Monday, July 29, 2013

Time to Unwind

I love living in the city.  I love the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Even the things I hate, I love.  Like walking to the metro, navigating the throngs of people, avoiding tourists, sitting next to someone on the train for 6 stops who has yet to discover deodorant.  I love these things because of the energy, the excitement, the feeling of power and independence I have.  Even when I am incredibly annoyed, I remember how lucky I am to be here.  And then there are the things that I actually, really love.  Like the history up and down every street, the amazing variety available from Ethiopian coffee houses to Mediterranean  build-your-own-pita eateries, the thrill of knowing that you could bump into someone famous on the street, the beauty of our modern world humming all around us.

I have learned a lot during my time in DC.  I have learned that these elements of urban life that I love can also become exhausting.  Robert especially feels the fatigue of city life.  I may have the metro to deal with, but he has to tackle the notorious DC traffic.  Then he has to work 8 hours in his windowless office, deal with interns and supervisors and all those things that make work stressful, then get in the car to face round two of DC driving so he can come home and prepare to do it all over again the next day.  Talk about needing a vacation. 
We had originally hoped that we would be able to travel to Texas the weekend after 4th of July so that we could spend some time with my extended family in Austin.  The tricky thing about living across the country, is getting together with everyone.  I grew up spending every holiday with either my mom’s or dad’s side of the family.  I’m close with most of my cousins, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, their pets… you get the idea.  Unfortunately, between the timing of our trip and the cost to get there, it didn’t work out.  Plan B?  Go away for the weekend somewhere in the Northeast!  New York and Philly were too expensive.  The beach was going to be packed.  Boston was too far.  So when our roommates suggested camping in Virginia’s scenic Shenandoah Valley, we were all over it!
We set out Friday afternoon.  Getting out of the city was probably the hardest part of the drive.  Once we hit the open road we were able to relax, admire the scenery and enjoy each other’s company.  It’s about a three hour drive to Shenandoah National Park, at least to the southern side where we stayed.   We found a spot that wasn't exactly remote camping, but wasn't exactly a drive-up site either.  We parked our car in the lot near the main road, and had to carry all of our stuff down a hill about a quarter mile to a little clearing in the woods with a picnic table, a fire pit and bear box. 
Yes, a bear box.  There are 5 active black bears in the area of Shenandoah Valley where we were staying.  You have to make sure anything with a strong scent is locked up in the steel box (or in your car) at night or whenever you leave your camp site for a period of time.  That means all food, toiletries or anything that might attract a curious cub.  Or his mama.  We actually saw one crossing the road on the way out of the park on Sunday.  I was so bummed that I wasn't able to get a good picture of it before it disappeared into the woods.  But man, talk about exciting!
Speaking of wildlife, there was plenty around the park.  Lots of bunnies, chipmunks, birds and even deer!  The most exciting, though (besides the bear) was the snake we stumbled upon who was just hangin' out in the middle of the trail having lunch.  Which was a mouse.  He was swallowing. WHOLE.  Hey, there, 7th grade science experiment.  Only in the wild!  It was too cool.  We weren't sure what kind of snake it was.  I'm not familiar with east coast varieties, so my best guess was a Copperhead.  Anyone know for sure?  But despite the species, it was a sight to behold for a good 5 minutes or so before we decided to move on.  But you can bet I watched my step the rest of the trip.
We relaxed Friday night, cooking dinner over the small propane stove our roommate had. Why does dinner taste so much better when cooked outdoors?  I have such fond memories of camping with my family where we cooked all of our meals over open flames.  My favorite?  Biscuits cooked on a skillet with sausage grease, smothered in said sausage and gravy.  And I never feel guilty about what I eat camping because I know I'm going to hike it off.  It's fantastic.
Our roommates, Aaron and Abbie, are quite the campers.  He actually worked in a national park ministry when he was in seminary, I believe, so he is a big fan of camping and quite the hiking enthusiast.  We discussed what kind of hike we would like to take, and we all decided that the one to the waterfalls would be nice.  And it was nice.  He estimated that it would be about 7 miles there and back.  (It actually ended up being 10.)  There was a trail we could take that was a giant loop so we wouldn't repeat too much of the scenery. 

It was beautiful and peaceful and refreshing.  The vegetation was lush and green.  The small river running through the valley was cool and clear, full of waterfalls and places to sit and soak your feet as your cares float away.  I've already mentioned the abundant wildlife.  Let's include fish.  Do we all know Robert's obsession with fish?  Robert is obsessed with fish.  I'm actually kind of surprised we don't own any fish.  He loves fishing.  LOVES IT.  So of course, we found a beautiful spot to picnic, and we decided to soak our feet (we had hiked about 6 miles or so already).  Robert noticed little minnows coming up and nibbling at his toes. 

