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ODH Training Hike #1 – W&OD from Vienna to Reston

Hike Summary

There’s no corresponding photos to go with this, but I’ll just give a few notes.

17.5 miles. I didn’t intend to go that far. I really had only planned on the 12 mile option, but I met some nice people and made some friends, so we ended up going a little further!

Lessons learned:

  • Sports Bra works great, I’ll post a review of that soon.
  • Shoes seem to be good, but this was all asphalt for the most part, and since I was breaking in new shoes (and haven’t really been on a long walk in a while,) I have terrible shin splints.
  • Socks: I need to do some research. I ended up with one pretty large blister on one heel, so I need to get something better. I was using an older pair of mid weight hiking socks, and I think perhaps they’re just too worn for this kind of punishment.
  • Losing Weight: not my body (although that needs a little work) but in my pack. Ditch anything nonessential and/or get a smaller pack just for this purpose, that can carry a 3L water bladder.
  • I really should have gone on these hikes last year, and I would have learned more of these lessons! But I was (and always am) working on my social anxiety issues, and it can be rough to be in a group of strangers. I had a bit of anxiety at the beginning but it went away as I made some trail friends.

Hopefully the weather holds up this next weekend and I can get out there again.

Signal Knob – GWNF

Hike Summary

It was cold, rainy and foggy as I pulled into the parking lot for the Signal Knob trail. I was a little upset at myself, because I probably should have brought a jacket and didn’t.

I lucked out though, because the rain stopped shortly after I set out, as the weather had forecast. The first part of the hike, which crisscrossed through some river gullies while slowly ascending, is fairly heavily forested.

There are definitely more and more signs of autumn on the way. Some of the trees are turning already, and I saw a few of these as I ascended.

About halfway up, the sun decided to make an appearance, and the rest of the day had lovely, sunny weather. There’s nothing like that contrast between the coolness of the shade and the warmth of the sun as it comes out.

I hit a nice point on the switchbacks, and there were some great views towards Buzzard Rock across the way. I stopped here for a small break and snapped some pictures of the view. There are some nice camping spots just above the viewpoint. It would be the perfect place to do a late afternoon hike with a camp at the top, to view the morning sunrise.

The trail wound around to another overlook, the Fort Valley Overlook, that was unfortunately obscured too much by trees to give a very good view. After this point, the character of the hike changed a little bit. It became much much more rocky, and pretty uncomfortable. I am increasingly aware that I need new boots soon with every hike, as my feet became very sore climbing over an endless succession of rocks. It seemed like every turn was another rockpile!

Eventually, the trail intersects with the Meneka Peak trail, and we were in territory that I’d last visited in early May. The trail levels off here, and goes through evergreen forests to the transmission tower and Signal Knob, where I got a nice view of Strasburg, I-81, and Great North Mountain off in the distance. I’ve gotten a little more familiar with the area overall since I was last out here, only a few months ago. I’m less afraid to stop and check stores and places like that out. I really enjoy getting to know the whole area, especially after years of cutting myself off from almost everything and staying indoors. It’s not all better yet, and I don’t know whether it will ever be, but I’m trying.

After my stop to admire the views from Signal Knob, I made the descent down the fire road from there. There were a few late-summer wildflowers out and about, mostly asters of various types. I also saw a mature Indian Pipe, which I hadn’t seen before now. It’s easy to miss the brown and pink of the plant, they look like something dead.

Back down to the intersection of the Tuscarora Trail. There’s a section that goes out to Doll Ridge and parallels the fire road that I’d like to get a hike on one of these days, but this day I was going in the other direction. It was another ascent, and I was pretty tired already.  About a mile in, and I’d finally hit the other end of the Meneka Peak trail and it was all downhill (well, mostly) from there.

I got to make a new observation, an Eastern Fence Lizard, as I made my descent. Usually, animals don’t hold still long enough for me to take pictures of them, especially when my dog comes to help investigate. I missed out on a picture of a huge black racer snake the previous hike, for instance. But this lizard was nice and helpful and pretended it was part of the rocks long enough for me to take a picture.

Most of this descent was dry and rocky before finally hitting some forest at the bottom. It was nice to have some shade on the way back to my car.

2013-09-13 signal knob

Appalachian Trail – G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Preserve

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Hike Summary

(Note: I didn’t get to take any pictures on this hike due to the pace, so you get lots of words!)

So, June 1st was National Trails Day, so what better way to celebrate than to go on a hike?

I often go just with my dog on hikes, as there are very few people with time off during the week, which works both in my favor and against me. It works in my favor in the respect that I don’t often encounter other people on the trail, but it works against me because there aren’t any people to hike with. My SO has an aversion to the outdoors for the most part, as well as being afraid of heights, so he’s mostly unable to go hiking with me. That’s totally fine with me, we have different interests and hobbies.

Still, I have made close to zero friends since I have moved to the East Coast. A good chunk of that is my depression and social anxiety, but it just seems to be hard to meet people. Most of the meetup type organizations in the area seem to be stay at home moms, and since I am only a mom to a dog, I don’t exactly qualify.

Anyhow, I wanted to get out and meet some new people. This is probably something I would have been much more nervous about doing even a year ago, but it seems that shedding the weight that I have has also helped a little with confidence. I’m not there yet by any means, but I’m getting better.

