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ODH Training Hike #5 – Arlington Slow Marathon (short version)

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Hike Summary

A lovely day for a hike, it started out chilly but ended up nice again. The one issue I did have with this hike vs some of the others is that this was all on hard surfaces, so it was really hard on my feet and ankles. I managed 16 miles (plus another 3 miles not pictured, I had to turn off my GPS when I got on the metro,) and I was in a lot of pain when I was done.

I had fun and met some more new faces and old though, which was nice. One person was someone with knowledge of local birds, and it has made me want to find a tour/trip with one so I can learn more bird calls.

The upcoming hike has some pretty terrible weather forecast, unfortunately.

ODH Training Hike #4 – “Parade of Parks” (including Rock Creek Park and the Capital Crescent Trail)

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Hike Summary

Another week, another long hike. This one was a pretty special hike, one of the more anticipated of the ODH training hikes, as it goes on a loop around DC and Maryland through some parks and parklets that people may not be aware of.

It started out on a chilly but pleasant morning at Fletcher’s Boathouse in DC, and wound up through a bunch of parks before getting to the Zoo and Rock Creek Park. The short segment people peeled off to go their own way, and the long route people went up around and through Rock Creek Park before intersecting with the Georgetown Branch and then the Capital Crescent Trail.

Lessons learned:

  • My speed seems to be getting faster, sort of. It’s hard to compare this hike with last week even though they were more or less the same distance. This one had a lot more hills, but much less (no) snow.
  • If you get the chance to take a bathroom break, take it. You may not get a chance for a while, and you may regret it.
  • I had possible blisters forming during this hike which didn’t happen last time. My feet felt pretty bad at 22 miles, and it worries me a little bit, but I just need to make sure to tape them or moleskin them.
  • Clif gels are pretty good, but I think the Shot Bloks might be better in the long run because I can spread out the calorie intake as things go. I might stick to one gel before the start, and then bloks (and/or other stuff) along the way.
  • Coconut water still tastes vile, but it seems to help.

As always, I had some fun times with people along the way, and am starting to see a lot of the same faces. I haven’t made any lasting friendships yet, but I’ve had some great conversations.

Going For a Drive – Skyline Central Section in Shenandoah

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The wind howls, shaking the branches in the trees in the neighborhood. This, combined with the temperature, kills any hopes I had of doing any hiking.

I sigh. There’s been too many weeks of this. I’m tired of winter. I’m tired of snow, and bitter cold. I’m tired of my knuckles bleeding from dry skin. I’m tired of having to wear my hiking boots everywhere.

There’s no use complaining. Complaining isn’t going to make the wind die down. I load up the dog and my pack into the car. I suspected that this was going to happen, so I was prepared to go for a drive.

So, into the car, and out 66 towards Front Royal, and Shenandoah National Park.

I’ve been having pretty back luck with the park as well. Every time I think of coming out here for a drive, Skyline has been closed. Sometimes this has resulted in more interesting drives, sometimes it just annoys. Some of my attempts to go down Skyline have come from times when I couldn’t hike as it was, doubling the frustration. It’s not the fault of the NPS. They’re just trying to keep people safe. Seasonal closures are to be expected.

Still.

This day is of course, no different. I roll up to the booth and the ranger informs me that they have someone checking the conditions, it might be a while. I’m welcome to pull over and wait and see.

15 minutes later … The North District is closed for now, but the central part is open. Time is ticking, and I really want to go drive in Shenandoah, so I do the next best thing and I get on US 340, which goes from Front Royal to Luray.

It’s quite a nice drive, actually. It cleaves closely to the course of the Shenandoah River, so you do get some nice views as you go, as well as access to Shenandoah River State Park, which I’ve mentioned before.

I spotted a historical marker on my left, and decided to stop and take a look. It’s a set of markers describing the historical bridge here, as well as the nearby town of Overall, which used to be called Milford, where a number of battles took place during the Civil War, the Valley Campaign of 1864. The battlefield itself is on private property, so other than the markers, there’s no point in me lingering.

Finally, I make it to the central entrance for Skyline, and of course, the North District is open again. I briefly consider heading north, but I’ve driven it before, and even though I’d like to see it again, I’ll settle for the central district.

After getting my passport stamped, I head in and stop at the first rest stop, which is also the trailhead for a short jaunt up to Mary’s Rock if one is so inclined. For about 30 seconds I entertain the notion of going for a quick hike up there, but as my hands start to go numb and my nose gets cold from the biting 20mph wind, I change my mind.

