Anglers Park - Danville, VA
Story and photos by Phillip Gillis
The uneven ground beneath his feet made him regret not bringing the walking stick his friend Leonard carved for him many years ago, but he pressed on - fighting against memories in his head while attempting to allow new ones in.
“That part does not look too steep,” one part of his brain said. “The Dan River has to be right on the other side,” said another. “I only wish I could see them one more time.”
The minimalist shoes under his feet were enough to prevent him from being cut by an unseen surprise but thin enough so that he could feel each individual broken stick and pointy rock working against him.
“This’ll be easy,” they told him. “A perfect place to start. The markers won’t even let you get lost.”
Every few feet, the trees would break, and the blistering summer sun would find a gap with enough room to remind him that it was almost one hundred degrees outside. To be a public park just outside Danville, it was surprisingly peaceful - but being 44 acres made that possible. His water bottle hanging from his belt clinked against his side.
“Last sip and then it is all downhill from here,” he thought as he reached the crest of the hill and could make out the distant sound of children and what he thought was moving water. “Not bad for my first attempt. Not bad.” He wiped the sweat off his brow with the bottom of his shirt. “They’d be proud.” A cardinal on a nearby branch agreed with him.
He looked down at the narrow dirt path below him as the bike came around the corner…
Rocks flew out of the tread of the back wheel of the Trek mountain bike as she kept it on the narrow path - which was not really a path at all by most people’s standards, but actually a small stretch of dirt barely the width of two bike tires.
Six months ago, she was content getting exercise and going around the paved tracks below. Now, she was hanging over the edge of the hills on Crooked Stick.
“You’re dumb buying a bike they said. What are you gonna do with that they said. Well guess what I said…”
There was a time a few months ago when her speed would have slowed as her bike pulled around the corners.
A quick climb through Graveyard Hill earlier, and the rest was easy.
Her pace quickened as she pressed around the corner - careful to keep watch for the markings.
“Witchback! I’m ready for you next time!” she announced as she carefully approached the intersection with the gravel walkway. Two children and a small black and white dog greeted her with a high-pitched yelp a few yards ahead…
The Dog Walkers
“Duchess!” the little girl yelled as she held the purple leash tight. “Leave that biker alone!”
The peekapoo bounced over to the grass-covered bank where the flowers and a thousand smells told her of previous travelers, but she was careful to not land on the yellow and white blooms or her humans’ feet.
“Where now?” the girl asked her brother, but he shrugged as he flipped the map around and around in his hands. “HEY! How much further we gonna walk?” A hundred feet in front of them, their parents threw their hands up. “Daddddd!”
The peekapoo stopped and pulled back on the leash as they approached a small stream that ran under the gravel and chipped asphalt-covered path. Her ears flopped as her head bounced up and down with the new scents - two larger dogs from a few hours ago, numerous squirrels (her archenemies), and a liquid someone poured on the ground.
“Hey, I think Duchess is thirsty!” But before either parent could respond, she was down the bank and Duchess was splashing in the creek. The boy fumbled with the map and made notes on it.
“So, is this the Riverwalk Trail or is this paved part the Riverwalk?” His sister ignored him.
Suddenly, the dog jumped back as two bumblebees engaged in combat flew up from the ground and startled her.
The boy laughed and drew a picture of a bee on the map.
“Y’all hurry up. Only a few more feet and then we’ll turn around.”
The roar of a single engine plane nearby called their attention to the sky…
4 minutes 24 seconds
Her shirt clung to her heart as it tried to rip completely out of her chest. “Push on. Push on. Push on,” she repeated over and over to herself. The tree branches arched over her head, almost making a tunnel. For a moment, she felt as if her mother were cupping her hands over her head to cover her eyes from the sun like when she was younger.
“Don’t look directly at the sun,” she’d say.
She looked down at her watch.
5 minutes 13 seconds
Her mother’s hands cracked above her enough so that the sun blinded her for a moment and caused her to stumble. In one swift motion, she caught herself with her left hand and almost did a cartwheel for the first time in 20 years. She laughed.
“I guess gymnastics was good for something,” she muttered and picked up her pace. The warmth of her mother’s hand landed on her back and worked its way into her body - pushing her and telling her she could make it.
Her watch beeped.
5 minutes 48 seconds
“Remember to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. In.”
Each step became easier than the previous one.
“Push. Push. Push. You can do it,” she said.
The pavement no longer existed. The trail disappeared.
All that existed was them.
6 minutes 33 seconds
Her pace slowed as she turned off the smooth pavement and onto the gravel path at the brown mile marker. “Next time,” she said as she removed her headphones from her ears.
“Next time,” she also repeated.
Laughter broke through the woods…
Gathering at the River
The sun bounced off the bright, blue roof of the structure - wooden arches attached to stone pillars lifted it to the sky. Under it, two children giggled as a peekapoo whined for food under the table. Close by, a woman suspended her bike on the chains and hooks of the wash station and sprayed it down. A man popped out of the woods with a makeshift walking stick in his hand pushing aside the brush, and a woman slowly walked, slightly out of breath but with a smile, to the edge of the riverbank with an arm around her shoulder that no one else could see.
And the Dan River flowed…
Parks and Recreation
350 Northside Drive
Danville, VA 24540
Phillip Gillis is a teacher, writer, wanderer, semi-retired professional wrestler, and father of two beautiful children. He is also a proud native of Allensville, N.C. and grew up in a hardware store, C&G Supply Center.