Last weekend was an entirely new US experience for me away from the usual urban setting like Washington DC. I went on mountain trekking and caving in Virginia.
That sunny Saturday morning, I woke up so early to catch the metro towards Alexandria, Virginia, where a friend was waiting with his car. We drove towards Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, where I saw fascinating rolling hills, vineyards, and forests with red, orange, yellow, brown and maroon leaves signaling the coming of fall. The whole scenery reminded me of my hometown in Bukidnon, the Philippines.
At first, I thought that driving to the foot of Old Rag was easy, since my friend had his GPS navigator. Only later did we find out that technology could not be relied on at all the times; we got lost on our way there because we passed on the other side of the park. Hoping to get back to the right route, I tried to seek the assistance of Google maps on my mobile phone. Until we realize there was no mobile signal in the area. Blundering our way to Old Rag, we surprisingly reached Luray Cavern instead. Inside the cave, we were amazed by the magnificent beauty of the stalagmite and stalactite formations. Most remarkably, there is a piano there that is anchored to the stalactites. Up to this date, there is only one elderly person who can play it. He is already 80 years old, according to one of the guides, and he needs to teach his unique skill to a younger person to maintain and sustain the playing of the one-of-a-kind piano.
Exhausted yet exhilarated after seeing the beauty of Luray Cavern, we decided to go home instead, since it was getting late and we still did not make any headway in our navigation to Old Rag. Then, an idea sparked: go to Old Rag relying on the centuries-tested paper map, read the sign boards, and ask the locals along the way. Excited and eager, we followed our instincts doing the suggested ideas and reached the foot of Old Rag in the mid-afternoon. Without hesitation despite the late time, we told ourselves to do the trekking and complete the whole circular trail within the day.
On the trail, I hiked at a slower pace while enjoying the colorful and beguiling loveliness of the scenery. The trail became more challenging and somehow dangerous (if you are not cautious) as I neared the summit. I had to climb, crawl and grip on the rocks and boulders just to reach the top. To be honest, I am scared of heights. When I reached the summit, I shouted from within, “I am on top of the world and I conquered my fear of heights yet again! Whew!” Going up was hard, but the experience was paid with that feeling of accomplishment and greatness once I saw such marvelous views stretched before me as it would be on an IMAX theatre scene. Even on our way down, I enjoyed the beauty of such unspoiled nature.
During the descent, childhood memories of hiking, caving and even swimming along the rivers of Bukidnon flashed through my mind, of carefree moments spent with friends. Moving forward, times had changed. Now, I cannot enjoy the kind of freedom we used to experience in exploring these gifts of nature. The old and quite town where I grew up changed into a bustling urban concrete jungle, a somehow messy urban city. Structures just sprout everywhere. People just spit and throw garbage anywhere. Most of the public lands and mountain where we used to trek during school summer and holiday breaks became corporate managed wood and fruit plantations like pineapple and bananas to feed the global demand for these products. Security now is tight; we cannot freely get inside these lands unlike before. Now, seeing nature at its best back in my hometown had become a dream. I dream that one day we can reclaim such beauty and gift again so that my children and their children can still enjoy the beauty and gifts that Mother Nature endowed us.
Looking back at that experience, I learned a lot from Mother Nature and I appreciated how Americans value her and take the responsibility of protecting her so that present and future generations can enjoy her freely. I also enjoyed seeing rural towns exist- they are beautiful, and quaint — amidst the bustling urbanity of cities like Washington DC and New York. More than that, I have learned that it is good to have a plan, but it is great to have the flexibility to get through the process and enjoy the surprises that come with it. In real life situations, it is good to have goals, but the road and journey getting there is the most exciting part of the whole learning experience. One should never lose hope, focus and creativity to reach the destination. After all, it is the whole experience of the journey that teaches us!