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Appalachian Trail – GR Thompson WMA

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Hike Summary

I’ve been a terrible blogger, again. I have two drafts, sitting in the queue, that almost seem silly to try to publish. It’s been almost two months … again. Just like last year around this time, I got caught up in training, and so tired that I never seemed to find time to update.

I shouldn’t dwell upon failures though, I should just push forward.

It does bother me, though. This cycle of procrastination that I get in. If I cannot maintain my own blog, what hope do I have that my new opportunity, doing some volunteer social media stuff that maybe, just maybe might work into something real … what hope do I have that that will work?

My life is an endless series of self-sabotages. Ah well. I kinda want to just delete this all and start over with something more positive, but I won’t. Naught to do but push forward, get back on the horse, and so on.

So, GR Thompson WMA is a state-maintained park of sorts. It’s not a state park, but more akin to a state forest … but it isn’t one of those either. It’s basically a state-maintained wildlife preserve. So, if you want to fish or hunt, this is one of the places that you’d go. The Appalachian Trail also happens to go through it. I’ve actually hiked most of the AT section before – last June, during National Trails Day. I’ll be back to this same area again, this upcoming day.

Maybe I’ll be a better blogger and post about it!

So anyway, this hike starts out at the Thompson Lake parking lot, which is nice and spacious. There’s a little road that leads up to a second parking lot with handicapped parking and a boat loading ramp. I had two choices – go straight, or go left. I chose to go straight. The trail led uphill for quite a good ways, passing in and out of shadows and light. The day started out hazy and a little bit overcast, but by the time I reached the top of a ridge behind a vineyard, the sky was blue and the sun had come out nicely. It seemed like it was going to be a pretty hot day.

The ground was pretty wet in places, and on one part of the trail where it went across a stream, the trail itself had become a little bit of a river, which make going a little bit slippery, but otherwise not too bad. There weren’t too many insects out yet, but there were quite a lot of wild geranium, lining the trail with their purple blossoms.

This wasn’t actually the flower that I’d come to this place to see, but they were a pleasant surprise nonetheless. The biggest reason I’d come was to see the trillium.

Trillium grandiflorum. The great white trillium. They’re one of those wonderful spring ephemeral plants, along with Virginia Bluebells, that only have a quick window in order to be seen. I missed them last year, and I wanted to make sure that I was able to catch them this year.

At first, I thought that I had failed. All I saw were shriveled up flowers, all over the place. I was a little bit disappointed. I thought to myself that it wouldn’t be until next year that I would get my next chance, and I was a little bit bummed out as I turned into the Appalachian Trail.

However, as I hiked along, I started to see ones that were in better and better shape, and then I saw an almost perfect one. I was pretty happy. I also encountered a few AT thru-hikers, all of them a bit faster than my dog and I, especially since I have a habit of stopping often to take pictures.

Trillium weren’t the only flowers out this day. I also saw mayapple in bloom (you have to look under the large leaves to see the flowers!) as well as jack in the pulpit and showy orchis. There were even plenty of violets and some blackberries in bloom – I may have to make a late summer blackberry picking trip.

I stopped at Dick’s Dome shelter for lunch  and chatted with another thru hiker who wasn’t sticking around very long. He asked me for the weather forecast, which I happily provided (chance of thunderstorms, which never materialized.) I backtracked to the side trail that led back to the lake.

You can tell that this trail is rarely maintained, because I ran into quite a few deadfalls, one of which required getting on hands and knees (and fairly muddy) to get through. There was no real way around it otherwise. One of the things I did notice though is that, even when a tree is knocked over, it does still try to reach its way back up. I guess that’s something I should remember myself.

GR Thompson WMA

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.

Tuscarora Trail to Kepler Overlook – George Washington National Forest

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Hike Summary

This particular day for this hike was forecast to be such a nice day that I felt it was criminal to not go for a hike. So, despite a little bit of ankle pain (from ODH training) I picked a region I hadn’t been in a while.

Good old George Washington National Forest. You are my old and I think bestest friend, followed closely by Shenandoah and the AT.

