AT -VA Gravel Springs Gap to Elkwallow Wayside 

I led this hike for the Maryland Trail Dames.  Seven women had RSVP’d and I knew for sure that four were coming because three were riding in my car and another was following in her own car.  Twenty-four miles south, after entering the northernmost gate at Shenandoah National Park, I pulled into Elkwallow Wayside.

I saw MamaPuma waving at me as she stood beside her big ass awesome pick-up truck. I pulled around, and we all quickly worked out who would ride with who back to our starting place, Gravel Springs. BUT WAIT! We must all go to the bathroom! Jees, is it at all possible for a woman to need a public restroom and NOT END UP waiting in line?!! 🤔

Okay, now in the cars, we headed to Gravel Springs.  “Just after mile 18, look for mile 18!” I called out.  Several minutes later, just after mile 18, cars ahead of us slowed. “Look! Look! Look!” I exclaimed jabbing my finger at the right windshield.  A mama bear lumbered slowly across the road, stopping to look over her shoulder.  I followed her gaze. Oh, there are cubs!  Her babies still cowered on the opposite side of the road clinging to a tree! 

A bear! Right before Gravel Springs! Maybe we would see them again! 😀😀😀

We parked, and of course, we were all very excited about the bear! I was on high alert as we started down the trail thinking mama and her cubs might cross our path. 

Coming to the first crossing of Skyline Drive, I let a little sigh of both relief and disappointment escape. Oh well, maybe next time bears. 

The AT is very well behaved, with a gentle incline, for the first two miles south of Gravel Springs, with a beautiful view just a bit before Little Hogback Overlook.

Then it was one, two, three, four…whew, five, six, seven, …ugh…eight switchbacks to reach the summit of Hogback Mountain. And no view. Whaaaaat!? A trail post promised a hang glider site which never materialized. That is a crime upon Mother Nature herself!!! No view. Harrumph. 

Still amazing though with fog floating through the tops of trees, the forest floor a carpet of verdant green, and the last of Azalea blossoms clinging together as if protesting the end of spring. Very Hansel and Gretel.

Once more across Skyline Drive to a very cool lunch spot! What a find!

Claiming this as my Spirit Tree!

It was all downhill now! The last mile was an easy slide into Elkwallow where we again mobbed the bathroom, then celebrated with Blackberry ice-cream! Hike on!

Thanks to Overkill for this instaClassic!

I can smell summer from here!

I am in the last week of my semester, both at my own community college where I teach math, and at my grad school where I am working on  second masters (for promotion…and the learning…).  Four days, peeps, FOUR DAYS!

I am ready for a break and am patiently crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s until Friday when I can officially close out this semester. It’s soooooo close I can barely stand it! 

My days have been filled with math, math, math, along with brief intermissions by the great outdoors.  No time for a big post today. Just want to share some pics of recent hiking adventures! 

Ahhh summer, I see you coming and I am all set…hike on!

C&O Canal near Shepherdstown, WV

Me (BoobOnARock) & BearSpray at Bob’s Hill overlook

Leading a TD Hike – Crossing Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield

Me (BoobOnARock) &Sidekick Pauli at Monocacy National Battlefield

Lunch spot at Sky Meadows SP

Leading a TD Hike on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland (between Pogo campground and Wolfsville road)

AT – VA South River Picnic Area to Big Meadows

Shenandoah National Park seemed a reasonable choice for leading a Trail Dames backpack.  Fool’s Weekend was so apropo for this event!  We had some new backpackers along and this route tested the limits of some.  However, WHAT FUN!!!!  Who better to test limits with but Trail Dames!

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On our way! White blaze of the Appalachian Trail.

Clouds moved in and out all day.  One moment we would be basking in the warmth of the sun and the next pulling on an extra layer to guard against the gray sky and stiff chilly breeze.  We hiked about six miles on day 1, and that was quite enough for some of our group.

