Perfect Couple, Imperfect Trail

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway is a place known as Graveyard Fields, so-called because of the moss-covered stumps of logged trees that resemble tombstones. The Pigeon River flows through the area, with waterfalls accessible by various trails.

My husband, George, and I easily hiked to one waterfall and then attempted the much longer trek to one further upstream. The terrain appeared similar until we came upon a sharp drop-off that afforded no rocks or tree roots to use as footholds or handholds to help with the climb. I knew my knee’s torn cartilage couldn’t handle the impact of jumping to the lower level of the trail.

“I don’t think I’d be able to get back up even if I could jump down there,” I said. “This is about a four-foot wall and I know my arms aren’t strong enough to pull myself to the top of that!”

“I don’t think I could manage it either,” said George.

We looked at the deep drop in the trail again, then at each other, shrugged and turned back toward the trailhead.

About that time, we encountered a couple with gray hair and wrinkles that matched our own. Unlike us, though, they were so perfectly outfitted for a hike I wondered if they had just come from a photoshoot for the REI store website. They wore matching pants and jackets with all sorts of zippered compartments and hooks, and matching backpacks. They carried adjustable trekking poles and had two-way radios and GPS units attached to their jackets. I detected a can of bear spray hanging from a holster on the man’s belt and I have no doubt that one of their zippered pockets housed a snakebite kit. They walked stiffly in boots obviously not broken in. We, on the other hand, wore decade-old boots, faded blue jeans and t-shirts. The only supplies I carried were a couple pieces of Dove dark chocolate to be used in case of a low blood sugar episode or to toss to any bear that might threaten us.

Watching the couple approach with the woman in the lead, I commented, “Well, you have all the right equipment!” She smiled, and the man said, “thank you,” as we stepped out of their way.

A minute later, it occurred to me that instead of thanking us for letting them pass, he may have been thanking us for acknowledging their fancy paraphernalia. Whether it’s for conquering a difficult trail or being properly outfitted, we old folks appreciate all the kudos we can get.

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