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?

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Youth Group Hike (Dobie Mountain Round Two)

What’s better than hiking on a Thursday in perfect 75 degree weather?  When that hike technically counts toward your work week!  (Benefit #2028 of working in youth ministry :-D).  All the youth I work with are currently on summer break, so yesterday a group of us went hiking in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Back in May, when Andrew and I hiked Dobie Mountain, I made a mental note that it would be a great hike for a group of youth–nice views, not too long, and not too many steep uphills.  Overall, it was a big hit with the group yesterday, though I did forget just how steep one of the uphills was…

We started on the Albright Loop, which is made up of a lot of woods, rocky trails, and switchbacks.  At one point, as we walked single-file over a small stream, I heard the boy behind me say, “Ouch!”, then the girls behind him, “Ouch!” “Ahh! Ouch!” and so on down the line.  I turned around to see what was happening, and everyone behind me was swatting some insect away from their legs and arms.  I told them to keep walking past the water in case whatever it was had a nest there.  Once we were out of the ouch zone, I inspected the bites/stings.  They looked–and apparently felt–like bee stings, but the victims said the bugs looked like giant mosquitoes.  Anyone know what that is??  One girl’s bite was particularly red and puffy, and when I asked if she was allergic to bees she said, “I don’t know.  I’ve never been stung!”  Oh God, please do not let her have an allergic reaction…  We kept an eye on the wounds, and thankfully no one had any serious reaction!

After about two miles, we reached the intersection of the Appalachian Trail.  When Andrew and I hiked this, we continued south on the AT;  yesterday we decided to hike north for about half a mile to reach an additional overlook.

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After resting for a few minutes and enjoying the view, we began hiking south–all uphill at this point–to reach the bigger Glass Hollow Overlook and our lunch destination.  I love the sense of awe that everyone inevitably feels when stepping out onto an overlook like this:

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But seriously–could this be any more beautiful?

We ate lunch and hung out around this area for over an hour.  (Silly me–I thought I would have to convince them to simply be and enjoy the views, but as it turns out, the mountains are hypnotizing to more people than just me.  😉  I kept hearing, “I could stay here all day!”)

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We still had a few hours before we needed to drive back to Richmond, and the remainder of the hike would only take us about 30 minutes, so we decided to hike a little further on the AT.  We continued for a mile or so, during which I uttered the understatement of the day:  That particular stretch of trail was relatively flat, with soft dirt and lush greenery all around us.  I said, “This is nice little path we’re on!”, and quickly realizing the humor added, “And by ‘nice little path,’ I mean, ‘the Appalachian Trail.'”  Hah!  You know… that nice little path that runs from Maine to Georgia. 😉

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Our fierce, young hikers

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My new friend Juliet who came with us to help and was such a trooper!

We returned to the overlook for one final glimpse, then began the trek back to the parking lot.  This is the part of the hike for which I apparently had slope amnesia.  When we met back up with the Albright Loop, we only had one mile to go, but the first half of that mile was a serious uphill.  How did I not remember that?  After already hiking about six miles at that point, we were hurting!  Eventually we made it and began the trip back to Richmond.

The original plan was to hike 4 miles–the Albright Loop, plus the short trek on the AT to reach the Glass Hollow Overlook.  However, we added a mile to see the first overlook, then about two miles on the AT at the end, bringing our total to roughly seven miles.  Not bad!  When I started hiking yesterday, my legs and glutes were still sore from the cardio class I took Tuesday night.  After all those hills, I am hobbling. 🙂

As always, the hike provided an awesome workout with beautiful scenery to ease the pain.  Plus, I had great company yesterday. 😀

Have you hiked anywhere particularly cool lately?

Buttermilk Trail Hike

Marriage requires many compromises.  Saturday morning, I wanted to drive to the mountains to hike, and Andrew wanted to watch TV for a few hours, then complete some projects around the house (anything to not drive anywhere.)  Our compromise: a quick garden clean-up and harvest, followed by a local hike in the afternoon.

The Buttermilk Trail runs along the James River from the Boulevard Bridge to Belle Isle (I know that probably means nothing to non-Richmonders…sorry), and despite being within the city limits, the hike definitely gives you the I’m-miles-away-from-civilization feeling.  We started on the north bank of the river (by Maymont,) crossed the foot bridge, and headed east.

