In the Allegheny Forest of western Pennsylvania is a spot called Hearts Content National Recreation Area. The name is fitting as the scenery, once in the forest (not so much in the parking lot) made my soul take a deep sigh of relief.
It had been raining lightly all day, but when I arrived in the early afternoon, it was coming down pretty well and there was no one else there! The only other adventurous heart was driving away as I arrived.
Despite the rain, the forest loop trail looked inviting and since it wasn’t stormy, I decided to venture it. With my pant ends secured with rubber bands and plastic bags around my feet in my shoes, my long rain jacket and hat on, and camera tucked into my pocket, I set out on the short quarter mile loop trail.
Inside the forest was dark with heavy foliage and an overcast grayish white sky, though streams of pale sunlight broke through the leaves in enough places to give the area a soft white glow. Absolutely fantastic! The leaf cover also shielded a fair amount of the rain, for which I was grateful.
There were lots of old growth trees, fallen logs covered in vibrant green mosses, ferns in the undergrowth, and only a few bugs out in the rain (also grateful for this). I could hear a few birds singing, but didn’t see any.
At the end of the short loop, I wasn’t ready for it to be over and took the long loop, a 1.1 mile trail.
The long loop was much more muddy with many large, unavoidable puddles. My shoes got completely soaked through and caked with mud and I was so happy that I put my feet in the plastic bags! Wish list item: rain shoes.
The trail was absolutely gorgeous and I stopped many times just to look around and listen to the rain, watching a fern shudder as rain dripped onto it. There is a small creek flowing through the area but I think there was more water out of it than in.
Once, as I stopped on the path to look around, I glanced down and at my feet was a bright orange gecko or lizard of some variety. For a moment I wasn’t sure if was alive or was a child’s toy dropped on the path, because it was so unnaturally bright orange and perfectly still.
I froze to watch it, and after several breaths, it did indeed move a bit—it’s alive! Slowly pulling out my camera and attaching a close-up lens, it very patiently let me take some pictures of it, sometimes taking a few steps farther into the undergrowth, but it didn’t run off. Thank you little lizard!
By the end of the long loop, my shoes were thoroughly soaked and I was ready to go inside. The hike was gorgeous, though, and I wasn’t quite ready to let it go, so I parked near the tree line for a little while and watched it some more in the rain.
I am very glad that I decided to take the hike even despite the rain, and it was wonderful to be so utterly without other people. I won’t say completely alone, because I was surrounded by living things. It was even worth mud-soaking my shoes, though I’m not sure how to clean them now, as I don’t have laundry access and my limited water supply is for the next several days of camping.
According to the timestamps on my photos, I spent about an hour and 20 minutes on the 1.35 mile trail, about four times as long as average walking speed. I just took it slow and enjoyed the journey.
My heart was indeed content here.
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