Day 1058 – My First Night in the Shenandoah Back Country

Alright, so I left you with me trying to fall asleep in my tent. First, I want to explain our campsite. Here’s a picture of our setup…

To the left of the tent was a small stream and to the right and behind was a larger stream (that you follow for most of the hike…with LOTS of waterfalls). So we were essentially on an island! It was really neat…at first….but let me just tell you, water makes sounds like other things. There were several times we both thought we heard people….and unless they were at the third campsite and got up before we did….there was no one anywhere near us. Every crackle of the water sounded like a bear to me.

Here’s the view facing out from our tent.

So! Here I am in the tent, with a pounding headache and being a little scared because of the bear and just all around since it was my first time camping out in the wilderness. We were in our tent trying to sleep for 11 hours….and I know I got some sleep, but no idea how much. I tossed and turned SO much. The most comfortable side was my left side….but my headache was centered behind my left eye….so when I’d lay on that side, it would feel worse. The sleeping bags are nice and warm….but tighter at the bottom and just really hard to get a good comfortable position. It’s really just because we’re not used to sleeping in them. There was one point when I FINALLY got in a good position, fell asleep and even started to dream. What did I dream about right away? Oh you know, the shadow of a bear walking past the tent. So of course, I wake up and see no shadow and am mad because I woke up. I was “proud” of sleeping Jen’s brain though, because the bear shadow was an accurate size. 🙂

I think I figured I got about 6-7 hours of sleep between the tossing and turning…because I didn’t exactly feel tired when we got up.

We cleaned up our site and started hiking out.

We took a very slow pace, but it was nice…because we really got to drink in the beauty around us. And because my poor legs and feet were SO tired and sore!

We found a really nice waterfall…almost swimming hole right next to the path.

We continued on and got to the last part of the trail. This lovely waterfall was a mile from the parking lot.

As we’re walking back, we hear what sounds like an animal rubbing it’s back on a tree. That periodic rustle of tree, you know? We both stopped at the same time (which is cool to me that both of our reflexes were in sync). My first thought was, oh come on! We’re almost back! Not another bear! So, we briefly discuss the plan (drop the packs, get back, etc). I stand in the same spot while Bret goes up to check it out….sneaking up…I watch with baited breathe. I had a thought, what if someone comes by, we motion that there’s a bear and all of us are on edge and then come to find out it’s nothing. Well…thankfully no one came by….but after a few minutes of Bret checking it out…he does the head smack and motions for me to come up. What was our “bear” this time? oh just one of those pipes under the path to let water pass….we were hearing the water splash occasionally on leaves. Ah well. At least we were observant and respecting the wild we were in.

It was so nice to get back to the car and then the visitor center to use the restroom. I tell ya, that’s the best after “popping a squat” as they say. 🙂

I had a great time, besides my headache. We learned a lot and I can’t wait to get back out there again. I still have a dream to hike the Appalachian Trail someday….but I realize it will take a while before I’m ready to do that. My first goal is to hike all 46 high peaks in the Adirondacks. That is an attainable goal. Hopefully this summer we can knock a few out!

Woo hoo! Now back to real life and work!

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Day 1057 – Hiking Old Rag and My First Backpacking Trip!

So last night, we were still on the fence about going on this trip….even though we had been planning it for a few months. We were up until about 11/12 last night and had to get up at 3:45 a.m.! Yikes! Even this morning, we’re like, um, stay? But, we decided to go. Got on the road a little later than I had hoped, it’s a 3ish hour drive to Shenandoah from our place! Luckily, even though we stopped a few more times than we needed to, we were the first ones there. We went with our friend Anthony and a group of his friends. We timed it perfectly actually, because the rangers showed up and when we went to pay for our pass into the park, we were also able to get our backpacking permit, which is free by the way. Seriously guys, if you’re anywhere around the area and like backpacking, this is a GREAT place to go. 15 bucks for a car to get into the park and it’s good for a week. Backpacking permits are free. So all you need is your gas and food….well, and a strong will to stay away from all the fun shops in the park and along the way! 😉

Ok, so I had printed off two backpacking routes from this website. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) I only grabbed the paper for one. So we filled out all the paperwork and talked to the ranger about it. You know it’s a good hike when the ranger says, oh that’s a really nice/pretty hike! Once all of us had paid the park fee for the hike, we got on our way.

Old Rag is such a nice hike. I’ve done it a number of times. I used to come down to Shenandoah every year when I was in high school with a group of home schoolers. It was such an awesome time of bonding, hiking, rappelling and enjoying God’s creation. Anthony had gone on these trips every year too, so we were reminiscing a bit about the old days. I was thankful for the pace everyone took and that we stayed together for the most part going up. Even though I’ve been running quite a bit, a hike is no joke. I don’t exactly have mountains around my apartment to hike every other day.

Here’s us near the top.

And here’s the rest of the group near the top.

We made it to the top in about 3 hours, enjoyed a nice lunch and started heading back down.

Here’s the view from the top!

And a pic of our rings…been a while since I’ve gotten all three.

Now, at this time, our group did split up. Old Rag can be done as a loop or up one way, down the same. I have always done the loop route and prefer it. Thankfully, Anthony and Katie wanted to take that route. It’s a quick downclimb for about 45 minutes to a port-a-potty. After that you’re walking on a fireroad. It’s not an “interesting” hike, but it’s a nice change after the rocky path. I hiked in my five fingers and boy were my dogs barking by this point! Oy! I love hiking in them because it is a challenge and I know it’s working a lot of my foot muscles and legs, but after 8 miles, I’m done! We got back to the cars about 45 minutes before the other group. So, if you decide to do the hike, it is quicker to take the other route. Just depends on what you’re looking for.

At this point, I changed into my hiking boots…finally got a chance to break them in! The rest of the group went home. We found this AWESOME little burger place…really by mistake….Bret was reading off the directions…and said to turn left…then no, turn right….then he said, no left. So on the second turn around, we ended up in the parking lot of the burger place….Burgers N Things, 12000 Lee Highway Sperryville, VA 22740. We ordered 3 bacon cheeseburgers, a fry and a choc/vanilla twist soft serve ice cream. It was THE best bacon cheeseburger I’ve EVER had. The ice cream was amazing too…there were even flecks of cocoa in the chocolate. nom nom nom.

We got back on the road and made it to skyline drive and then stopped by one of the visitor centers before starting our hike in. We got some fudge and root beer to celebrate at the campsite.

Alright, fast forward to us on the trail for about 20 minutes. I mentioned that Bret should call work to see when he worked. I went to go for my phone and realized it wasn’t in my pack. Which was when I also realized that the flashlight was with my phone. *deep sigh* gotta go back to the car. I felt like such a putz. Ah well. Went back, got the rest of our stuff and started again. Thankfully the campsite was under 2 miles from the parking lot. So off we go again. Now, the printout I had about the campsite said that it could be busy on the weekends and there were 5-6 cars in the parking lot. I was a little nervous about finding a spot, so every person we passed, I was counting down…ok, that’s only this many left to contend with. We passed a few more groups….and finally the last one we passed was a larger group, with a dog no less! What’s funny is that about 5 minutes after this, we were hiking in pretty much silence when something caught my eye…I was more observant because I was leading and looking for the landmark for the campsite….I stopped and looked…I pointed it out to Bret….what did catch my eye? Oh, you know, just a little ol’ BLACK BEAR! AH! We watched it for a few minutes…my first thoughts were ok, what do we do to stay safe….and then how can I get my camera (that is wrapped in two plastic bags) out to take a picture. Unfortunately, he was out of sight before I could get a picture. I swear, he looked at me when I crackled the bag too much.

So off we went to find a campsite. We did walk for about another quarter mile or so before the landmark. The first campsite was to the left…which was the direction of the bear…so I requested that we keep moving to the right! We went around a curve and to the left, in the distance, I saw this beautiful clearing that looked perfect for camping! I said, dude, if that’s anywhere near where we’re supposed to camp, I want to camp there. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s EXACTLY where we were supposed to go!

We set up camp pretty quickly. I’m glad we had set up the tent in our apartment when we first got it! So we got camp set up and had our root beers!

After that, Bret took the empty bottles and all the food and hung it up in a tree. I decided to lay down in the tent….see, I was starting to get a migraine…lack of sleep and a lot of physical strain, oh yea, my body was done. Then it seemed like Bret was taking too long, so I started to watch outside the tent. Every sound I heard, I thought it was a bear! I know I was so freaked out and tense, that I just made my migraine worse!

I was watching the place I thought Bret was….and I see it! This black movement! Oh geeze! That’s right where Bret is! That’s why he’s taking so long! Ok, what do I do, what do I do! That’s when I notice that the black movement I saw was Bret’s shorts….and there’s Bret. Oh man. Freaked the heck out! Whew!

So we finally settle in for the night. Bret reads while I try to sleep. Ladies and gentlemen, that was one of the worst nights of sleep I’ve ever had. I was totally kicking past Jen for not packing medicine for my headache. I honestly had the thought while packing, nah, I won’t get a headache and if I do, I’ll just rough it out. I was really trying to “impress” Bret and be a good backpacking buddy. Oh Jen and your pride!

What happened that night? Well, you’ll just have to wait for tomorrow!

Day 931 – Waiting in Line for 3 Hours…..Worth It!

A few days ago, one of my Facebook friends sent out a plea for people to sit in line for a sale at REI….start time? Oh, you know….6 a.m…..on a Saturday….The timing was actually perfect! Bret has been doing lots of research on backpacking and has been itching to get some new gear. So, we decided to go! We arrived at 6 a.m. and I thought I was the first one there, but there was a guy who had a spot saved….this chick was number 2….well, 3 (the first guy saved a spot for his friend)….I’ve never been in that good of a spot for a sale. It was great. It made me miss Black Friday shopping…ah, such a rush!

Anyways, the three hours really flew by…lots of great conversation about gear and adventures in the wild….and about waiting in line…..”watch out for that lady….or that guy always buys all the tents…..or this person will go down on price.”

It was a bit of a mad rush going in….that type of sale, you have NO idea what will be out and you just have to kind of grab and go….if it looks like something you need, grab it and look at size, price and details later.

After two hours, a bit of deliberating, going back for more, putting things back….here’s what we ended up with…

A VERY nice jacket for Bret, decent pants for Bret, an AWESOME backpack for each of us, and amazing hiking shoes for me. Originally priced around $513….final price for us…..around $220. Awesome. Just plain awesome! Can’t wait for the next sale! 🙂