This delighted him like a child at a petting zoo.  He proceeded to try to catch the fish.  This entertained him for a while until he wanted me to feel the fishy nibbles.  Apparently, the dead skin cells on my feet are unappetizing.  IMAGINE THAT.  I was ok with it ,though, and I passed the time skipping rocks.  I also don't think that I could have finished the hike without this break, not only because I needed energy in the form of a carb and protein-packed lunch, but the cold spring water on my already sore feet was like heaven.  And it was good timing, too.  The majority of our hike thus far, had been down hill.  The next part was going to be tough.

We had a steep uphill slope of about two miles waiting ahead of us.  And it may have been my imagination, but whereas the first leg was shrouded from the sun by the canopy of the trees, the climb back out of the valley seemed to be directly under the relentless afternoon rays.  One foot in front of the other, deep steady breaths, one step at a time, we made it to the top.  Soaked in sweat, panting heavily and with calves that swore revenge, we trudged back to our campsite.  There are no pictures of this endeavor, because not only was it the last thing on my mind, but no one would have been allowed to see them, so what was the point?
Luckily, our bottles of water were running low, so our backpacks were lighter.  The downpour of sweat indicated we were no where near dehydrated.  Nature provided little sugar snacks along the trail in the form of blackberries just reaching ripeness.  Those little treats were life savers, and we popped one after another as we trudged along.
When we started out that morning, Aaron (by far the best hiker) told us about the Appalachian Trail, part of which we hiked that day.  He told us about the many hikers who complete the trail spanning from (I believe) Georgia to Maine within 3-6 months.  As we began our pleasant descent into the stunning valley that morning, I thought, "I could do this every day for 3 months.  It'd definitely be something to cross off my bucket list. What an amazing accomplishment that would be."
By the time we got back to our campsite that evening, my thoughts were more along the lines of "Mad props to those with the cojones to actually complete even part of this thing!"  Granted, I didn't wake up one morning and decide to run 5 miles.  I had to work up to it.  I like to think that with time and practice, I could accomplish something amazing like hiking through part of the trail.  Even just a two-week trip would be huge.  Something to think about.
After we had cooled off, cleaned up and taken a rest, we made a delicious dinner of fajitas, watermelon and s'mores.  Summertime fare at its best.  And boy, did we earn it!  Robert became known as "Flame Master" or "Fire Marshall Rob" because he pretty much babysat the camp fire all night.  Aaron was the chef, Abbie, his sous-chef, and I got to be the photographer.  One of the coolest moments was when a sweet doe wandered into the camp site next to us and moments later, her twin fauns followed behind.  It was wonderful seeing so many beautiful aspects of this great valley. 
One of the less wonderful moments was at 2 am when Robert had to go tell the group of drunk hippies at a nearby campsite to please stop singing their terrible rendition of "American Pie."  Luckily, they shut up and we were able to get some sleep.
It was truly refreshing, however, to be close to nature and off the grid for a few days.  I had no cell signal and was only able to use my phone for photos.  I had no email, texts or Facebook, and  after recovering from the withdrawal symptoms, it was relaxing to just enjoy the glory of the outdoors with my husband and friends.  Both nights we were there, after putting out the fire, Robert and I walked to the top of the hill, leaned against the hood of our car and looked at the stars.  We couldn't hear the highway.  We couldn't see any city lights.  The only thing reminding us that we weren't alone in the world was the occasional blinking light of a plane passing overhead.  And it was perfect.
Taking the time to unplug, unwind, and reconnect with one another is so special to us and important not only for our relationship but also for our mental and physical health.  I may love the rush of the city, but I also cherish the silence of the wilderness. The cherry on top of our trip was attending a church service from a high peak in the park.  It perfectly captured the beauty of God's creation and reminded me that even though we are so small on this earth, He still finds significance in each of our lives.  How amazing.  Out of all the Lord has made, we, the most flawed and sinful of the lot, are still the most important to Him.  I cannot fathom His love, but I enjoy being reminded of it. 
And as if it couldn't get any more fun, relaxing or American, Sunday afternoon, we went to a baseball game. We had great seats in the shade, the Nats beat the Padres, and I got to cross something else off of my DC bucket list.

It was a gorgeous day, although a little hot, but what do you expect in July??  I'm not a huge baseball fan, but who can pass up free tickets? Plus, we got delicious ball park hot dogs for a fraction of the price. Thank you, NatBucks! 

It was a great ending to a great holiday weekend.  My fun experiences in DC just keep on coming, and I'm so happy to take them all.  I have been so blessed this summer as God has continually shown me His faithfulness and provision in so many ways.   It has been a gentle reminder that when I am in doubt, He is still working in my life to give me  what I need.

 "And my God will supply all your needs in His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19


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