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BoobOnARock skipping down the mountain 🙂

We all set up our tents around Bearfence Hut, then gathered around the firepit to eat dinner.  AND OF COURSE, there was a fire! Kathleen & Overkill did a fantastic job getting a fire started with wet wood.  Nice! Smoky at first, but worth it. 🙂

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Trail Dames leaving Bearfence Hut – Morning of Day 2

As I sat in my tent, snuggled into my bag for the night, I realized I was exhausted.  Leading a day hike is one thing, but taking responsibility for a group of women on a backpack, is leveling up in a huge way.  Did I pass? I think so.  Could I have been more supportive? Probably.

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A welcome break at Hazeltop summit

So I sat there and thought about things that had happened during the day and found myself writing a silly little poem…which I will now share here…remember I am a math instructor not a poet.  🙂 🙂 🙂

Wind blowing

Fire crackling

Where did the miles go?

Water boiling

Teeth chattering

Listening to everyone’s woes.

Snap of a cracker

Crack of a twig

Make the tea

Take a swig

Feeling the warmth of my insides grow.

Hike On!

Sniffling and Sniffing at Big Meadows 

All week I’ve been on the fence about whether to go backpacking this weekend. I’ve been sick on and off since, oh, I don’t know, maybe like mid February. I have had this backpacking trip scheduled for Trail Dames since January and have been really looking forward to it. 

So here we are, Sidekick Pauli and me, in Big Meadows…where I must add that it is currently 25 degrees with the wind chill. Anyway, here we are to check it out and decide one way or another: am I going to throw caution to the wind and backpack or am I going to shrivel and stay in my bed at home, hoping that this never-ending cough goes away? 

Oh-and yes I’ve been to a doctor! We aren’t talking major illness here…it’s the last lingering vestiges of a common cold. 🙂

So as I sniffle and Sidekick Pauli sniffs her way around Big Meadows I started to notice something.   My nose is the only thing running in Big Meadows – it is the only thing with any kind of moisture in it – everything else is bone dry.

 So, in hopes that my nose stops running before Saturday, the day of the Fool’s Weekend Backpack with the Maryland Trail Dames, I am making an homage to all the dry things in Big Meadows hoping that it will rub off on me! 

By the time I got back to the car I had decided I don’t care if my nose is running! I’m not coughing. I don’t feel sick. And I did, in fact, just yesterday, walk up a mountain (not with a full backpack mind you…but shhh…) and I walked up the mountain and I only coughed twice!

 Decision made. I’m going to do this! I want to go backpacking! I need to go backpacking! This is the last weekend of my spring break!  Here goes… across the street… into the visitor center… register for our permit… and away we go! Hike On!

Trying to be Ok at the Oklahoma City Memorial

I am at a conference this weekend in Oklahoma City and after sitting through a couple of good sessions this morning, I decided to take in some fresh air by walking up and touring the Oklahoma City Memorial.  You know…Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols…the bombing, the homegrown terrorists.  I felt compelled to visit and pay my respects.

I didn’t know it was going to be so hard.

As I approached on the west of the memorial my eyes rested on a chain link fence with tokens attached for the victims of that day.  I couldn’t stop tears from welling up in my eyes.  I couldn’t stop a small shaking that had overtaken my body.  I looked at each small momento and avoided looking at anyone else on the street.  All the sudden the last 22 years melted away and this was real again.

Slowly making past the fence, I turned right to enter the museum.  Let me just say, this needs to be experienced.  The museum is set up to take one through the day, from the moment the bomb goes off, to the time of the last survivor found.  It is powerful and at one point shook me to my core.

I share my pictures, but there is no way for me to share my feelings, the rawness, the sheer impact this memorial had upon me.  I wish I could hike away from what I am feeling right now, but as always, we must hike on.


