Cool Spring Battlefield, Virginia – TGIF!!

I am just so damn pleased.  Last night I took a hike with some fellow Trail Dames at Cool Spring Battlefield in Bluemont, Virginia.  Now, I’m not damn pleased because I took a hike (although, I seriously deserve a freaking ribbon for doing that in the heat and humidity last night). No, my current smirk of satisfaction comes from seeing this previous golf course reclaimed and thoughtfully returned to its mostly natural state.  The asphalt roads built for the golf carts are still at Cool Spring, but now serve as walking paths.  This was my first visit to this battlefield and I was impressed.

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The path we meandered along followed the Shenandoah River north.  Wildflowers lined our path, which made this sticky, hot hike bearable!  Not even a breeze! Oh, it was brutal but beautiful. 🙂

The river looked refreshing, but I resisted the urge to jump in.  I really didn’t want to drive the hour back home in damp clothes.  No one else took the plunge either, but it was nice to listen to the water tumble over the rocks as it moved on north.

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We moved on, climbing the “big hill”, then headed to the waterfall.  This battlefield is wonderfully diverse! Meadows, a climb with a view, woodlands, the river, and now a waterfall! I like, I like, I like!

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Luckily, we weren’t really in any hurry.  None of us cared if we did too many miles. After all, this was a Friday evening hike.  A chance to close out the week by inhaling the sweet scents of the meadow and exhaling all of our work stress.  Breath in, yes, it was working! Exhale, ahhhh, the weekend! Hike On!

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!

AT – VA Ashby Gap to Manassas Gap

Connecting dots.  I started this section last year around the same time, then fell trying to dodge a cicada killer bee.  Cracked my knee, hobbled back to my car, and promised myself I would be back!  Luckily, this time around I had some hiking pals with me, so no out and back silliness!

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Look at the size of this tree that came down! Wow!

We met at the 725 trail head at Manassas Gap, then shuttled back to Ashby Gap to begin our trek.  After crossing Route 50, we came face to face with a young deer.  Go back in the woods, Bambi! Route 50 is a split highway with high speed traffic…no place for a deer!

The first mile or so, after meeting up with Bambi, was climbing.  Worth it! We came out in the high meadows of Sky Meadows State Park which were in full bloom.  Lovely!

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The High Meadow

We cruised along through Sky Meadows, taking our first sit down break at the intersection of the North Ridge trail.  And then, guess what???  An older Virginia gentleman, who had come up the North Ridge trail, recited a poem for us.  Always something interesting happening along the AT.  Haha! So cool! Definitely made my day! 🙂 I inserted a link to a video of his performance. 🙂

Poem on the Appalachian Trail

This hike had two memorable pieces for me and that was one of them.  The other was the visit to Dick’s Dome shelter,  a geodesic dome.  It looked like an Icosahedron to me…yep, math girl here! I was delighted by the equilateral triangles and just being in the dome. 🙂 🙂

IF I could somehow manage to spend a sabbatical researching mathematics along the AT…well, I’d be all set! Hike on!

 

Beat the Heat at Little Bennett Regional Park

Can Mother Nature cool her jets?  Everyday brings a new level of heat disgust!  My last hike was two weeks ago and we were chased back to our cars by a thunderstorm.  Since then it has just been oppressive.  I know it’s summer, yada, yada, yada…keep your logic to yourself!

I needed to get out, but also needed motivation.  This is where being a hike leader with Trail Dames is so, so, personally satisfying.  I scheduled an early morning hike at Little Bennett Regional Park in Maryland.  And six other crazy women signed up…so at 6:20 AM I pulled into the Hyattstown Mill trail head parking lot in Hyattstown just across the street from the fire department.  It was already a steamy 80 degrees, but otherwise a gorgeous morning that had surprised me with an amazing sunrise on the way down from Frederick.

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From the Hyattstown Mill Trail Head Parking…with a colorful filter. 🙂 Cute little town.