GWNF, with your obscure trailheads, your barely visible blazes, your rules allowing me to let my dog off the leash. Your rustic sensibilities, your frequent campsites, your dirtiness. Who knows what manner of moonshiner or pot grower lives within you, as long as they don’t decide that I’m an intruder.

Finding the trailhead was an adventure, as trailheads usually are here. There are some really nice cabins and houses back in these obscure folds of land in Virginia. I assume that a lot of them are seasonal hunting lodges, or just people who like living somewhere that there aren’t people out to bother them. The first part of the drive up from Woodstock, up Zepp road, was pretty, with nice views. Then at some point it devolved into almost single-lane gravelly road, which is totally fine with me (although probably not so much my car’s alignment.) Finally, we end up at a pretty decent parking area with campsites, and a little connector trail/gate gravel road out to the Tuscarora Trail.

I really do want to backpack the Tuscarora Trail someday. It is a trail with a lot of character, the way it goes over the various ridges and makes a big western arc to and from the AT. It took over the path of several other trail names, so it retains those names in its own name as it makes its way through VA and WVA before turning east into PA. There are a few shelters like for the AT, but it’s mostly pretty much on your own for finding places. I’ve noticed quite a lot of camping spots though, so that seems pretty easy.

The day started out pretty grey and overcast, but warmed up as I went along. The first part of the hike is pretty easy, and there’s a nice campsite along Cedar Creek where I cross it. The trail follows an old ore road up the mountain, and then there’s another extremely … creative bridge over the creek again.

My dog has more sense than I and just fords the water. I hold onto the railing and make my way across the rickety thing, worrying all the while that it’s going to fail on me and I’m going to fall in.

This is not to be. I am safe and sound as we continue up the trail. Things look like they’re all thawed, but then I encounter an area that is pretty much all still snow covered. It’s a little slow going, as things are icy and even with my nice boots things are either slippery, or like hiking through sand dunes. Eventually though, I make my way through the winter wonderland and up to the top of the ridge.

There’s an excellent view of the Shenandoah Valley from here, along a ridge/cliff of rock. There are several campsites along the area, and someone has helpfully nailed a thermometer to a tree, allowing me to check out the current conditions.

58F. Not bad.

It was still pretty hazy up there, but the sun was coming out here and there through the clouds, so I spent at least an hour relaxing up at the top, enjoying the view. I scribbled in my journal, taking notes on the hike so I don’t forget when it comes time to sit down and write. There’s a really nice fire ring with seating there, so it made it extra easy to linger.

I thought about adding some extra miles to the hike, but my ankle was still a little sore from the hike (plus the next day I foolishly went for another hour long walk instead of doing nothing,) so I figured it was a bad idea to push things. It was time to head back.

On the way out of the area, I decided to try to find Van Buren Furnace, which is another one of those pig iron furnaces that dot this region. I found it, but oddly there was a “No Trespassing, Private Property” sign. It struck me as odd, because it’s supposed to be on an acre of forestry land. I suppose the locals were just trying to keep people like me away.

Kepler Overlook

Woodstock Equestrian Park – Montgomery County, MD

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Hike Summary

Since I have been logging some pretty long and hard miles during my One Day Hike training hikes, I thought it would be a good idea on my “fun” hiking days to go on some shorter hikes that I might not normally do. I don’t know if it’s something in my slightly warped OCD brain that’s broken a little or what, but I have a hard time considering any hike under 10 miles to be much of a hike these days.

I need to learn to enjoy the short hikes, too.

I picked this hike at the last minute, thinking that this particular day there was going to be some snow or rain, but at mid morning the forecast said it was going to be nice, so I threw all my hiking stuff in my bag, loaded up the dog and headed up there.

Woodstock Equestrian Park is a relatively newish park in the more rural part of Montgomery County, Maryland. It is primarily intended as an equestrian park (duh) but the cross country course is just as usable for a hiker with their dog.

The park goes through rolling hills, mostly fields, with some thickets of trees interspersed here and there. The snow was starting to melt (it would be totally gone by the end of the next day) so at times it ended up being a little bit of a mudpit. Thank goodness for waterproof boots.

