Finding New Refuge During a Pandemic

By Skye Marthaler

It all happened rather suddenly. At the beginning of April my wife accepted a new job in Philadelphia. A month and half later we had sold one house, bought another, packed up all our stuff, departed Nashville, and had moved into a new place in Pennsylvania. It was a whirlwind of activity that left little time to get out and hike or do any of the other outdoor spring activities we normally did these past few years in Tennessee.

Of course, this year hasn’t been exactly what you would call “normal” by any stretch of the imagination. Our last real hike had been with family friends in the middle of March at Burch Reserve. My son’s spring break had just started and Nashville was just starting to get the spring feeling in the air. Shortly thereafter “safer at home” orders would be issued and any further spring hiking plans were put on hiatus.

It’s during this time I was reminded of something I had known for years but never really thought much about -- Nashville is not really a walkable city. While it does have some amazing green spaces and trails none of them are easy to walk or bike to, they all involve driving. So, we were limited to walking around our small subdivision and playing in the athletic field that connected to our backyard.

On top of that was the impending move. As you would expect getting the house prepared to sell and packing all our effects chewed up tons of time. Needless to say, by the time mid-May had arrived we were all a bit stir crazy and ready for a new adventure, even if that meant hauling all our stuff across the country.

The new location had potential. We would be living about 30 miles north west of Philadelphia. Just looking at the map had me salivating and jumping with joy. Parks and greenspace all within walking distance with the piece de resistance being Valley Forge National Historical Park, only a mile away from my house. We couldn’t wait to get there. In this case the reality turned out to be even better than the fantasy.

The biggest difference between our old home and our new is access. Now I can literally walk 10 meters off my back porch onto a trail that in turn is connected to a trail system numbering in the hundreds of miles. Frankly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. While it should be incredibly obvious, to experience that bit of freedom is a rush, plus compound that with the exhilaration of getting to go explore at your own leisure.

Our first big adventure was a hike up Mount Misery, one of two highpoints in Valley Forge National Historical Park. We left from our front door and set out, no driving necessary. We hiked up the Mount Misery trail and about halfway along it we turned around and headed back with the kid stopping periodically to build rock cairns, an activity he ranks up near the top of favorite things to do while hiking along with finding pieces of quartz. We saw other hikers and waved, respecting proper social distancing protocol, and walked back home. Overall, this outing was a peaceful and uneventful day out on the trail. It was amazing.

While not the deep woods, wilderness, or mountains I love best, having this access to a trail system is a gift I have come to appreciate a whole lot more after months of not being able to participate in one of my favorite things.  There was no great scenic view, just a sense of satisfaction of being out for a hike again and a small feeling of excitement that more adventures were just around the corner.