Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hoping for Rain

April, 2011

I had two goals for this 2-night trip: I was hoping for rain (yes) and I wanted to try camping all week-end, through Sunday night. And then going straight to the office. A few reasons for this idea: campgrounds are quieter on Sunday afternoon and night - most people depart Sunday morning. And this would save on the number of miles I'd be driving over the weekend.

I tried a new location, too: at Patapsco, but the Hollofield area. Whoa! my site was tiny ....

My first thunderstorm
The reason I was hoping for rain is that I realized I've had great weather ever since I started camping. I'm starting to wonder if I even know what to do in the rain. This week-end the forecast called for rain up until I arrived at the campground. By then, the forecast called for 0% chance of rain. Oh well ... I'll try again another time.

But then early in the night, a thunderstorm came through. Actually three of them, in succession. Rain I was hoping for. Lighting and thunder - no! I really didn't know what to do safety-wise, but being at the highest elevation in the area, I decided to wait it out in my car. The lightning was incredibly brilliant. Being outdoors in a storm is quite different than being in your house .... I was a bit apprehensive to say the least. Ok - I was scared. But as long as I was in my car, I felt safe. It was a long evening, wondering if a tree or branch would come crashing down & just waiting out the storms.

Sunday sunrise over the PVSP ridge:

Sunday morning was absolutely delightful! Clear skies. All kinds of songbirds. A few birds were flitting through the woods at my campsite. Spring is coming. Temps were in the mid- to high 30s.

A work issue came up, so I had to take care of that before I did any hiking.

My home-away-from-home office:

Night time is not pitch-black here at PVSP. I think there's too much "civilization" to be totally dark. But I could see lots of stars, twinkly like sprinkled glitter amongst the tall trees. Nighttime noises: no critters or birds .... but CSX train, ambulances, muffled traffic & motorcycles, and airplanes.

Monday / straight to the office
That sounded like a good idea but was more difficult in practice. I had to set an alarm so that I woke in time to get to the office on time. There's just something wrong about an alarm while you're sleeping outdoors ... It was still dark. I found it a bit difficult to get moving in the cold dark. Making coffee and dismantling the tent and campsite is slower and much less fun.

Monday sunrise:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Explore Little Bennett; Scope Out Orienteering Course

March, 2011

I ventured out to western suburbs, close to D.C., to try out a regional Maryland park that offered camping. And an Orienteering event was being held there. Also, this park had several permanent orienteering courses. I could do one or two for fun on my own, as well as scope out leading an event for one of the outdoors group I belong to.

Even though the campground is hardly a mile or two from civilization (some nicely upscale housing developments!), when I arrived I was the only camper. I felt very alone and secluded. I was actually a bit apprehensive. I set up camp, intending to enjoy the seclusion and quiet; but after a few hours, others started arriving.

The sites are somewhat close together. There's very little privacy since it's still late winter / early spring and there's little greenery yet.

Over the course of the week-end

  • all the sites that were open at that time of year were full
  • a group next to me decided to blast music until 10:20pm (yes, I know the exact time they turned it off ...) - country, blues, rock
  • campers included a large group of Scouts. But sometime after dark, they quietly packed up and left -- there was no one around when I woke in the morning. I didn't even hear them leave; although the music was so loud maybe that's why I didn't hear anything else.
Other Noise (yikes!)
At some point in the middle of the night, I heard a noise like wood hitting wood: "Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack!", then a "Yowl!" I have no idea what that was ...

I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this park. I did the easiest Orienteering course installed there. I found the map and cues easy to understand. The trails were well-marked and gentle.

Later that day, I did some additional hiking on the trails around the campground. Lovely, gentle evening hiking!

Even though winter is ending, it's still chilly. Night temps may have fallen into the upper 20s; I had snow or frost on my tent. As usual, it was slow-going dismantling and packing up in time to head out to do an Orienteering event.

It's Still "Winter":

Brilliant Sunshine:

Exploring New Hikes; and the Super Moon!

March, 2011

Every camping experience is a learning experience. On this trip, I learned that sound travels. Without any greenery buffer between sites, you can hear every zip of the tent, every word, from the campers next to you...

"Winter" is over -- there were a lot more campers. But on Friday, the night temps fell below freezing; judging by the activity during the night, other folks weren't quite prepared - I heard several trips out to cars to get warmer clothes or extra bedding. Saturday morning was pretty chilly; again, it was tough to get started, move around, and prepare coffee and breakfast.

This outing was also planned last fall. I thought I had selected a primo site that would give me a great view of the sunrise and have some privacy from others. But I had selected wrong. Oh well. It was still very pretty.