Sadly, this is a theme that repeats itself throughout the drive. I knew it was going to be too cold because of the forecast, but you know, if the opportunity presented itself I’d at least try. It was way too cold to try.

So, I had to be satisfied with seeing the park from the comfort of my warm car, with occasional jaunts outside to take some pictures.

It is fun to drive along and see some of the parts of Skyline that I’ve only seen a few times from crossing it on foot. It showed me a different perspective, and it brought a smile to my face every time I recognized a crossing. Same thing with the overlooks. It was great to see Old Rag again from high up.

It was also nice to finally see Big Meadow, even though the visitors center and campgrounds were all closed, and the wind was still much too cold and bitter. I was able to get out of my car for a little bit, and I ventured out and looked around some. It looked lonely, but I’d love to take a weekend and stay at the lodge, and be able to wander the meadow.

Back in the car and driving along, seeing the snow scudding along the road, swirling and making little snow devils. I see a few deer occasionally and slow down. They have no fear of me or my car whatsoever. They’re almost tame.

I can’t wait for spring to finally get here. I’m tired of the winter.

Eventually I hit the southern entrance of the central district. Part of me wants to keep going, to head a little further. But I was advised that not all of the southern district is open anyway, there were some road hazards. So, homeward I head.

Skyline 02/27/14

ODH Training Hike #3 – Northwest Branch and Sligo Creek

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Hike Summary

This was an extraordinarily long hike, but it was very enjoyable. It started out extremely cold, but as the day wore on it became very nice. I’m glad my backpack was mostly empty, because I had several layers that needed to be shoved into it.

On the first section of the hike I wished that I had my hiking boots and walking stick, as it was pretty much cross country type terrain, but the latter 2/3 of the hike I was glad I didn’t have them, as it was mostly paved. This has caused me a little bit of discomfort today, I seem to have strained a tendon on the front of my ankle and am trying to take things easy.

I’m very glad I was able to keep with the group, as I would have been lost without people that knew where they were going. There’s a lot of turns and detours on this route.

I met quite a few great people that I hope to see again at the upcoming training hikes. It also motivated me to join the Mid-Atlantic Hiking Group, as a couple of the hikers are hike leaders for that group and invited me to join them on their full hike of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail.

I wish I had time to stop and take more pictures, that’s the one disadvantage of these training hikes. One is so focused on getting the pace and miles in, it’s hard to really stop and take time to look around.

ODH Training Hike #2 – C&O Canal at Pennyfield Lock

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Hike Summary

It was very cold. So cold that the friends I made at the previous hike didn’t go.

I kinda don’t blame them, in retrospect.

Still, there was a pretty good handful of people there, and I managed to get 19.12 miles under my belt.

Lessons learned:

  • Either the new socks I got worked great, or the dirt/gravel surface was kinder. Possibly both!
  • Make sure, when it is cold, to keep one’s chin covered. I got frost nip or wind burn on my chin and a lot of peeling a couple of days later.
  • I was in this odd nowhere zone of being too slow compared to one group, and too fast compared to another, so I spent a majority of my hike on my own, which was a little bit lonely. I am glad I packed my headset though, and listened to a good chunk of audiobook. At the end of the time my headset was on low, so if I need to use it on the ODH, I’ll have to keep that in mind.
  • I drank almost all of my water, even though it was cold.
  • There’s always pretty things to see on the C&O. It’s much harder to stop and take pictures when you’re trying to get miles, though.

I hope the snow that we had all melts by next Saturday!

Antietam National Battlefield Park

Hike Summary

Finally, the weather and my body have cooperated enough to allow me to go on a hike for the first time since the beginning of December. Since then, as I may have mentioned, I have either been sick or it has been snowing/too cold. This is a big contrast to last year, where I had few if any interrupted weeks of hiking.

All this being trapped indoors has made me a little nervous about my conditioning for the One Day Hike in April, but we’ll see how it goes.

Antietam is, almost surprisingly, not really all that far away from Northern Virginia. It’s about an hour and 20 minutes, give or take, from my place, and it’s a pretty pleasant drive up some scenic byways in Virginia, West Virginia, and then into Maryland. I’ve been using Waze lately as my navigation program, and it took me on some back roads on the way there.

