We began the third and longest leg of our walk around the city with much anticipation. This leg had been billed by veteran greenbelters to be one of the most diverse, hilliest and, therefore, funnest sections of this wonderful RTF loop.
We started with a quick but careful jaunt across busy Emmet Street and straight into Earhart, a little known street directly across from Bodo’s. Two helpful tools immediately kicked our walk off on the right foot. One was the RTF’s extremely helpful trail guide, which highlights, in great detail, the specific directions of the trail, including the many transitional areas, where the dirt path comes upon a busy street.
The second useful hand holder came in the form of the many RTF’s tiny metal directional arrow signs or trailhead signs that are nailed to a tree, on a post or, in this case, affixed to a utility pole. Both tools helped us to stay on course, like in this week’s opening sequence, where, sure enough, there, hidden off to the left side of this quiet street, was the footbridge, so aptly described in the guide.
One of the best qualities about the loop, which never ceased to amaze me, was just how quickly one could go from the noise and intensity of a heavily traveled road like Emmet Street instantly into a secluded world of peace and total quiet. It worked like magic throughout our RTF journey and this time was no different, as we were suddenly transformed from urban dwellers to wilderness hikers and all within a few yards of one of Charlottesville’s busiest byways.
The tiny wooden bridge led to a secret path behind the Federal Executive Institute and then across a set of stepping stones that forged Meadow Creek, which led us out onto Barracks Road, where we had to once again carefully cross another busy street before quickly ducking back onto our secluded path again.
The next section of path endlessly snaked its way through a thick woodland area that was sandwiched between UVa’s North Grounds complex and the Route 29 bypass. Thanks to the dense foliage, we were completely sheltered, both in sight and sound, from the heavy truck traffic on our busiest city road.
The smooth dirt path undulated along the hilly terrain, which kept us keenly engaged and at one point we walked within a few feet of the old remains of the stone foundation and chimney of the 1806 Poor House. Very cool.
As the headwaters of Meadow Creek slowly disappeared underground, we passed behind the JAG, Law and Darden Schools before hopping over yet another roadway, this time the quieter Leonard Sandridge Drive, and back onto the path again.
This next section led us across two beautiful meadow-like fields within the shadows of the towering University Village high-rise and then along a large shimmering pond. This beautiful lily padded body of water couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet from the highway, yet went totally undetected by all of the speedy motorists (I too had never noticed it in my countless trips along the bypass). It was completely hidden from view thanks to a thick buffer of woods and tall hedgerows.
We popped out onto Old Ivy Road where, according to our RTF map, a long detour awaited us (please message me for details on how to safely get yourself from this point to the next section of path). Once we navigated the detour we were back on the dirt path and on the last section of the day’s long walk.
This was one of my favorite spots along the entire RTF loop. The path serpentined its way up and down the undulating path along the base of the heavily wooded Observatory Hill. And once again we were within feet of the fast moving vehicles of the Route 29 Bypass, yet felt safe within the shelter of our hidden mountainside path.
Despite having covered our longest stretch of the walk, thus far, without seeing a single waterway, this last section of today’s five-mile walk was one of the most scenic. With its rock outcroppings and deep plunges, it felt like we were up on Skyline Drive, minus the overlook valley views, hiking along the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One of the wonderful RTF qualities I had noticed in the first half of our 20.5-mile loop walk was just how unblemished the path surface had been thus far. Hardly a single root, a tiny tree stump or a solitary rock ever interrupted our foot-strikes along this incredibly smooth dirt path. And this is all thanks to the ongoing volunteer efforts of the RTF Board’s monthly work crews and the many city neighborhoods who have adopted close-by sections of the path along the way.
After numerous climbs and descents along the hilliest section of the loop, we came upon our sixth and last paved vehicular artery of the day as we ended our walk at the Fontaine Research Park. I really loved the rugged feel of today’s undulating woodland walk but was now anxious to get back to more creek crossings and waterway walking, which was promised for the next section of our RTF loop journey.
I couldn’t wait.
When not volunteering at foot races and coaching area runners Mark Lorenzoni enjoys starting his day with a brisk early morning walk. He can be reached at 434-962-1694 (text). Join him for one of his monthly community walks by signing up at Ragged Walks. And to donate to the wonderful RTF visit their website at Rivanna Trails Foundation.