I had really been dreading July 17th this year, the 5th anniversary of Tim’s and the 10th anniversary of my sister’s deaths. The day wasn’t great but I survived it by focusing on the amazing memories and reflecting on my life at this point. I had also been greatly anticipating an RV trip to Ricketts Glen State Park in PA with Mel, one of my sisters from RVing Women. I didn’t know much about the park except that it had a lot of waterfalls and that was exciting enough for me!
So Monday morning I had a quick visit with Mom and then drove the four and a half hours to the park. Only the first two hours were on major roads and highways, the rest of the trip was on two lane backroads that went through dozens of small towns and lots of farmland. It was a wonderful ride. The last six miles were quite intimidating though because it was a steep uphill and winding climb. At the start of the hill that led to the park I knew I was in trouble as both the XM radio cut off and I lost cell phone service. Uh oh… That was a problem because only a couple of people knew I was heading out of town and I quickly learned that there was no Wi-Fi anywhere within the park, not even in the park office! There were phones in the park that allowed people to dial 911 or make a collect call. That made me laugh out loud because I hadn’t seen a public phone in years.
The main objective of our trip was not only to camp in the park, but to also see as many of the 22 waterfalls within the park as possible. We didn’t put too much pressure on ourselves about how much of the 7.2 difficult-rated miles we would hike, we decided to play it by ear depending on how we felt. We optimistically prepared a nutritious lunch that included hard boiled eggs, tuna salad sandwiches and trail mix into an awesome backpack cooler I got from Target. Turns out we would really need that lunch!
We got to the start of the trail at 9:45 am on Tuesday and took a selfie to start our journey. We had to decide it we wanted to start the trail going downhill or uphill (there was really no in between). We chose to go downhill first primarily because the first waterfall was less than a mile from the start of the trail. To do the entire trail we’d have to get to a place call watersmeet where the two trails met and then go uphill to see the other half of the waterfalls.
I’d say within the first half mile the beauty of the trail and just the sound of the falls before we even saw the first one made us decide that barring an injury our goal was to finish the entire 7.2 mile falls system. When we saw the first waterfall we were blown away, and if that would have been the only one it was so gorgeous that it still would have been worth the trip.
But we had no idea what was to come. The path on the trail was almost indescribable – there were tree roots, beautiful (and slick) rocks of all sizes and thickness, and some actual boulder types you had to struggle to get past. It didn’t rain at all but the ground was wet in many sections because mini streams formed from the falls in many places and ran down onto the trail. Mel and I cautioned and encouraged each other all the way depending on who was in front by saying “that rock is slippery” or “let’s go around that mud” or “watch out for that tree branch” and lots of “you’ve got this!” Almost every step was breathtakingly gorgeous, BUT we really had to be careful to pay attention to our safety too because you could slide off the side of the trail and fall right into the falls or a ravine if you weren’t totally focused.
Throughout the trail we’d at times be high above the falls and looking down, or under the falls or they’d be surrounding us. Every step led to a surprise of some sort. In the first two hours we’d probably already taken two hundred photos but none of them captured the experience well enough. The sound of the water brought me peace and comforted me. At times the water roared past us, demonstrating the sheer power of water which represented strength for me. At other times the water was soothing and just flowed along, sometimes for half a mile and we loved that just as much. That calm water kept me calm. Each waterfall had a name of course and each one was very different than the one before. Each waterfall told a little story for me that I could apply to my life.
Each of the rocks and the paths held a story for me too. The uneven rocks that you had to be careful walking on to avoid twisting your ankles for me represented the twists and turns we face in life. The shiny rocks were smooth and looked enticing, but could still represent danger if you slipped on them. The blocks of granite made me feel like I was on a chess board jumping from one square to another. You had to really concentrate on which one to step on next just like the decisions we have to make throughout our lives. There are no fences, handrails or guardrails anywhere on the trail and you could be one step away from falling off the cliff, so you had to have lots of stamina to survive – just like in life.
We made it to the halfway point of watersmeet in two hours and sat on rocks to eat our lunch! We were proud of having made it that far and were so exhilarated by everything we’d already seen and heard. We tried to avoid thinking about the hike up on the other side, though we believed it would be easier than going downhill on slippery rocks. So after our lunch we crossed a wooden bridge over the water to go up the other side. Some of the trees had huge roots like a large family and those roots broke through the ground to show their decades of growth. Other trees with fewer roots and attachments had at some point blown into the water or right onto the trail. Those represented resiliency for me, that we can still carry on even when huge issues invade our lives.
The highest falls in the park was on the uphill trail and was 94 feet high. I don’t have enough words to describe it, primarily because you’re standing right next to it, not taking pics from afar.
The uphill jaunt was a challenge for the knees for sure. At times we to had to take a huge step up to get to the next rock or slate. And just when a thought crossed your mind about how tired you were, you’d hear the rush of water and climbed faster so you could see the next big thing. There were times you had to stop and look up or down to figure out where the trail went next. It reminded me of the pause we take when making important decisions.
At times Mel and I didn’t see another person on the trail with us, but at the big falls sometimes there were 4 or 5 other people taking pics, but not the throngs of people I had expected. We saw families with small kids, dads carrying their kids and lots of older people with walking sticks too! Complete strangers shared strategies about which way to go along the trail, encouraged each other along the way by saying “it’s worth every step, keep going”! People seemed to be kind and genuine and all of us enjoyed God’s nature together – with no account for age, race, sexual orientation or any other thing that tends to divide us. We saw smiles everywhere, mouths wide open in awe, and people having fun even while completing a challenging task.
We knew we not only had to go uphill on the way back, but we also would have to go another 1.4 miles on a flat trail to get back to where we’d parked…. But it was worth every single step and even though there were no more waterfalls there was definitely beauty in small streams and huge boulders that made a crevasse.
I can’t think of a recent time when I was more exhausted when something ended, BUT I was also as energized and full of life as I could be! We took a selfie at the end too just as we had at the beginning. Though we looked liked we had been on a challenging hike for sure, you could also see our pride in what we accomplished on that trail and how our bond that started last year at a RVW rally grew stronger with each step we took together. We got back to our campsites and painted rocks Mel had brought for us and built reflections with LEGO bricks. We also had a wonderful grilled dinner and enjoyed brownies and cookies as we sat by a campfire. It was my first time camping without any hookups (electric, water or sewer) but we’d prepared very well for that. The weather was cool thankfully so we didn’t even miss not having a/c. The solar panels on both our RVs gave us light and the bare minimum we needed for our two night stay. It felt great to be totally unplugged and living right along with nature without damaging it too much. We did leave a day earlier than originally planned since we’d done the entire falls and we both needed to get back home to get some other things done. But we left with more confidence that we can still accomplish anything we want in our early 60’s, and with memories of waterfalls, smiles and enough photos to last a lifetime. I’m thrilled that after a tough anniversary weekend, I was able to experience God’s true force of nature on display in a park that most people have never heard of. Had it not been for Mel I would never have heard of it either. For me, that short trip proved that we should never put off until tomorrow what we can do today! Get out there and find your hidden waterfalls, you’ll be so glad you did!