Appalachian Trail October 25 and 31, 2018 — “It’s a wrap!” called the director. With that exclamation, the formal volunteer season ended with the sunset melting behind the horizon west of Shenandoah’s Black Rock summit. Fade to black. Hike to the trailhead.
That was the symbolic climax. The actual ending occurred a couple of days later on Morgans Mill Rd. when the last of the season’s Road Scholars finished their strenuous ride on the Roller coaster section of the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia.
First, let’s go behind the scenes at Black Rock. (Anna Porter’s FB post). A couple of weeks ago I saw a post on Facebook asking about locations to shoot a commercial in Shenandoah. It seems Nature Valley, the granola bar company, is making a serious gift to the National Park Foundation to fund and maintain hiking trails in several parks including Shenandoah.
As people on Facebook suggested their favorite spots in the park, I realized no one had ever been involved in making a commercial and had no idea how ill-suited some places might be.
Having executive produced two regional EMMY-winning commercials, I jumped right in using industry vocabulary. Soon the producers and I were talking.
Ultimately we agreed on Black Rock Summit, probably the most dramatic location in the entire park. Moreover three different trails intersect nearby allowing for a variety of b-roll locations and different looks.
My “co-star” and partner in crime was Anna Porter and her dog Traveller, an inveterate hiker who completed the park’s 500 miles of trails in the 1990s This was long before hiking the Shendoah 500 was popular.
As Anna noted in her Facebook post, she learned a lot about making videos – notably just how boring it is. Like the Army, you stand around and wait for the technicians to set up, not to mention the countless shots and occasional repetition needed to get them good enough to stitch the story together.
We were each interviewed and asked to pose for dramatic effect. Yes Mr. DeMille, we’re ready for our closeups! We joked about signing autographs on the red carpet. Bet she styles high-heeled hiking boots!
The golden hour produces the most dramatic light as Anna and Traveller admire the sunset.
There were shots from every angle possible.
I felt like a bronze statue wanna be.
The final chore, capturing the sunset.
Nice shot. Of note, the temperature was racing the sun to the bottom.
Flash forward a couple of days and the roller coaster ride left the station. This was another great Road Scholar group. Now, with the benefit of several years experience leading these hikes, I realize that most of them seriously underestimate the physical challenge of this hike. It is defined by rough, rocky terrain, three steep climbs, and some challenging down hill that’s punishing for some older knees.
Consequently we take lots of breaks to enjoy the tranquility and serenity of our surroundings. Some remind me of their age only to learn that I’m usually older than they are. I remind them that if one is lucky enough to avoid devastating maladies, and if you put in the effort to stay in shape, you can crush the average 40-year-old for a long time to come. You just have to make it a priority – that’s the hard part.
I ask every group what they think of this experience. They find it challenging, but gratifying at the same time. At the end, they realize how much they’ve overcome and what they’ve accomplished.
As goes the leaf litter, so goes the season. Can’t wait to do it again next spring. Meanwhile stand by for winter adventures.