The weather was noticeably warmer during the day and I enjoyed being outdoors. On both Saturday and Sunday (beautiful late-winter days), I drove over to the Fair Hills area and explored several hiking trails there. The trails were fairly well-marked and not overly strenuous; I felt comfortable being out there by myself.

Hiking At Fair Hills:

I try to plan my camping trips on week-ends with a full moon, so I can more fully enjoy them. This week-end was actually a "super moon". It rose as a bright orange ball, and hung low in the sky for awhile. Everyone at the campground was enjoying the view.
Sunday was warmer with brilliant sunshine and calm winds. Since I intended to hike, I had to pack up. But I just wanted to linger! I find Elk Neck perfect for outdoor R&R. I did take time to hang my tent to air out; wipe it down; and clean my stakes. A nice day to spend time on camping chores.

Touches of Spring:

Antsy to Get Back Outdoors!

March, 2011

It's been several weeks since I've camped. And I'm getting antsy - I need to get outdoors !! Way back in December of last year, when I started these solo camping adventures, I reserved a spot at Cape Henlopen as soon as they opened for the season to kick-off a new camping season -- never guessing at the time that I would venture out for winter camping.

So this trip was going to be my first for the year, and is actually my third!

The Experience
Though it was March, and day-time temps would be in the 40s and low-50s, this trip was very similar to the previous "winter camping" outing at Maple Tree. The wind was brisk; the sun wasn't very bright; and the day (and night!) felt cold. Night time temps were in the high 20s; therefore "below freezing". It was a bit energy-draining to deal with cooking and being outdoors all day in wind and cold.

For the first night, the only other camper was the camp host. Even so, I setup at my favorite site, even though it's right across the trail from the camp host.

I love Cape Henlopen. Not just for it's natural beauty, but for the comfiness of sleeping on sand and pine needles. Best sleep ever!
Ocean Views:

People on the Beach have their winter coats on:

Bike ride to Rehoboth. Beer sampling at Dog Fish Head Brewery. French fries from Thrasher's on the boardwalk. And a nap on the beach, before biking back to the campground and driving home.
Breakwater & Junction Rail Trail:

A Second "Winter Camping" Outing - Incredible Wind

February, 2011

The 3-day holiday week-end started out with an unusually warm winter day; and I headed out to the Harper's Ferry area to stay at Maple Tree, a private campground.

I have fallen in love with that campground and can't wait to go back -- it is totally adorable:

  • first, the campground is only for tents or ... for folks camping out in their tree houses - yes, tree houses!
  • the camp office building is an old home, with a large porch where you can gaze out on the meadow in front and catch glimpses of a silvery ribbon of river
  • the porch is decorated with wind chimes and potted plants
  • the bathroom is decorated with cute accessories such as wall signs and baskets
  • the showers are outdoors! wooden stalls, rock floors, primitive mirrors, and potted plants

The View From My Campsite:

The Experience
The warm day was welcome. My site was farthest up the hill on which the campground is located; going back & forth to my car was strenuous; taking the trail down to the camp office/building counted as a mini-hike!

The sun was down by about 6:30pm. About 8:00pm, I thought I heard a freight train. I knew there are trains going through Harpers Ferry, but that's about 6 miles away. I doubted if the noise would carry that far, and I couldn't remember crossing any other train tracks on the way to the campground. The "freight train" kept going by. If it wasn't a train, I thought it must be multiple airplanes overhead. Finally, I realized it was the wind.

I don't know how strong the winds were; checking weather reports post-trip, they were in the 40-50mph range. The noise kept me awake for several hours; that and the concern that one of those tall trees were going to come crashing down upon my tent. I debated whether I should get in my car and spend the night there; but my car was just as vulnerable to a tree coming down as my tent.

Waking up on Saturday morning, I quickly re-learned the downside of winter camping -- it's really, really cold in the morning. First, you don't want to get out of your tent -- but you need your coffee and food. The wind was still blowing rather briskly, the sun was reduced by cloud cover; so trying to get water started and get my body in motion in temps about 27 degrees was a new experience. It was like moving in slow motion, but I did it!

One of the delightful parts of being at Maple Tree was once I got moving, and made my coffee, it was a pleasure to hike the short trail down to the office building, and sit on the patio (sheltered from the wind) watching the sun rise higher in the sky.

For the main part of the day, I drove down to the C&O Canal and went bike riding for a couple of hours.

Back at the campsite, I realized that the wind and colder temps was really sapping my energy. The evening was a repeat of the morning -- adjusting to sitting out in the cold to prepare hot water and foot.

