Spirits were high this past weekend and music filled the streets. Roanoke, VA harnessed hundred of runners from all over the country eager to tackle one of the US’s most challenging races, the Blue Ridge Marathon. In conjunction, the Down By Downtown music festival gave runners and non-runners alike the option to tap their feet in 6 different venues and listen to over 50 different bands perform.

Early Saturday morning, April 16th, runner after runner made their way past the Blue Ridge Outdoors booth. Reluctantly glancing at the steep, unforgiving hills that surround Roanoke, racers approached the starting line. Looking forward to kicking off a group hike that Live Outside and Play and Walkabout Outfitter had been planning for weeks in advance, I myself was anxious to experience the terrain. With the ringing of the starting pistol still echoing in my ear, our first eager participant approached the BRO booth. Soon, 23 people had arrived.

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Our route to the top of Mill Mountain would, we later found, weave right through the racing action. Cowbells and loud cheers rang out from locations all over the city. From busy streets through intersections filled with spectators, pavement soon turned to trail and only the faintest of cheering could be heard. The morning sun began to feel warm as we climbed further away from the crowds below.

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Multiple participants on the hike were experiencing Roanoke’s hiking trails for the first time, having lived there their entire lives. One family in particular made all my efforts worth the while. I dropped back from my middle position in the long single file line that climbed the narrow trail, and filed in suit all the way in the back for a chance to speak with them. In doing so I could hear the excitement in their voices and see their wide eyes processing the tranquility they had found. It’s always uplifting to see the wide eyes of a person who just stepped onto a hiking trail for the first time. Although surprising to hear of such a thing, I find great joy in providing somebody with such a rewarding experience. The quiet of the forest and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet reminded me how important and monumental hiking has been in my life. I can’t imagine life without walking in the woods.

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Reaching the top of Mill Mountain, though urban, was as far in the backcountry as these folks had ever been. Peering out over the city, I couldn’t help but smile. Who knows what this short walk in the woods had done for that mother and her two kids. Perhaps I was able to introduce them to something life-changing, confidence-building, maybe the quiet was exactly what they needed. However it affected them, that day they stood proudly soaking in the beauty of their hometown.

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– Adam R. 


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