If you only knew how long I sit around wondering where to hike, you’d laugh. I go through blogs. I open up my maps. I peruse my waterfall book. I can never decide. Maybe that’s because I have so many wonderful options? I knew I wanted a waterfall. That much was sure. This past Sunday my son and I set out for an off trail hike in Shenandoah to a big waterfall but due to my wonderful hydration bladder leaking and soaking my sweatshirt, we didn’t go. It would have made me very cold to hike with it like that and my base layer wasn’t warm enough. Ugh. We had fun roaming Big Meadows for a bit and driving Skyline.
I needed something new so I decided on Kilgore Falls in Maryland. It would be a 2 hour drive but I figured that was better than 3 hours to other ones I considered. I slept poorly and almost scrapped the whole thing yesterday morning but I saw an inspiring post on Instagram so I dragged myself out of bed and went.
As I was driving, I was willing the sun to stay behind the clouds. I felt like I had to hurry (I didn’t). I passed some beautiful farmland scenes that I would have liked to photograph but I really felt a need to get to the trail. I finally arrive and, boom, the trail doesn’t open until 10:00 am. 10:00 am? Really? That is so late. So crazy. I ran and used the port-a-potty (which I am happy to say was incredibly clean) and wondered what to do. I decided to zip on over to Conowingo Dam. I have wanted to go for a long time and figured this was my chance. I didn’t know if I’d see any eagles but had nothing to lose.
I got there and walked around a bit. I wasn’t seeing a lot of activity other than vultures. Whoopdedoo. I see those everyday around my house. And then I heard this sound. It was loud and sounded like birds could be fighting. Nope. Quite the opposite. It was two eagles getting it on (cue Marvin Gaye) on top of the electric tower. I obviously didn’t have my super telephoto lens with me but did have my 18-200mm. I zoomed in as best as I could to grab a photo. I was quite amused. When they were done, they just sat there. I guess they were being in the moment of what just took place. I figured this was a good time to head back to the trail head.
Hooray it was open! I was a bit worried about the number of cars I saw and thought there might be too many people for good photos. Thankfully, they were no where to be found except for one photographer. Walter. I thought he was packing up to go but he was interested in getting to the other side of the creek where the best photos would be. The water wasn’t super deep but it would be cold. We were both interested in avoiding that. So we walked. And walked. We followed the creek for quite a ways to see if there was a better place to cross over. Nope. It just got deeper. Like to my thighs deep. We turned around and walked back to where we started. I finally got the courage to walk up along the side of the big boulder and did get my feet wet. I thought, “I can do this!” so I walked out a bit more for a better photo. I turned and walked back and Walter decided to go. We ended up getting photos of each other in the process which was cool. As I stood there waiting, two young adults walked up and just walked across the creek without hesitation. I had to laugh. Youth. Never afraid. Bold. And it was then I knew I was walking across too. So when Walter returned we made our way across the creek. It wasn’t so bad. Cold, yes. But worth it. The other side of the waterfall was beautiful and made for great photos.
The things we do for photos…. It ended up being a great way to spend New Year’s Day. I met a great photographer (go see his work). We had fun. I saw eagles mating.
I go hiking every year on Veteran’s Day. It’s a good way to be alone, think about sacrifices made by vets and experience nature. This year I had a lot on my mind. I’ve been in a dark place and have had a hard time getting out of it.
I have been struggling with loneliness. When I mentioned this to someone they said, “Oh, you don’t like being alone?” No. It isn’t that. I hiked alone on Monday and enjoyed it. I reveled in the quietness. I had the trail mostly to myself (I saw a ranger and 2 other women). I had moments where it was completely silent. And it was marvelous.
As I was walking on the trail, I was reflecting on this dark period. Why am I lonely? And why is it so overwhelming right now? Why can’t I get myself to the gym? Why I can’t I workout? Why can’t I find any happiness in my photos? It’s a lot. I know. I didn’t come away with any answers.
I used to have a large group of friends. I used to be invited to parties. Dinners. Events. They were all friends from when I taught and performed a style of dance and I wasn’t ever lonely. I ended up having to leave the group and of course all my friends slowly disappeared. I won’t go into details but it was painful. I stopped dancing altogether and realized my whole social life dropped away.
Since then… I have made a few friends. However, I’m closest to people who live states away from me. I reach out to others, closer, with no response. I realize that perhaps I’m not an enjoyable person. I try to be but maybe I am not seeing something. I have put out requests for hiking and get no takers. And so I go alone.
I know there’s tons of advice on curing loneliness. I’ve read it. I have a degree in social work. I know all the stuff. I know how to pull myself out of this depressions – usually. Hiking helps. Photography helps. But I really miss having a connection with someone special. The shared experiences. The jokes. That person who will meet you for coffee. I don’t even mean a romantic relationship. Someone I know who will be there for me.