So, to the hike. I arrived fairly early, not wanting to be late, and there were a few cars in the lot, and one guy and his dog. This was Tom Johnson of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, one of the hike guides for the day, and his dog Sam (a girl.) She was an enthusiastically friendly and intense Aussie Shepherd/Border Collie mix. We chatted for a while, waiting for the others. It ended up being a very small turnout, with Alyson Browett of the Front Royal/Warren County Appalachian Trail Community, and another  hiker named Bob.

We set out in one car to the starting point of the hike, at the other end of the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Preserve, which is one of a multitude of Wildlife preserves in the state of Virginia. It is open for fishing and hunting with permit, and is an excellent place to view bird migrations as well as wildflowers. A good chunk of the Appalachian Trail bisects the area before heading into Sky Meadows State Park.

It was a pretty warm day that day, but not overly so. Most of the trillium were long past their season, something I’ll have to remember for next year. I remember seeing them before they bloomed in Sky Meadows in April, so it seems they have a narrow window of blooming.

We did see quite a bit of wildlife though: several toads, squirrels, a box turtle, and even a black racer. Luckily we did not see any Copperheads, which used to live underneath the Manassas Gap Shelter, where we stopped for a snack and to chat. Manassas Gap Shelter is the oldest of the AT shelters between Shenandoah and the WV border, so it has a long history. As we were chatting, we met an AT thru-hiker who went by the trail name of Goose. He’d been on the trail since early March, and was making excellent time, living off mostly Pop-Tarts.

As we hiked on, we chatted about the trail, stopping to check out trees and plants. It was nice to have other people who knew more about the  flora than I did. I can identify any number of California native plants, but I am definitely still learning my Virginia wildflowers.

Near the end of the hike, Bob was kind enough to snap a picture of us for posterity. I had a great time, and really enjoyed hiking with more people. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do so again soon.

Nicholson Hollow – Shenandoah National Park

In my fretting over Christmas gift selections, I completely forgot to make a post yesterday, my apologies!

Hike Summary

It was a pretty frigid Thursday as I set out to go on a hike. Things are definitely getting colder, although I am pretty well equipped to keep hiking, as long as the weather cooperates. There are a couple of things I could definitely use, and I am hoping someone in my family checks out my Christmas list, and purchases accordingly. Drinking cold water on the hike is alright, but I sometimes have to force myself to drink, as I don’t feel as thirsty as I did in the summer.

The parking for this hike is at the spacious lot for Old Rag Mountain, which is off of Route 600, in the back of nowhere behind Sperryville. I was a teensy bit surprised to see quite a few cars, but all of those people were off to hike Old Rag, which is something I can’t do with my dog, so I’ll have to wait until I can find a hiking companion. There was a sweet old dog hanging out in the lot, probably from one of the nearby farms, and he was super friendly, but my protective guy nudged him away, probably out of jealousy.

I’ve been somewhat afraid to write about how I hike, that it will invite bad luck on me or something. I think that part of that is because of the way I was raised, when the Trailside Killer was at his height in the SF area, (something that my family actually has a personal connection with,) and it was always drummed into my head that hiking solo is a Bad Thing.

Which is why I carry various self defense items, plus hike with my dog. He’s large enough and protective enough to be somewhat of a deterrent. Still, I definitely don’t take things for granted, and there’s been a couple of times where I’ve gotten a twinge of worry, like the time I tripped and fell into a patch of stinging nettles. Still, I consider every hike I make a blow against my anxiety and depression, and hope that it continues to do so.

There’s a half mile hike up the road to where Route 600 ends, and the trail begins, winding along private property, before crossing the Hughes River and following along it for most of the hike.

This river is pretty full and energetic, even at this time of the year, so I imagine that it’s quite lively in the springtime. There are large boulders at the crossings, which required a little bit of jumping, but not too bad to get across. There was one of the crossings that was a little trickier than the others, but I managed to get both myself and my dog (who hates water) across without too much trouble.

There are quite a few pretty waterfalls and cascades along the way, with a nice thunderous one near the beginning.

You can tell at times that the trail was probably an old road, as there are times when it felt very built up, with rock walls on one or the other side, or sometimes both sides. It made for an easier hike than some of the hikes I’ve done recently, a lot less rocky, with sandy soil  and a pretty gentle climb.

Eventually, the trail comes up to Corbin Cabin, which was my turning around point. The trail continues up to Skyline, but this was a good place to stop and eat some lunch. Even though it was sunny out, I found myself getting cold quickly, and somewhat regretted taking my gloves off, as they got cold and numb fast.

On the way back down, I heard some crashing in the undergrowth that sounded almost human like. I became a little nervous, and my dog was rather excited. The sun was in my eyes on the way back, but I looked off the trail to the side, somewhat behind me, and that’s when I realised I had just seen my first bear.

Or at least, the first backside of a bear, as it lumbered off away from me. Luckily it was the kind that was afraid of me, as opposed to the kind that would want to peel me open to find the delicious Clif Bars contained inside. I knew that all of Shenandoah was bear country, but this was my first. It was a bit of a thrill. I am no stranger to wildlife, I’ve seen lynxes, and foxes, and even a mountain lion, but bears aren’t something you see all too often.

It put a spring in my step on the way back for sure.

More pictures of Nicholson Hollow