We’ve since broken up. Looking back, I guess I can see why.
Getting there was the hard part. I had picked it out, the hike in Shenandoah, Little Devil’s Stairs. The loop, taking the fire road, brought it up to five and a half miles. On flat ground in Florida, even in the thick heat of midday, the air like syrup, five and a half miles is nothing to me. But this was mountain hiking, the hiking I had imagined as a child.
The directions were solid. If you started from Sperryville. Which we did not, coming instead from DC.
“How far are we from Sperryville?” I asked.
“Ten,” his spare reply. I assumed miles.
“We’re looking for 522,” he reiterated. This was a staple of our dialogues; stating facts that the other one knows.
“No, no, because we have to read the directions backward– that would be if we were coming from Sperryville. But we’re not…”
“There’s 522; I’m turning.”
“But we need…” my explanation died on my lips.
A mile we went down 522, and I started up my explanations again, trying to fight logic with logic. Sadly, we come from two seperate breeds: both of us logical, reasonable, but he can skim, wants the results, just the upshot, whereas I must back up every conclusion I make with facts, data, inferences, all labeled each as they should be, resting the weight of my argument on the sturdiest of these supports, and noting where it is weak. This approach does not lend itself well to relaying directions.
We were lost. We trundled over a narrow bridge, traversable by one vehicle at a time, into the deep thick of the Virginia back woods, past farm after farm, odd old cottages and newer homes with blue vinyl siding nestled behind stone walls.
“We’re going the wrong way.”
“I turned on 522.”
“But we should have been looking for a different road.”
“It said 522.”
“It said 522 from Sperryville.”
“And we took it.”
“We didn’t start from Sperryville. We needed to look for this road,” I pointed to the map.
“I should have brought the GPS.”
I sunk into the passenger’s seat and buttoned my lips. I cracked a book. It was worth the headache.
It was well past noon when we arrived at Shenandoah, through a back lot with an “iron ranger” toppled over, bent at the base with a sign stating the park entrance fee. With nowhere to put the money safely, we ignored it.
“I’ll mail in the fee as a donation.”
I don’t know if he ever did.
And we ascended the stair. The first quarter mile breezed by, the stones made dizzy by our passing. Then my flatlanded legs wibbled while we climbed. They shivered. They shook. I had to stop every five minutes. The words “devil’s stair” couldn’t match the trail’s diabolical incline. And he? It was effortless, even years after he’d stopped rock climbing. I trailed behind like a lost child, resenting not his ease of motion, but his impatience with my stops.
Or the perceived impatience. It seemed that way to me— after all, he couldn’t be enjoying time with this rock, this lagging old dog of a girlfriend, could he? I didn’t ask, but assumed. And we all know the old military saying.
So when reached the top of our trail, and I saw the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Blue Ridge Mountains, the trough of valley lying between and all of it hazed slate and in the late noon light, I wanted to pause. I wanted to inhale it and stay.
“We should get back.”
I didn’t answer, but came away slowly, pulling the sky after me. The fire road descended heavily, and gravity caught my legs, the dirt, the stones.
“You should control your steps, then there won’t be so much shock to your legs. You’ll be less likely to get hurt.”
It didn’t matter that he was right in this. So I slacked my steps, resisted the pull, and followed after, silent.
We passed a graveyard before we turned onto the trail back. It suited my mood.
“Here, let’s go in.”
“We don’t have time.”
What didn’t we have time for? We had the whole day. I wandered in, saw headstones worn smooth. He huffed. I hurried through, and we finished the loop.
In silence, I climbed into the passenger’s side of the rental car, clicked my seat belt to shush the alarm, and leaned back to watch the hills roll by. He offered no words to the void.
And we drove back from the wilds to the bustle of DC, having brought no peace with us.