“Hey, wanna drive the Blue Ridge Parkway?” I asked my fiancé, Todd, in late 2021. “It’s supposed to be pretty, and there’s a lot of scenic hikes you can do along the way.”
Not one for road trips – or hikes – he replied, “Mmmm, no thanks.”
“There’s a luxury resort with a wonderful spa and great restaurants at the end,” I insisted. “Okay I guess.”
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A few months later, we were buzzing past milepost 0 in Afton, Virginia. The plan: Walk most of the nearly 200-mile Virginia section of the parkway en route to Primlanda historic hill station in Meadows of Dan that had recently been acquired by Auberge, the hospitality giant with 26 luxury hotels worldwide.
I was thrilled – it’s hard to connect outside in New York – but Todd’s lukewarm reaction hadn’t yet materialized into anything close to enthusiasm.
Just about 20 minutes into our boardwalk ride, I pulled into the lot for the Humpback Rock trailhead. It was a quick half mile hike to stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley.
Trail started fairly easy – clearly marked, nothing too strenuous. But as we approached the last 700 feet before the lookout, that changed. It zigzagged straight ahead, a real climb. I cut out most of Todd’s swearing—but the views, I thought – and went on. When we reached the end it was as scenic as promised. That’s why I would come.
Todd made me happy, even snapping a few pics on Humpback Rock, but there were no other hiking stops. We stopped at scenic spots—the Peaks of Otter Visitor Center with its pristine mountain lake, the Mabry Mill straight out of a vintage movie—but our boots stayed on the pavement. I quietly plotted how I would convince him to join me on future excursions.
Once we got to Primland, Todd’s behavior improved, predictably and hilariously. The main lodge was an impressive sight: vaulted ceilings and a wall of windows overlooking the imposing expanse of the property. It’s what he would have come for.
The next day I was ready to go out into the woods. (Primland has 18 miles of trails on its 12,000 acres.)
I shyly asked, “Do you want to take a little hike?” The response: “I’ll pass, but you can go.”
All alone? Can I go there alone? What if he got lost? Hurt? Mutilated by a black bear? No no no. I had inherited a deeply co-dependent nature from my mother. Solo hikes weren’t on the agenda…or were they? It was a nice day. It would be a shame to waste inside.
So, I laced up my Timberlands and walked to the trailhead. As I considered my options on the map, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. It was nervousness, but also excitement.
I chose the Pinnacle Loop and left. My heart was beating faster and my breathing was getting heavier, and not from exertion.
Soon, however, the cool air calmed me down and allowed my mind to focus on my surroundings. I thought about how the still bare trees created what looked like a spider’s web in the sky above me. I marveled at how the late afternoon sunlight made the peaks of the gorge look almost hazy. As I neared the end of the trail – in truth, about 45 minutes – I was totally invigorated.
I hiked the Lost Chestnut trail on my own the next day, and it was just as glorious. Now I realize that I can be my own guide and that solo adventures can be just as great as shared experiences.
Since then, I have started several times alone. Although I still enjoy traveling with my friends and family, I now know that Brian is also great company.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of women’s health.
Brian Underwood is the Beauty Director of Women’s Health. He is an award-winning journalist with over 15 years of experience covering beauty and lifestyle for several national media outlets and previously served as Director of Beauty and Wellness at Oprah Daily. Her work has appeared in Woman’s Day, Life & Style Weekly, Good Housekeeping and many more. He is also a member of the Skin Cancer Foundation Gala Committee and lives in New York with his daughter.