Labor Day Weekend Camping (the End and the Beginning)

As a child, Labor Day weekend gave me the feeling of being pulled between two worlds.  I wanted to soak up the final few hours of summer and freedom, and yet the inevitability of school and backpacks and homework loomed, but with it the hope of a new beginning.  Labor Day weekend meant enjoying the final moments of one season while preparing for the start of the next.  

This Labor Day weekend Andrew and I joined our friends Elliott and Lauren for two days of roughing it in the woods: camping, hiking, peeing behind trees.  We drove into the mountains Friday evening and set up camp in the dark.  Saturday morning, after filling up on oatmeal and French press coffee, we began the first of two hikes planned for the day: Mount Pleasant.  Andrew and I had hiked it on a previous camping weekend, and the views are stunning.  On a clear day, this is what you’ll see:

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However, after hiking 3-ish miles to the top this Saturday, this is was our view:

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Heavy fog everywhere.  Womp womp.  

We finished the hike, ate lunch at our campsite, then started our second hike of the day:  Cold Mountain.  This hike is an approximately six-mile loop with nice overlooks on the way to an open meadow with beautiful mountain views all around.  

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We did encounter some lingering fog, but thankfully we still were able to steal a few glimpses of those beautiful blue mountains that I love.

Back at camp, with achy bodies from 12.5 miles of hiking, we cleaned up as best we could and started cooking dinner.  Just as we put the steaks on the fire, we heard the rain rolling in.  At the threat of not being able to cook the steaks, Andrew sprung into Eagle Scout mode in a way I’ve never seen.  “Tarp!  Someone grab the tarp!  Two tall sticks!  Twine!  Tent stakes!”  Before the rain could touch our fire, Andrew had constructed a shelter for us with a tarp hung over a rope (strung between two tree branches), with two corners held up by large sticks, which were secured to the ground with tent stakes and twine.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture because, well, it was pouring rain and very dark at this point, but suffice it to say we were all thoroughly impressed.  We ate our steaks (which were unbelievably delicious after hiking all day) as the fire roared and water rushed under our feet–because, hey, we were still outside in a torrential downpour– and we laughed at how disgusting we all felt covered in sweat and mud, and life was very good.  

In the morning I woke early and hiked up the Appalachian Trail a bit to catch the sunrise.  


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It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a good sunrise–the colors, the stillness of the morning, the promise of a new day.

For me this Labor Day weekend evoked that childhood feeling of being torn between two worlds.  On Friday I wrapped up six years working as a youth minister.  It was a time full of joy and challenges and working with people that I love, but like every season, it had to come to an end to make way for something new.  Today is the start of a new season for me as I pursue a career in personal training.  For the next few months I will be a full-time student preparing for the certification exam, and while I am nervous about venturing into the unknown (and yes, giving up a paycheck for a period), I am thrilled to embark on this journey.

The sun is rising on the first day of a new season for me, and I am giddy about the possibilities of what it may hold.  

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Weekend Backpacking: The Priest and Spy Rock

On Saturday Andrew and I ventured into the mountains for a couple of days of backpacking and camping.  The original plan was to car camp–set up our tent beside the car, which we could then use as a base to store our stuff while we slept or hiked.  At the last minute we decided to make it more of a backpacking trip.  We parked our car in a gravel lot about half a mile from the Appalachian Trail and about 1.5 miles from where we camped, with the intention to still use it as a (less convenient) base, resupplying Sunday so we wouldn’t have to carry everything at once.

When we arrived Saturday afternoon we took what we needed for the night and started the ascent–the very steep ascent.  Here’s a map for reference (I’ve added red dots for your viewing convenience 😉 :

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From the parking area (marked “P”) we hiked to the AT (marked “i”).  From this point on, I will refer to that stretch as, “the half mile of doom”.  It’s a steep, dreadful dirt road that is tough with nothing on your back; add a 20-something-lb pack, and I started questioning my physical fitness levels.  From there we hiked east on the AT to the Priest, which provided little relief in terms of incline, and finally arrived at our campsite (the red dot near the shelter).

We set up camp, met a nice family from very rural Virginia, and made dinner.

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If we’d had a few more days to plan for backpacking, we would have been more intentional about bringing a lightweight pot/stove and dried food.  We didn’t though, and heavy dinner is the main reason we kept a few things in the car.  Before leaving we’d prepped dinner in a large zip-sealed bag and traveled with it in a cooler–soup with canned chicken, green beans, squash, mushrooms, peppers, cooked rice, black beans, and a bunch of spices.  We put the combination in the pot with water, heated, and enjoyed.  For a somewhat random mixture of canned foods (and a few from our garden), it actually tasted very good!  Who says you can’t eat well in the woods?

We slept–not particularly well, but not horribly either–and I woke around 6:00 AM when the smallest amount of light was coming through the tent walls.  I decided to pull myself out of the sleeping bag and try to catch the sunrise at the overlook less than half a mile away.  (Andrew decided  to keep sleeping :)).  Oh man, it was worth it:

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After enjoying God’s awesome creation and the stillness of the morning for a while, I made my way back to camp and waited patiently for Andrew to wake up.  On second thought, “patiently” might not be the right word;  as soon as I heard the faintest stirring sound, I unzipped the tent and demanded that he come outside and play :-D.  We ate breakfast, packed what we didn’t need for the day, and began the 1.5 mile hike back down to the car.

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Coffee and a French press;  it’s all about priorities, people

We dropped off a few items at the car, grabbed our day packs and pre-made lunches from the cooler, and reveled in the lightness of our loads compared to the overnight packs. 😀  Looking at the same map above, we tackled the half mile of doom from the parking lot to the AT, then hiked west to Spy Rock (well, we went a little beyond Spy Rock, but that was the highlight.)

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MmHmm.

 

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We ate lunch, hiked a bit more, then started walking back.  When we had roughly two miles left until we’d reach the car, it started raining.  Then it started pouring.  In case it’s unclear, two miles is a long way to hike in the rain.  We finally made it back to the parking lot and sat in the car to wait for the rain to stop.  At that point, I was done.  If it was necessary, I could tough out camping in the rain, but my dry bed sounded very appealing at that moment.  Andrew was not as sure, but eventually conceded that the rain was not likely to stop anytime soon and that would not make a great night of camping.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could just start the car and go at that point?  It sure would be… but wait!  Our tent and much of our gear was still at the top of the dang mountain.  So, with 10 miles under our belts and water sloshing in our shoes, we had to make the 1.5 mile hike back up the steep mountain, pack all our gear, and hike back down.  Oy.

We survived but were pretty whipped by the time we arrived home.  Thankfully we had a pre-made dinner in a bag that we just poured in a pot on the stove and heated. 🙂

Even with the rain, it was an awesome trip, and I don’t regret going.  I love those mountain views and the workout they require to view them (our legs were hurting so good the next day!)

How did you spend your long weekend?
Have you hiked Spy Rock or the Priest?