This whole region is kind of the heart of classic Civil War Battles. I live right next to Manassas Battlefield, and as I am fond of sometimes saying, you really can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting a place that took part in the war. I saved some of these places for winter exploration, because I figured with them being fairly flat, hiking would be less treacherous than somewhere like Shenandoah or out in GWNF.

And this theory seems to have borne out, at least on this occasion. I got there to the visitor’s center shortly after it opened, and had a little look around the gift shop before I headed out. It’s a pretty large shop, with a lot of the usual tchotchkes that one would find: T-shirts, mugs, pint glasses (which I almost bought one of but decided it seemed inappropriate somehow,) and pins and books. I was a little disappointed by their sticker selection – what I’d like to do with my Chromebook is to cover it with stickers of places I’ve visited – but the only sticker they had was a generic ANT circular one. Perhaps I should have stuck with my old plan of collecting patches, but I never quite know what to do with them. So, I bought a little pewter pin and headed out to the parking area.

There was little to no breeze, but it was cold. I had brought 2 hats and a couple of layers of clothes to wear. This was the first chance I’d get to try out the silk insulating layer that I got for Christmas. I spent so much time fumbling around with equipment initially that my fingers started to go numb. I actually went and sat in the front seat of my car and turned the engine back on, thawing my hands back out. One of the things I really should look into are liner gloves. I hate the way my hands feel when I am trying to use my camera or even doing simple things like pulling a map out of my pocket. I am always wanting to pull my gloves off for better dexterity.

Anyhow, off we set. The first portion of the hike was paved road, leading over to the observation tower, which was supposed to be closed, according to park rangers. The rolling fields were cold and empty, with very few people or even cars around. A little bit of a breeze was kicking up, making my face feel cold. I got to the observation tower and paused for a moment, examining the Irish Brigade Monument and getting my bearings to head down Bloody Lane.

Bloody Lane is a name that brings up a lot of imagery for anyone who has more than a passing interest in the Civil War. It’s one of the bloodiest spots on the bloodiest battlefield in US history. Over 5000 men were killed on this short stretch of road in a matter of only 3 1/2 hours. I am not sure exactly what I expected to feel. Maybe my mind was numbed a bit by the cold, or I was concentrating on keeping my footing in the icy setting, but the place was terribly banal. Snow smooths over everything, giving it a sort of sameness. ¬†At this moment of time, to me, struggling with keeping my face warm and my legs moving, it was just a sunken country road.

I made my way down it, and then across the fields and up to the back side of the visitor’s center again, where I stopped to eat a snack and drink some tea. I got a view of hills off in the distance, framing the horizon.

I headed down the field towards Mumma Farm, where some of the real hiking started. At the Mumma Farm, there was a little spring house from which a spring (naturally) came forth. I found I spent quite a bit of time following this little stream as it wound its way around, eventually joining Antietam Creek.

I came down to the Roulette Farm, where I encountered one of the only other people on my hike, another person with their dog. I also saw some pretty blue skies to the northwest, in contrast to the gloomy clouds in the opposite direction. It made for some nice contrasting pictures.

As I made my way along, I’d been noticing these parallel furrows on the trail. I thought at first that they might be bicycle tracks, but they were too close together for that. Once I got into the wooded section of the Three Farms Trail, it finally struck me what they were.

Cross country ski tracks. Of course, silly me. It didn’t quite occur to me at first that a place like this would be a wonderful place for skiing. The same characteristics that made me pick it as a hiking location in the winter would be just as good for someone wanting to ski.

I ended up being a little too focused on those ski tracks I think, because it caused me to miss my turn at once point and I had to retrace my path and find my way. The forests opened up to the rolling battlefield hills again as I went past some of the other farms.

I went down and under the turnpike, and that’s when we really started to hike parallel to Antietam Creek. When I hear the word creek, I expect more of a trickle, but this body of water is pretty impressive, although it is likely swollen by snowmelt. It’s a pretty unforgiving looking creek, something about it made me nervous. Perhaps it was finally the events of what transpired here finally getting to me, but I really didn’t enjoy hiking next to it like I usually do with creeks and rivers. There were parts where it had eroded the banks and I got the superstitious feeling that it was grasping at the banks.

Another road crossing and my dog and I were closing in on Burnside Bridge. There were a couple of different approaches to the bridge, I decided to take the higher trail so I could see it from above.