The Survivor Tree

Winter Shiverfest Backpack – Ed Garvey Shelter

Last weekend’s adventure was another in the category “I’m trying to love winter”.  I led a backpacking overnight for Trail Dames of Maryland from Crampton Gap to the Ed Garvey Shelter, then out the next day ending at Weverton.  A very short, doable winter backpack, 4 miles in and about 3 miles out!

Four other crazy ladies joined me on this shiverfest.  We met at Weverton on Saturday afternoon, shuttled down to Crampton Gap, snapped a shot at the AT sign and off we went!

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Off on our Shiverfest!

While it had been slightly chilly when we stepped off, as usual, we were ready to shed a layer within about 25 minutes.  At just after an hour of hiking one dame asked THE QUESTION”, you know the one…Are we almost there?”  Hahaaaa! Yes, we were almost there, I assured her…maybe 15 – 20 more minutes…I think all the ladies were pleased with that answer. 😀

It was only 3:00 pm, but the sun had started to sink taking with it the warmth of the light.

True to my word, we stumbled upon the shelter soon after.  Three big guys greeted us.  I had been hoping for the second floor of the shelter as it is more protected from the wind.  No such luck, two of the big guys had already moved in.  Bummer! Oh well, they were building a fire, so I quickly forgave them!

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Vicky & Kathryn putting up their tents. This was Kathryn’s first backpacking trip and Vicky’s second! Great job, Ladies!

Two of our group tented, I stayed in the shelter with two others.  I have had to put up my tent with freezing fingers before and didn’t need that delightful experience in the morning.

Big guy #1, Bob, and his buddy, Big guy #2, Aaron, were trying to think of a trail name for their friend, Big guy #3.  They asked what we thought.  I looked over at them sitting around the fire.  Big guy #3 was sitting with his back to me, feet comfortably snuggled in bright orange down booties… “yeah, all I am I thinking right now is ‘BootyMan’!”  BootyMan it was!  Bwahahahaa!!  He took it well telling all of us we were going to be wanting his booties at about two in the morning!

Laughing, we spread out our stuff, made dinner, then joined the big guys at the fire.  The comradery of the trail is one of my favorite things about backpacking.  You meet up with other backpackers and it’s like you’ve been friends forever.  These guys were a lot of fun and they definitely made our shiverfest great.  🙂 🙂

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“BootyMan”, Aaron, Vicky, Kathy, Kathryn, & Anne enjoying the warmth of the fire.

The weather cooperated as well.  Cold, yes, but not dreary.  We huddled about the roaring fire watching daylight fade and the lights of houses in the valley twinkle up at us.  The sky sparkled with a million stars and we sat back, heads tilted to the heavens, taking in Orion and other lesser known constellations.  Good food, great conversation, we stayed up until about 8:30 pm before crawling into our bags.

Fast forward several hours…now huddled in my bag (rated 20 degrees + liner that advertised +20 more).  I slept off and on, not totally uncomfortable, but every once and awhile a shiver would start at the back of my neck and run down to my toes.  I had on all my layers…so even fitting into my bag was hilariously snug (but I did it…champ that I am). My feet were cold all night even with my big puffy socks…and all I thought about were those damn bright orange down booties!!!

Checking my Fitbit later that day showed that while I slept for 7 hours and 15 minutes…I was 51 minutes awake or restless!!!  Maybe next time I will go ahead and take my partner’s bag that is rated negative 15 degrees even though it is heavier!  It took all my will to get up and go to the privy! Brrrr!

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Finally up, I decided I would sit in my bag to stay warm while writing in my journal.  It was still dark, but I could see dawn trying to make its move on night.  The dark blue sky was now streaked with a sliver of light blue and I wondered whether we would get the reds and pinks with sunrise.

Several paragraphs later I glanced back up, ahh, light pink was seeping in at the lower edges of the light blue and I heard a flock of geese honking in the valley.  It was still too cold to go get my bag of food though.  No matter, I was warming up my hiking pants and insoles within my bag…my hiking socks were somewhere down in there too.  “Get warm little sockies, I need you!” I thought as I watched the sky dissolve into more of a peachy color.

