My last blog post was written in June. I lost all motivation for pleasure writing this year or I was just exhausted or both. I am a teacher at a community college and every waking minute was spent tracking down students, creating virtual content, and just trying to keep my head above water. Hiking is my antidepressant and an antidepressant needs to be taken regularly, like any prescribed medicine. Hiking became sporadic in 2020 and that hit me hard. In addition, I was teaching in front of a computer, not walking around a classroom, so even that little bit of exercise was squashed. 2020 was a shit year…let’s move on. 😀
This year, even though still living with the pandemic, I hope to explore more of western Maryland. I am also setting a schedule for updating the Girl Gone Hiking Blog. I like to write…not particularly adept at it…but I like it and that is enough. It is enough for any of us, actually. If you like to draw, or sing, or do math, or walk, or do whatever, then please, for all our sake’s, DO IT! If 2020 has shown us anything it is that life is always shorter than expected and reality is crafted by each of us. So, make art, sing loudly, calculate away…and as always, Hike on!
Well…this was a post COVID shutdown shock to my system! 😀
After driving down for a little over three hours from Frederick, MD, and another two hours placing cars, we hit the trail while the hot afternoon sun beat down on us. The parking lot at VA501 was easy to find and I was happy to exit the hot pavement and enter the just as hot, but at least shady, woods!
Day 1 we hiked in to the Johns Hollow Shelter. Blessed with a fine running stream, I took a good amount of time refreshing myself before cooking dinner. The shelter is in a delightful location with several almost level places to put a tent. Except, of course, for the place I put mine! But I was exhausted and fell asleep quickly.
As usual, I awoke a few hours later after darkness had closed in on the forest. Since morning would not wait for certain things, I finally, after debating for at least 20 minutes, had to commit to getting out of my tent.
Okay, okay…I’m up, I’m out…oh, wow, it is really, really dark.
I made my way across to the privy and happened to look up. There was a perfect crescent moon shining down. It was framed by the upper most branches and leaves of several trees…perfectly timed…well done Mother Nature!
Once back in my tent, I could not fall back to sleep and tossed, turned, and created a ton of noise from my sleeping pad which has not become less noisy with wear FYI. Finally getting into a somewhat decent position I started to doze off. It must have been early…like 2 am…a yip, then a yowl, then a whole orchestrated sonata sung by a local coyote group. Beautiful!
I know you will find this surprising, but I did not wake up refreshed and ready for a 9 mile day.
Day 2 was an up, up, up day. We climbed about 2000 feet up. It was our first climb and we got up while the sun was still low in the sky and breezes were frequent. With proper breaks here and there we made it to the top without any terrible memories burning in my memory. A beautiful view awaited us!
We stopped at Salt Log Gap for a sit-down break. I got just two things to say…1. Someone said there was a spring. If that is true it is so far downhill that you’d be nuts to go looking for it. 2. Careful of the stinging nettles, but if you do get swiped try hand sanitizer on it. That worked wonders on the areas where I was attacked!
The second mountain of the day…ugh. Bluff Mountain is no bluff! The trail went up the sunny side of the mountain and it was a hot afternoon sun. Several thousand breaks later we rounded a corner to find the memorial for Ottie Cline Powell, an almost 5-year old boy who wandered away from his school in November 1890, got lost, then died on Bluff Mountain. His remains were found by a hunter in April 1891. This choked me up and I cannot get this kid out of my head even now. Poor, poor baby. 😦
I was so glad to get to the Punchbowl Shelter. Such a pretty sight with a pond filled with chatty bullfrogs. 🙂 I went about setting up my tent, minding my own business, when the black flies descended. Oh my gawd, this was awful. Like on level with chiggers awful. I got so many bites. 😦 Bug spray didn’t phase those little suckers one bit. I capped off Day 2 with three ibuprofen and a benadryl.
We TRIED to get out earlier on day 3 so we were done hiking earlier due to the heat. A group of five…we did try! And maybe we were out a little earlier??? Anyway, the day’s elevation looked decent and I was optimistically promoting a day that would allow our fired up muscles a day to recover somewhat. Hahahaaaaa 😀
The elevation wasn’t bad in comparison, but it still managed to get at me. The heat and humidity was suffocating and I could smell rain. Picking up speed around the Lynchburg Reservoir, yessss! This was good, this was easy!
Rounded a corner…Oh for Christ’s sake. What horse of the Apocalypse are we on now?
A monumental disaster of epic proportions lay before us. A tangle of huge blowdowns over a ravine. Every woman for herself! I decided to crawl under and through it dragging my pack behind me. It worked!
Feeling superior, I temporarily forgot that this was a miserable hike and plodded on down the trail happily the victor. 😀 There was even an congratulatory creek with rushing cool water about a mile after. Huzzah!
The day got long again and my feet were screaming with every step once we reached the bridge across Brown Mountain Creek near the shelter. I wasn’t the only one having physical turmoil and we were glad to be done for the day.
