The fourth leg of our RTF walk around the city provided my wife Cynthia, our daughter Audrey and myself with plenty of good company after word about our walk was beginning to spread among our friends.
Walking pals Gretchen, Anne, Katie, Nathalie and Jimmy joined us for this 4.5-mile section of the loop, which had promised to not only bring us back alongside the waterways of the Rivanna watershed but treat us to one of the most diverse segments of the circuit.
We began by picking up the trail in the thick woods that buffered the Fontaine Research Park from Route 29 and within a minute we had stepped back into our RTF world of peace and quiet. After winding along the pine needle path for a while, we reached a fork, which presented us with two options.
We chose the longer “Department of Forestry Spur Trail.” It intrigued us because it harbored “several trees unusual to Virginia, which were remnants of a 1930’s tree nursery.” As we weaved our way among this dense forest of beautiful, towering, old trees, someone commented how crazy it was to think how all of those motorists along the Route 29/Interstate 64 interchange were totally unaware of just how close they were to this completely camouflaged Appalachian-like trail oasis.
We suddenly were walking alongside Moores Creek, which was surprisingly deep, despite the mid-summer drought in Central Virginia. The creek would be our companion for a good portion of the rest of today’s walk. We crossed it along stepping stones before popping out onto the gravel portion of Stribling Avenue, a popular Fry’s Spring footway artery, where we actually encountered several friends out for a Sunday run. We were only on Stribling for a few yards, just enough to pass under the railroad bridge before ducking back onto the path again. We trekked across a small meadow path before rock hopping over Moores Creek again.
The many creek crossings we made on slippery rocks, along with the slick descents on sections of the dirt path, were compelling reasons why I’d highly recommend bringing walking poles for this section of the loop. These lightweight metal “sticks” are invaluable because they not only keep you safely balanced but they also serve as shock absorbers for your knees, quads and hips on any descent along the way. We used ours for a good part of the 200-mile walk across England and not only did I never fall but I was also never sore the day after an up and down mountainous hike.
Oddly enough, the next section of today’s walk, which was a detour, rendered our sticks useless as it led us up a long paved stretch of Sunset Avenue. After walking along the macadam road for a while — once again, thanks to the trusty RTF signage, this time nailed to a tree on the right side of the road — we found the entrance back onto our path. This dense section of forest led us alongside Moores Creek again, as the path hugged the edge of the banks of this flowing river until we popped out on Old Lynchburg Road right across from Azalea Park.
This wonderful city park is one of the many hidden oases along the loop. It not only features traditional picnicking and playing areas but it also houses one of our bountiful community gardens. As we walked alongside the gardens, which were overflowing with seasonal flowers and vegetables, we were greeted by several gardeners who were up early, out ahead of the summer heat, tending to their personal plots of land.
I commented to our group that no wonder these morning gardeners were so cheery. Here they were nestled in this island of rich tranquility, happy and content as can be, cultivating their own garden treasures. And, who would ever guess, especially now in the middle of the summer when the foliage is so dense, that Interstate 64, the busiest coast-to-mountains highway in Virginia, was only a matter of feet away from this hidden paradise and our trail.
After walking the length of this unique city park, we ducked into the woods again and snaked along Moores Creek as it wound its way through thickets of tall bamboo and then across one more set of stepping stones. The river was so wide at this point that the RTF had connected a rope from one side of the river to the other to help safely guide us across the large stones. As we popped out of the woods and onto a field, we knew Fifth Street must be getting closer because we could now see the backs of familiar buildings above the hedgerows. And sure enough, we came upon yet another clever RTF tunnel that safely guided us underneath this busy city artery.
A short jaunt through a thicket of woods alongside the river led us to Fifth Street Station, our final destination of the day. We had talked about finishing our looped walk in one long trek today but we were enjoying these Sunday morning explorations so much that we decided to leave the final exciting section for next week.
When not volunteering at a local foot race or coaching community runners, Mark Lorenzoni starts his day with a brisk walk or very slow run. He can be reached by text at 434-962-1694 or by phone at 434-293-3367. And to donate to the RTF, go to their website at RivannaTrails.org.