Monday, November 24, 2008

In the Hall of the Mountain King

Each spring and fall I, and an assortment of weekend warrior adventures, descend into the vast unknown for a weekend of camping and hiking. Hereinafter, this collection of individuals is known as the FOX DEN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE or simply FDEF. The FDEF originated as an adventure branch of the WASHINGTON JUNTO, however, in recent months, the group has surged with new members not affiliated with said JUNTO. FDEF adventures are usually comprised of a 12-20 mile hike (usually a loop) that takes two days and two nights to complete somewhere along the Appalachian Trail or at some other expanse in Virginia or Maryland. We typically take our time and hike only 8 -10 miles in a single day. We usually encounter an unforeseen event (dead-end trail, copperheads, felled trees, boogie men) so we like to leave plenty of time to make it from point A to point B.

All fall, I had been e-mailing interested parties about a trek…but we could never agree on a date. My assistant, Jon Snow, informed me that the only date available was this past weekend. I replied in private to him that by then the weather would be much too cold; “in the mountains, the suns sets early and the cold never ceases”. Snow said something about being a sissy from up north, so I decided we must move forward with said trek. The FDEF rallied behind the idea and we set off on Saturday morning for Little Sluice Mountain located in the George Washington National Forest near Columbia Furnace, Virginia – some 100 miles SW of Washington DC.
The coalition of the willing included the following eight. Each had some positive attribute needed during a weekend in the woods. For pictures of each FDEF member, please visit HERE.

1. Jonathon Snow – reliable confidant who loyally pulls up the rear on most hikes

2. Chris Bain – the Arbys loving cartographer who made sure we always stay on trail

3. Daniel Shinn – the keeper of the Johnny Walker Gold

4. Christiam Camacho – Double C, the shirtless woodchopper

5. Peter Silverman “Towpath” – the “highest ranking Boy Scout among us”. Carried a 12” Rambo blade which apparently solidifies this statement.

6. Robert JARRIN – an ethnic Ecuadorian who claims he gets cold when temps dip below 80 degrees

7. Dylan Keith – the outdoorsman from Wisconsin. When in doubt ask Dylan and then go with his reply.

8. Yours Truly – the Red Fox

After a few wrong turns and some lucky guessing, we finally arrived at our parking lot somewhere in the middle of nowhere. A heavyset bearded man in camouflage and hunter-orange greeted us with a rifle. He seemed to think we were on the right trail (a fire road) and warned us to look out for hunters. I quietly glanced at the coon tail dangling from my coonskin cap, but then shrugged my shoulders and began to double time it up the road. We were starting our hike 1.5 hours late and we NEEDED to get to the camp site on our map an hour before sunset…or we were doomed. The temps hovered in the low 30s, but we shed layers as we ascended the steep fire road. Occasionally a truck full of hunters would inch down the treacherous rocky road as we marched our way up. After about 45 minutes we had reached the top of the mountain. JARRIN remarked “the snow up here is deep”. I looked and quickly realized that the ground was covered with 2” of snow. On our way up I had seen patches here and there, but nothing like this.