The Brown Mountain Creek area is fabulously wild and gorgeous. In the early 1900s, a community of African American sharecroppers lived here. I looked and found evidence of homes long since abandoned. I am surprised and disappointed that there is no roadside history sign about this community at VA60. I went Googling for information once I got home and found “Brown Mountain Creek – Before the AT”.
I settled in for the night, best sleep on the whole trip under a big old oak tree. I had some quite disturbing lucid dreams about little Ottie. I woke up suddenly during one of those dreams to a lightning bug blinking his light as he passed my tent…a good sign. I got up and looked out ….ohhhhhhh…*sharp inhale*…the lightning bugs! I was mesmerized, and after the dreams I had, a little emotional.
The last day was a short hike out to VA60. Sitting in my tent, early in the morning, while the lightning bugs were still blinking, I wrote:
“I am humbled by these mountains. Blisters on my heels burn with every step. Black fly bites have formed hard spherical mounds that itch like the dickens. Stinging nettles brushed my legs with a touch that was anything but gentle. My COVID shutdown body is tired and demoralized. Another day my mountains.”
Now healing, beer in hand, and looking forward to another day…Hike on!
In the spirit of writing bad poetry, I give you my Hiking Haiku…and this may become a regular Monday thing while we are under “stay at home” orders due to COVID-19. I urge you to also write bad poetry and a hoky haiku or two! Hike on!
COVID-19 continues, so my hiking strategy of hitting the trails at the most opportune times for solitude goes forward with full force!
I got out this week to a local mountain park while it was raining and foggy. No thunderstorms, so I was extremely pleased to don my wet weather gear and head out. The parking lot was empty save for some super motivated trail runner…well, I don’t how motivated he was, because he was leaving when I pulled up. Could be that he got to the trail, was put off by the rain, and left. Don’t know, don’t care 😀 😀 😀 I was going hiking!
The dim foggy woods elicited magic on this morning. Birdsong penetrated the soft drip-drop of rain with a flute-like symphony of unimaginable clarity and tone. Enraptured, I was drawn into the forest and down the trail. Water cascaded forth from springs and bounded down and across my path. I inhaled deeply and let out a contented sigh.
Hello Fiddle Fern family! I see you too, May apples! Oh, hey there, Dogwood!
The mountains are waking up! No one was on the trail this morning except me and I was glad of it.
Days like these…enchanting, bewitching, and gratifying!
I live in a wonderful place with a lot of close by opportunities to get out for a short walk now and then. I am not pushing my COVID-19 boundaries…rather not get into trouble with the Hoganmeister…Governor Hogan…or get anyone sick or get sick myself.
All alone at Chimney Rocks
However, I know how to pick place and time for solitude on the trail. That is one of the benefits to being a regular hiker, I know where the secret places are and/or the times when everyone else stays home.
Only one in the Gorge at Rocky Gap
Solo lunch by the Lake
Occasionally, I have taken Sidekick Pauli and she is loving it! She is going to be 13 on May 10, is covered with lumps, and is graying around her muzzle, but she still enjoys a mile or so on a trail. 🙂 Especially when wildflowers are beginning to bloom! We took this micro jaunt along the C&O Canal in western Maryland…not a soul in sight.
I am fortunate to have outdoor resources so near to my house. I can get there and back without stopping for gas, to go to the bathroom, or anything else. Added benefit is that I am reconnecting with solo hiking. I definitely miss hiking with my Trail Dames right now, but once this is all over, we will hike again.
In between the outdoor jaunts I am on lock down with almost everyone else. I am a teacher and the show must go on…but it has not been an easy transition to online instruction for me or my college students. I am sure it has been an interesting transition for you as well.
If you are a healthcare worker, a bus driver, a grocery store employee, or any other occupation deemed essential…I salute and thank you. You all are getting all the rest of us though this pandemic and your sacrifice is immeasurable.
I am not adapting to quarantine well! Are you? I am luckier than most as I have a stable job of math professor at a community college. Although, this last week, which has lasted about four months, has kicked my butt…physically and emotionally. I teach students who struggle with math. I teach these students in a face to face setting and forcing them into a situation that they are not even remotely prepared for is…well, a gamble. I am dealing with this new virtual reality…but I need my real material world more than ever.
I hope to get out on a lesser trafficked trail this weekend. I want to sit in the forest. I want to smell the moist soil and new shoots of grass pushing up through the mulchy forest floor. I want to touch the moss covered boulders and lean against a huge tree, close my eyes, and just be. I need my material world. I need to see and hear and touch and sense all things wild and free. Hike on…but exercise caution. Be well my hiking friends!
Here in the mid-atlantic, the sometimes chilly, but mostly not, January weather has kept me guessing on when to hike, what to where, or whether Old Man Winter is staying at my sister’s house in Minnesnowta this year.