I am not sure how long this darkness will last. I’m supposed to tell people and reach out but I don’t want to. I’m tired of reaching. I’m tired of initiating. I will force myself back to the gym. When I’m depressed I eat. And, well, that’s no good and adds to my depression and self-flagellation.
So no, I don’t mind being alone. I rather enjoy it most of the time. However, I do wish I had a choice. I wish the only option wasn’t always being alone.
I was happy to have Indigenous People Day to get out for a short hike. I asked my daughter to go with me and she actually agreed to wake up early and go. This was exciting because it has been over a year since she’s gone hiking with me. I told her we wouldn’t go too far and it would be pretty. Check and check.
We woke up at 5:00 am to get to an overlook by sunrise. Fortunately (or unfortunately) there was a lot of fog. Since we would be in the North District for Shenandoah National Park for our hike, the overlooks were few and far between on the east side. They get better as you head south in the park. I found one and we waited. Finally, the sun came up and illuminated the fog. I had not brought my 18-200 mm lens and wish I would have for this morning. I could have gotten a better shot of the fog against the mountains. My wide shot was okay but sometimes zooming in is also good in landscapes.
We drove back towards our hiking location as I worried about the sun being too bright for a waterfall. As we started down our path, I was happy with the cover and the fact that the waterfall was located on the west side of the trail. This means the light wouldn’t reach it for a couple of hours. The hike to Lands Run Falls is very short. It took us no more than 10 mins or so to reach the falls (or the first part of the falls). Some fall colors were showing and leaves were scattered around the rocks. This made for great photos.
I am normally alone when I hike but having my daughter with me allowed me to crawl down the rocks. She handed my tripod to me and I took photos from further down. I debated going farther down the rocks but they were slippery and there was no way my daughter would know if I fell (the falls were that loud). I took some shots and whistled loudly. Thankfully, she appeared. I handed her my tripod again and climbed back up the rocks. As I climbed up, I knew I wouldn’t have made it alone.
The falls were really pretty. I think that if we had continued down the trail we would have come to more falls but I kept my promise. We hiked back up to the car. The whole hike took about an hour. Super short and sweet. On our way home, we traveled through the Virginia countryside. My girl is a lover of small, quaint towns. We drove through The Plains, Virginia and on towards Loudoun County. We had a wonderful time chatting and driving slow.
I get to go back to Shenandoah soon and I’m hoping the trees are popping with color. Fingers crossed.
I often lament that there are not that many waterfalls closer to me. Sure, there is Scott’s Run Nature Preserve and that is a really cool one. And of course, all of the ones in Shenandoah National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I just really wish I lived right next to one I guess.
However, Potomac Wayside Park is only 30 minutes away. I feel like calling this a “park” is a bit of a stretch. The first thing to know about this park is that there is parking for about three vehicles. That’s it. When you drive up to it, there is a large, long paved area but they (Loudoun County? NOVA Parks?) call most of it a roadway. And they don’t allow parking there except for the very end of it. If you decide to go, go early (no later than 9:00 am). It is unfortunate that there is so little parking because the area is beautiful. If you go during the summer, you’ll see that the Harpers Ferry Adventure Center uses the full length of the “roadway” to park for their tubing expeditions. I know, it seems unfair that they get to use it for commercial ventures while the rest of us cannot.
When you arrive… very early in the morning…you’ll see a sign at the start of the trail. The trail is incredibly short and it will take you directly to the waterfall. Each time I have been to the falls there has been a good amount of water. The name of the waterfall is Piney Run Falls. It dumps directly into the Potomac. I once visited during the winter and it was pretty much frozen solid. It looked amazing. There are some large rocks to climb on but just be aware that they are very slippery. On a hot day, feel free to wade into the water. It feels amazing.
If you continue down the trail, you’ll come to the Potomac River. From there, you’ll have a great view of the bridge that connects Maryland and Virginia to your right. And to your left, you’ll see Harpers Ferry. I suppose you could fish from this area. I would recommend swimming here as the current can be strong. The chances of seeing an eagle fly by are very high. When the water is lower, there are exposed rocks where you can sit and relax.
This is one of my favorite spots in Loudoun County. Because I go very early, I have it to myself each time. While it is a shame the parking lot is so small, I guess, it is also a blessing. It would probably be overrun with people if it was larger. It is a balance. I definitely recommend visiting Harpers Ferry after seeing the falls. There are a number of smaller trails to explore. Or you can do the Maryland Heights Trail which will give you an incredible view of the entire area.