It’s a very pretty bridge for so much blood that was shed over it. I stopped to take a look from above, and noticed something unexpected: the bridge was closed!

I was faced with a dilemma. Should I cross the closed bridge (which the visitor center rangers had assured me was open) or should I double back and retrace my path back to a turnoff where I could get back to my car?

I decided that if I didn’t tarry and went across quickly, it would be OK. The part of the bridge that had been damaged was barricaded off in addition to the barriers barring entry (which were easy to walk around,) and I didn’t mess with anything, not even taking my camera out, until I made it to the other side. There, I took some pictures of the damage, and set off on the last loop, around Snaveleys Ford Trail.

This was another nice little hike through the woods, a contrast to the earlier part of the hike which was mostly fields (except the one shorter section.) There are a lot of benches along the trail, mostly facing Antietam Creek, and I took an opportunity to take a break at one and eat another snack and jot down some notes. Stopping for any amount of time made me get a little chilled, so I wasn’t able to make as many notes as I usually do when hiking.

The very last section mainly consisted of following the road back to my car, which I was happy to see.

Before I’d set out to go hiking, I had scouted out a few places to check out food wise, somewhere that would be good to stop afterwards. One of these was an ice cream shop. My usual motto is “it’s never too cold for ice cream,” but today I just was way too cold. So instead, I went to the other place: Burkholder’s Baked Goods.

Burkholder’s Baked Goods is a Mennonite Bakery located just off of the downtown core of Sharpsburg (which is adjacent to the battlefield.) I drove up to the address, and at first I was taken off guard. This was a mostly residential neighborhood, and this place looked much like the other mid century ranch houses. There was a sign for the business out front, and there was parking, so I pulled in.

Inside, there’s a tiny storefront area with coolers filled with local milk and some chocolates, a couple racks of pastries, and a counter holding more. Since it was in the afternoon, pickings were a teensy bit thin, but they were bringing out more. The whole interior looked to be converted over to a bakery, with modest Mennonite women hard at work. I saw some cookies and I figured I’d take some home to my boyfriend, plus I got a couple of doughnuts for myself. Everything was incredibly inexpensive, doughnuts were only 50 cents a piece.

I brought my prizes out to the car and wolfed down the doughnuts. I almost went back inside to buy some more, they were that good, but I resisted. If you’re near the battlefield, this is definitely a good place to stop. I kinda wish they had some seating or coffee or something, but the quality of the goods made up for that lack.

2014-02-06 Antietam Battlefield

Driving, not hiking

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So, I promised myself that if I wasn’t able to go hiking this week, that I’d at least go for a drive, and that is what I ended up doing. It’s a pity in a way, because if I’d planned a little better in advance, I would have gone hiking on Friday when the weather was finally above freezing.

Such is the way of things though, and weather is always fickle and unpredictable. Even checking the weather now, it looks like next week is going to be mostly terrible again. I just seem to have the worst luck lately.

I had a plan and a backup plan. I would go check and see if Skyline Drive was open, and go drive down it if it was. If it wasn’t, I’d go down US522 instead, as I hadn’t really gone down that road much, so I wanted to see where it would end up, other than intersecting with US211. I’d passed by the junction a few times on my way to hikes in the Sperryville area, so I wanted to see where it went.

That’s something I picked up from my mom. She has always liked to say, “I wonder where this road goes?” and then find out. It can be a useful way to find out more about a place, and going down random roads is something I’ve always enjoyed doing with her.

I trundled along through lovely Front Royal and on to the toll gate at the start of Skyline Drive. I didn’t look up at all but started to immediately dig in my pack for the entrance fee.

“Road’s closed” the ranger said, and I looked up to see the gate across the way. Silly me. We chatted a little bit about the weather and when it would be open again. It seemed the little 1/8 of an inch of snow we’d had on Tuesday was enough to turn everything to ice again, making the road unsafe.

I pondered my options. As I mentioned, I had planned on immediately going down 522, but I decided to take a detour to Shenandoah River State Park instead. It’s only about 10 miles from the Skyline Drive entrance, so down the road I went.

It was open, but oh so cold. Still too cold to hike, although the day was starting to warm up a little bit. The sky was clear and blue. I got out at the overlook and snapped some pictures, my fingers quickly numbing in the chill air. I let my dog wander around a bit, and we got back in the car and headed down to the visitor center. There, the little creek they have circulating around the building was iced over, but it was very pretty still. The visitor center is very nice, and has a gift shop and Wifi access, which is one of the only places in the park where there’s any signal.