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As I enjoyed the warmth of my bag, a few coyotes started yipping and singing, a beautiful moment.  I could now see the blue blaze on the trail to the spring.  Light had again conquered the Dark.  Time for hot chocolate – Hike on!

Poking Around at Pokagon State Park

Ah, Indiana in the winter…always a pleasure.  Don’t get me wrong, I love visiting my family around the holidays, but the weather, not in the slightest.  I hail from southern Indiana, where winter is more survived than enjoyed.  I did not grow up skiing the slopes or even sledding a whole lot.  I do remember being cold as heck huddled up to the barrel stove (built by Dad) in the cabin (also built by Dad).  I also remember slipping and sliding, in my shiny dress shoes, as I negotiated an ice laden porch in terror and my Dad lighting fires under my Mom’s car to warm it up enough to start so she could get to work.

And then there was Sara W.’s mom, who slipped on the ice and broke her hip.  She couldn’t walk for a really long time…and as I remember, the Methodist church built that ramp out back so she could be wheeled in for the service.

I want a more positive view of winter.  I really do!  I want to learn to love it, because I only have a maximum of 50 of them left in my lifetime.  😀  Therefore, I planned my visit to Hoosierland this year with a specific purpose: Do something that equates to winter fun.

Enter Pokagon State Park.  There is a toboggan ride!  It showed up on my Facebook feed since I follow Indiana State Parks…and it kept showing up…and I kept thinking about it.  I posted it to my son’s page, “Hey! Doesn’t this look super fun?!”…as insurance, I posted it to his girlfriend’s page too, “OMG, doesn’t this look like a blast?  Let’s all go on Christmas Eve!”  To which she responded that yes, it would be fun, but Logan (my son) would probably not ride.  Sounded like a challenge to me…

I made reservations for December 23 at the historic Potawatomi Inn at Pokagon State Park and literally prayed that 1) there would be snow on the ground but 2) there would not be a blizzard to keep us from going.

An old postcard of the Potawatomi Inn

With my niece in tow, we headed out to Terre Haute to pick up my son on the 23rd.  Two hours and a coffee shop stop later, we had him in the car.  Turn around, get on I-70 headed back east across the state to Indy, then north on I – 69 to the park.  No snow, but I drove north in a cold, dark, yucky rain for 3 hours before reaching our exit north of Angola.  But Hurray!! Food was still being served, there was SNOW on the ground, and sun was in the forecast for Christmas Eve!

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Nothing like a hot buffet with really good food!

 

Getting up early we headed down to the buffet and gorged ourselves, then headed to the Toboggan Ride!  The line wasn’t long, but we had to wait for the park staff to finish their inspection of the ice.  It was very cold, but sunny.  I looked at the slide with nervous anticipation – it was steep!  I would have fun, I would not freak out, I love winter, I love winter…

We got the toboggan.  Jesus Christ, this thing is heavy.  Well, this is why we have children, yes?  We managed to get it up the stairs to the beginning of the ride…and to contort ourselves into the requested riding position.  Niece in the front, son in the back, me in the middle, legs intertwined like we were playing some sort of weird twister..Here. We. Go!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was scary BUT a ton of fun! We got up to 38 miles per hour before shooting out the end onto the snow covered lawn of the inn.  The line was pretty long after our first ride, so we opted to turn in the toboggan and take a hike instead.

Midwesterners seem to be incredibly pragmatic in naming their trails…we took Trail #3 as it went to one of the few spots with a descriptive name “Hell’s Point”.  The trail was short (2.2 miles) but had nice variety to it as it traversed marshes and woodlands.  Hell’s Point wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped, but it didn’t matter.  I was spending time with my son and niece, in the snow, in the cold, and I was loving it!

Of course, coming down from Hell’s Point on the stairs, all I thought about was Sara W.’s mom and breaking my hip…Hike On!