard so many wonderful things about the Greenbrier River Trail that last year we decided that we were going to hike it ourselves.
The Greenbrier River Trail is a 78-mile trail in southern West Virginia that follows the Greenbrier River and is mostly flat. We left our home around two in the afternoon one Saturday in mid-October and drove the three hours to the southern trailhead at Caldwell. We each had packs that contained all of our clothes and food that we would need for the next week on the trail and each weighed about twenty pounds.
We hit the trail feeling energized and optimistic about the adventure that awaited us. We were able to walk the first two miles in the late evening sunlight enjoying the time together, just the two of us, doing something that we love. However, by mile three the sun had set and we still had another four miles to our first night's campsite. The cool evening temperatures we were used to at home were quite cold in the mountains. These unforeseen circumstances had us walking at a faster pace than we were used to. Mile four met us with sore feet and packs that began to be uncomfortable on shoulders that were not used to carrying so much weight. By mile five our backs and shoulders were aching and our feet were throbbing and we were so cold we were shaking. At mile five and a half we were lamenting our “great idea” and just wanting to be home in our nice comfortable bed again. We were able to push through though and made it to our campsite anticipating a nice hot fire to warm and relax our tired, aching muscles. There was a long drought in the weeks leading up to our trip though and so, much to our chagrin, when we reached our campsite there was a notice greeting us that fires were currently banned on the trail. I just wanted to cry, but honestly, at the moment even that felt like too much of an effort, and so I quickly changed into my nightclothes and crawled into my down sleeping bag hoping to warm up soon. We ate dinner quietly, followed by a nice dose of Advil, and settled in for the night. As we lay in our sleeping bags feeling like we had just gone twelve rounds in a boxing match and thinking we had made the worst decision of our lives, we looked at each other and both said: “I think we should go home tomorrow, I can’t go another day like today.”
The next morning when I woke up I was a little sore but overall didn’t feel that bad and started considering finishing the trail or at the very least giving it one more day. I mean, it was a gorgeous morning, with the fresh smell of earth and leaves, the sounds of the birds singing in the trees, and the sound of the water dancing over the stones in the river. However, my husband was worried if we went another day and decided to bail that it might be too hard to make it out if we could hardly walk like the night before. So, with a heavy heart and feeling like we had failed, we started back on the trail, retracing our steps from the night before. This hike was completely different than the one we had taken just hours before. It had been so dark on the initial walk through these woods that we didn’t get to see the wonderful splendor around us. The river ran right beside the trail and as the early morning sun shone on the water, it looked like millions of sparkling diamonds. The autumn leaves, which were just beginning to change, afforded such color to the land that it reminded me of something out of a painting instead of a nature trail so close to my home. The pace of this hike was much more relaxed than the initial one also, partly because we couldn’t walk that fast again with our sore muscles if we had too, and also because we wanted to just take our time and enjoy what little time we had left out on the trail. We took time to sit on the benches that dotted the trail as we went and really opened up and talked to each other like we hadn’t in several years. It was as if the relaxing atmosphere around us removed the stresses and worries of the life we had at home and just let us be us. At one point, we came across a long stretch of trail that was canopied by foliage and with the cutest little bridge. Looking down the path I became sentimental and thought how that trail made me think about the path ahead of me in life. Just like the trail I could only see a set distance in front of me and then the rest of the trail was hidden by the trees and I didn’t know what my life would hold for me but that the journey along the way was beautiful. We really enjoyed the hike back to the car that day, but we were so stiff by the time we got there that we were glad that we had decided to call it quits.
We headed into Lewisburg and rented a hotel room for that night and talked and laughed about the “big mistake” we had made. When we got home we were embarrassed to have to admit to family and friends that we had talked up our hike to, that we not only didn’t finish, but we had hardly even begun it before we had to come home. One of my husband’s friends didn’t laugh at us though but instead praised us for trying it in the first place. This got me thinking...maybe it didn’t matter that we didn’t finish what we had set out to do, but that instead, we had taken the leap to follow our dream of hiking the Greenbrier River Trail. Even though we only hiked the first six miles of the trail, the part we hiked was unforgettable and the adventure that my husband and I had together is one that made our relationship stronger and one we look back on fondly. There are things that I would do differently if we ever get a second chance at this trail, but I also wouldn’t change this first trip for anything. I wanted to write this not just to tell you all about the beauty of the Greenbrier River Trail but also to encourage you to go out and enjoy all of West Virginia’s parks and trails. Even if you aren’t ready to walk the big trails there are multiple short trails that have a charm all their own that await you. For me, a hike in the West Virginia woods offers more than just physical exercise, it refreshes my soul and washes away the stress that my daily life as a busy mom and veterinarian places on me. It gives me a chance to reconnect with my family away from all the electronic devices and busy schedules. I highly encourage you to pick a West Virginia trail this year and give it a try, even if you don’t finish it just take each step for what it has to offer and know that that’s one more step than you hadn’t taken up to this point which is one step in the right direction to all-around health, both mental and physical. I feel that most of us have had a large drop in mental health this year with COVID-19 and I for one am ready to try and get some of that back on a West Virginia trail. Stay safe and keep trekking.