Sometime during the night, the wind calmed down; it was much quieter, and I got a better night's sleep.

Maple Tree campground is located like 1/2 mile from the Appalachian Trail. Instead of just bushwhacking up to the trail itself, I drove to the Gathland State Park contact station and spent a few hours hiking south, and back.

Overall, it was a successful "winter camping" outing - new challenges presenting more opportunities to learn about the outdoors, and myself.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Sometimes, Quitting Can Be So Sweet

February, 2011

The ending to my winter camping experience was an Orienteering event at Manassas. I looked forward to it, and planned to try an Intermediate course. How lost can you get on a battlefield? Hmmm ....

As I assembled my gear for the event, I remembered that I hadn't done any mental warm-up, unless you can count making a wrong turn and then finding my way to the event. Tearing down my campsite from the night before counts as a physical warm-up. Packing my compass, I thought maybe I should spend a few minutes with the book, as a refresher.  Unfortunately, I nixed that idea; figured I could rember how to use it.

The course was laid out over the Manassas Battlefiled. so you had fields of mowed grass, areas of unmowed grass batted down by the winter, and groves of treees and brush.

The event folks suggested I try an intermediate course; because you couldn't really get lost in the battlefield area.

This time, I easily found the "start". Haha, as it was right at the registration area. But true-to-form, it took me a bit to find the first checkpoint. That's when I realized I should have refreshed my compass skills as it was apparent I was doing something wrong.

Instead of taking the time to go back and ask for help, I decided to rely on the natural landscape / geographic features and my awesome [sarcasm here] powers of observation. So, I muddled through (quite an approprite term as the fields were pretty muddy) checkpoints 2 and 3. 

Feeling good, I followed a trail to get me close to #4, which was ... where??? I couldn't find it. Went to a landmark and tried again. Still couldn't find it. Encountered another person in the same spot I started and headed with him. We both still couldn't find it. He continued bushwhacking further into an area of forest; I turned back.

On the trail, I met some folks who appeared to be experienced. They headed cross-field. That's when I decided it wasn't a whole lot of fun bushwhacking throuogh knee-deep grasses and muddy fields without really being certain of where I was going.

So, I had major compass fail. I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong. Apparently, there were others doing the same "wrong" thing as me, because I kept meeting up with the same people. Jeez, I even had Boy Scouts help me and my brain would just blank out.

Eventually, I realized I wasn't having a whole lot of fun. Decided to call it quits, got on a main trail, and headed back to the start area. The day immediately got better.

Post-event assessment of why the day didn't turn out as I had hoped:
  • I was mentally and physically drained from Saturday's hike.
  • Likely, also a bit drained from my first winter camping experience.
  • I should've reviewed my "how to use a compass" notes
  • And likely should've found a way to settle my brain and "warm-up"

My First Winter Camping Experience!

February, 2011

Otherwise subtitled: The campground wouldn't have been so bad except for the gun shots ...

I did it !!!! My first, real "winter camping" experience! I'll qualify it with night time temps in the high 20s; frozen footprints in the morning; and ice crystals on my tent. It was a wonderful experience; I enjoyed it; and I learned a lot!

So here's how it went down:
After the tough hike (described in the post below), I headed to Bull Run in Virginia. The campground is fairly large, as compared to ones I've stayed at so far. But there were only about five other sites occupied, all RVers. There was NO ONE in the tent area. Very cool! I looked forward to a night of real peace & quiet. I got to drive around and pick whatever site I wanted.

No Other Tent Campers!
By my arrival in late afternoon, the weather had evolved into one of those warmish winter days with bright sunlight. Any snow or ice melted, and the sites were MUDDY. Of all the checklists and gear items I've read about, it never occurred to me how muddy wet ground could get. But the day was warm, and it was fun. Well, for awhile. The park includes a shooting range. That area happened to be adjacent to the campground. So there were gunshots non-stop until 5:00pm. I developed a horrendous headache .... and was thrilled when the range closed for the day.

Then there was total peace and quiet. I learned how quiet winter days can be. Also, I quickly learned how short the days are in winter; by the time I was set up, the sun was setting.

I have to admit by that time, I was a bit apprehensive. I felt very alone and very vulnerable. Not sure what my fear was ... Animals? I imagine any big critters (i.e. bears) were hibernating. Small animals/critters should only be a nuisance; it's not like they're going to eat me alive.

Is it people? Do I not feel safe? Possibly. But it would be difficult for anyone to approach me without me hearing them. And why would scary people be out camping in the cold also, just waiting for their opportunity to attack a solo woman. I mean really, what are the odds???

So logically it didn't make sense to have any fear, but there was the apprehension. Darkness is scary. Quietness is unsettling.

