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. ūüôā

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!

May 26 Day 1 of Shenandoah Weekend!

Definitely took my chances on finding a campsite in Shenandoah National Park on Memorial Day Weekend!  Hoped coming down on Thursday before the holiday weekend was early enough.  Otherwise, it was going to be a long day trip with lots of goodies in the car!

The best possible outcome would be a campsite at Lewis or Loft. Pulling through the entrance gate at Swift Run Gap, the sign stated that ALL campgrounds were open. ¬†A sigh of relief escaped me, but I was skeptical. ¬†The ranger at the gate assured me the campground would have radioed down if there were no more spots. ¬† Decided to head north to Lewis first. ¬†This was my first choice as it is a smaller, tents only, campground. ¬†Well, after circling twice and finding nothing, confidence waned a bit. ¬†I had a choice to make: ¬†south to Loft (20 miles) or north to Big Meadows (5 miles)? ¬†Yep, I went for Big Meadows figuring if there wasn’t a spot, then at least I could keep heading north … check at Matthews Arm…and if I was denied there as well, then I would just drive on out of the park and head home.

Not to worry! Big Meadows had ONE spot left! ¬†Not a great spot, but A spot. ¬†I’ll take it! Ummm…just a side note, not a complaint, full price should not be charged for this spot. ¬†It was challenging finding a flat place to pitch my backpacker tent without moving the picnic table and it is just below where all the cars park…which means you get light every time someone drives by at night!

After getting the tent pitched on a relatively flat area, I headed down to an overlook to send a text to Little Caesar, letting her know where to find me should there be an emergency. ¬†Saw my first bear at the overlook! And a cluster of stupid people…yay!

DSC00786

God, I’m so hungry…*nom, nom, nom*

Back at the campground families were gathering, fires being lit, and music was playing loudly. *Sigh* ¬†I spread out the maps and finally decided we would finish off a micro-section of the AT I needed tomorrow, Pinnacle Picnic Grounds to Mary’s Rock. ¬†It would have to be an out and back hike.

DSC00780

Sidekick Pauli takes her watchdog responsibilities very seriously!

I raised my head to look around. ¬†Hmmm, as long I as didn’t look towards those parked cars, it was kinda nice. ¬†Music wafted up into my campsite,

“But it was only fantasy.
The wall was too high,
As you can see.
No matter how he tried,
He could not break free.”

Hike on.

 

Fogged in at Tentsite #43 (Day 2 – Saturday 9/26/2015)

I left this story as Sidekick Pauli and I were preparing for a night in the tent. ¬†She was on her cushy mat covered with a fleece pad and I made myself as comfy as possible on my Thermarest pad. I had my 20 degree bag underneath and my 35 covering us both like a quilt. ¬†It was quite cozy as darkness fell and Sidekick Pauli’s little snores kept me company as I read my book with a headlamp. ¬†The soothing pitter-patter of raindrops soon had my eyes lids drooping, so I called it a night and drifted off into dream land.

Campgrounds!!! Boom-boom-whack-boom…a family had rolled in after dark and by the sound of it were constructing the Taj Mahal. ¬†No need to worry about the bears…back to sleep…

Peeking my head out of the tent in the morning I couldn’t see more than ten feet in front of me! ¬†That was pretty wild. I waited about an hour for a little more light to filter through the fog, then headed to the car. “Let’s go, Pauli! ¬†This is car camping, I need coffee!” ¬†and I found it at the Wayside…gladly paid $3.04 for a coffee they branded as a “large” but would have been classified as a medium (or a “grande” for you Starbucks folks ūüôā )

Need coffee...what a welcome site on a chilly, wet morning.

Need coffee…what a welcome site on a chilly, wet morning.

Then I headed south with the intention of finding a place to hike where the fog was not as heavy.  This turned into quite a quest!  I drove into the southern section of the park and found a few beautiful views.

Southern Section Overlook

Southern Section Overlook

We hiked a little of this and little of that as I drove back north towards Big Meadows, where it was just as foggy as I had left it! ¬†I decided we could walk down the road to Rapidan. ¬†I was NOT going into the Meadow in that fog…good God, I could have been lost for hours!!

I can't see anything!

I can’t see anything!

We had a good time and eventually the fog lifted in the Meadow, so we entered and found many beautiful wildflowers, in addition to an apple tree dripping with apples!  We were ready for lunch soon after stomping up, down, and around Big Meadows.

