Following the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway
- Preparing for my first night walk was a little different from other walks I’ve planned in the past. This walk required forethought about upcoming turns and land marks that I had to remember from seeing them once during day light hours, the identification of the North Star for orientation, and having everything I would need during the 20-mile stretch since there are no convenience stores along the mainly agricultural route.
- As my first Christmas Eve walk and first night walk, I marveled at the clear night sky filled with stars above. The temperature was in the mid 30s when I started around 10:15 p.m. and the mercury from there continued to drop to around 24 degrees by 5:30 a.m. While it was cold, it wasn’t bitterly cold because there was no wind that night which made it tolerable.
- Light – Equipped with a headlamp, I only used it intermittently at intersections to read street signs. I allowed my eyes adjust to the night light and I discovered it was easy to see the road ahead of me without the aid of a headlamp.
- Double dolly effect – Walking at night is very different then walking during daylight hours. For instance, at night when I looked down at my lower legs and feet I could feel them but I only saw dark shadows that blended in to the asphalt road. Yet, as I looked to the adjacent tree line on my left, I felt myself floating past the trees in the night space between the road and the trees as I walked. It reminded me of one Spike Lee’s cinematography effects known as a Double dolly shot. The effect makes characters seem as if they are floating down a street rather than walking.
- Light pollution – Because it was Christmas eve I encountered many houses along the Eastern shore of Maryland that were decorated in twinkling red, green, blue, and white holiday lights. Light projections were also very popular this winter season. One would think in a rural area like Preston, Maryland, it would be mostly dark at night. Instead I encountered a lot of artificial light or obtrusive bright white or daylight porch and building lights shining from nearby barns, sheds and and houses every 200-300 feet between properties. I found it to be an annoyance that fundamentally altered the natural night light requiring my eyes to adjust and re-adjust to the dark night sky.
- Across the fields – Throughout my walk I passed large and small farms abutting each other across the Poplar Neck area all the way to Denton. At night, the tree line that separated them looked like a hand drawn image of a black charcoal pastel wall drawn up from the edge of the paper to meet the sky somewhere in the middle of the page. The field below was another shade of dark grey and met the base of the wall and extended out to the foreground.
- The Sky – The sky was a dark blue-black hue of color dotted with white planets and stars projecting the only light. I was looking for a waning crescent moon that evening, but it didn’t make an appearance that night.
- “Its Cold” – About 3:40 a.m. I crossed a major intersection on my route when I arrived at the corner of Route 16 and Auction Roads. I was at the 10 mile mark of my journey. My planned route showed I still had another 14-miles to go to reach the center of Denton. Google maps said I could save myself four-miles walking if I followed Route 16 straight for 10-miles. Despite the cold the difference really came down to finishing the walk between 8-9:00 in the morning or as last as 11:00 a.m. Knowing that fatigue would feel heavier on my body at the 18-mile mark, I happily took the short cut.
- In all my Christmas Day walk was a 20.5-mile journey. Adding on another four to five-miles is real work and endurance even when one is fit, which I am not. The idea walk is about 12-13 miles so you arrive at your destination with energy to do other thing like sightseeing. Arriving exhausted only wanting something to eat and to sit down takes away the joy of hike.