As soon as everyone arrived, some still trying to wake up, we started down the road to pick up the trail.  The trail used to be the old Hyattstown Road that went from Hyattstown to Clarksburg and it still resembles a road.  Wide and paved with gravel it was an easy walk to the cut off for the Bennett Ridge trail.

There was a 10k going on in the park this morning.  As such we navigated past water stations, yellow tape marking off trails, and eventually the runners.  They had their work cut out for them on this muggy morning!

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Along the old Hyattstown Road

We followed the Bennett Ridge trail to the campground (pitstop), then backtracked to Beaver Valley.  We headed downhill and encountered a bubble of runners from the 10k coming up.  Oh! They looked a little whipped, but were in good spirits as they scuttled up the hill.

 

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A 10k runner in beautiful Little Bennett

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Another runner in the 10k. How can I not love this park? So lovely!

Beaver Valley winds around to the Western Piedmont trail, which we took back in the direction of Hyattstown.  This is also part of the old road, so we were on flat, wide terrain again for a while.  As we approached the section of trail where Pine Grove trail comes in, runners were exclaiming that they were getting stung.  We slowly walked forward.  I watched the next runner carefully, trying to spot the bees.  Runner yelled, another win for the bees.  I saw the bees and following their track I spotted the hive.

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Look closely above runner’s head…the HIVE! Yep, this guy also got stung. It was just easy pickins for the bees.

Holy moly! A huge hornet operation just above the heads of the poor defenseless runners!  I looked around and decided this was a time when it was perfectly okay to go off trail.  I led the women who chose to follow off, up, and around the nest…no stings.  Hooray!

A few women had decided to take their chances and stay on trail…sucked for them, stung!

The final piece of adventure for this trail was wading across Little Bennett.  I chose the deepest part, because, well, it was hot, and I mean seriously, if I’m taking the time to put on water shoes, then dang it, it better be worth it!! And it was! The water came up to the bottom of my shorts and felt so cold and ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

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A good cool off!

Long before the daily heat advisory went into effect, we were back at the cars and ready to head home for showers.

I looked forward to coffee and chilling out in the AC… Hike on!

 

 

First Solo Backpack – Adventure Hiking Trial, oops, I mean Trail!

The Adventure Hiking Trail provided me with some unique challenges during my first solo backpack this weekend.  I couldn’t anticipate all of what was in front of me, but I did research the trail as extensively as possible.  It is a 22 mile loop around O’Bannon Woods State Park.  A big shout to Ron White of the Ohio Valley Backpackers for the heads up on the trail head parking, recommendations for water caches, and some other general stuff!  The Hoosier Hiker Council website was a great resource as well with links to a few good maps of the trail.

I had never hiked a trail where I had to cache water and was a little nervous that my cache would disappear before I got to it!  Didn’t happen, my water was waiting for me!

This trail is in southern Indiana, which has a Karst topography.  This topography includes highly soluble rocks such as limestone.  There are many underground drainage opportunities, in addition to caves and sinkholes (of which I saw several).  The water just doesn’t hang around on top, so all the creek beds are dry.  Oh you might find a small pool here and there, but not nearly enough to keep one hydrated.  Thus the water cache.

Friday night I checked into the Forest Office, then stashed water at two trail crossings, the crossing on Cold Friday Road and the one on Old Forest Road.  Driving down Cold Friday Road was an adventure unto itself! Gravel, rutted in spots, and with one place where the road fords the creek (must happen only in a big storm because it was just a low bridge when I went over).  As I placed my gallon of water, with my name and date of pickup labeled clearly, a rumble of thunder sent a chill up my spine.  Okay, good enough, behind a tree…now for cache number two!  Old Forest Road was a regular paved road. What a relief!  I pulled off the road, thunder and clouds rolling, threw my gallon up in the woods and ran for it!  I swear, I love and I hate thunderstorms and it all depends on where I am when they hit.

Anyway, water cached successfully so I headed back to Corydon, Indiana where I had a room at the historic Kintner House Inn.  No hiker trash hotel for me!  The woman who owns place is super accommodating and I recommend it to anyone coming to this part of the country.