One of the nice things was that someone from the maintenance department had driven through with a vehicle of some sort, so there was a flattened strip of snow through the park, making it a little easier to get around.

At one point when I was hiking along, a herd of deer burst through the edge of the field and ran across it. I was so bemused taking in the scene that only at the last minute did I start to fumble for my phone and the camera. By the time I peeled off my gloves, they were gone. There was something enchanting about seeing them run across, they were almost floating over the snow.

There was a rich, tannic smell to the air at some points, hard to tell if it was the fields or just the smell of the thawing earth. At the time it smelled like spring, but now that I’m sitting, writing this with almost a foot of snow on the ground, it must have been a false spring.

I stopped for a snack and a rest at the Seneca Stone Barn. This is an old stone horse barn that was restored by the parks department when they were working on improving the park, and they did a very nice job. There’s a little information station explaining the history of the barn. I do wish there was a bench to sit on here, I had to make do with one of the thresholds instead.  That’s my only complaint though, and really I should be used to not having much to sit on but logs as it is.

Moving on, I exited the field section and made my way downhill and across the busy road. Then there was a section that was a bit more forested and a bit snowy as well. It was nice to have some bits that felt more like “real” hiking, with the enclosure of the forest. There was one section with a bit of a hill and a powerline clearing that was pretty.

At the bottom of the hill was a dirt road and the way back to the car. I had had a good leg stretching. and a place I have wanted to visit was on my route home.

Rocky Point Creamery. The last time I tried to visit this place was possibly around the same time last year when I’d gone to Sugarloaf, and of course it being still wintry, they are on limited hours. This time however, I was there when they were open!

They do have excellent ice cream, as I’ve found to be the case pretty much for all local type ice cream places I’ve visited. They’re a tiny smidge pricier than some of the other places I’ve been to, but that might just be the price difference between Maryland and Virginia. I didn’t mind, it was tasty. I had Banana Pudding and Butter Pecan flavors in a sundae with caramel, and it was an all-round great combination. They’re also part of the Maryland Ice Cream Trail, and I think when that rolls around again this year, I’m going to have to participate.

As I continued on, I was still a little bit hungry. I was back in Virginia, and what should my eyes see but a roadside BBQ stand. If there’s one thing I’ve found in my wanderings, it is that roadside BBQ is some of the best BBQ. This place is run by Catoctin Popcorn, who also have a location in Harper’s Ferry. I had some of their pulled pork with NC sauce, and it was delicious. I thought about suggesting to them that they set up a booth during the One Day Hike (they’re located just across the Potomac from the C&O trail,) but if they did that, I’d be tempted to stop and eat too much.

Woodstock Equestrian Park

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 #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!

Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield

Hike Summary

Wintry still, and another trip to a battlefield. The previous week was a total loss all round: although I’d gone for a drive, I ended up not taking many pictures and was just generally feeling like crap that week, so that explains the lack of posting.  The winter blues I suppose.

So, the Spotsylvania Courthouse Battlefield is one of 4 battlefields that make up the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park. It covers a huge part of two counties and a city, and I had a hard time at first getting my bearings with the whole thing. It was a little difficult to figure out where to get started, because unlike many of my other hikes, there was no preplanned route for me to follow from the wonderful people at Hiking Upward.

It took a bit of research on finding which park actually had a decent length loop hike, and Spotsylvania was the place. I did want to stop by the visitor center first though, so that is where I directed my GPS to go. The visitor center is in old town Fredericksburg, a place that I really need to spend some more time just exploring. My previous experiences have been limited to the movie theater that is located off of the interstate that we’ve been to a few times, but if the avalanche of tourism info I received from them is anything to go on, there’s a whole lot more stuff to do than meets the eye.

So, the visitor center was a bit gutted to say the least. All of the displays were currently removed and so there really wasn’t anything to see there. However, I got some helpful additional brochures, including interpretive directions for the Bloody Angle Trail, which was part of my hike. I also decided to stop in the gift shop, because I’m a sucker for gift shops and always like to buy things if they’re any good.