January is named after Janus, a Roman god, who among other things, presided over transitions…so maybe the days of spring aren’t totally out of the question? 🤔
At Seneca, the weather was mild enough for us to take an extended sit-down, picnic-style, break on the banks of Clopper Lake. Lovely, if not slightly odd, for January!
The next outing at Thomas Farm (part of Monocacy NB) with Sidekick Pauli, gave us warm, breezy weather, more like March than January. Pauli was delighted and pulled me from one groundhog hole to the next! Her message of “Get up, you fools, it’s Spring out here” was ignored by plump, warm, sleeping groundhogs who I could imagine replying “WE, only WE, get to decide whether spring is come. Go away silly dog!”
Oh well, Pauli was not deterred, and continued to spread the news, welcome or not. 🐾
The third hike, to Antietam, was on a damp morning following a rainy night. Fog was rolling over the mountains and rising from parts of the battlefield. A magical beginning!
Sidekick Pauli and I walked down Rodman Ave headed to Burnside Bridge. Small tidbit about Janus…he also presided over transitions from war to peace, so Antietam seems a good choice for a January hike!
Birds raucously chatted with one another and swooped across the road in front of us so close that their eyes, intent on the mission, were clearly visible. Hawks and vultures soared high overhead, appearing, then disappearing into the fog as they searched for breakfast.
The bridge beckoned as we rounded the last bend in the road. We diverted off the pavement onto the gravel path, then walked across the bridge to look up into the branches of the Witness Tree.
This is a place I always come back to several times a year. There is just something about this huge Sycamore, the keeper of tales untold, that keeps me in awe, in wonder, in reverence, …, I am searching for the right word but it eludes me. I stand under that tree and can feel the non-linearity of time.
Sidekick Pauli, my most faithful hiking pal, has entered her retirement years. She is covered in fatty tumors and some of them are in awkward spots. She likes to sleep…a lot. 🐾
However, she can be persuaded to get off of her doggie couch as long as getting off 1) involves a treat, 2) she is immediately hooked up to her leash (signal for walk), and 3) I have my car keys in hand (signal for going hiking)!
All stars aligned for her Saturday morning! Her dog smile was ENORMOUS as she trotted out to the car at a respectable 10:00 am.
We headed up to Dam #4 on the C&O Canal near Sharpsburg, Maryland. This would be a short hike for me, but a big, super, best hike ever for my aging Pauli girl!
Parking at Big Slackwater allowed me and Pauli-wog to hike a mile on the canal to Dam #4, then turn around and hike back … 2 miles total.
It was beautiful weather for January. Rain threatened, but with a balmy 58 degrees, I was happy to chance it.
The hike down to the dam was lovely. The Potomac River sparkled each time the clouds parted enough to allow a peek of sunlight through. A group of Mallard ducks quacked a warning as we neared, then took flight with a whoosh of wings and upsweep of river spray from their webbed feet on take-off.
Getting to the Dam, we explored the river bank, then headed back.
Sidekick Pauli seemed in a hurry…and practically dragged me back to the car. I noticed the temps had dropped, the sky now hid the sun completely, and a stiff wind had begun to blow. Sidekick Pauli was not pleased. She kept me walking at a very fast pace… where was my retiree now…good lord, was she trying to kill me???
Fifteen minutes and we were in the car! Then the rain came…turns out Pauli-waddle-doodle-all-day was trying to save me. 😄
I don’t know what I was hoping to find, or hear, or think, or see. All I knew was, after dropping my sewing machine off to be serviced in sunny Martinsburg, WV, I was not going immediately home to Frederick, MD where thick gray mist still covered the entire valley. I found myself pulling into Yankauer Nature Preserve .
My first steps, on a trail covered in soft pine needles still cushy from recent rain showers, took me into a forest glittering with raindrops.
Each sunlit drop clung precariously, and in futility, before beautifully releasing to the Earth. Rejoined with all the other droplets, waiting for the sun to regenerate and empower them to rise once more! To be immense and visible to all who gaze up into the billowing towers of clouds… the gathering of millions and millions of droplets.
The trail mimics a labyrinth, winding to the west, then east, then around again. I am walking into blinding light of the sun, then a few moments on, I find only dark shade in front of me and the warmth of the sun on my back.
Around one turn in the trail I spy a hawk. It spots me too….and takes flight over the Potomac River, then circles back and around until he finds a suitable alternate roost far from me.
Strange, this period between Winter Solstice and New Year’s. Yes, timeless, but more than that. For me, it has been a time of seeing myself as if Picasso had painted me. All angles of my life at once, past, present, even my future self, all vividly present at once.
Too much time and not enough either. I think about how we all get stuck sometimes and wonder whether struggling through is really the right approach to get unstuck. Maybe, like the rain droplets, we need to put our trust in the universe, to a certain extent, and let go.
So…with that said…Goodbye 2019, I release you! It was a hard year, for me and for the world.
Hello 2020! Let me have more sense, show more compassion, and act more responsibly. Let me be regenerated and empowered to take on life!