A Solo Trip to Virginia Horse and Hunt Country

Most of the time I don’t mind being single. I’ve never been one of those girls who feel like they need a boyfriend and meeting someone has never been my top priority. If it happens it happens and if not, that’s OK too. But one of the things I miss most about being married, or just being in a relationship, is having someone reliable to do things with. My ex-husband and I didn’t really have the same interests — he liked going to guitar shops and eating Chipotle, I liked visiting small towns and going on hikes — but with a little Chipotle bribery, he’d happily (well, more like grudgingly) join me on my rural explorations.

Being single in your late twenties is a very different experience from being single in your early twenties. In your early twenties you have tons of friends who are single, having fun and dating around, so there’s always someone you can count on to do things with. Plus, you’re so young and you have so much time. And there’s always one at least one other person in your group of friends who is perpetually single. But the singles pool starts thinning significantly when you’re nearing 30. At this particular moment, every friend I have is married or in a serious relationship and the days when I could convince my husband to join me on a small town day trip are long gone. So that’s my dilemma with being newly single (actually it’s been nearly a year. Where did the time go???); I like to do things but my activity partner is out of the picture and my friends have husbands/fiances/significant others of their own who come first.

So I’ve decided that if I really want to do something, I’m going to have to do it with or without company. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of practice with this. When I was working as a travel writer in Panama and Colombia, I traveled around a lot by myself and I usually didn’t mind the solitude. In fact, it was kind of nice to see the sights I wanted to see, take the roads I wanted to take, eat at the restaurants I wanted to eat at and every once in a while, have surprisingly deep/interesting/funny conversations with strangers I met along the way. But after being in a relationship for three years you get used to having someone around all the time and learning to be on your own again takes some adjustment.

Yesterday I really wanted to go hiking. It was a little cloudy but the temperature was perfect. Fall is my favorite season and the leaves are just starting to change so that everything still looks green from faraway, but look closely and almost every tree is sprinkled with reds, yellows, oranges and browns. Within a month it’ll be more winter than summer and most of the leaves will be gone, so I wanted to take advantage of the few gloriously nice days we have left this year before winter. So there I was, bored at home, wanting to go hiking but not really wanting to go by myself. I had done all my Saturday errands, got a good start on my school work and even made a delicious lunch — and I was feeling restless and anxious; I wanted to go somewhere, but I was hesitant to go on my own. So I decided that I could either sit at home feeling useless and restless, or I go for a nice walk, breathe some fresh air and get some exercise. I chose the latter. For company I dragged along the only guy always willing to accompany me on my country adventures: Alfie. He’s not much of a talker, but he’s a very enthusiastic hiker:

My willing companion.

Before heading to my hiking destination I stopped at the Marshall 7-Eleven. This time I remembered water. The nice thing about the Marshall 7-Eleven is that everyone seems to know each other. I was standing in line and the cashier is ringing up this guy buying a Danish pastry and a coffee and says “Is this all for you today Bo? Alright then! See you tomorrow or whenever I see you Bo!” If the cashier at one of my local 7-Eleven stores referred to me by name, I would spend the next 30 minutes creeped out and trying to remember how in the world a 7-Eleven employee knew my name. But this was not the case in Marshall, where it seems there is only one 7-Eleven and everyone in town hangs out there. The unlovely town of Marshall is only 25 miles from Centreville, but I kind of felt like I was in rural Michigan in the 1970’s or something. Everyone seemed to be wearing these oversized, retro glasses with absolutely no consideration for aesthetic appeal, the men had that tan, leathery skin of men who spend way too much time outside and way too little time applying sunscreen (and who perhaps enjoy one too many beers after a long day’s work as evidenced by the plethora of Santa Clause bellies) and they all seemed to be part of some secret society that requires them to wear camouflage baseball caps. There weren’t too many women in the 7-Eleven but the ones I saw wore baggy t-shirts and faded jeans over larger-than-average bodies. 7-Eleven seemed to be the town gathering place and it was popping! Outside the store there were two small, round tables, and people were actually sitting there, eating their 7-Eleven lunches of mozzarella sticks and chicken tenders, saying hi to everyone coming into the store…by name! You get used to anonymity in the suburbs. Wherever you go, you can safely assume you won’t know most of the people you run into, which can be both sad and comforting in a strange way.  As you drive into the unpretentious town of Marshall you pass a lonely looking strip mall featuring a Dollar Store, Food Lion and a Subway, a few gas stations and a crowded, uninspired downtown made up of a few nice churches, several banks, some antique shops (the dusty, forgotten type, not the airy, uppity type) a couple markets and food spots and some small, old ramblers on larger plots of land at the end of main street. It’s not a particularly attractive place, but there is something appealing about a town with a main street where 7-Eleven patrons all seem to know each other by name.

