Life Outdoors: Coming Home

Life Outdoors: Coming home

By Ariana Rector

When I returned from my study abroad in Ireland, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: see my family, hug my dog, eat a huge plate of sushi and then get back into the mountains. After having the first three checked off within my first day back, fortune smiled on me and the weather was sublime the entire week. As I had been living in the misty UK for five months, I felt like I was seeing the sun for the first time. So on my third day back in the states I loaded my parents and the dog into our Subaru and set out into the beautiful Appalachian Mountains, headed for a hike called the Devil’s Racetrack.

I had done this trek for the first time almost exactly a year before in Mr. Trevathan’s J-term course Words and the Land. It was much colder then; many of the waterfalls along the trail were frozen to the rock that rose high above our heads, framing us in ice. That was actually one of our warmer hikes of the class; I was only wearing two sweaters. Without snow on the ground, we could see more of the underlying landscape, and there was plenty to see.

While a pretty brief hike, the Devil’s Racetrack packs quite a bit into its limited mileage. The trail boasts varied terrain, multiple-level waterfalls, dynamite-levied rock faces, a bridge crossing, an optional boulder climb and, most notably, the “racetrack” itself.

No one quite knows why it’s called the Devil’s Racetrack. While the peak allows a striking, panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, it neither looks very devilish nor particularly capable of hosting any races. Regardless of its mysterious namesake, the peak is breathtaking and we scrambled eagerly over the great rocks and reveled in the sight of the underlying landscape.

I thought of that first hike as I retraced my steps back up the mountain with my family. The land remained unchanged, and as I walked deeper into the woods with the people I most love I felt myself regaining my sense of place within those solemn mountains. We raced and joked and tried not to trip over the dog as she romped underfoot. I reminisced with my parents about my first trip to the Devil’s Racetrack, Ireland and the rest of my travels. While so much had changed in my life and I had experienced so much, the land had stayed the same and welcomed me back with open arms.

I have always felt the most at peace in the forest, and this was the first time since I’d been back that I really felt I was in the right place. I had been gone for a long time, but my love for this place runs deep and as I walked in that wood I felt like I had finally come home.

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