Walking into the Meadow on the Rapidan Fire Road.

Walking into the Meadow on the Rapidan Fire Road.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heading back to the tentsite I took in the spread of the Taj Mahal campers. ¬†Two huge tents, food everywhere, and the number of red Dixie cups would positively have the Leave No Trace peep’s panties in a twist. ¬†It even made me cringe…seriously, I think these campers produced more trash in two days than I produce in a month.

“Okay…stop judging them!!!” I made a conscience decision to STOP JUDGING them…I was camping. ¬†“Just let them camp, girl! It’s fine…everything is fine!” ¬†So I left it and enjoyed my lunch. ūüôā

And it was fine! ¬†Their kids came over and met Sidekick Pauli, and she adored them. ¬†Mom was very nice, as was Grandpa! ¬†How cool that the whole family was getting together for good times outdoors…I love that!

The fog had lifted, but it was still chilly. ¬†Here is the issue with bringing my dog on a rainy weekend…there is not much to do with a dog on a rainy weekend if tenting. ¬†I certainly wasn’t going to tie her to the tree and let her get cold, while I sat in a comfy chair reading my book. ¬†She wasn’t allowed inside anywhere…and we didn’t come out here to hang out in the backpacking tent…so only one thing to do…hike!

I picked up the AT where we had left it yesterday and hiked south to a cemetery, then looped back on a horse trail. ¬†Not a long hike, but long enough to stretch our legs once more before the rain started up. ¬†Which it did, right on cue at 5 pm. ¬†Even so, the tent was a welcome respite and kept us cozy one more night. ūüôā ¬†Hike on!

After our last hike of the day...time to relax in the den!

After our last hike of the day…time to relax in the den!

Fogged in at Tentsite 43 with Sidekick Pauli (Day 1 – Friday 9/25/2015)

Tentsite 43 – Big Meadows, Shenandoah NP

I had the site reserved well in advance. ¬†This was planned to be an outing with my nieces “No Bend Barbie” and “Jedi”, but No Bend is finishing up her Master’s in Geology and was way too deep in research to come…so we postponed until next May.

So I figured I would take Sidekick Pauli!  My first solo camping trip and a long time since Pauli has been on an overnight with me.  This would be fun!  We could chill out at the campsite, enjoying the crisp autumn air, watching the leaves fall, and take an occasional hike.  Hey, I even bought a new camp chair for the occasion at the REI sale a few weeks ago!

As our weekend approached I got nervous…too many nice weekends in a row…oh, the probability for a rainy weekend…

Right on cue, the forecast said occasional showers, then rain at 6 PM on Friday night. ¬†Okay, okay, I will get there early and set up the tent. ¬†We can get a hike in ¬†before it starts raining…

Cruising up to Sperryville, Virginia, I glanced at the wall of mountains before me shrouded in white…uh oh…

Well, I will just drive on up to the park entrance and see what is happening. ¬†As my car climbed up, the fog rolled in, and soon I was moving at about 20 mph, hands gripping the wheel, as shapes swirled in and out of the fog in front of me. ¬†Hmmm, It’s not raining…maybe we just need to gain a little altitude, you know, to get above the fog bank. ¬†So I flashed my pass at the gate and turned south on Skyline Drive headed for Big Meadows (still at 20 mph, but now with the addition of the hazards blinking merrily to the sorry souls who dared hug my bumper).

Turning into Big Meadows, I was mollified somewhat. ¬†The fog had lifted a bit and my optimism for an adventure had returned! ¬†Tentsite 43 let’s go!

Great site by the way.  Way back in the woods.  There is a picnic table, bear box and tent pad.  There were also a few little trails behind the site.  These trails made walking Sidekick Pauli late at night very easy!

After setting up the tent, We set out for Lewis Spring Falls.  This trail is a 3.3 mile loop which I was able to reach by walking from my site (a nice plus!).  The fog was again falling through the trees which made my traverse along the Appalachian Trail magical.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

All of my previous doubts about staying the weekend disappeared as walked along the AT.

The trail followed the AT south past the lodge, then a right turn on the fire road, passing an exhausted looking family unit. “Hey, how are you guys?” I cheerfully greeted them…Dad says, “We’re great!”…Mom says, “Kill me now…” ¬†The teenagers were happy though! ¬†I left them to their resting spot and headed on to the falls.