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Soon we were in the woods and letting out our wild sides:

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After about three miles, we arrived at Belle Isle.  Well, we arrived at the large rocks beside Belle Isle;  we had to do some rock-hopping to reach the island.

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From there we crossed the river on the pedestrian bridge…

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I ❤ the River City.

…and began walking back on the North Bank Trail.  We enjoyed some pretty nice views of the river, Hollywood Cemetery, and fields of ivy.  We also picked and snacked on a few blackberries. 😀


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While not the mountains, the Buttermilk and North Bank Trails were a surprisingly pleasant local substitute.  They satisfied my desire to be outside in the woods with a serious layer of back sweat.   Hiking is also my favorite active date, and I loved the quality time Andrew and I had while creating the aforementioned back sweat.  😀  According to Hiking Upward, we covered about 6.3 miles.  Not bad!

Have you ever hiked or biked the Buttermilk Trail?
What’s your favorite active date?

Dobie Mountain Hike + Peeing in the Woods

On Thursday afternoon Andrew and I made the somewhat last-minute decision to take the day off Friday and hike.  We already had a three day weekend for Memorial Day and figured, why not make it four?  Plus, we hadn’t been hiking since that bizarre warm day back in January, and we were itching for some mountain views.  After a bit of deliberation–we wanted to minimize driving distance and maximize views–we decided on Dobie Mountain.  The starting point of this hike shares a parking lot with one of our favorites, Humpback Rocks, and is less than ninety minutes from Richmond, but we had never done it before Friday.  As it turns out, we didn’t know what we were missing.

The weather forecast for Friday showed us that we’d have a cooler hike (about 55 degrees,) and we dressed appropriately for the temperature, but what we did not anticipate was the wind: 25-30 mph!  Thankfully, when we’d walked out our front door that morning it was raining, and even though I knew it wasn’t in the forecast for where we were hiking, I ran back inside to get my rain coat.  Just in case.  I definitely needed the extra (wind resistant) layer!

Aside from the wind, which wasn’t terrible once we entered the woods, the whole day was fantastic.  We took a picture of the map in parking lot to use as our trail map:

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Starting at the Humpback Rocks Parking Area, we went up the Albright Loop, onto the Appalachian Trail to the Glass Hollow Overlook, then back to finish the loop.  The first half of the hike is downhill with a lot of rocks and switchbacks, then the trail ascends to the overlook and back to the start.  It was a good workout, but not quite as strenuous as Humpback Rocks.

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Braving the wind.  My hair tells the story.

The views at the overlook were incredible:

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Because it was a weekday and we were on the less popular of two neighbor hikes, we didn’t see any other hikers once we left the parking lot.  Beautiful solitude… Together. 😉  We set up our ENO hammock and took a break for lunch.

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PBJ’s on gluten-free bread, apples, tortilla chips, carrots (Andrew,) trail mix (Catherine;  fine, I only ate the chocolate)

Also, despite using the restroom immediately before starting the hike and drinking less water than I probably should have, nature called.  Guys have it so easy when it comes to peeing in the woods.  Girls?  It’s a little tougher…and not something I have practiced often.  Here’s my advice: after finding a safe location (no poison ivy or people,) choose a tree, point your backside downhill, grab the tree for support, and squat as if you are water skiing with your butt very close to the water.  That advice and mental image are free.  You’re welcome 😉

Cool finds of the day: a log that looked like a dragon (I decided to ride it,) and… these green things:

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The whole day was a blast, and we were glad we made the trip.  Lots of quality time, beautiful views, and–one of my favorite parts of hiking–a workout that doesn’t seem like a workout.  Seriously, if I lived within 15 minutes of a mountain, I would hike every day.  Or at least a few times a week.

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Do you ever use hiking as a workout?  What’s your favorite hike/place to hike?

New Shoes and Muddy Trail Runs

I purchased a new pair of running shoes over the weekend, and yesterday was the day for their debut run.  The weather was so beautiful that I decided not to waste my run on a treadmill, or even the neighborhood roads–I drove to a local park to enjoy the trails.

