Some time back in September
or October of 2003, Jandy Liebl
wrote to me asking if I would consider leading a group in George Washington National
Forest. She had first found me on the internet in 2002 and we had made
one trip out there with some of her
friends. It was a great trip and I was very happy to take them out again.
We picked May 15th and put it on the calendar. With the possible exception of the
Maine trip that I scheduled nearly a year in
advance, this was probably the most advanced planned trip I have made.
A few weeks before the date
I got a mild scare - one of the Camp Jeep pre-runs was scheduled for May 15! I read
the whole notice and soon learned that of the three Camp Jeep pre-runs, only two were
required. So I was able to keep both plans without any conflict. Most of the
OCC trail guides made the Camp Jeep pre-run on May 15th, but I had been looking forward to
this trip for so long that I didn't mind missing the pre-run.
I took Friday off so that I
could organize and pack the gear for camping. The kids were all excited because they
had new sleeping bags and a new tent. They had outgrown the old gear. Their
aunts had been so kind as to give them the sleeping bags for Christmas, and had even gone
so far as to get bags that would be warm in three seasons. One of my less than fond
recollections of camping as a kid was the problem of a sleeping bag that was not warm
enough and also retained moisture. I did not want to see the kids suffer the same
problems so made sure the bags were up to snuff. The aunts could not have done a
better job choosing them!
One dilemma that I haven't
yet solved is the shear volume of gear we carry. It's overwhelming, and I think it's
time to go through the list and see what can be
eliminated. It's just too much work for one person to load, set-up, manage, take
down and re-load. The benefit to all the gear is, of course, most of the
conveniences of home. But the price comes in the four hour loading time, the two
hour set-up time, and the four hour camp-striking time. That's ten hours spent on
handling gear! It is looking like our camping gear is going to be reduced to
backpacking-style outfitting: One tent, sleeping bags, ground cover and overhead
tarp, small cook stove, small lantern, and very light and tight food and cooking
provisions. And Mom is going to be stepping away from the chest of drawers when it
comes to packing clothes! This trip, I brought along the 34-quart cooler but didn't
use it for anything but storage of dry foods that did not require ice. Anyway, let's
just say that the Conestoga wagon seen above is going to be put on a diet!
I finally finished packing
and loading, then picked up Teddy at school. That must have been a sight! Then
we took Whites Ferry into Virginia and hopped onto Route 7 West, headed for Route
81. I thought it would save us time sitting in traffic on Route 66. It
did. Instead we sat in traffic on Route 7. We had left Ted's school at
3pm. We were to reach Route 81 at about 6pm...
Once we got on Route 81, it
was a clear shot down to the Harrisonburg exit, and out to
Along the way we passed McDorman's. We got to Brandywine at about 7:30 PM and
setting up the tent and other gear. I was able to finish just before dark.
Then I cooked up some MRE's and we ate. The kids were pretty happy with the food,
and the preparation was simply (boil-in-a-bag) so dinner was fairly uncomplicated.
After dinner we got our
sleeping gear laid out. The kids played in their tent for a while and then asked if
they could sleep in my tent. Maria had expressed a preference that they sleep with
me, and I had agreed, but was happy to have let the kids come to their own conclusion on
this point. While moving their sleeping bags and pillows into my tent, Teddy skinned
his knee on the pavement and was in some pain. I was able to comfort him and get him
quieted down. Then I put some Neosporin on his good-sized scrape, clean it out, then
dress it with a nice big Band-Aid that would stay on until Monday morning. He was
soon content and we were able to read the bedtime books (Dictionary, Bible, and a daily
I broke out a couple of
Cyalume sticks, the
kind to crack in half and light up for several hours. After the kids fooled around a
bit we decided to hang them up as night lights. When I tried to hang Tomi's up, the
flashlight fell out of my hands and conked him right in the face! It gave him a
small egg on his eyebrow and a massive fat lip. This from a small flashlight with
two C-cells! He was in abject pain, complicated by the misunderstanding that it had
been on purpose. It took quite a while to calm him, and the ice pack in the empty
lunch cooler was put to good use. Finally I got him comfortable, but we had a very
busy evening. I was eternally grateful to have the ice pack and the
first aid kit with me. It was
not until after 11:00 PM that the kids finally dozed off.