We received some intel on the whereabouts of the campsite from another hunter and proceeded down the snowy road. A ½ mile later we found the campsite, only it was taken. We contemplated bedding down there for the night and making new friends but quickly agreed we wanted to do our own thing. We continued further down the road while keeping one eye on the setting sun to the west. We had to find a place to camp soon; we only had an hour or so before sunset. As we rounded a corner Dylan and I spied a plateau of sorts in the valley below. We sent Snow and Towpath on a scout mission ahead to search for a campsite near the fabled “water pipe”. Supposedly, according to my maps, a rusty pipe protruded from the ground somewhere ahead and supplied hiker and hunter alike with the lifeline of the outdoors; water. Dylan went into the valley and I followed. We quickly discovered a spot where we could build a fire and lay out four tent footprints. Success! We nodded and immediately set about constructing FORT VIXEN. JARRIN, Bain, Double C and Shinn paraded down the slope and together, like Santa’s elves, we all got right to work. We swept the campsite of snow and gathered every bit of firewood we could find on the forest floor. I hacked away at small shrubs and Christiam cleaved apart giant logs with a hatchet. We dug out rocks and created a suitable fire ring and, just as the sun began to dip behind the neighboring peak, struck a match. A roaring fire followed. Snow and Towpath eventually returned and quipped about the “great spot” they had found directly next to the water pipe. However, we had already started a fire and tents were already half constructed. Not to mention the fact it would soon get dark. It was decided in true democratic fashion that we would all stay put. We planted an American Flag atop a dead stump and dug in for a long cold night. I set about cooking dinner for everyone (by “cooking” I simply mean boiling water and adding it to dehydrated pre-packaged food). Together we dined on mash potatoes and chicken, lasagna and beer teriyaki and mopped up our plates with delicious French bread. Some drank scotch and others smoked Cuban cigars. We all stared glassy eyed at the bright stars above. At some point we heard a fox cry somewhere beyond our perimeter…or was it a Devilish witch? We began telling ghost stories which made me later wet my bed. All night we continued to gather and chop firewood and feed it to the hungry fire. Eventually we all bedded down for the night but before doing so, shed our sweaty clothes and donned as many dry layers as we had. We then curled into our respective sleeping bags and shivered our way to sleep. The temperature dipped to 16 degrees and our remaining supplies of water slowly turned to ice. It took me a long time to get to sleep, if I slept at all. I remember waking up numerous times for whatever reason and staring at the top of my tent. I was plenty warm and quite comfortable, but I couldn’t fall asleep. Eventually I must have nodded off as I was awakened by a heavy breathing and heavy footprints outside the tent. I cowardly decided to go back to bed but JARRIN, my heterosexual bunk buddy, whispered lovingly in my ear, “what the $#@& is that?” First, I told him to stop spooning me. Then I grabbed my knife which always rests nearby when camping and clicked on my head lamp. I looked over at JARRIN and together we counted “1…2…3”. JARRIN zipped open the fold of the tent as I dove across his chest. Together we shined our lights out in the direction of the monster. I was ready to plunge my knife into the monster’s side and save my friends…only, there was no monster. Instead we saw The Towpath shivering outside the fire ring desperately blowing on a pathetic flame. JARRIN and I reluctantly dressed and left the tent to help our friend Blowpath restart the fire. The time was 5:44am. I set about felling dead trees and cleaving them apart with the hatchet. As we worked, others slowly crept out of their tents and together, once again, we got FORT VIXEN up and running. Bain and Dylan made a morning run to the magical water pipe while I used the last of the (frozen) water to boil coffee and tea. Later, we slurped up oatmeal and grains before extinguishing the fire, striking camp and offering a tearful goodbye to our beloved camp. As we left I touched the dead stump which held our flag and wept, “I will see you again someday”.
As we got back on the fire road, JARRIN began to belly ache. “Why don’t we go back the way we came (2 miles) and go to Cracker Barrel? We could have a huge breakfast and then get back to DC early”. Snow piped in, “yeah, that would be great, I am a coward too”. Enraged, I swore I’d kill the next man who uttered such despicable ideas. Eventually the cowards relented and we marched ahead into the abyss before us. We marched forward and we trekked over hill and dale. Eventually we left the comforts of the fire road and schlepped our way over a snowy trail that crept up the ridgeline. We darted in and out along the WV/VA border and took in incredible views. We labored up mountain passes and exhaled down steep ravines. After 5 or 6 miles we stopped for lunch and I tried to rest my eyes. I was exhausted from lack of sleep but never could quite take a nap. We ate peanut butter, pepperoni, cheddar and pita bread; rib-sticking food on a hike such as this. After lunch we carried on down the trail and finally reached our cars about 2 hours later. We shook each other’s hands, patted backs and acknowledged just how fun our small adventure was. Collectively we all agreed how great it is to get out of the city and experience the wilds of nature.
After departing the rest of the FDEF, Bain, Double C and I left in my car and headed for a run at Manassas/Bull Run Battlefield. This is one of the best running spots I’ve found in the DC area. There are miles of trails that crisscross through cornfields and forests. We saw no less than 40 deer during the magic hour before sunset. The trail surface varies from crushed stone, to grass to wood chip – a runner’s paradise! I definitely plan to go back. It would be a SLAM DUNK place to do workouts…as long as it’s not too windy.
I was happy to get in a run on both days this weekend regardless of the hike. My total for the week was 65…my highest true weekly total in a long time. More importantly I have not been having ANY hip pains. Life is good.
I really need to end this post now. I’ve been working on it for days…truly pathetic. I hope someone reads this or it was all for naught.


Peter said...

Well written, I'm sure I'll come back to this post many a time for laughs.

Nietzche said...

And lo though the wind bit my face in the shade of the mountain, and Jack Frost poked fun at my water bottle. A Reese's peanut butter cup wrapper protects me! The hunters shot is as wild as the nature that engulfs us, Wild Turkey Bourbon is strong. The thought of turkey day looms. Trudge on young buck, and pull Vixcalibur from its resting place!