My favorite close-to-home adventure is hiking along the James River. The various trail systems can be configured for a loop hike anywhere between 6-10 miles long, depending on where you start and how many spur trails you feel like exploring. This hike has a little bit of everything–urban sights and sounds commingle with all the trappings of a day in the woods. Stream crossings, rumbling freight trains, vernal pools, the Richmond skyline, and even a small waterfall all feature in a sensory kaleidoscope. The murmurings of the river are never out of earshot for more than a few minutes, and you can picnic on enormous, smooth river rocks halfway through your journey if you choose. Below is the view seen while walking across the pedestrian footbridge to Belle Isle at Tredegar Street:
This morning I wore a small, heavily weighted backpack to help me train for some upcoming backpacking trips. It was the kind of spring day on which just when you think you might be feeling a bit warm the breeze picks up to cool you down, and at the exact moment you begin to think it may be getting chilly the breeze settles down, while the sun kicks it up a notch so you warm up just the right amount–almost as if Mama Nature was trying to provide personalized pampering after the dues we paid this winter.
I started early enough that I had the trail mostly to myself for the first half of the hike. For long stretches on the south bank, it’s not hard to pretend you are in a remote, wilderness location even though you are within a half mile of downtown Richmond:
Today I even found a small stand of bloodroot, a delicate spring wildflower rarely seen in urban locations:
By the second half of my hike I was starting to see shiny, happy springtime faces calling out a cheerful, “Good morning!” at every bend in the trail. The mountain bikers were showing up, which never bothers me on this hike because they all have big smiles and perfectly lovely trail etiquette. Solitude is not what I come here for on a beautiful day like this; rather, it’s the rollicking good energy of the place. The smiling people, the plumply-budded trees, the noisy birds, the intrepid kayakers, the dogs straining urgently on their leashes–everything is bursting with the blissful exuberance of spring, and it is impossible to leave with a heart that is anything short of joyful.