Last weekend was an entirely new US experience for me away from the usual urban setting like Washington, DC. I went mountain trekking and caving in Virginia.
That sunny Saturday morning, I woke up early to catch the train to Alexandria, Virginia, where a friend was waiting with his car. We drove to the Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park, where I saw fascinating rolling hills, vineyards and forests with red, orange, yellow, brown and maroon leaves signaling the coming of fall. The whole scenery reminded me of my hometown in Bukidnon.
I thought that driving to the foot of Old Rag would be easy since my friend had his GPS navigator. But we soon found out that technology could not be depended upon all the time.
We got lost on our way there because we passed on the other side of the park. Hoping to get back to the right route, I tried to consult Google maps on my mobile phone. But there was no mobile signal in the area.
Blundering our way to Old Rag, we were surprised to reach Luray Cavern instead. Inside the cave, we were amazed by the magnificent beauty of the stalagmite and stalactite formations. Most remarkably, there was a piano there anchored on the stalactites.
Up to this date, there is only one elderly person who can play it. He is already 80 years old, according to one of the guides, and he has to impart his unique skill to someone younger or no one will be playing the one-of-a-kind piano.
Exhausted yet exhilarated after seeing the beauty of Luray Cavern, we decided to go home. We still had no luck finding the way to Old Rag on the GPS. Then, an idea struck us: why not use the centuries-tested paper map, read the sign boards and ask the locals along the way?
Excited by the sudden inspiration, we followed that old method and reached the foot of Old Rag by mid-afternoon. Despite the late hour, we decided to go trekking and complete the whole circular trail within the day.
On the trail, we hiked at a slower pace while enjoying the colorful and beguiling scenery. The trail became more challenging and dangerous (if you are not cautious) as we neared the summit. We had to climb, crawl and hold on to the rocks and boulders in order to reach the top.
I am really scared of heights. But when I reached the summit of Old Rag, I was shouting: “I am on top of the world and I conquered my fear of heights again!”
Going up was hard, but the difficulty was rewarded with the feeling of accomplishment as well as the marvelous views stretching before me. Even on our way down, I was still enjoying the beauty of unspoiled nature.
The experience brought back childhood memories of hiking, caving and swimming in the rivers of Bukidnon and carefree moments spent with friends. But I also realized that times had changed. Now I could no longer enjoy the kind of freedom we used to experience while exploring these gifts of nature.
The old and quiet town where I grew up has changed into a bustling concrete jungle, a messy city. Structures have sprouted everywhere. People spit and throw garbage anywhere. Most of the public lands and mountain where we used to trek during summer and holiday breaks have been turned into wood and fruit plantations managed by big corporations to feed the global demand for products like pineapple and bananas. Security is tight around those areas; we cannot go there freely like we used to do before. Now seeing nature at its best in my hometown has become a dream.
But I dream that one day we will be able to reclaim such beauty again so that my children and their children will be able to enjoy the gifts of Mother Nature.
I learned a lot from my trek to Old Rag. I appreciate how Americans value her and take the responsibility for protecting her so that the present and future generations can enjoy her freely. I also appreciate the fact that Americans have preserved many quaint and beautiful rural communities, which I like to visit.
My trip to Old Rag also taught me that it is good to have a plan, but it doesn’t hurt to be flexible in getting through the process and enjoy the surprises that come with it. In real-life situations, it is good to have goals, but getting there is often the most exciting part of the learning experience. One should never lose hope, focus and creativity to reach one’s destination. There is always much for us to learn from the whole experience of making the journey.
Patrick Henry Asiñero, 29, is an Atlas Corps Fellow at the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the United States. He used to work for World Vision Philippines’ ABK2 Child Labor Education Project in Davao and Compostela Valley.
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