Saturday, April 4, 2015

Shenandoah and Bust

I would like to say that the above should be a rallying cry of Shenandoah or Bust!, but unfortunately for me, the title, as it stands, is accurate. I went to the Shenandoah. And it was a bust. Perhaps "bust" is too strong a characterization. Other trips have certainly had their challenges, but this was the most disappointing.

Earlier in the week leading up to our Thursday afternoon departure, I had not been feeling well, and had been running a fever a few days prior. By Thursday, I was feeling mostly back to normal, and the biggest concern I had was for an unseasonably chilly and possibly rainy forecast.

Sun and clouds over Shenandoah National Park
Thursday afternoon we got on the road in two cars earlier than expected, leaving Dave's at about 4:45pm. Including a brief Wendy's dinner stop, we were at the Quality Inn in Culpeper Virginia, half an hour from Friday's planned hike - Old Rag Mountain - by about 10pm. Old Rag Mountain (Ridge and Saddle trails) is one of the more difficult (and popular) signature hikes of Shenandoah National Park.

Friday was a rainy forecast, but the desire to do Old Rag Mountain not on a Saturday, due to potential crowding on the trails, had everyone in universal agreement that bringing rain gear and making the best of it was what we needed to do. I will post my day's hike separately, along with a partial GPS track and some nice pictures, but the short summary version here is that everyone else went up and over the summit of the mountain and down the other side (an 8 mile loop with some very difficult climbing) while I went up the first 1.8 miles, and then spent the next 7.2 miles backtracking, looping around the base of the mountain and meeting them on the other side, then backtracking again to finish the loop with them. I'm not a good elevation climber to begin with, but I just didn't have any wind at all. That's unusual even for me. So at 9 easy miles, I actually put in more mileage than they did (they just did all the difficult and fun miles).

Stream below Old Rag Mountain
Friday night. The day's intermittent rains continued, and the breeze picked up noticeably. Setting up tents was a comical interlude of windblown tent pieces flying around, but everything was eventually set up and firmly staked down as best we could. The forecast for the night was rainy, cold and very windy.

Despite the chill and the damp, it wasn't safe (or practical) to light a fire because of the high winds, and a charcoal fire to cook steaks, potatoes and veggies wasn't going to work either. So we swapped planned dinners and used the camp stove to reheat frozen turkey chili. It was a serviceable dinner in lousy conditions. It was around this time that Phil's "party tent" (pavilion thing) caught an especially strong gust of wind and did a Mary Poppins off into the underbrush, hopelessly bending its aluminum frame [And thus a veteran of many many trips over the years found its final rest in a dumpster].

With no more shelter outside of the tents, and continued rain and gusty winds, we adjourned to our tents for a little makeshift reading and sleep. The sleep part ended up being problematic. I was cold to begin with, and not feeling all that well. I wore long johns and sweatpants to bed, along with thick wool socks, a thermal top and tshirt, and a wool cap. The gusty winds were extremely loud and buffeted the tent mercilessly. I'm almost amazed that the tents stayed up properly through the night, which is a testament to how well they are built. There was rain off and on until probably after midnight, and when the rain and winds finally subsided, the temperature dropped. A lot. [The car thermometer the next morning at 8am would show 35 degrees F]. I know I slept off and on throughout the night, but my main memory is of shivering, shaking, chills and chattering teeth. At one point I put my heavy fleece jacket on and it didn't help much. When we got up in the morning, I felt terrible and couldn't get warm. I would have put my winter coat on, but my extra warm stuff that was in the tent had all gotten wet. We found out later that the ground cloth under my side of the tent had blown out of place, and the wet ground was wicking up through the floor. Shoes, coat, gloves all soaked through. Swell.

Remnants of days gone by
Saturday morning. Over a cup of coffee around the picnic table, we had some snow flurries. Clearly, Mother Nature was mocking me. We then went to the little restaurant down the road from the campground and had a hot breakfast, which didn't interest me much. We went back to the campsite to prepare for a hike, which I didn't feel up to at all. There was talk of breaking camp later that day and doing the last night in a motel (Saturday night was forecast for clear but just as cold if not colder).

Saturday. Ultimately, once we figured out that 3 people and the necessary gear would fit in one car, I loaded all the non-essential stuff into my car and drove home. The views along Skyline Drive leaving the park were amazing, as it had mostly cleared overnight, and I took a few decent pictures. The drive home was uneventful, but not particularly pleasant, as I was still having chills and was very tired. I stopped in Warrenton VA to get a drink (and a convenient geocache in the parking lot), and was safely home by 4:15pm. I think this was a better choice than to have everyone change their plans to accommodate me.

So, as my daughter Grace would say, epic fail. Or if not Epic, at least Fail. Not that it was a total loss, insofar as the camaraderie is always great, and the hiking for me on Friday was still pretty nice. Bailing on your comrades totally sucks though. In wargaming terms, this would be best described as a unit reaching its Break point and then executing an extended Rout move (off the table and out of the game entirely).

Sunday postscript. Sleeping in my own (warm) bed was certainly nice, but I am definitely sick, so I guess I can soothe my wounded pride with the fact that there was more at play here than just being out of shape and not liking the cold. Small consolation...

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