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The Unexpected: Bearfence Hike at Shenandoah National Park (Skyline Drive)

December 19, 2020

Another Way for week of December 18, 2020

The Unexpected

We are fortunate to live within a 50-minute drive of Shenandoah National Park. My oldest grandson, Sam, (seven) has fallen in love with National Parks in general. He has a book about them and knows many names and locations. So hiking in our “local” park when they visited for Thanksgiving was a high priority. My oldest daughter and family with three sons (including a two-year-old), drove to the park too, but didn’t join the hike.

Sam wondered if we would see a bear like my husband and I did when we visited Denali National Park in Alaska last year. I told him we’ve been to Shenandoah park many many times and had never seen even one.

Both families and Grandpa at first overlook. And a surprise sighting!

When we pulled over at the very first overlook, my son-in-law got excited as he thought he was seeing a bear. His wife looked too and both said where to look. But of course even that much commotion scared the bear away (a good thing) and it went lumbering off before the children or my husband and I could spot it. Totally unexpected. Having Jon and Tanya see a bear was almost as good as seeing it ourselves. A 20-year park volunteer said he could count on one hand the number of times he’d seen a bear up there.

But the real highlight was a hike I never expected to make again, at least not with my husband. If you follow my column, you might recall he had knee replacement surgery around nine months ago. As we looked at hiking options, we finally decided on Bearfence trail which has a long rock scramble near the top. Elevation: 3620 feet. The total hike was a little over one mile. My husband way exceeded my expectations!

I wondered how the four-and-a-half-year-old grandson would do. Would he get tired or complain—or worse, hurt himself? We walked and climbed with great care—helping each other find the best route up the various rocky surfaces. We used upper arm strength to help pull ourselves up, and wedged our shoes and feet into firm places. The trail was not too busy but there were enough other hikers that we carefully stood aside, masks in place, to wait for others to go around us if they were younger and faster. I was amazed and proud to see Stuart navigating the rocky inclines. He took a climbing stick along that he would occasionally hand over to me so he could pull himself through.

At one point another couple who looked about our ages was also pausing. I joked that I was turning 69 next week and needed to rest. The other woman lit up and said “Oh, when is your birthday?” I told her when and she said hers is the following day and we laughed at this unanticipated coincidence.

And the kiddos? They rocked it, no pun intended. At one point the youngest was a little scared (can’t blame him) but his mother talked him through the fear. He was in obvious enjoyment most of the time. A lot of playgrounds have fake rock climbs, but this was the real thing. Not that they’d been able to go on playgrounds this year with the coronavirus restrictions.

We have entered the season of Advent where long ago, a young girl was told she was expecting a special baby who would come to rescue us all from ourselves. Mary met the news with great joy, but also questions. I have no idea yet what to expect for this Christmas season—probably more “aging in place” so to speak—not going out much, not seeing all the loved ones we’d love to see. It hurts and my heart pines for the pandemic to scale down safely and fade into history.

Our parents and grandparents have been through many difficult times, as my 96-year-old mother reminds me. She remembers how terrible the World War II years were, and how they longed for the “normal.” Let us treasure deep joy in our hearts like Mary as we enter this season of the unexpected.


Have you had unexpected surprises in this year? Could be good or not so good or downright difficult.

How do you stay open to the goodness of God and of other people?

One more week to enter my drawing for one of two books from Herald Press, Love in a Time of Hate or Simple Pleasures. Send name and email or address to me. Indicate which you’d rather receive. (I’ll draw two names.) Deadline: December 24. Send to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

Call us two happy hikers!

See below for a trail map and some more photos from our excursion!

  1. You do know that there is a way around the rock scramble to get to the overlook?

    • No, I’ll admit to being a little confused/turned around. We have climbed it before–at least part of it. I think we all ended up enjoying the rock scramble part. But thanks for your invaluable tips!!

  2. That looks like such a fun day out! Reveling in beautiful nature, with family, and being safe. Love it all!

    • Trisha, it wasn’t a sunshiny day but it was not too cold and not too warm–so perfect, for that kind of hiking. No sweating and no freezing. 🙂

  3. Your family’s hike reminds me of a version of Pilgrim’s Progress: the young starting out with fresh energy but little experience; the older, finding footing on the rocks with a miraculous knee. How wonderful that you are recording all this here while the details are fresh in your mind – and, you don’t have to scramble for photos!

    My gratitude journal records SO many good things in spite of this being a difficult year. One thing stands out: Our tenants want to buy our rental, so we don’t have to look for a buyer. They are choosing to go through a government program that seems very bureaucratic, but we don’t think they would qualify for a mortgage the traditional way. I’m thinking good thoughts about the process, making progress, slow and steady. We are both far up the ladder of the 70s and want/need to simplify, simplify.

    Another small miracle today! I’ve never made cathedral window candy before, but they are all the rage in our part of town apparently. I visited several stores before I could find colored marshmallows, but they are not the right size; however, I can snip them into fours. You have probably heard of this treat, but in case not, here is the recipe with just 5 ingredients:

    Merry Christmas to the entire Davis clan next week. I’ll see you again in the New Year! 🙂

    • Fun small miracle there–glad you had fun making the cathedral windows. I’ve never tried it, certainly seen them already. So, others were on the hunt too for the small colored marshmallows! Who knew.. And on the other end of things, comparing our hike to a version of Pilgrim’s Progress was interesting. Haven’t read that book in a long time but I do remember our parents making a point of reading it to us, sort of as evening devotions, I think.

      Glad to hear things are moving along for your tenants to be buyers. And thanks for your merry wishes–we won’t be gathering then but we appreciate the Merry Christmas — to you and yours as well

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