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

This was going to make that Mom like her hike again! Did I just walk into a fairytale?

Whoa…lots of switchbacks!!! It sprinkled a bit, but I had dropped below the fog and could now see distant peaks. ¬†Reaching the top of the falls, everything was wet and the rocks were slippery. ¬†I guess to actually see the falls I would need to descend a little more…but knowing my propensity for taking a tumble and that at the moment I was hiking sans hiking poles (and with a dog)…I decided not to go any further! ¬†I didn’t feel even the least bit sad about that decision either. ¬†Some people just love waterfalls, I am not one of those people. ¬†I like them, they are pretty, but I don’t have to see them in person…unless of course we are talking about Niagra…

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

An unexpected view on this foggy day!

I wondered why everyone was going back up the same switchbacks they came down…then I figured it out. ¬†When you loop, the trail gets pretty rocky. ¬†Holy crap! I hadn’t bargained on this for my easy, afternoon, 3.3 mile hike!! Careful, whew! I didn’t slide and I didn’t fall!!

Back at the site, I proceeded to make dinner.  As soon as I had finished cleaning up and putting things away, then rain started in earnest.  It was 6 pm.

Happiness is a warm puppy!

Happiness is a warm puppy!

We didn’t come out of the tent until after dark so Sidekick Pauli could have a little walk into the woods, so to speak. ¬†Then we were in for good! Into the fog…hike on!

Big Meadows Never Disappoints!

Big Meadows, in Shenandoah National Park, is a place that is as much spiritual as it is physical.  From a picture or a drive by in the car it may just look like another big field.  It is so much more.

Big Meadows

Big Meadows

We set off Friday morning with the dogs to wander around this area before the throng of weekenders descended.

It is probably best to forgo a heavy regimented hiking plan in this area. ¬†There is no map for the meadow, and we usually just kind of wander around, feet following our “oh!” and “ahhh!” moments. ¬†This doesn’t mean there are not any trails. ¬†There are MANY trails, all made by deer as they criss-cross the meadow in what seems a haphazard, confusing fashion. Once on a trail and fully immersed in the meadow it begins to make sense as our feet find our own crooked, nonsensical route to happiness. ūüôā

Since the dogs were with us today and we wanted to avoid the ticks, if possible, we walked down the road to Rapidan to the trail head for Stony Mountain trail, then back.  We think it was about 4.5 Р5 miles in total.

Little Caesar with Farmdog Jett & Sidekick Pauli

Little Caesar with Farmdog Jett & Sidekick Pauli

Taking a road like this one is deceptive because even though it seems flat, it is descending. ¬†On a previous hike, we walked up this road from Rapidan, Hoover’s camp…and it was six miles of not so fun! ¬†ūüėČ

Today, however, with a bit of fog rolling over the trail from time to time, was quite pleasant.

Walking down the road to Rapidan

Walking down the road to Rapidan

The road has some hairpin turns! The trail head for Stony Mountain trail is located just off of the first big hairpin turn.  This was our turn around point.

The first big hairpin turn, along with Little Caesar and Farmdog Jett.

The first big hairpin turn, along with Little Caesar and Farmdog Jett.

On the way back up I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to the road, having drifted off into la-la land. ¬†All of the sudden, I was looking down on a rattlesnake! Both Sidekick Pauli and myself jumped, then skittered over to the other side of the road, while I was yelling “Holy Crap-a rattlesnake”!! ¬†Once a safe distance away, I asked aloud, really more to myself, “Why no rattle? Why did he not warn us?” ¬†then as I took another look figured out he was probably dead. ¬†I wasn’t going to prod him to check it out, but I was pretty sure. I snapped a picture and moved on.

Looking at the picture later, I confirmed that he had to be dead. ¬†Still…what a shocker! ¬†I kept to the middle of the road after that!!! ūüôā

The best reason, in my opinion, to visit Shenandoah right now in the middle of hot, hot summer are the wild flowers and the fungi! These made climbing back up the road not so bad.  We were also lucky to have that rolling fog which kept us cool throughout our hike.

Wildflowers! And a Fungi!

Wildflowers! And a Fungi!

The fog greeted us as we left the woods and made our way back across the meadow.

An everchanging landscape…brightly sunny to dramatically foggy.

In the meadow, hike on!

Myterious? Melancholy? Fog settles over Big Meadows

Myterious? Melancholy? Fog settles over Big Meadows