April 8, 2019
We headed for Virginia Beach on Tuesday, just as the rain started. As we tried to make good on our promise to boldly leave town whenever we can, VA Beach seemed like an easy target. It’s not the soaring Rockies, or the legendary Texas Hill Country, or the ancient White Mountains. But it’s only three hours from home, with a pretty beach that compensates for the overall tackiness and, since it’s still off-season, isn’t obscenely expensive right now.
Virginia Beach has a family hold on me. I had an aunt and uncle, Eileen and Joe, who moved there from New York many years ago. They had two lovely girls, Grace and Kathy. My mother stayed close to Eileen, her sister. We’d visit them over the years after we moved to Virginia. We rented a house at Sandbridge, just south of VA Beach, they’d come out to see us.
They’re all gone now. Grace and Kathy started their own families and moved away. Eileen and Joe and my folks are gone, too. The years race by and disappear, memories remain. On our second and last night, looking for a restaurant, we turned a corner. Across the street was Our Lady Star of the Sea church, where Grace and Kathy were married and Eileen laid to rest. It had been renovated top to bottom, completely transformed. I stopped and stared.
Before we left, I had to keep a doctor’s appointment. Then we hit the late-morning rain. It was coming down sideways as we passed Williamsburg. By the tunnel from Hampton it was monsoon-intense. We crawled into the Fairfield Marriott at 4:00 PM, crouched against a damp, raw wind.
The hotel, while a Marriott, reminded me of some places I’d rather not stay. In my dark mood, the Bates Motel came to mind. The desk clerk seemed to have just awakened. We asked about a restaurant—we don’t have one, he said, handing us a fistful of flyers for pizza joints. No one else was around. The room was OK, though.
From the hotel room window the ocean looked angry enough to swamp the hotel, the perfect spot for one of those TV weather reporter “on-the-scene” updates on hurricanes, when the audience wonders when the fellow—or gal—is going to be swept to a tragic end.
It seemed nice when we woke up, the forecast was for sun and seventies. These days that’s not good enough for me. For our post-breakfast walk on the beach I pulled on my thick wool sweater, winter parka, and grabbed my wool cap, Sandy was fine with a light jacket. We strolled on the brown sand near the water until we got to the fishing pier adjacent to 15th Street. We paid a few bucks to walk out in a stiff breeze and sit on a bench and watch some young fellows fish. Below, a half-dozen surfers sat on their boards, bobbing in the calm ocean.
Above us, Navy fighter jets curled in from the sea toward the Oceana Naval Air Station, filling the sky with sonic thunder. The chorus line of beach hotels, rooms facing seaward, stood in formation out to the horizon. Despite the tourists milling about, the brilliant blue sky and water, the beach seemed a lonely, barren place.
Finally the breeze was too much and we plodded back to the hotel by the street, surveying the cheap souvenir shops, T-shirt emporiums, and fast-food shacks. Worn out, I fell asleep. I felt better when I awoke and had an idea: First Landing State Park, at the far northern end of Atlantic Avenue, beyond the chic North End neighborhood not frequented by summer people. We found the park and the Trail Center. It had warmed up enough for a second walk. I ditched my winter coat. So—the 1.5-mile Bald Cypress Trail or the three-mile Osmanthus Trail?
The first led into the second, we kept trekking. The trail was carpeted with pine needles, we passed silent bogs of dark water and stands of cypress hung with Spanish moss. The sun warmed our shoulders. We enjoyed the soft swish of the pine needles underfoot as the trail wound ahead of us through the sun-speckled forest. We paused at benches, savoring the silence. A few others overtook and passed us. We moved on at old-guy pace, glad—relieved—to feel a touch of spring. I followed the map on the park brochure—no distance markers, but do you need them on a three-mile trail?
The trail wound on, we came to a sharp north-curling turn. I had thought we were on the northern loop—I had ignored the spur to the southern loop—so we now were halfway or at 1.5 miles, heading back, Sandy getting a little antsy. After all, distances seem longer on unmarked trails than on your neighborhood streets.
I compared this cute, comfortable, manicured State Park walkway with the rugged Massanutten Trail (last week’s post), an invigorating, heartening world. Has it come to this? I liked this humble, pretty trail, but was getting tired, wishing I could do better. TBD, I reminded myself. Still fighting the stubborn residue of 40 days of treatment. I wondered: is this all I’ve got left?
Yet I’m better than I was two weeks ago, and friends and family are pushing me. All this nonsense will be behind me. I’m registering for the MMT Trail Work party next month, and for trail marking for the big race a week later. Everyone I know and love believes I’ll get there.
We finish the Osmanthus Trail, a little winded, but with the sun still high. We drive away, marking this place in our minds. It was fun, a gentle, soft-spoken kind of fun. We need to focus now on getting whole, and getting to all those other places we’ve bragged we’re going to see.