Lace’em up!

By Posted on Jul 15 2018 | By

The joys of a walk in the woods

Time. It’s our most prized possession. There’s never enough of it and it flies faster than a thought. We try to husband our time to maximize its usefulness. At the end of the day we often reflect on where it went.

For many of us carving out time to exercise is a priority. And those who don’t pursue the elusive goal know they should. The medical, scientific, spiritual benefits of regular exercise have been reported with such frequency we tend to zone out when the subject is brought up. Yes, yes, we know we should exercise but…there’s never enough time.

Here’s a counterintuitive proposal: let’s waste some time. But think of it as an investment in your well-being; not frittering away a precious commodity. The only gear you’ll need is a pair of hiking shoes and a small day pack. In four hours or less one can reinvigorate mind and body under the canopy of life-giving greenery.

The most challenging aspect of hiking is the commitment to carve out a half-day from work and home responsibilities.

To create a further incentive to act let’s combine two concepts: exercise is good and a forest atmosphere is beneficial. The former is a given. The latter is the cornerstone of a preventive health practice that was developed in Japan in the 1980s.

It’s called Shinrin-yoko or “taking in the forest” or “forest bathing”. Researchers in Japan and South Korea have scientifically confirmed the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.

The practice is simplicity itself. A person enters a natural area in a relaxed manner and achieves calming, rejuvenating and restorative benefits. The science behind the concept is that many trees give off organic compounds that support our “NK”, or natural killer cells; an integral part of our immune system.

The benefits of forest bathing include boosting the immune system, reducing blood pressure and stress, improving mood, ability to focus, energy levels and sleep. The key to maximizing forest bathing is to combine it with hiking.

The only hitch is it takes time.

But even two or three forest hikes a month can generate a host of healthful benefits. Not to mention experiencing the beauty of a quiet forest or the scenery of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Where to go
Fortunately, Fauquier County residents have both the Whitney State Forest and the Shenandoah National Park, or SNP, within easy driving distance. Denizens living inside the beltway must devote a full day to enjoying either of these treasures.

Not so us locals. In a half a day or less an adventurous world of real nature awaits. Set your device on airplane mode and free yourself in the forest.

Whitney State Forest is a 148-acre State Forest located a few miles outside of Warrenton. The forest has a variety trees and animal life that transport a walker to venues similar to the more challenging nearby mountain trails but within minutes of town.

There are over six miles of trails crisscrossing a central fire road. Navigating the forest is easy and the rewards will include opportunities to encounter a variety of bird and animal life. Breathe deeply and walk gently in this forest.

From micro-to-macro describes heading out to a hike in the SNP. The Park has over 200,000 acres of forest, 500 miles of maintained trails, dozens of cascading waterfalls, peaceful backcountry camping and endless valley views.

The center piece is Skyline Drive that meanders the ridge line for 105 miles, from Front Royal to Waynesboro. The iconic Appalachian Trail parallels the Drive offering the opportunity to step back in time and experience the mountains as yesteryear mountain folk did.

When you arrive in the high country, finding your way around SNP is simple.  Its trail obelisks and blazed trees easily guide a hiker from trailhead to trail’s end.

There are three color-coded trail blazes: white identifies the historic Appalachian Trail which runs 101 miles through the park; blue pinpoints side trails for hikers only; and yellow welcomes both hikers and horses. The park boundary is identified by red markers.

Hiking Clubs
While forest hiking contributes to a healthy lifestyle, social interaction is also a marker for longevity. Getting outdoors with friends and acquaintances is a double your pleasure double fun proposition. There’s no need to plan and execute the hike itself. Simply show up at the designated meeting spot, jump in a car and off to the mountains you go.

There are several organized hiking clubs in the area but the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club is the granddaddy of them all. PATC was founded in 1927 for the purpose of building and maintaining the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking trail in the world meandering over mountains and through forests from Maine to Georgia. The 2,190-mile footpath traverses through some of the most beautiful scenery in the Nation.