Again, no good stickers for my laptop. I continue to be disappointed in this regard. However, I did run across something that I was almost forced to get, and my inner 10-year-old is very happy:

A National Parks Passport. This is possibly a silly thing to have, but it’s also neat. It’s a little spiral bound book where you can get cancellation stamps of all the parks you’ve visited. Pretty much every National park has a cancellation stamp somewhere, and my inner completionist now has me wanting to revisit all the parks I’ve been to.  There are a lot of National Parks I’ve been to in this area, even if not all of them have hikeable places, but I am more than happy to go back again.

While I was there also I hiked around the very short Sunken Road walking tour, which was interesting, with a lot of ruins and foundations, as well as a hawk that I attempted to get a clearer picture of.

Legs stretched, we made our way to the Spotsylvania Battlefield, which was about a 20 minute drive from the visitor center.

There’s a little shelter, kind of like a highway rest stop, with some bathrooms and little informational overviews of the battlefield. There are some extra pamphlets and a donation box: this is one of the few National Parks I’ve been to that doesn’t require a fee to enter: the rangers told me that things are so spread out that it’s virtually impossible to enforce. That doesn’t seem to stop Shenandoah, who has fee forms at far-flung locations, but then again Shenandoah is probably considered to be one of the crown jewels of the parks system, plus they get all the Skyline fees.

The first part (and several parts, to be honest) are along the shoulder of the road that winds its way through the park. At first it was pretty mundane, with a lot of woods and road, not exactly the most compelling sort of hike. The weather had warmed up nicely over the last day, melting most of the snow, leaving only little rotten bits behind.

The trail finally veers off the road at Upton’s trail and starts to wind through the trees, and then breaks out of the trees into a field. There’s a monument here for Upton’s Charge, where he took 5000 men on an attack of the Confederate earthworks.

There are earthworks everywhere here at this battlefield, both sides put them up. Most of them are not much more than gentle ridges in the ground now, but they can still be seen fairly clearly from the air. There’s a rebuilt section of it later on in the hike (also accessible by the car tour)  where you can see what they looked like at the time of the war.

Like the other battlegrounds I’ve been to, this place is both steeped in history while at the same time somewhat banal. Sometimes it’s easier than other times at getting a grasp on the history, of being able to see exactly what went on here. It’s hard to see it sometimes when I’m hiking along and a helicopter from Quantico is buzzing overhead, or the traffic is making that sibilant shushing noise as it goes past. I’m thinking one of these days, possibly this year since it’s the anniversary, I’ll come and see a reenactment.

The Bloody Angle section was quite interesting, even though I did it backwards. There’s a special separate interpretive pamphlet for it, and there are signposts describing what went on that day. The Bloody Angle is similar to Bloody Lane in Antietam – a place of great slaughter. It’s named for the funny angle that the earthworks took in this section, where Major General Wright’s troops assaulted for almost 24 hours straight.

There are many ruined farmhouses along the way as well, since the poor farmers were basically caught in the crossfire, and had their houses burned down and destroyed by the troops to prevent sharpshooters from taking up places to snipe from. One of the ruins is a relatively new find, only rediscovered in the past couple of years.

I think my favorite part was the last bit, the Laurel Hill Loop. This is where the battle started. This was mainly open, rolling fields with a couple of markers. I liked the sense of openness at this section, with the blue sky overhead and a single large tree in the field.

Back at the car, I decided to stop at the Wilderness battlefield. I drove around that battlefield, but didn’t really get out of the car to look at much, it’s something I’ll definitely need to revisit, along with the Chancellorsville Battlefield site.

Since it was on the way, I couldn’t pass up an excuse to stop at one of my favorite places, Moo Thru. I love ice cream as you know, and this place serves some excellent stuff. It’s all from local cows, and they have a great selection of flavors in traditional as well as soft serve, and they’re pretty generous with their servings. They also have soups and sandwiches, the grilled cheese is delicious. I like to try to make a Neapolitan type sundae with strawberry, chocolate and vanilla, they didn’t have a plain vanilla so I went with caramel toffee instead, which was excellent. If you’re ever anywhere near Remington, I highly suggest stopping here.

Feb 20, 2014 Spotsylvania Battlefield