For as long as I can remember I’ve had this itch to explore. As a kid I had a vivid imagination. I would often pretend that I was some sort of pioneer exploring new territory. I recall fond memories of playing in the woods at some of the local parks and imagining that the playground equipment was some sort of outpost in a distant territory. As I’ve gotten older, my horizons have been expanded. Having reliable transportation, financial resources and freedom to do whatever I want with my free time has allowed me to travel to places that were once nothing more than images on a computer screen.
I graduate from college this December and the time I have to travel will drastically decrease (I will miss that aspect of college life). Naturally, I wanted to spend my last fall break doing something special. My itch to explore soon had me plotting a course that would take me through Morgantown, West Virginia (the home of West Virginia University), Shenandoah National Park, and Washington D.C. Each of those places were awesome and I have a lot of stories from each, but I really want to focus on my time in Shenandoah.
I arrived in the park on a Friday afternoon and drove to an area of the park known as Matthew’s Arm. I had brought a full pack with enough supplies for an overnight stay in the wilderness area of the park. I soon obtained my hiking permits and hit the trail. I walked for about 5 miles that afternoon and took in some of Shenandoah’s gorgeous scenery. It was the first time I had been backpacking in the Appalachians and I’ll admit that I underestimated the rigor of the trail. Fortunately I still had quite a bit of experience hiking difficult trails in the Rocky Mountains.
Shortly before 6pm I arrived at the 90 ft tall waterfall Matthew’s Arm is known for. It would be the last time I saw a human being until the next day. I hiked for another hour before making my camp next to some rapids. This was the part of wilderness camping that I was looking forward to. Being next to something very scenic with no one else around. But then sun began to set and reality started to sink in as I was setting up my bear bag (Shenandoah has a rather significant population of black bears). I was at least 5 miles from the nearest ranger station in the middle of nowhere in bear-infested woods all alone.
I did have trouble falling asleep that night. I wasn’t afraid of potentially having an encounter with a bear or getting hurt. After all, being an Eagle Scout has equipped me with a very effective set of survival skills. I just didn’t care for the idea of being a non-entity. I didn’t like the fact that no one in the whole world was conscious of my presence and that I was taking in all of nature’s beauty without anyone to share it with. Eventually fatigue set in and I fell asleep.
The next morning, I packed up my tent and belongings, cooked breakfast and hit the trail. I might have hiked the next five or so miles in record time as I was itching to see and talk to a human being once again. Although I genuinely wanted to be outdoors, I did have an ulterior motive for going wilderness backpacking. I wanted to learn something valuable while I was out there and I believe that I did. I learned how important it is to our own stability and comfort to have people near to us. Humans are inherently communal; we want others around. I hope that I have another opportunity to experience the wilderness again, but I hope that this time it will be with someone to experience everything that comes with venturing into the unknown.