I got up early and set some
water and coffee on to boil. When it was ready, I woke up the kids, got them to
dress, then fed them instant oatmeal, Tang and instant milk for breakfast. Again,
the mix-with-hot-water then eat approach to food prep saved a great deal of time.
The kids liked breakfast so much they insisted we have it again tomorrow. That bodes
well for my mission to get our gear down to the basics.
Soon we were headed up the
mountain and down the road to McDorman's. We arrived at 9:30 AM as planned and found
Steve Van Bronkhorst, and Steve and Jandy Liebl ready and waiting. Ryan Wagoner and
his friend James called to say they were running late, but soon arrived as well. In
the mean time, we aired down and disconnected. We got some sandwiches for
lunch. And the kids went and got in trouble...
While we were visiting, the
kids went to look at the McDorman's hunting dogs. They were in cage kennels across
the parking lot. Hearing some barking, I turned around and looked to see one of the
McDorman's scolding the kids. It turned out that the kids were throwing stones at
the dogs! Needless to say they were marched back to the Jeep and some punishments
were issued. I must say that it's tough enough to get permission to park here
without my own kids complicating things. I swallowed my embarrassment and got the
group pointed down the road for Kephart! Jandy brought her father Dave along.
Steve was good enough to give Dave a seat with him and Alec.
One of the most popular
destinations in the forest is Kephart. The trail leading to the rock at the end is
interesting, though not difficult for any high-clearance vehicle.
The rock at the end is
entertaining, though lately has been so strewn with stacked rocks that it is very easy to
climb. Still, I enjoy this trail and was happy to bring the group down for another
run at the rock. I stopped when we got through the last rough section before the
When everyone was ready to
watch, I went up the rock. Dead easy, with only a little bump on my gas tank skid
plate as I put my front wheels on the rock. Everybody went up and showed how easy
this is when the way is paved!
Though it was a little
early, I suggested we lunch here before retreating. Steve and Jandy broke out
sandwiches they were warming on the engine, while the rest of us ate what we
brought. I had captured three
coordinates to investigate this weekend and
was somewhere further up the trail, within walking distance. So I took the kids
and we started walking in the direction of the cache. After a minute I was able to
determine we'd spend 1/2 and hour walking and an unknown amount of time finding the
cache. So I decided not to use the group time on this, though I plan to come back
later. We walked back to the group and soon started going back down the rock, with
Teddy doing a nice job spotting everybody!.
With everyone down off the
rock, we headed back down the trail towards Route 33.
Old Route 33
The beauty of Old Route 33
is that there are no obstacles on it to attract traffic. OCC has adopted this trail
and does clean-ups a couple times each year to
make sure it stays scenic. I decided to take this instead of Route 33, on our way to
Dry River. It's a nice little shelf road that runs parallel to Route 33, though
quite a bit higher on the side of the mountain. And of course, it's in the woods so
it's a pretty ride. We stopped to take pictures of the "Adopt-A-Road" sign
that is still in place.
We entered the Dry River
maze of trails at the reservoir end. We encountered a group of people at the place
where the river flows down the trail. We waved hello and drove across the flooded
trail to the ramp that goes up to the reservoir.
We got separated for a
moment as part of the group missed the turn. But the radios kept us from losing
anyone and soon we had regrouped by the reservoir.
We took a break to talk and
let the kids run around. Alec found his way into a mud hole and my boys were
occupied with chasing butterflies. The rest of us talked Jeeps...
Once the kids had burned off
some energy, we mounted up and went back down to the trail. We followed the main
path down to another crossing. Along the way we passed the
of three Geo-cache coordinates that I had loaded into the GPS. Again, I chose
not to stop the group. The cache is up a hill and would have taken some time to
locate. It was not a scheduled activity for the group so I saved it for another
The water was quite low and
the crossing did not present any particular challenge or risk. Fallen trees at the
other end of the crossing diverted us from the normal path but did not keep us from
getting to the other side.