After leaving Marshall, I got back on 66 and decided to head back to Sky Meadows State Park. I’d love to go somewhere more “deep in the woodsy,” but as a single woman, I have to go where the people are because I’ve watched one too many ID mystery specials. So I pulled into the Lost Mountain section of Sky Meadows State Park:

I started here, not realizing the trails on this side of the park are equestrian trails. Until my beloved bird-brained dog nearly rolled around in a pile of horse manure, that is.  If I hadn’t stopped him, he would have rolled around in it, delirious with joy, on top of the world, until he was happily and literally coated in a layer of crap.

Despite the manure, there were some lovely views of the countryside on the Lost Mountain trails. East Coast views aren’t as dramatic or bold as those out west, but I really enjoy the subtle, understated beauty of rural Virginia.

After I accepted the fact that walking on a trail heavily dotted with horse manure was a temptation to great for Alfie to resist, I went across the road to the people side of the park. My original plan was to take the South Ridge Trail to the Appalachian Trail and then loop back to the visitor’s center, but I got a little lost and didn’t make it to the Appalachian Trail. I did get a nice view of the mountains and countryside from the South Ridge Overlook though.

A lonely bench at an overlook on South Ridge.

A lonely bench at the South Ridge Overlook.

One of the perks of hiking on rocky ground is that you constantly have to look down to make sure you don’t trip. And I found these two cool leaves that couldn’t decide what color they wanted to be before they died.

On my hike I found this leaf that couldn't decide what color it wanted to be before it died.

Green? Yellow? Orange? Brown?

Another colorful leaf

Another colorful leaf.

I originally wanted to do a one-hour hike, but I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up hiking about 2.5 hours. Before heading back home, I pulled into Turner Pond for a picture:

Turner Pond

Turner Pond

Many years ago, I passed through the town of Paris, VA on the way somewhere else. Yesterday, I saw signs for Paris, so I decided I might as well pass through again, for old time’s sake. On my way to the town, I passed an Alpaca farm, a dairy farm and plenty of nice landscapes, like this one:

Lovely Bucolic Farm scene on the way to Paris, Virginia.

Lovely Bucolic farm scene on the way to Paris, Virginia.

I don’t know if Paris can really be called a town. It’s really just a few well-preserved buildings in the middle of nowhere and not nearly as exciting as it’s French namesake, Only 51 people live there according to Wikipedia, and I didn’t see any of them. But I did see this pretty little church:

Nice little church in Paris, VA.

Nice little church in Paris, VA.

On the way home I decided to spice things up a little. Instead of going back home the fast way on 66, I took route 50 for a slower, more scenic trip. When I was approaching the Village of Upperville, I noticed the road was full of ambulances, firetrucks and police lights. I thought there had been some kind of terrible accident but no…there was a community pig roast going on at the fire station. After Upperville, I passed the wealthy town of Middleburg and the tiny hamlet of Aldie before all of a sudden, the hills, farms and historic towns gave way to flatness, new developments and strip malls and my day trip through Virginia’s horse/hunt country was over. But it was nice while it lasted.

As a side note, it’s not been seven days since my brain-eating amoeba scare and I’ve yet to develop any troubling symptoms so it looks like my brother and I are in the clear!

Categories: D.C Side Trips, D.C Sites and Places, DC Area Hiking, DC Area Outdoors Activities, Rural trips, Virginia

Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. I grew up hiking with a dog as my only companion and loved it. Glad he avoided the horse pile though. (grin) Dead fish are worse! –Curt

  2. I can imagine dead fish wouldn’t be very pleasant! I’m getting used to the solo hiking…I love going and if no one wants to go, at least I can drag my dog along!

  3. Enjoyed this post and the pictures – what a Beautiful dog!


  1. Hoopla | My (Former) Nomad Life

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