The 6:30 AM meet up feels early after such a long week and last night’s beer choices.
It’s still dark, but with an hour’s drive to the trailhead and uncertainty as to the length of today’s run, Griffin and I both know the early start is necessary. Hot coffee and bagel in hand, we load up the car and head towards the Parkway.
I love driving the Blue Ridge Parkway at dawn. There’s no one around except for the occasional adventurer just as groggy and excited as us, and the energy oozing from the dark mountains glows with anticipation for the day ahead.
If my map reading is correct, it’ll be around 17 miles for the day with 5,000 feet of climbing, but we don’t really know.
Unexpected Quiet on the Trail
By the time Griffin and I organize our packs and set off down the trail, the sun has risen well above the horizon.
It’s a crisp, beautiful morning, with the forecast promising clouds in a few hours. Perfect for keeping the heat at bay.
“I don’t approve of all this here poopy paper litter’n our trees,” Griffin jokes, in his tough “Big Tom” Wilson voice, complete with a deep southern drawl.
Big Tom was a legendary mountain guide from the 1800s, and is thought to have known these mountains better than anyone else at the time. He’s now the namesake to a mountain with a surprising amount of toilet paper in the bushes. We’d go on to joke (rant) about that “poopy paper” in a variety of accents throughout the day.
But after a while, we fall into a rhythm. Some running, a little hiking. Close enough to hear the others footsteps but far enough apart to feel independent.
I always forget how infrequently I’m in true quiet.
Even with near daily trail runs, the hum of a highway or buzz of a town is often within earshot.
But today, on top of the highest ridgeline in the eastern United States, it’s perfectly quiet.
No wind. No people. Just two sets of footsteps and the occasional small animal shuffling through the leaves.
I’m reminded of the first time I experienced complete darkness. As a kid I thought my basement was dark until my dad took me into my first cave. He led me through the narrow passageways — deep underground — until we reached a large room. Then, he asked me to shut off my headlamp.
My other senses perked up. I noticed smells I didn’t before, and the tiny drips of water in the background, once blocked out, suddenly caught my attention.
The same thing happens in quiet.
I so rarely experience it, my mind immediately reacts. I become relaxed and clear headed.
And as I take a second to pause — squarely in the middle of the trail — I’m overcome with peace.
Constant Noise of Life
Each morning as I heat our water kettle for coffee, I turn on NPR’s Morning Edition.
Immediately our small kitchen fills with news of the upcoming election or the most recent tragedy.
Tales of a country divided, and a politician pushing and agenda of fear.
Firsthand accounts of innocent people being shot, and bad people with get out of jail free cards because they can afford the right lawyer.
The latest celebrity gossip. The latest storm to devastate a community.
My head floods with information, heartbreak, and noise. It begins to focus on to-do lists and the work I should tackle first.
And that’s where I stay. That’s where most of us stay throughout the day. Every day. In the noise.
Moments we can hang on to — even write about weeks later — until the quiet of the trail brings us peace once again.