We drove back out to Route
33, with the last crossing being tame by any description.
I figured that this was
pretty much it for the day. We'd run two good trails. It was about 3:00 in the
afternoon. Flagpole would take too long to be a good choice at this time of the day,
if we were to get back to McDorman's before dark. Then Steve suggested we check out
Dictum... Hmmm... OK, that sounds like something we can do pretty easily and
without taking much time. It was right on the way, would only take a couple minutes
to go up and see that we could not make it, then turn around and come back down to Route
33, to McDorman's.
I stopped at the landowner's
house, found Senor in the yard, and asked permission to go up the trail. Jokingly
telling me that he now charged, he gave us permission and we headed up the trail.
Along the way we encountered a Rubicon with five men coming down the trail. They
graciously made room for us to pass and warned us about the "big rock" we would
soon meet. I invited them to come watch us and we went up the trail. They
continued on their way.
I pulled into one of the
turnouts before making the bend at the rock. Everybody else came and parked, then we
checked out the rock. I don't think "rock-stacked" even comes close to
describing what we found. This thing was so paved that my father's Buick could have
gone up. Well maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but the obstacle was nothing more
than a blip in a sea of small rocks.
Still, my last two
experiences here left me a little uncomfortable. I decided to let anyone that wanted
to climb this pile of loose rubble go ahead, and I would decide whether or not to go,
based on their experience. Steve expressed his disappointment that the rock was not
the challenge he had experienced on his last visit. He had hoped to climb it this
time, but certainly without the aid of several hundred pavers. Notwithstanding,
Steve went first and climbed the rock.
Steve Van B came next.
I asked him if he was going to climb it and he said "Yes, why not!" and went up.
Ryan went up as well.
I guess that settled it for
me. I was the only person left! What to do, what to do....?!
The first section of stacked
rocks was easy enough to get over. At the next bunch I had some concern that my
right side would slide off like it had
a time before. This led to a
little hesitation on my part and my front end slid a little to the right on the loose
rocks. I stalled it. I asked and was told I had plenty of room to the right so
I cranked it up and cut a little more to the left, then climbed out. Phew!
With that out of the way, we
decided to run the rest of the trail up to Clines Hacking and then down FR 72 to pavement.
We stopped for a short break
on the trail but soon reached Clines Hacking. There, we made our way over to FR 72
and descended the mountain, meeting some incoming Land Rover Discovery's, all decked out
for a trip down Dictum. I wish I could have seen the looks on their faces when they
I suggested we try the
little hill climb at the bottom of FR 72. It is not part of the Old Long Run
closure, and is always good for a few minutes of fun. On this trip, we found the
trail was more rocky and rutted than ever, and everybody except Steve in the YJ had some
clearance problems in one spot. But everyone was able to go up the hill under their
After this, we drove the
short distance to the road and made our way back to McDorman's. Not content with the
outcome of the rock-throwing incident, I had discussed it again with the kids. They
agreed to go into the store and tell say they were sorry for throwing the rocks, thank
them for letting us use their parking lot, and promising it would not happen again.
With that taken care of, we
aired up and reconnected. Everybody except Ryan and James were leaving for
home. Ryan and James were planning to stay over with us at Brandywine overnight and
then go back on the trail in the morning.
We got to the campground
with plenty of time for Ryan and James to set up before dark. But a storm was
brewing and I suggested Ryan and James save filling out the registration card for the
campground until after then set up their tent. That proved to be good advice as they
no sooner had their tent set up then it started to pour down rain. I decided I
didn't feel like standing under the dining tarp over the picnic table cooking supper and
suggested we go into Brandywine and eat at one of the little restaurants. First, I
stopped at the store and got a few things for later at camp, and asked for a suggestion
about which place was most popular. I was told the Pork Palace was the cheapest, the
"log cabin" was more expensive but well liked, and reminded of Fox Pizza Den
around the corner. That sounded good so I asked Ryan and James if that was OK.
It was and the boys liked the idea so we went and had pizza and subs for dinner.