I kept telling myself: My car is only 20 feet away. I slept with a whistle next to me. And a knife.

Eventually though, I bundled up, snuggled in, and sleep deeply. Not a sound disturbed me. It was one of the best night's sleep I've ever had.

I wake up and it's C.O.L.D. I'm warm in my sleeping bags. I quickly learned that it's not the nights to plan for, it's the first-thing-in-the-morning. It's not a whole lot of fun getting out of a warm sleeping bag, moving around in sub-freezing temps, trying to make coffee, then breakfast, and eventually breaking down campsite. There is no warm place to retreat to, such as: indoors.

Frozen Footprints!
That being said, it was rather exciting that I easily made it through the night, slept fantastic,  and well, if I got too cold, I could just Get.In.The.Car. The campground had a bathhouse that was open. But I decided it was too much trouble to cart my stuff down there. I could just as easily get dressed in my tent.

I may have done a big no-no as far as tents go; I really have no idea. But I heated a pot of water and brought it into the tent with me. The steam created a sauna effect; it actually was quite nice washing up and getting dressed with the moist warm air.

So, I loved the experience. And I can't wait to try it again!

Winter SunRise

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sheer Stupidity or How My Arms and Back Came To Be So Sore From a Hike

The week-end began with a hike at one of the parks along the Potomac River.  The day was expected to be relatively warm, but it was overcast and felt cooler than it was. The trail ran through tall, decidous trees that are bare now for winter. In many places, particularly at the beginning, the width of the trail was covered in ice, but we found good footing trudging through the vegetation alongside the trail. It was easy walking and a good day to be outdoors. After an hour or so, we wound our way down to the Potomac and paused at this scenic spot.

Then we moved on, following the trail along the river gorge. From my mountain-bike-racing days, I tend to hyper-focus on the trail in front of me. All I pay attention to is the condition and terrain of the trail in front of my, gauging my physical abilities. I'll cycle through studying the path right in front of me, to a view about 5 feet in front, and then further ahead. But any irrelevant information, such as what's going on outside the periphery of the trail itself -- I don't even notice. Which was perfectly appropriate for mountain-bike-racing, since we were always on pre-planned courses. But it's not appropriate for hiking, particularly on new trails.

The trail, alongside the rocky edge, became more narrow and evolved into single-track. We were ever so slightly gaining elevation. We came to an area of small boulders to clamber over. I love rock scrambling! I was focused on finding the right spot for my foot  on the increasingly narrow, yet ice-covered path, often using my hands to somewhat crawl up and along the trail.

Glancing ahead to see how far we still needed to go, I stopped and looked around. That's when I noticed we had crawled/hiked our way onto a rocky, icy ledge no more than three-feet wide. On one side was the hillside. On the other side .... nothing. Off the edge was just a plunge down into the Potomac about 50-75 feet below us.

The other hikers didn't seem to be bothered about it, but I thought it was a particularly stupid place to be. One wrong step and ... ...  While letting this all soak in to my brain, the hikers ahead had scouted out the trail ahead, came back, and said we couldn't continue further along as the trail up ahead was "treacherous". And this part of the trail wasn't???

The only option was to go back. I realized I couldn't physically turn around; I was going to have to crawl/slide down. Trying to move backward, I couldn't get secure footing on the trail. Even in spots that weren't icy, the earth was frozen, making moving downhill slippery.

That's when the fear kicked in. It wasn't my irrational, panic-attack-type fear of heights. This was totally rational, totally logical fear of death. I remembered the banner at one park along this river that states "Since such-and-such a date, X number of people have died from falling into the Potomac. Stay away from the edge." I remember reading articles in the Washington Post each year on people "playing on the rocks" who fell in and died. I remember thinking they were effin' idiots for being so stupid. Now, it could be me. And I thought: is this how people end up having to be rescued?

I made my way down. Slowly. With my fingers, I dug out a spot on the hillside to make a hand grip. Then I'd slide down on my butt a few inches. Make another handhold. Slide. And again. And again. All the time, holding on for dear life.

Once we all got off that ledge, we quit the trail and bushwhacked back to safer terrain. We took another side trail. When we saw it was heading to the edge again, we opted out. Found another trail that safely led down to a view at the river. The rest of the hike back was as pleasant as the beginning. Our 3.5 miles easy winter trek took us 3.5 hours.

"AWOL on the Appalachian Trail"

Pertinent topic + Kindle sale + "2 books a week" challenge and I ended up totally immersed in David Miller's book: AWOL on the Appalachian Trail - his account of thru-hiking the trail.