I decided since I’d come all this way already, we’d head down to the river itself. I parked down by the canoe loading area, where the little side part was frozen over. The banks were very icy and cold, and the water was a deep grey. There was a whispering, slithering sound as the ice and water ground against each other. It was very beautiful, but also a little sinister.

Back in the car, we headed back to Front Royal and down US522.

I really need to learn to stop and take pictures while I am driving. I have a hard time figuring out where a good place is to stop, and I hate inconveniencing cars behind me or becoming an impediment to traffic. I think this is because of where I grew up. Growing up in a tourist town makes one extra sensitive to doing touristy things. I think it is also some of my still-ever-present anxiety. It’s hard to figure out of I pull into someone’s driveway whether they’ll get mad or something. I just need to let go. This is my little apology/excuse for why there aren’t any pictures of the drive itself.

Chester Gap was beautiful, with the hills on the left side crisp with snow, undulating down to the valley. The road was windy but not overly so, dotted with farmhouses and country estates. I entered Rappahannock County, which is becoming quite the wine area, with several vineyards along the way (sadly closed) before I rolled into the town of Flint Hill.

It was lunchtime, so I thought that this might be a good place to stop and find some. I stopped at a likely looking place, a nice old building with a lot of flags and an interesting sculpture out front: a metal bull. I had arrived at The Flint Hill Public House.

It was quiet inside, (The parking area was pretty much empty) but they were more than happy to see me and sat me down in one of the front dining rooms. The decor was bright and shiny and modern, with comfy leather chairs and some half booths. As far as I could tell I was one of the only people there, although there was some sound coming from the bar area further on in.

The menu was expansive but not overly complex, featuring a good variety of dishes, from burgers and sandwiches to grilled items and quite a few vegetarian options. I’d classify it as nice Mid-Atlantic Pub style food: not too fussy, but also not too casual. They also were featuring a special menu celebrating chili week (probably because the Superbowl was coming up) and I saw something there that I just had to have.

Chili Nachos.

I ordered and they were quickly brought, a nice pile of warm tortilla chips, red chili, cheese and salsa and sour cream. it reminded me very much of the way my mom taught me to enjoy chili: served over corn chips, that good old frito pie. I tried not to wolf them down too quickly, they were very delicious. The dining room was a little chilly so the food did cool quickly, but I hadn’t really realized it in time to ask them to make it warmer, so it’s not really anything to blame them for.

Another thing I was impressed by was their wine list. There was the usual selection of popular California varieties, but most of the list contained wines from all over the local area, most of which were within 10-30 minute drives. I always love when restaurants embrace their place.

I considered ordering a dessert glass, but I decided that since I was the only person driving, it wasn’t a great idea. Instead, I ordered something more substantial.

I’m a sucker for desserts, and particularly anything involving chocolate. The Triple Chocolate Brownie that was presented to me was no disappointment. There were three layers of chcolately deliciousness as promised, plus sprinkled chips and a little bit of ice cream to cut the chocolate. I was very happy and satisfied.

Service was very friendly, with my server (whose name I unfortunately completely forget; I am terrible with names) being awesome and chatting with me about the hiking in the area.

Flint Hill Public House is in my opinion, definitely worth a return trip (or several) and is on my short list of places to consider for the upcoming annual Mother’s Day lunch.

Anyhow, it was time to roll on. I was using a slightly new to me navigation program, and it decided that I was on my way home (pretty much true at this point.) It directed me on Ben Venue road instead of straight out to 211.

This is another of those times I wish I’d had the fortitude to stop and take photos, you will have to rely on my words I suppose. Ben Venue Road is tiny and windy, going around and through several apple orchards on the way out to 211 at Ben Venue.

The sky was a rich, deep blue, and the bare apple trees were stark and black against the sky, their branches reaching up almost like claws. Spring seemed like a long way away. The drive was lonely, there were no other cars on the road. Nothing but hillsides on the left, and farms and orchards on the right, with hills in the distance.

Eventually, Ben Venue Road, as I said, met US 211, and it was time for a rather uneventful drive back home. 6 more weeks until Spring. Hopefully the weather will cooperate more than it has so far.

Jan 30, 2014