By the time we finished
eating the rain had subsided some. But when we got back to camp we found the kids
tent was water-logged. This was due to my bad choice of location when setting
up. It was right in the drain path of water coming off the pavement. There was
no way it would have stayed dry there. So the kids happily decided to bunk with me
again. This time we managed to avoid all the drama and injuries of the night before
and soon the kids were asleep. I spent the time sorting dirty laundry, packing
everything that we would not need in the morning, setting out clothes for everyone, and
finally, with order somewhat restored, swept out the tent so we could move about
comfortably in the morning.
Come morning, we had another
"instant" breakfast and then got cleaned up. Packing was drudgery and
further reinforced my resolve to pare down the outfitting to the bare essentials. I
decided to get all the trunks loaded, leaving the tents and tarps for our return in the
afternoon. It was my hope that the rain would hold off and the gear would have a
chance to dry. Also, I didn't really want to wheel with the full load, and couldn't
leave our gear all packed at the camp site.
Flagpole Knob and Dunkle
We drove back to
McDorman's. The same lady who correctly scolded the kids the day before was working
again. Naturally she recognized us. And when I asked to order some sandwiches
from lunch, she rattled off our order from yesterday and asked if that's what we wanted
today. I guess the kids' little stone-throwing incident served to make it
likely that she will not forget us... We got the sandwiches, some drinks, chips and
chocolate and went back outside. I aired down and disconnected. Ryan borrowed
my deflators and aired down too. Then we drove on out to the trail.
I like the drive to Flagpole
Knob. It is not challenging at all, and most of the way it is just dirt road and
flood berms. On a day like this one, we were spared the dust because the rain had
made the road wet.
At the first spot that might
be considered an obstacle, we discovered an abandoned and heavily vandalized
mini-van. It appears to have been driven here, ripped up, and left for dead. I
find this stuff disturbing and very disappointing. It does us no good with regard to
keeping trails open, and shows the worst in people. I later passed on the location
(GPS coordinate) and VIN number to the forest law enforcement officer.
We continued along the
trail to the little hill climb with the rough spot, and on up to Flagpole Knob.
We ate lunch on top and
watched a storm front move in and engulf us.
We headed down toward Dunkle
Hollow. I stopped at the marked location of the
Geo-cache that I had noted before we came. This time the combination of the
weather, the steep slope, the picker-bushes, and the complaints of my kids terminated the
search. I suspect we walked right past the cache but again I didn't want to be
selfish about the time, with Ryan and James waiting patiently in their Jeep, and the kids
really not having fun. I will try this again next time we're out here.
From here, we descended the
mountain without event. The drive back over Shenandoah Mountain was a little
slippery but we got to the campground with only minutes to spare before the storm reached
us. I was able to get the tents and tarps down before they got any more wet.
Ryan and James got packed and headed out as I knew it would be a while before we were
ready. The kids played while I got things squared away and strapped on the
"mule". I discovered that my compressor was not filling my tank so I would
have to go to Brandywine to air up. This
solution worked well with the last compressor, but this time it didn't last more than
a few trips. I will get another one but I am probably going to have to finish this
sub-system off once and for all with some sort of compressor that is faster, stronger, and
more reliable. I don't have room for an A/C compressor, but I need to do
Friday and Saturday nights,
I had heard a noise in the insect netting of the tent. It took me a while to figure
out that it was just moths trying to get into the tent for the light. When I was
taking down the tent, I discovered the moth that had probably been so industrious...
Finally everything was packed, though not as
well as when we came due to the swelling that wet gear suffers. I had to get air so
the Jeep rode like a soggy pillow all the way to Brandywine. I aired up and we set a
course for home. We stopped on the way to wash the Jeep at a new car wash on Route
33 near the Shell station. It worked very well. Next, we drove through
McDonald's and got a quick bite to eat while we drove home. After what seemed like
an endless drive, we reached home. The traffic had been at times heavy, and the road
was wet, so it was a tiring drive. But we made it home in one piece and learned a
few lessons along the way! Did I mention how long it took to unpack...?
Photos | Steve
and Jandy Liebl Photos |
May 27, 2001 |
July 17, 2002 |
May 26, 2003
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