Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way.
~Dr. Seuss, 1904 – 1991
In a silken voice, the radio announcer intoned “Generations—your music” and indeed, as I headed out of Charlottesville, Virginia on Route 29, my path was strewn with nosegays of nostalgia. With my cherry red rental VW bug a fitting chariot for my chug along this particular stretch of Memory Lane, I found myself singing along to songs I hadn’t heard since the era I had lived in these parts. As I climbed higher into the hills, the playlist provoked powerful memories of my teenage self and the myriad and mercurial moods of that age with its high-flying hormones.
Easing onto Route 64, I headed north toward Shenandoah County and almost immediately the tense voice emanating from my GPS snapped at me that the signal had been lost before she abruptly went silent. I felt a momentary stab of anxiety and then shrugged it off, figuring my route would be well-marked.
Soon enough, I was sailing down the side of a steep summit, belting out “I’ll Take You There” with the Staple Singers. Despite the warm sun beating down on my arm as it rested on the rolled-down window, I felt goose bumps rise in response to the gospel refrain. I know a place, Ain’t nobody crying, Ain’t nobody worried, Uh-huh, Let me lead the way, Mercy!
Foot pressing on the accelerator as I embarked up another incline, my stomach muscles tightened and tears sprang to my eyes with the twang of the first few chords of John Denver’s “Country Roads.” Life is old there, Older than the trees, Younger than the mountains, Growing like a breeze…Driving down the road, I get a feeling I shoulda been home yesterday, yesterdaaaay.
Flying over the top of the next hill, my mood shifted gears along with the driving bass line of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” My fingers thumping on the steering wheel, head bobbing, and shoulders shrugging to the tempo, I passionately shouted out the disco diva’s classic anthem to independence. I spent oh so many nights just feeling sorry for myself, I used to cry! But now I hold my head up high. And you see me, somebody new!…I’ve got all my life to live, I’ve got all my love to give, I’ll Survive, Hey! Hey!
East of Waynesboro, I reached Rockfish Gap and Shenandoah National Park. At the entrance to Skyline Drive, I paid the ranger the $15 fee for access to the 105-mile ribbon of road that traverses the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains. She handed me a map and told me that there were 75 scenic overlooks along the drive.
I pulled into the first of these, McCormick Gap Overlook and got out of the car to stretch my legs and absorb the rich hues of a sea of undulating green waves reaching to the horizon. Tall grasses merged into brambles and bushes that folded into leafy trees that became an endless cushion of canopy. I happen to look down and noticed a thick fat caterpillar lolling on a stick, master of his domain. It occurred to me that in my day-to-day life I would likely have been oblivious to his existence.
As I drove on, it struck me that I hadn’t yet seen another soul. While just miles from a major interstate highway I was nonetheless truly in the wilderness. I felt a tinge of uneasiness and then caught sight of a tree laden with unusual, heavy purple flowers. Eager to photograph the blooms, I felt a spurt of impatience that there wasn’t shoulder space along the road for me to pull over for several hundred yards. Finally able to nestle my car along the road, I jumped out, slammed the door, and back-tracked at a trot then happily began shooting. A loud rustling, from where I couldn’t tell, sent a jolt of fear through me–I may now be a city girl but I knew there were bears in these hills. I immediately walked quickly to the car, shifting into gear and leaving far behind whatever had made the sound.
I spent five hours meandering along the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains, stopping at overlooks named Calf Mountain, Sawmill Run, Riprap, Doyles River, Rockytop, Eaton Hollow, and The Point. At each, I was awed by the expanse before me, primeval forest across which fell the shadow of passing clouds, verdant peaks piercing a brilliant blue sky. At one overlook I saw a lone turkey peck his way across a small field; at another, I beheld a soaring bird aloft on wind currents, swooping above one mountaintop to the next without a flap of his wings—perhaps a Peregrine falcons, which are making a comeback in the park. Spring is said to climb up these mountains at a rate of about 100 feet per day starting in March. In late May I was witnessing streaks of magenta azaleas and swaths of creamy rose-colored mountain laurel within the infinite green expanse of the forest.