I could not put down the book. Finished in it an evening and the next morning. He has such an engaging, conversational style of writing and I liked the topics he focused on.

He writes about the reasons behind his decision to take on the journey; the relationship with his wife and how he missed his children; and the people that came in and out of his life along the trail - in particular, this gave me a good perspective on the type of people you meet long-distance hiking, the correct etiquette for interactions, and how safe one may feel.

He provides great color around the trail conditions and the type of terrain and forest cover you'd walk thru. For instance, I had no idea how steep, rocky, exposed sections of the trail are.

He describes, without being repetitive, daily life on the trail: planning for food, "heading into town" days, dealing with injuries, and why hikers take "zero" days. I almost felt as if I was trudging alongside him - getting hungry. Or wet. And being thrilled by "trail magic" - goodies left by other hikers.

Because I enjoyed his writing style, I wished he had offered up more reflections on how the thru-hike changed his life. But maybe that's the takeaway. Many people do a thru-hike like this with the expectation of problems being solved, resolutions achieved, and life-changing outcomes. But that's not necessarily the case. It's just one event, in a lifetime of many. Maybe your life evolves in more subtle ways.

I was fascinated by his account. Prior to reading it, I had no interest in spending 5-7 months hiking alone on the AT. And after reading the book, I still have no desire! I'm perfectly happy just reading about it. I'll stick with my mini-adventures :)

Signed Up For a 330-Mile Bike Tour

I was researching some fun ideas for the summer and landed on some bike touring websites. I thought it might be fun to ride the C&O Canal and camp. Or, ride the Great Allegheny Passage trail from Cumberland, Maryland to Pittsburgh, PA. This particular night, I found out that the Adventure Cycling Association offers a supported tour that includes BOTH trails. One can start in D.C. and ride 330 miles in 7 days, camping each night along the way. Sounds ideal! So I wrote my essay/application, paid my deposit, and got accepted.

On the tour, we'll average 46 miles a day. Now, since I probably haven't even ridden 46 miles over the past 10 years, I think I better get on the bike ...

The "Psychological Index" of a Warm, Sunny Day

February 6, 2011

Sunday arrived sunny, dry, and warm - 40 degrees by 9:00am. We need a new weather term. We have the "wind chill" index to indicate how much colder it really feels than the actual temp. We need one to indicate how good you feel when a winter day is suddenly warmer and brighter than expected. Today's "psychological" index was at least 65 degrees! It was a get-out-and-play day.

I need to get some miles on the bike, which is a whole 'nother story. So I headed out to the North / Central rail/trail. In the parking lot at the trail, as I was getting my bike and gear together, other people looked at me like I was nuts. Ha! Let them stare. I knew what I was doing.

The joke was on me as I discovered that the freezing rain the day before left the trail as a path of ice, with ruts from a gazillion footprints frozen in time. There was no way I could get any traction and ended up putting my bike away.

Instead, I spent about an hour+ "hiking" the ice-path. Came across these awesome tracks! Couldn't wait to get home and research them. Concluded it was only a dog -- but a big dog!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Groundhog Day / Imbolc - Spring is on its Way!

February 2, 2011

The contemporary tradition of Groundhog Day is rooted in the ancient Celtic tradition of Imbolc - a time to celebrate the return of light and warmth: Spring.

When Christianity spread through Europe, the tradition evolved into Candlemas Day and became associated with St. Brigid.

It is believed that Imbolc gives an indication of the remaining length of winter:
If the day is cloudy and moist (indicating a warm air mass) - spring is nigh!
A sunny, bright, crisp, clear day (due to a cold front) - more days of winter.

Here, it was cloudy, drizzly, foggy - Spring is just around the corner!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

More Snowshoe'g!

Energized by this new activity, I head to Susquehanna State Park. I plan to take the trail that runs along the river.

There's more snow here than at Gunpowder. But the river's edge trail is difficult with snowshoes. It follows a rail bed, but there are many ties missing -- just an open hole. Also, the trail is narrow - sticker bushes on one side, on other side, a drop off. I give up on the snowshoes.

Instead, I put on my hiking boots and explore the park.

For several minutes, I amuse myself watching this flock of birds chirping in the trees, then one-by-one fly to a particular spot on the ground, wait til they all are there, and then whoosh! fly off as a pack.
They repeat this endlessly. I imagine it's take-off practice.
The black specks (right-side center) are the birds.

By the time I left the park, mid-afternoon, the sun was out. Temps were in the high 30s. I seriously miss spending all week-end outdoors. My daily morning routine since Christmas includes checking the weather forecast for the upcoming week-end, hoping for mid 30s.