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The Joe Zimmerman Room at the Kintner House Inn.

They made me a special early breakfast so I could get to the trail early.  It was a decent day for the middle of summer, mid-80s, low humidity, and no storms!  My car parked at the 462/Old Forest Road lot (space for maybe 3 creatively parked vehicles), I did a last minute check of gear, then headed in a counter-clockwise (west) direction headed for the Ohio River Shelter.

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Test #1: Do you like spiders?  Or rather do you like spider webs…in your face, in your hair, draping from your nose and your cheeks to your ears and your chin to your chest?  I looked like a freaking drum major marching down the trail raising first one hiking pole and then the other in  quick succession in order to catch as many of the webs as possible before they hit my face once again.  Every once in a while, I’d get lulled in a false sense of security, then WHOP, right in the face, spider on my eyeglasses, ugh.  After about the billionth spider web, I gave up.  I just started to plow right through them, with my lips tightly pressed together.  NOTE TO SELF: Buy a hat with a brim and put mosquito netting over it.

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My hiking poles were used as weapons of mass destruction. Sorry to the Spider Subdivision.

Test #2: Do you like wet feet?  My feet were wet from dew in about 30 minutes of starting my hike and they didn’t dry out all day.

Test #3 Do you like to bushwhack?  Because if you don’t, then stay off the trails in southern Indiana in the summer.  All those winter pictures of the Adventure Trail that I found online…yeah, totally get it now.  In general, I backpack at an average pace of 2 mph.  It took me 5 hours to go 5.5 miles!!! Holy moly! When I reached the Iron Bridge, I sat down to have lunch just shaking my head.  Was the rest of the trail going to be like this?  Bushwhacking takes a lot out of you!  On the positive side, the trail is extremely well marked!  After I would fight through another bunch of overgrown grasses, briars, and young tulip poplars I was immediately rewarded with a trail marking.  The emotional gratification of that trail marking cannot be overstated here!

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A lesser bushwhack that greeted me just after starting the trail.

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A more substantial bushwhack…do you see a trail…THAT’S BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE (or so you think)!  This was on day 2 between Homestead and Indian Creek Shelters.

The trail improved after the Iron Bridge, so I was able to make faster forward progress, which put my head back in the right place.  I followed a nice wide fire road from the Iron Bridge up to the Horseman’s campground.  This was a planned water stop for me.  While at the campground, I also took the opportunity to wash the spider webs out of my bandannas and clean my glasses which had so many webs crisscrossing them it was hard to see! Felt like a new woman!

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The rest of the trail to the Ohio River Shelter was lovely.  Well marked, well maintained. I reached my destination at 3:30pm.  Shortly, afterwards, two guys came in from the other direction and we had a fun conversation about what we each had experienced thus far.  They were out for a long day hike.  In fact, I had just passed their water cache, which they had put in a tote bag, and chained to a tree…omg!  I told them, “I was wondering about that bag and thought, wow, there must be something pretty special in that bag.  I might have just found a use for my pocket knife…”  They were good guys!  Terrible, I can’t remember their names now…I’ll just call them the Evansville crew.

The Evansville crew gave me some good info on the trail ahead.  There is more bushwhacking and the last two miles (their first two miles) was like my first 5.5.  They also said, “There will be a place where you literally can’t see which way to go.  Go straight ahead. It won’t look like it, but go straight ahead” I gave them my map and they pointed approximately where they thought that place was located. God, I felt like I was in Hunger Games.

The Ohio River Shelter is a popular spot.  I was visited by a bunch of trail riders, a fellow backpacker from Indianapolis who I continued to leapfrog with all weekend, and a nice family who were taking their kids on their first campout.  I tented, Adorable Family got the shelter, and I was totally okay with that!  The shelters along the Adventure Trail are nice, but too closed in for my liking.  They seem dark and dank.  I preferred my tent.

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Please don’t let that horse poo by my tent!!!

It was a beautiful first night out, with a bright moon shining down on me.