Each month the club sponsors numerous hikes from easy parklike jaunts to more challenging mountain ascents.

Closer to home, Fauquier County has its own hiking club called Boots’n Beer. The nine-year-old club was founded by local resident and businessman Jim Carson.

Andreas Keller, treasurer and charter member of the club says, “Hiking is the most natural exercise. It’s great medicine for a long and happy life. Nothing beats a walk in the woods, hiking mountains or simply spending time in the outdoors.”

Given the demands of work today, stress relief is a goal among many Fauquier County citizens. Proof? The nine-year-old club has over 200 members. A typical hike will see 10 or more folks navigating the trails of the Shenandoah National Park or George Washington National Forest.

But it isn’t all heart pounding, sweat inducing physical labor that eases a worried mind. Each Boots’nBeer hike is followed by a rehydration stop at a local tavern.

The club’s motto embodies its fun-loving approach to the great outdoors: “A drinking club with a hiking problem”. Its whimsical logo depicts a pair of hiking boots, one with a mug handle and foaming beer head and the other lying on its side in a dreamy beer-induced repose. All hikes terminate with a hydration stop at a local pub or brewery for a cold draft and a bite to eat. Need we say more?

Hit parade of hikes
While there are hundreds of hiking options in the Shenandoah National Park, several are perennial keepers. Here are five proven favorites to place on your bucket list. You won’t be disappointed making tracks on any of these well-travelled trails.

Old Rag Mountain: One of the most popular hikes in the Mid-Atlantic region. The nine-mile loop has spectacular panoramic views and offers one of the most challenging rock scrambles in the park.

White Oak Canyon: Some of the best scenic waterfalls in Virginia are on display on this eight-mile loop. Be prepared for some serious elevation gain but it’s well worth the perspiration produced.

Dark Hollow Falls: Pressed for time? This stroll of less than two miles will reward with four waterfalls and an easy walk. It’s popular so mid-week hiking is suggested to avoid the crowds.

Stony Man: One of the more secluded loops in the SNP. The ten-mile hike provides picturesque views of both the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding mountains. There is a nice swimming hole on the Rose River to cool the motor down on this workout.

Mary’s Rock: This favorite can be approached as either a four-mile or nine-mile hike. The shorter version starts at the Panorama parking lot and ascends to stunning views in less two miles. The more adventurous can begin in the valley and ascend the Buck Hollow Trail to reach the to

                                                       GETTING STARTED

There are several online sources for planning an adventurous day in the mountains. Here’s a few of the best.

Hiking Upward: This free site was created by a group of avid hikers who enjoy spending time in the forests and parks of the Mid-Atlantic states. They founded Hiking Upward to share what they’ve learned and create a meeting place for people who love the out-of-doors. The site lists dozens of detailed hikes. Each hike includes maps and reviews and photos by those who have walked it.  Additionally, each trail description is accompanied by a numerical rating from one to five on its difficulty, streams, views, solitude and camping. One of the best hiking resources available. https://www.hikingupward.com/

Potomac Appalachian Trail Club: The breath of activities sponsored by PATC is impressive. Its core mission is the care of the hundreds of miles of trails and numerous shelters and cabins in Virginia and parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Each month the club newsletter posts numerous hikes ranging from easy five milers with modest elevation gains to more challenging 15+ mile ventures to mountain peaks with sweeping views. The club has a large selection of guide books and maps to shepherd the way to trail joy.

Boots’n Beer: Warrenton’s own. A passionate group of your local neighbors who explore the state and national forests in our region. Join this group of enthusiasts and find both rewarding trail workouts and friends.

Whitney State Forest: A local hidden treasure located a few minutes outside of Warrenton. Indulge your trail urges and get back home with no fuss.

Shenandoah National Park: One of the Nation’s premier national parks less than an hour west of Warrenton. Challenge yourself to explore this park but don’t expect to experience it all; simply too much to see and do.


Published in the June 20, 2018 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES