So I am back home today after traveling to SW Virginia and backpacking in the Mt. Rogers area. There are some real challenges associated with doing this type of thing starting with the weather and we had a little of everything (except snow) on this trip.
It was good getting away from civilization for a little while. Especially the politics. Unfortunately, it’s still going on now! We have the second convention in two weeks AND they are still talking about Clint Eastwood talking to the empty chair!
So what happened on the trip? We spent about six hours on the road and stopped to dine in Wytheville at an unusual placed called The Log House 1776 Restaurant. If you read the reviews you can see there is some dissension among the guests because it can take awhile to be served. We didn’t have too much of a problem and they invited us to tour the place. So I took a bunch of photos and I think you will see this is not your Applebee’s experience. The beer is served in heavy glass mugs with a nice frosting and the food was good. Enough said.
We hiked a mile or two the first day and set up camp without too much of a problem. I found a nice spot off aways near a stream that made a wonderful sound all night long and provided a good water source. The MSR water filter quickly did its job and a young couple with a happy child and two cool-looking dogs showed up so I didn’t get too lonely (more pics!).
The next day, Sunday, was the real challenge because we planned to hike six miles to the next campsite near the top of Mt. Rogers, the highest peak in Virginia. This was my first backpacking experience and I took too much stuff! My backpack weighed around 38 pounds and this is too much for somebody who hasn’t developed the particular muscles you need to go up the side of a mountain! But, we all made it, thankfully, without anyone having too much of a problem. I did get a large blister and Karl, our thoughtful and experienced leader, helped me bandage it. Karl also made sure none of us got lost. At one point he and I were hiking along the horse trail when a guy came up on a dirt bike and started talking to me. Karl was about a hundred yards ahead and I stepped off the trail to let him pass. But he stopped and started talking to me. I thought it was idle chit-chat so I politely told him I needed to go because without Karl I was lost in the woods. And I started walking again. He revved up his motorized beast and went on by but stopped again and started talking to Karl who asked him some pertinent questions. It was only then that I realized he was the park ranger and I had terminated our interview. Whoops! But he was very helpful in any case, as it turned out we were slightly off our trail and needed to move in a different direction.
I was moving slowly and some of the younger members of the group had moved ahead earlier in the day. But we all reunited at the campsite near the summit of Mt. Rogers. It was blessed relief to set up the tent, have something to eat and relax “indoors”. I was doing this, listening to the murmur of my fellow campers around the campfire when a cold front moved in and a veritable deluge suddenly sent them all scampering to their tents. The temperature plummeted in a matter of a few minutes and, for the first time this season, it actually felt good to burrow in the sleeping bag and fall into a deep sleep for a few hours. My experience is that you do not sleep through the night in this type of situation but it really is not an issue. As long as you are warm and dry it is pleasant to lay there and listen to the sounds of the night. Wind and rain interact with the tent fabric and the trees. You find yourself on the edge of something that is quite wild and feel part of it. It is an adventure. One of our group talked about her recent experience solo hiking on the AT. She was resting in her tent at night when a bear came visiting, wandered around the site making little bear noises. She didn’t realize they were bear noises until later when she looked them up on Youtube. But she suspected it was a bear and I can imagine some of the feelings she was having on her first experience alone in the woods.
We visited with some wild cattle and ponies (more pics!) this trip but no bears. Karl, our intrepid group leader, recently saw a bear close up on the AT. It wandered off in a different direction and posed no threat. Bears apparently are quite cautious about humans and not, in general, a threat. You don’t want to press your luck, however, as a recent photographer did up in Alaska with a grizzly. He got much too close for too long watching the humongous beast eating some vegetation and taking his last photos on this earth. He did not realize, apparently, that bears, as do we all, have their salad before the main course.
The next day we hiked four miles. I was delighted when Karl pointed out a short ways in the distance and below us the parking lot and civilization. I felt for a few moments a feeling of accomplishment along with a desire for a soft bed, a refrigerator down the hall, and a hot shower. All these things, often taken for granted, are more appreciated as I sit here at home. But the media circus I did not miss at all and I’m now missing the long views of the mountains and valleys, the beautiful mist and the gentle gaze of the ponies who live there always and have accepted, more than I can even imagine, all the changing conditions that nature throws at them.
Thanks to Lindsey Borgsmiller for this photo!
I will return, hopefully soon, however, after I have disengaged myself from a few more of the trappings of this world, and shaved the backpack weight by at least thirteen pounds. There were things I brought up there that I never touched. They won’t be going again. You can say “I might need this” but you absolutely need to avoid accidents and your odds are not good with an overweight pack. It’s all about the odds, really. Sure I may use a tent repair kit or have an opportunity to take some cool videos but what if I lose my balance and sprain an ankle miles from help? Do I need extra macaroni and cheese? No. Maybe I will be hungry but I can make it back to the car. Your priorities are quickly adjusted as you labor, carrying so many things up a steep incline. And you don’t want to interrupt the outdoor experience of others as well! People invest a great deal of time, energy, expense and thoughtful planning to do these things. May I never slow them down!
So it’s back to daily walks, working on certain muscle groups that have been complaining the past few days, and waiting for the next opportunity to experience a new perspective on life, build relationships with like-minded individuals of all ages, and capture it all on film. Here are some photos, by the way. Some of them were taken from the car on the way out there and back. We can see here a world that is slowly dying. Old farm buildings hold out against the ravages of time and the corporate world. And then, a few photos of a world that has always been here and will continue to go on long after we and our ways have passed. I’m sorry there aren’t more of them but I was busy trying to survive on the trail. Maybe next time.