The next morning I was up and on the trail before anyone in the Adorable Family was stirring.  It was going to be very hot today and I was hoping I could finish hiking at about 2 pm.  First stop was Cold Friday Road to get my first water cache.  Yay! There it was, waiting for me!  I filled up my 3-liter bladder and 1.5 liter bottle, then drank what was left.

While I was there, my Indianapolis buddy came by.  This is when I found out he had not cached water.  He had a filter and thought he would be able to get water on the trail….oh, buddy.  He started up the next hill and I followed after smashing the now empty gallon jug and attaching to my pack.  I caught up with him again, sitting on a slab of limestone in the middle of an almost dry creek.  He had found a small pool at which to filter water.  Thank goodness!  I continued on up to the Homestead Shelter for a lunch break.

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Homestead Shelter, great tent sites here! Also, a little history behind this site…original chimney!

Indianapolis buddy passed me while I was munching away.  However, it wasn’t long before I caught up to him again.  Honestly, I was kinda worried about him.  He definitely was not drinking enough water, but I didn’t have any extra to offer him, but would have given him some if he had asked.  The bushwhacking had come back full force today and it was freaking hot, like 95 degrees.

We hiked together then until we reached the Indian Creek Shelter, my stopping point.  I know my limits…and heat is one of them.  The bushwhacking was a trial for me and for Indianapolis buddy.

Ohhh…I forgot Test #4!

Test #4 Do you like climbing over blowdowns?  If so, then you would love this trail!  I lost count at 50.

It was nice to have to someone to share the bushwhacking and blow down hopping experiences with, for sure.  I mean, here I am, in the middle of bushes that are taller than me, and I have to decide what to do when I don’t immediately see a blaze.  It’s unnerving.  I had to backtrack at one point to regroup and think it through.  God, and it was so hot! I was so glad to stop hiking that day! Poor Indianapolis had to hike out…5 miles and less than a liter of water.

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Very little tent area at Indian Creek Shelter, but I managed!

I took a look inside the shelter, immediately saw spiders.  I sat down at the picnic table, immediately had a teeny little tick crawling up my leg.  What is this place?????!!!!!  Ummm…I think I’ll tent again.  When I rolled up my tent the next morning, ants everywhere…I knocked off as many as I could…the rest have met with an unfortunate demise within the folds of Big Agnus.

Officially ready to end my first solo backpack, I headed down the trail immediately meeting my first blow down of the day.  Despite the blow downs, this section from Indian Creek Shelter to Old Forest Road is definitely the prettiest section I hiked.

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Gorgeous morning view!

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Last Bushwhack!

There was more bushwhacking, and it took a while to get to the road, but it wasn’t as bad as day 1 or 2.  I had my last water cache at the road.  However, when I exited the woods the weather had taken a turn.  Thunderstorm was on the way!  The wind picked up and I left my cache and took off down the road to my car (1.5 miles away).  Walking as fast as I could, I watched the clouds blacken and start swirling around.  Thunderstorms in Indiana, oh god, yeah, great, a fitting end.

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Angry clouds!!!

Test #5 Do you like hiking in Thunderstorms?  Me either.  After I passed a field of cows, I started looking for houses.  The sky was seriously black now and really scary.  I pulled in to a house and knocked on the door.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to Carol K. for going out of her way and giving me a ride back to my car.  Whew! That was a close one!

This trail tested me and I rose to the occasion, but I am paying an itchy price.  Chiggers, poison ivy, ticks…and despite my using copious amounts of bug spray, my waistline is covered with red welts where I plucked off one little bugger (could have been a tick, could have been a chigger).

So while I dab on another layer of Calamine and pop another Benadryl…Hike On!

 

Going Out Solo…Sasquatch Beware!

Done teaching my summer class, so now I am breaking free!  I started preparing for my first solo backpack at the beginning of June.  Over the last two weeks I have checked the weather where I am headed a gazillion times, changing my route each time to accommodate thunderstorms.  But now, hooray! Thunderstorms are no longer forecast!

