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Monthly Archives: August 2012

No Hike This Week

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My SO has been on vacation this week, so I haven’t gone out to go hiking. I still have been doing my daily walking for an hour, though.

I hit a new record this month, walking for 107 miles. My previous record was in June, where I’d walked 93 miles.

My mood has been good. I have lost 62 pounds since I started losing weight in February, which puts me over the halfway point, and I feel my goal of 140 is achievable. When I mentioned this to my father, he offered to buy me an iPad if I hit the goal weight.
“I don’t need an iPad, Dad,” I said. I told him that when I hit the goal weight, that I wanted him to come visit me, so that I would have someone to hike up to the top of Old Rag Mountain with.

Bull Run Occoquan Trail – Rt. 28 to Pope’s Head Creek

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Hike Summary

The lesson I learned this day is “be careful of biting off more than you can chew.”

I was somewhat surprised that it seemed a little difficult for me to find information about the trail and park online. Perhaps my googling was particularly weak, but I still couldn’t find either a map nor good directions to the Route 28 bridge.

I found it, of course, after some inspecting of maps. It was a beautiful day for a hike. The early morning clouds had burned off, leaving things warm, but not too warm. It had rained a bit over the previous few days, which left the water flowing, and occasionally some muddiness on the trail, but those things were pretty minor.

I had looked at the maps I could find, as well as the hiking guide that mentioned the trail (but only the full length, which is about 18 miles from Bull Run Park to Fountainhead Park,) and I thought that hiking from Route 28 to Hemlock Overlook park would be a long, but doable hike.

It was doable, but barely. I encountered, yet again, the drawbacks of less than accurate distances, and what I thought should have been a 7 or 8 mile hike was much longer by the time I was done. Even my 2 different GPSes (I track on my phone as well) disagreed as to the overall length.

I ended up turning around when I’d seen that I’d gone 5 miles.
The hike itself was very nice. I was disappointed at times that the trail didn’t stick as close to the river as I thought it would, but the little forays into the various stream and creek valleys were nice, and the little crossings over the creeks were entertaining not only for me, but for my hydrophobic dog.

The first time he encountered these stones, he wasn’t quite sure of them, and ended up fording the river. Soon enough though, he figured out that if he followed me across them, he wouldn’t get wet. It was rather comical to see him gingerly jump from one to the other as I waited for him. We also encountered a box turtle as we went along, as well as numerous birds (that I could hear but not often see) and plenty of deer.

I also encountered another “Pet Rock Pile.” I am unsure what the significance of these are, and a cursory googling didn’t yield much in the way of info.

These things leave me conflicted. One one hand, I appreciate the sentiment — so often with pets, there’s no real place to have a memorial to them. I have the ashes of one of my dearest cats sitting on my nightstand (as that’s where he liked to hang out,) but sometimes it feels like I should have had another place for him. So, I can understand how cairns are good memorials.

On the other hand, it encourages people to tear up the trail and move rocks around, and that can cause erosion, as well as add a man-made item to what we like to pretend is a natural, unspoiled setting.

It definitely wasn’t the only sign of human influence. I need to remind myself to pack along something to take away trash, as I often saw gum wrappers and other things along all of the trails I’ve been on. It does bother me sometimes that people that want to enjoy natural settings often don’t think of the impact that they’re leaving behind.

That being said, something I encountered near the turnaround point of my hike did touch me, and it was entirely human in nature.

There’s a point where the train goes over the Bull Run, so of course there’s a bridge. Underneath the bridge, even here in a (somewhat) isolated area, there was artful graffiti. I don’t know exactly why it touched me the way it did — but that is art. Art is what gives you that feeling you can’t quite put words to, and hiking around the bend, with the smells and sounds of the river and nature and seeing this, it gave me an electric thrill.

Prince William Forest Park

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Hike Summary

At least two different guides said that this was a 7 mile hike, so that’s what I had been prepared for. It was a nice, overcast day, but not too hot for once, but I decided to take a third bottle of water with me, just in case, since when I’d hiked Groveton, I had gotten really thirsty near the end.

I am glad I did bring that bottle, as I somehow managed to discover an extra .75 miles, which doesn’t seem like that much, but when it’s mostly uphill to the end, it is a challenge. We made it, and part of that is because I promised myself I could eat a second Clif bar when I got to the end.

There was lots to see, hear, and smell throughout this hike. The way the sunlight filtered through the woods and dappled the trail ahead and behind. The silence at times — I am so used to hearing the hum of fans and air conditioners, or the electric sound of cicadas in the summer heat that the quietness of the forest was quite refreshing.

