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Why Improvisation Leads to Great Adventures

Trail closures can come at the most inopportune times... but some on-the-fly thinking can turn a disappointment into a perfect opportunity.

By: Stephen Catalano + Save to a List

This past weekend, an old friend came to town. As part of a long-standing tradition, I had planned for the two of us to head to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia for a lengthy and challenging day on the trail. The night before our hike, we conversed about the upcoming adventure and went over the route to make sure we had it all mapped out. We were all set for the challenge ahead. The next morning, with our gear loaded up and coffee in-hand, we hit the road early for the two-hour drive to the trailhead.

Upon our arrival, we were surprised to see that Skyline Drive was closed in both directions. I couldn’t help but blame myself for failing to follow one of my most important rules: Check the website for closures and park announcements. After a few minutes of griping over the circumstances, the park rangers showed up and informed us of the situation. The roads were iced over, only Skyline Drive South would be opening, and we would have to wait over an hour before it was safe to drive. Unfortunately, the trail we had planned to hike was to the North. Leaving my good friend and I to put our heads together and alter our plans.

Without missing a beat, we pulled out our trail maps and began to search for a new hike. We found a few trails and figured we could string them together into one adventure that offered us everything we could ask for in one day of hiking. Distance: check. Waterfall: check. Something new and challenging: check. When the gates to Skyline Drive opened, we were the first ones through. The caffeine from the morning cup of coffee had since faded away, but the promise of a new adventure pushed us forward. 

The improvised route was better than we could have imagined. The park had very few visitors that day, giving the two of us the entire trail to ourselves. The elevation gain was challenging and the solitude was inspiring. Rolling fog overtook the trail at numerous points along our journey, offering an eerie perspective to an even lonelier park.

What began as a failed expedition ended up becoming a story to tell my friends. It doesn’t take an expert outdoors person to put together a great adventure. All it takes is an open mind and good company. So next time life comes in the way of the original plan, don’t give up on the journey… just improvise. You might just surprise yourself on what you come up with.


We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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