I usually do a long section of the Appalachian Trail in the summer, but that wasn’t going to work out because of the summer teaching gig and I wanted to go back to Indiana to visit family.  So I have combined the family visit with a short backpack.  I grew up in the woods in southern Indiana.  My dad would scare us silly about things that lurked in the woods…like Sasquatch!

Well, I can assure you that in my preparation for this trip, Sasquatch has been showing up in my dreams…as have tornados (A little PTSD from the annual viewing of Wizard of Oz when I was a kid).

I have tried to do everything I can think to be prepared.  Like call the Forest Office (no answer), the state park office (*gasp* “you’re not going by yourself, are you?), check hunting seasons (it’s crow, bullfrog, and turtle season just in case you are wondering), and tracking the weather.  I have the map memorized and know exactly where I am going to cache my water.  My route is mostly finalized, but, if you backpack, you know how that goes…

With each little piece of planning, the trip becomes less daunting and more exciting.  I can do this!  It will be fun! So watch out Sasquatch…because I am coming to dance with you!

Hike on! 🙂

May 29 Last Full Day Shenandoah Weekend!

Today I revisited a trail I had not hiked in 20 years.  The last time I was on this climb to Hawksbill, I had baby Logan on my hip.  He was about 2 years old and walking like a fiend! So I would put him down to walk for awhile, then carry him for awhile when those little chubby legs got tired.  🙂

I started from the upper Hawksbill parking lot, then after visiting the view at the top, looped down to lower Hawksbill, around on the AT, then up again on the Salamander trail.  Nice loop!  And Sidekick Pauli made three summits this weekend!!  Mary’s Rock, Loft Mountain, and Hawksbill – good job, doggie!

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“I’m a freakin’ mountain goat.” ~Sidekick Pauli

Coming around on the AT I ran into “JustSue” setting up a table of Trail Magic for the thru-hikers at Hawksbill Gap.  Trail Magic in the form of ham sandwiches, Little Debbie’s  and other delights.  I didn’t have anywhere to be very fast, so I stopped and chatted with “JustSue”.   She had her grandson helping her but he had run off down the trail somewhere so at the moment it truly was just Sue!  Sidekick Pauli also enjoyed meeting JustSue, but was ready to move after a bit, so we said our goodbyes and sidled on down the trail.  I left her in good spirits and was able to pass the joy to thru-hikers coming down the trail.  “TRAIL MAGIC AHEAD!!!”

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“JustSue” and her Trail Magic!

I love this section of the AT.  The rocks are beautifully adorned with fern, succulents, and other wildflowers.  The talus slopes (think rock slides) made me a little nervous with Pauli along and no hiking poles.  Thought I would have trouble negotiating through, but nope! We got through like champs, we did!

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Arriving at the intersection of the Salamander trail, a great rock awaited us providing a lovely spot for lunch.  With the added benefit of being able to lighten the load in the pack before climbing up to Hawksbill again! 🙂   Ever the opportunist.

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Salamander Trail to the left, AT to the right, Lunch!

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Salamander Trail…going up!

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Holy cow!!! I found the Keebler’s Elf House! I asked for cookies, but those darn elves didn’t answer my knock on the door. 😦

 

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One more look at the summit of Hawksbill, then back to the car we go!

We timed the route around and back to the car just right. Plop…plop…plop, ping, plop, ping, plop, ppppppppplopitypingpingplopplopplop…deluge!  Sidekick Pauli is amazing at getting me back to the car before it rains! We were high and dry!  Not so for many other sorry folks I saw dragging themselves back to cars parked too far away for comfort.  I could feel their shivers as I drove back to the campsite.

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Another Momma, not the Dog Hater, but not a dog lover either.  Escorted us kindly, but firmly, out of Big Meadows that morning!

After the rain and back at the campsite, guess who comes strolling with determination towards our tent?  The dog hating Momma deer.  Great.  I took Pauli to the car and waited, but forgot my hot coffee on the picnic table.  “Don’t mess with my coffee, Miss Momma of the Year!”

No trouble here, I’m just visiting!  Hike on!