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Alone or Lonely? Exploring My State of Mind

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.

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Lands Run Falls

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.

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Morning Fog

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Overlook Illuminated

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.

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Towards the bottom of the first drop

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Cascades at the top

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.

Potomac Wayside Park

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.

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Piney Run Falls

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Further down the trail

Frozen Waterfall

Frozen Piney Run

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.

Piney Run

Harpers Ferry

Piney Run

The Bridge

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.

Solo Hiking…Running…Walking…Existing as a Woman

This past weekend, as I was talking with my mom and preparing to say good-bye, she said to me, “Jenn, I want to ask you, once more, to please never go hiking alone.”  She has asked me this numerous times. She can’t ever believe that I go out alone. That I leave, early in the morning, arrive and hike Shenandoah National Park (or anywhere) all alone. She can’t fathom that I’m out there for hours and sometimes only see 1-2 other people.  I sometimes don’t tell her I’m going so she doesn’t worry.

This question was asked because of Mollie Tibbets.  My mom heard her story and believed the reason she was targeted was because she was running alone. Mollie wasn’t killed because she was running solo.  A woman does not face violence BECAUSE she is solo.  There have been women killed when together. Sometimes in groups. Often times at parties.  The fact is, men go missing and die while out in nature as well and guess what, I never see, “Hey men! Be careful as you hike solo.”  I haven’t ever seen it up for debate.

I get tired of hearing, “Don’t go alone.”  Well who is going to go with me? My son? That’s been discussed here already. My daughter is too busy. I ask friends and only once out of 20 times will someone try to go with me. So my choice is to never go hiking or to act like a grown up woman and go anyway.  The violence that follows women who are alone has more to do with the men who attack them. I guarantee if you ask your female friends they all have a story about a man who reacted poorly because he was turned down, refused, or ignored. I have more than one. I have been on the receiving end of a hand that ended up across my face, in public, where no one (including my boyfriend at the time) did nothing.

Hiking alone is one of the best things I do in life. I love the solitude. I know I can take as long as I want to take photos. I can take my time or I can hurry. I do all the things I’m supposed to do: let someone know where I’m going, carry a weapon, carry bear spray (more for people than the bear), and carry my SPOT in case I get lost (this has NEVER happened – not even while bushwhacking).  I read a lot of blogs and admire the women who have hiked the PCT, John Muir, or Appalachian Trail solo.  I think it is incredible and I long to do something similar.  I refuse to be scared. I refuse to let worry overtake my life and stop me from doing the things I want to do.  When I used to travel for work, I would go out hiking wherever I was and never had any fear. I have walked the streets of Washington, D.C. at night with no fear. I have sat at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at 2:00 am with no fear.   It just isn’t going to happen.

Thankfully, I haven’t ever had an issue while on a trail. I am always aware. I look around. I take notice if anyone is around me. I listen. Maybe I’m lucky that I haven’t had any issues.  I walk, hike, carry myself in such a way that shows I’m not intimidated. I’m sure that helps. I look people dead in the eyes as we pass each other on a trail.  Also, I am well versed on where I am so that if I have to take a different trail, I can. Or, I can bushwhack to safety.

This is probably getting a bit long. I hate being treated like I am not strong. I hate being treated like I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m not careful. The words, “Be careful!” for the most part annoy me. I understand people are showing their concern but honestly, how about, “Have fun!” instead?