After a mile or so of forest, the trail starts to parallel the South fork of Quantico Creek. It’s funny that it’s a creek here, and not a run as so many of the other creek-like waterways are called in Virginia. Random thought: I should look up the differences. I grew up in California, where creeks were creeks, and rivers were rivers, and one of the things that was constantly echoing through my mind as we hiked along the creek was the word “riparian.” I was hiking along a riparian zone, that strip of land where there’s plants that love water and wetness. I saw clubmosses and lots of ferns everywhere.

This was the busiest hike I’d been on, I actually saw 3 different groups of travelers.  One was a couple of dudes smoking a joint and walking their puppy, which amused me for some reason, as they seemed not at all hikers. That’s part of the whole draw of this park, though — it’s 15,000 acres in the middle of the DC metro area. So you get all kinds. It’s hard to believe it is though, when you’re in the middle of it.

This was an unusual, and more than likely, unauthorized little memorial in the park, down by the creek. I didn’t leave a rock because, although I liked the spirit of the little memorial, leaving no trace was one of those things that was drummed into my head as a kid.

The other thing that I noticed was how different the dirt was. Instead of the reddish dirt that I see in most places in Virginia, there was a lot of white, chalky dirt. I think this has something to do with what’s called the Fall Line in Virginia. Another thing I am not all that familiar with, not having grown up in this area.

Eventually, the hike makes its way up out of the river area and back to the start, a long, windy way. It was at this point somewhere that my phone finally died and I couldn’t take any more pictures. I need to also learn to get my phone to conserve more.

So many lessons to learn. I still feel like a novice at this whole thing, even though I hiked a bit as a kid, sometimes it feels like I’ve forgotten most of what I used to know.


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It had been sitting there for over 10 years, taking up room. Not just taking up physical space in my jewelery box, but space in my mind.

Letting go of things is difficult, even when one wants to let them go. I procrastinated for years. I let it sit there, clanking around with all the other things and memories.

I never even liked it that much. I remember that we had to go with a particular jewelery dealer because they were friends of his sisters or something like that. I knew I wanted a white gold wedding band, because I hate the look of yellow gold, but not much beyond that. I do remember that I’d seen a design one place, but we couldn’t have that one. I looked through books of designs, but none of them really spoke out to me. I settled on a design that looked like bamboo. I can’t even remember why, now.

It was almost a sign in a way — my wedding ring ate into my hand because of the way it was made — it had a concave hollow on the top, and it would constantly irritate my finger.

So there it sat. I’d thought about throwing it away, doing something with it. It wasn’t something I wanted. It reminded me of happy times, but also of failure on a grand scale.

I don’t know in particular what prompted me to go into the gold dealer, other than the bright pink flyer that they sent in the mail. There wasn’t anything really in particular, although the idea of some money was a good thing. I picked through that jewelery box and gathered up some things I never wore, and the ring.

And I left with a little pocket of money. I used most of it to buy a National Parks Annual Pass.  I figure, that way it can help with my recovery.

It was a funny feeling. I shouldn’t have felt so giddy, but I did. It’s cliche to say that I felt lighter, but I really did. Time to move on.

Extra Trails at Manassas NBP

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Hike 1

Hike 2

So I decided to try to make the most of the $3 fee that it costs to visit Manassas NBP and went on a couple shorter hikes yesterday. Both of these trails are in lesser used parts of the park, and cover some of the events of 2nd Manassas.

I was a little surprised. I expected there to be a little more … oomph in these areas (and in the 2nd Manassas Loop trail) considering that the sesquicentennial  is coming up at the end of this month, but they seemed pretty lonely trails. The Brawner Loop trail is well signed, and has a lot of informative placards, but the Stuart Hill Loop was a much wilder trail.

The fields were in bloom with summer wildflowers on the Brawner walk, which made some of the fields look like rippling gold. A lot of the grass is shoulder height on me, and it brought to mind ideas of what the plains must have looked like to settlers.

The Stuart Hill trail takes off from the park’s administrative HQ, which is I suspect the reason that it isn’t as traveled. It’s less open, and as I said before, a bit wilder. It winds through some trees and eventually opens up towards the site of the Lewis House. Along the bit of trail there, you can tell that at some point there was a paved road, that’s slowly being eaten up by the grasses. It’s funny how quickly the signs of civilization are erased — there’s virtually no sign of the two houses that are labeled on the hike, only information placards are visible, although I suppose in a different season foundations might be visible.

As I walked back, dragonflies scudded about, and the sun started to peak in the sky, making the grass smell baked. It was almost intolerably hot by the time we were done, even though it was barely noon. I’m looking forward to the end of another blistering summer.

