Gooooooing Up – The Gateway Trail

“So, Mom, when are we leaving for our hike?”

This is an underrated advantage of having children:  they remind you that weekends aren’t just for house and garden chores, but for doing those things you want to do “if you have time”.

And we had time.  But just barely.  It was already 5:30 p.m. on Sunday and it’s getting dark around 8:00 p.m. now (Hallelujah!  I love long days!) and I knew the Gateway Trail was at least a mile long.  Well, I thought, even if we walk as slow as two miles per hour, a snail’s pace compared to our flatland clip of 3.5 to 4 mph, we’d be up and back in less than two hours.

Excitement and hope are often enablers of temporary amnesia and wishful thinking.

Still, we had to move quick if we were going to make it, so I (self-sacrificing mother that I am) skipped the shower that I badly needed and settled for an extra couple of swipes of deodorant.  Clinical strength deodorant.

We kissed the hubby/daddy goodbye, grabbed our shoes and my hiking pack and were out the door in under ten minutes.  We arrived at the trail head in another ten. (Or less – have I  mentioned that there are trails everywhere near Blacksburg and that it is the best place on Earth?)

The entrance to Gateway Park (before you reach through the actual trailhead) is a gentle stroll through an idyllic country scene.

The entrance to Gateway Park (before you reach through the actual trailhead) is a gentle stroll through an idyllic country scene.

The trail begins across Meadowbrook Road from the lower parking lot of Heritage Park.  On nice flat ground.  It rolls through a deep green field and past a bucolic old barn.  A tiny stream that burbles along to the right of the trail feeds buttercups and sweet-smelling grass.  In this place, with the golden light of afternoon sun warming your cheeks, there could be nothing wrong with the world.

And then you reach the trailhead, and realize that this hike is about to get real.

After all, this trail leads up the side of Brush Mountain.  Mountain.  And that’s what we wanted, right – to see spring in reverse, to see how it climbs the mountain slowly?  Right!

And so we, too, climbed the mountain.  Slowly.

My daughter is actually a great hiking partner.  She has no trouble keeping up with me, largely due to the fact that she is 60ish pounds and maybe 5% body fat and I am . . . not.  She also has the tremendous grace to be interested in nature and stop often to look at something or another.  Not only does this save my heart and lungs from explosion, but it gives me a chance to hear one of my favorite sentences:

“Mom, come look at what I found!”

Between her stops, my photo ops, and our mutual stops to drain the large canteen we had brought, we were hiking at nowhere near two miles an hour.  And the trail is 1.4 miles long, not one mile.  Our slow speed didn’t bother me, though, except maybe when trail runners both younger and older than I passed us like white-tailed dear loping by errant, distracted turtles.

But we turtles saw great stuff:

As the incline starts to get steeper we see a little waterfall in the brook next to the trail.

As the incline starts to get steeper we see a little waterfall in the brook next to the trail.

Wild geranium

Wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) blooms here and there on the forest floor.

IMG_3990

Had we hiked just a little faster I might have missed this wild iris, called “blue flag” (Iris virginica L.).

And just a few inches from  the blue flag posed this pretty little smooth Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

And just a few inches from the blue flag posed this pretty little smooth Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum).

The mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) are already in bud!  I'm mentally planning future hikes to make sure I see the blossoms.

The mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) are already in bud! I’m mentally planning future hikes to make sure I see the blossoms.  As for the tiny, green beetle, I don’t know its name yet, but I’m working on it!

Abbey called my attention to this pine that looks a little bit like a friendly monster.  Beyond its dead branch "arms" I can see the tiny, lacy new leaves of a deciduous tree.  The leaves at ground level are already as big as my palm.

Abbey called my attention to this pine that looks a little bit like a friendly monster. Beyond its dead branch “arms” I can see the tiny, lacy new leaves of a deciduous tree. The leaves at ground level are already as big as my palm.

This view from not-quite-the-top of the mountain shows that we've hiked high enough to be nearly level with surrounding ridges.

This view from not-quite-the-top of the mountain shows that we’ve hiked high enough to be nearly level with surrounding ridges.

We didn’t make it to the end of the trail, of course.  Abbey tuckered out after an hour of hiking, and I was A-OK with that!  Just after we turned back, we ran into a fellow Master Naturalist friend of mine who commented “Isn’t this trail great?  You can burn over 600 calories in an hour and a half!”

From that I made two mental notes:

  1. The next time I hike this trail, I’ll allot two hours for the journey up to cover climb time plus photo and rest time, and
  2. When I get home, I’m having dessert!

The hike back down went much more quickly, of course, we were back to the trail head in under 45 minutes.  There we had just enough sunlight left to count the lines on the topographic trail map to find that we hiked about a mile of trail and gained over 700 vertical feet.  We were quite pleased with ourselves.

I did achieve my hope from my previous post; I saw a few maple trees still in blossom and I watched the leaf sizes shrink down and the canopy open up.  More than that, though, I just had a great hike with my daughter, my favorite hiking buddy.

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4 thoughts on “Gooooooing Up – The Gateway Trail

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!! You did indeed take me along. The richness of your words PLUS the incredible beauty of your photos–I will vibrate with the joy of them for quite a long while. The utter delight, moreover, with the education, is unbounded. I’ve always wished for an old hand to introduce me to the treasures of the wilderness. Your hands may sport no wrinkles or dark spots, but your young brain seems to have ripened before its time.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Deerfield Trail – Early Autumn. | Birch Nature

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