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The weather was so beautiful, in fact (70 degrees and sunny,) that I blocked out the memory of all the rain we’d received the day before.  A few hours of sunshine aren’t enough to dry a day’s worth of mud, as I soon discovered.

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The trail started out nice enough–shade, soft surface, roots and logs to hurdle–but soon  those logs became bridges over mud puddles.

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Thankfully, I had a fair amount of success keeping the shoes clean, with the exception of a few mud splatters.

I love being in the woods, mud and all.  It reminds me of my childhood, when our house backed up to some fantastic woods.  Every chance we had we’d play there with all the kids on our street, building forts, jumping over creeks, attempting to catch tadpoles with “fishing rods” made from sticks and long grass.  Every section of our woods was named too:  Skull Fort, the Lagoon, Nazi Crossing (there was a swastika spray-painted on a tree and what we swore was a grave nearby.  It was unwise to visit that area alone. )  When the neighborhood on the other side of the woods began to expand, we would rip the neon orange ribbons off the trees, certain this would sufficiently confuse the builders, and we could keep our woods.  <Sigh>

All that to say, I love being in the woods.  Sitting, running, hiking…it’s all very therapeutic, I think.

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My less-new, now broken-in shoes agree. 🙂

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Are you a fan of trail runs, or do you prefer to stay on the roads? 

Rocky Mountains, Here I Come

In a just a few short hours I will be on a plane headed towards Denver to meet up with Andrew and spend a few days with Jenny!  We traveled there over the summer as well and loved all the opportunities for outdoor adventures.  Here’s some of what we did in July:

DSCN6796  DSCN6783Hiking at Dinosaur Ridge

DSCN6753  DSCN6690Taking cheesy photos around Garden of the Gods 🙂

DSCN6830 IMG_3784Pike’s Peak (+meeting up with our good friend Ashley!)

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Seeing Ingrid Michaelson live at Red Rocks

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Ah, summer.  This will be a very different trip with all the snow, but I am looking forward to trying some new activities!  (We are skiing on Friday.  I haven’t skied since, oh, 7th grade.  Colorado is a great place to ease back into it, right? 😉

 I have my airport lunch and travel snacks packed and ready to go:

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-Peanut butter and banana on a whole grain bagel

-Luna Bars

-Apples

-Clementines

-Popchips

-Trail Mix

-Gummy Cubs(the all natural version of gummy bears, from the bulk bin at Kroger)

That should hold me over until dinner.  🙂

Stay tuned for our Denver adventures…

Crabtree Falls

There are few activities I enjoy more than hiking: fresh air, fantastic views, a workout that doesn’t seem like a workout because of the scenery.  What’s not to love?  So when the weatherman predicted a rare mid-60 degree day in January, we seized the opportunity.  Saturday morning we set off on an adventure to Crabtree Falls with our friends Chris and Regina.

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The hike from the parking lot to the top of the falls is 1.7 miles and an almost 1400 ft climb in elevation–not outrageous, but it certainly raises your heart rate!  One of the things I love about this hike is that you can see the falls multiple times on the way up.  From the top of the falls, there is roughly a two-mile hike to the base of the Appalachian Trail.  When Andrew and I did this hike back in May, we kept saying, “Let’s go a little bit further:” top of the falls, base of the AT, beautiful overlook on the AT, and beyond.  Seven-ish miles later, we turned around and began making our way back down the mountain for a grand total of  fourteen-ish miles.  We hobbled on sore legs for a few days after that.

We cut ourselves off a little sooner this weekend (we made it to the base of the AT… just over seven miles round-trip,) and I have a feeling my legs will thank me for it for the next few days.

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DSCN7129   DSCN7130Andrew photo-bombing + the photo I was actually trying to take (“Don’t think for one second that I won’t put that on the blog.” -Me)

DSCN7134View from the top of the falls

DSCN7140Yeah, we love each other that much.

DSCN7146We also got to see this guy on our way back down.  Anyone know what kind of snake it is/whether I should have gotten close enough to take this picture? 😀

DSCN7150The obligatory selfie 😉

DSCN7132Beautiful day.  Awesome company.  Gorgeous view.

Totally worth the sore legs.