2nd Manassas/Groveton

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Hike Summary

Today I’ve been restless, trying to find something to occupy me. My routine is unsettled, and I can’t satisfactorily settle on something, so I will write about yesterday’s hike (which I was planning on doing anyway.)

So the weather had been forecast to be hot all this week, but when I woke up, everything was nice and cool, and I figured that if I got going early, I’d beat the worst of the heat of the day. I was mostly right, although I wasn’t 100% prepared for an almost 7 mile hike (despite knowing the length beforehand.) I did pretty well, all things considered.

Although I spent a lot of my youth doing bits of hiking on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais, a lot of that was actually on horseback (naughtily, on trails meant for humans only) or short excursions. I was also a lot more in shape back then.

I’ve lost over 50 pounds since the beginning of the year, but I feel like I have so much more to go, and it frustrates me a little that my body isn’t totally cooperating.

It’s going to be the 150th anniversary of the battle of 2nd Manassas this month, and like last time, I spent time thinking about the battle as I walked. There’s a lot of road traffic through the park, I can only imagine the sounds that could be heard back in the day. Some 10,000 troops died during that 2nd battle.

That fact made me feel a little weird in a way, as I sat on a bench for a lunch break, munching on a trail bar. Was it disrespectful of me to be chewing away, on a spot where people died? Maybe the ghosts of the Union Soldiers were happy that, all this time later, there still is a whole country, and the Union was preserved. I’ll never know.

From a trail notes standpoint, I will note that I was a smidge disappointed in the lack of markers on this trail compared to the First Manassas Loop. I would have thought that with the anniversary coming up, some more care would be paid. I am glad I had my handy GPS unit with me, as the route provided by the HikingUpward guys was really helpful.

Some other things I learned:

Bring more water! I was hurting near the end, and so was my dog. Part of that was gulping down too much water at one point, I need to remember to ration it better.

Jeans are still soggy in hot weather, but I don’t want to spend money on new pants because of the weight I’ve been losing

Clif Builder bars become a sticky mess in the heat.


First Manassas Trail

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Hike Summary

I’ve been on a few hikes before this, but this is the first time I’ve had a chance to test out my trusty new hand-held GPS unit, the Garmin eTrex 20. Truth be told, except in maybe one spot, I didn’t really need it all that much, but having the reassuring chime telling me I was on the right track was a nice touch. I also really like the information that the Garmin website has.
This is also the first time in a month that the weather hasn’t been oppressively hot. It was still hot, hot enough to make me feel as if I were melting at parts, but not hot enough that I thought I was going to die. It was a clear, sunny day.

Smell was one of the things that hit me as I hiked along. There was the smell of baking pine trees in the heat, a resiny, brown smell that reminded me of summers spent up in Calaveras County. There was that straw-like, yellow smell of the dry grass. There were also damp smells of water and decaying vegetation near Bull Run itself.

It wasn’t too challenging of a hike for me, it felt almost just the right length — about 5.5 miles, mostly level, with a couple of hills to climb up. The dog enjoyed the hike, too. I didn’t let him wander off too far on his leash, so this time he didn’t accumulate any ticks, which is nice, because one of my least favorite things is to pull them off of him.

One of the things I discovered on this particular hike is that I really need to get a shirt that is for hiking. These hot days turn me into a big, soggy mess, even after having lost 50lbs (so far.) The other thing is that carrying my GPS in my pocket caused it to wiggle the joystick around, and the unit would get confused. That’s a pretty simple fix, as I was already waiting for an accessory to come in the mail.

When I reached the crest of Matthew’s Hill, I thought about the soldiers that had fought the battle here, 151 years ago. My feet were sore, but compared to them I was in pretty good shape, as I wasn’t having any cannon or guns fired at me.

I’m going to re-visit the park this upcoming week (weather permitting) to walk the other loop trail, which is for the battle of Second Manassas.


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If you’re here, it is probably from some sort of Google search or something, as I haven’t really told anyone about this little blog. It’s still new (brand new, as of today, in fact.)

It’s been a very long journey trying to dig out of myself of this bottomless hole of depression. I have no medical insurance, having lost it several years back after getting let go from my job due to too many stress-related absences. With the loss of the medical insurance, the loss of medications was not far behind. Antidepressant withdrawal is a hell of a thing.

I was in a deep dark period for a few years, but I am getting better. A big part of that has to do with daily walking or hiking, with my canine companion. I’ve just started dipping my toe in to the hikes around the region, and have been learning things about how to better get out there, and things about myself. I figured maybe it would be a good idea to write about those things again.

It might be interesting, it might be stupid and boring, but it will be here.