Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adventures in the Shenandoah

On Saturday, a ragtag team of weekend adventurers cruised south into the heart of the Shenandoah Mountains in search of…well, in search of adventure, of course. Our team included Shannon & Bain, JARRIN & Pilar and Dylan &… (cough) me. Dylan and I thought we’d come across some beautiful women who had decided last minute to go camping rather than go to Virginia Beach. You can guess how that turned out. Google Maps proposed taking an old logging road to Skyline Drive. If I had ever driven along Skyline, I would have known that this was a ridiculous proposition. We got lost. After 37 hours in the car, we finally arrived at the Loft Mountain Campground. It was already late and we had 3+ miles to hike along the rolling Appalachian Trail (AT) before night shrouded the forest in inky darkness. After 3 miles, we found a nice camp spot along (Poison?) Ivy Creek. We immediately set-up tents and began to make dinner. By the time we had spoons in our mouths it was dark. Even though I did not eat it all, Shannon made a delicious meal of couscous and other healthy things. Dylan even brought homemade beer. We then lit our corncob pipes and had a puff of tobacco. I also indulged in a horn of Bourbon. We then all hit our respective tents. I dreamt of steak.

When I awoke, my mouth tasted like an ash tray. I shrugged my shoulders and lit my pipe. Bain and Dylan made delicious blueberry and chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast, of which I ate 3 or 4. I polished it off with some bitter instant coffee. Hair immediately began to grow on my chest. Ahhh, the woods. With pipes in mouths and explorer hats on heads we left our comfortable campground and descended deep into the unknown.

Unlike last time, JARRIN never quipped. He walked with his head high. However he and Pilar were obsessed with poison ivy. Both had scars and blisters after engaging in volunteer invasive plant removal work. Serves them right! As we hiked JARRIN would ask “is that Poison Ivy” “No”, I’d answer. “Is that Poison Ivy?” “No.” “Is that Poison Ivy?” “No.” “Is that Poison Ivy?” “No.” “Is that Poison Ivy?” “No.” “Is that Poison Ivy?” “No, but it is Poison Oak”. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits. We passed some AT though-hikers (hard-cores trekking from mountains Springer in Georgia to Katahdid in Maine) and exchanged pleasantries at a beautiful Skyline overlook. We then proceeded to hike about a half mile in the wrong direction. Always disheartening, we sighed and double-timed in back to the overlook. Here, Shannon and Bain bid adieu (they were going to turn-around at lunch) and our pack of 6 became 4.

We trekked a half mile along Skyline Drive (highway) before descending over 3 miles into a moist valley. Walking downhill is brutal on the legs, especially when carrying 40+ pounds of gear (tent, food, sleeping bag, cooking gear and accessories). It was warm and we dipped our heads in streams and disrobed unnecessary clothing. We trekked for 5 and a half hours before stopping down and eating a late lunch at the fabled “steel bridge”. The steel bridge was the halfway point in our 20 mile hike. Rumor had it that this was a Slam Dunk swim hole. Before eating Dylan and I jumped into the clear, cold water and felt refreshed.

Through the rapids I saw something move deep below the surface. Was it a stick? Was it just the sunlight and the water playing tricks on me? Was it a snake?! “Snake” I yelled, before leaping like a giant frog out of the water and onto a rock. I jumped so quickly, my right Keen (shoe) flew off my foot and began to roll down river. No matter, I was safe and away from the serpent. By this time, others in my party were laughing at me. The snake was nowhere to be seen. I scoffed and then kicked the water stubbornly. I knew I had seen a snake. It was huge and coming right at me. Dylan then blurted out “there it is”.

A 2-3 foot water snake had surfaced and was grimacing at me from across the stream. I threw a small stick at it and like a pit bull; the snake flashed its head forward and attacked the inanimate object. It was a snake alright, a mean snake! I stared at the snake for another 20 minutes before realizing swim time was over. I collected my Keen which had dammed up along some rocks and ate my lunch…all while keeping a distant eye on the snake. Watching. Staring. I am obsessed with snakes. Instead of hiking up into the overlooking bluff, we decided to instead camp near water. So we back-tracked and forded a knee deep creek at least ten times (not an exaggeration) en route to our camp site that night.

Our camp site on the second night was great. There were plenty of spots to pitch a tent and there was even a fire ring. We had a river next to us which was a source for both drinking and cleaning. There were NO snakes, but plenty of baby tadpoles. We had a leisurely evening and brewed our chicken n’ rib meat with potatoes (dehydrated of course in an REI pak) just after dusk. Deer walked nonchalantly through our camp site and songbirds ceased to sing. Darkness comes early in the woods so with inadequate light, we simply scurried off to our tents and went to sleep.

We woke up early and plowed our way through an oatmeal breakfast. No time for pancakes today! We struck our tents and began to make the ascend back up to Skyline Drive. I am glad I didn't know what we were getting into. For the next 4 hours we walked bent over up a series of switchback trails; miles and miles and miles uphill. At times, it was heartbreaking. But JARRIN's very interesting tales about Qualcomm (yawn) kept at least my mind off the task at hand. We made great time and left dust in our wake. We talked about bears and the difference, or lack there of, between mountain lions and cougars. After what felt like days we finally came out to Skyline Drive. Now we simply had a 2 mile hike along the AT before arriving at our car. 45 minutes later we were done. I went into the camp store and was surprised to find they were selling single cans of Coors. I bought the "golden bullet" and chugged the brew just before noon under the Virginian sun. I felt like such a man...or an alcoholic? It was one of the best beers I've ever had. After an hour of driving up and down the ridge line we departed Skyline Drive and wound up at a burger shack called "Burger N Things". I had a double cheeseburger, a single cheeseburger, some fries, a Pepsi and a giant ice cream. We then returned to civilization.

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