My wife thought it would be fun to go
camping with some friends on the weekend of my birthday. So she got in touch with
Rob and Lucky, Steve and Donna, and got them signed up to go camping with us. Maria
decided on Brandywine Campground, which was fine for me. Our friends both have
four-wheel-drive vehicles but are not off-roaders, so I decided if they were willing, we'd
go up to Flagpole Knob from Union Springs. There are only two rough spots and I
didn't think either of them would have any trouble with them.
I took Friday off from work.
Thursday night I pulled together all the camping gear, and ran my checklist.
Everything was in order and soon I had everything pulled together. Friday morning I
packed the Jeep and left a couple items for Rob to take along in his Durango, since I had
somehow ended up with too much stuff to carry. Maybe it was the birthday cake?
After lunch, we met up with Rob and
Lucky and hit the road. Steve and Donna had already gone ahead and stayed over night
on Thursday. The drive out to Harrisonburg was uneventful, except for a traffic jam
that lasted a few miles because of an Explorer or something that had rolled on the
median. It was trashed - no idea how the driver and passengers faired.
We stopped in Harrisonburg to get
fuel and then briefly to get some food at the grocery store. Soon we were on the
final leg of the drive, going up Shenandoah Mountain on Route 33. As I reached the
top (3000+ feet high) I crested, made the first turn to head down, applied a little brake
just to steady the Jeep... and the pedal went to the floor... Yes, I am loaded to
the top of the rack with all my camping gear, my family and I have just discovered I have
no brakes and have a 2000+ foot descent to the Brandywine campground ahead of me. Suddenly
the "Runaway Truck Ramp" near the bottom of the mountain took on new meaning...
I'd love to leave you there and make
you wait for the rest of the story but obviously I am here writing about it so you can
guess that nothing terrible happened. As a matter of fact, Rob, traveling with me, jumped
ahead of me to act as a target if needed (nice guy) and we crawled down the mountain in
1st gear. You gotta love those 4:56 gears! The only "moments" we had were when
people behind us got impatient, started to pass and then encountered oncoming cars and
decided to get between me and my buddy. One of them actually started to slow down (we were
already going pretty slow) and I had to yell at them out the window that I didn't have
brakes - then they got moving!
What was interesting about this is
what happened a year ago in
the same exact spot and what Rob said as we passed it. A year ago almost to the
day we had passed some people who had split a radiator hose and stopped on the
mountain. I got them patched up and on the road again. The man (a pastor) had
made mention of the story of the Samaritan, and commented that he knew what he'd be
preaching next Sunday. So now here we are a year later, passing the same spot and
Rob comes over the radio talking about Samaritans. Now that's interesting because I
had not told Rob about the experience we had here last year. So this just confirms
my belief that there is a God, and he sometimes makes his presence known in mysterious
We made it down to Brandywine
campground. I coasted to a stop and dropped into 4-LO and drove up to my campsite. We
parked and I set up camp, It was starting to rain when we arrived and
gradually got going pretty well. This did not make setting up any
more fun. When I finished setting everything up, I popped open the rear drum. I found a blown wheel cylinder on the
left rear wheel. It was too late to get parts, so we sat down, stared at the fire and shot
the breeze until bedtime.
The next morning we shot into
Harrisonburg. Along the way I stopped and told Charles, who had signed up to come on the
ride up to Flagpole, to hook up with Pete Wimer's group (XJ run) and told him my story. We
continued toward Harrisonburg where we spotted Pete's group on the road in to the forest.
They didn't stop when I waved them down, so we chased them to a red light and then Pete
recognized me. I guess he wasn't expecting to see anyone he knew in a
street-Durango. I got him to go get Charles and take him on the run he was leading.
Then we drove the rest of the way and hit the Advance Auto where I got a wheel cylinder,
and all the trimmings. Then we drove back to the campground with a McD's and
Wal*Mart stop along the way.
While we were eating lunch, Pete
called. One of the guys in his group had gotten a seized front caliper! On the way
back to the campground we found Pete's group, parked on the side of the road waiting to
finish reinstalling the brake caliper. Charles and his family had hooked up with
another ill-fated group!
We went back to camp and
got the wheel cylinder installed in about 10 minutes, and hit the trail. Steve decided to
stay in camp and Rob decided to come along with us, so we hit the road around
2:30pm. Based on other fair-weather trips up Flagpole, I figured we could finish in
about four hours so I planned to be back to camp by about 6:30pm.
The trail was just about
perfect. Since it had rained the night before, there was no dust, but the rain was
light so there were not very many puddles or mud. We reached the turn-off at the end
of FR 225 and headed out along the ridge. Coming to where the stripped mini-van is
located, we found four kids messing around with it. As soon as they heard and saw us
coming down the trail they all disengaged and started walking away from it. They
appeared to have walked out there, and we didn't see their vehicle anywhere on the
trail. If they got there on foot, they had taken a pretty long hike!
Shortly after this we
reached the rough hill climb, and crawled up. There wasn't any problem and we
continued to where the trail makes its final climb up to Meadow Knob. We caught up
to Pete's group who were just coming down from Meadow Knob, which is below Flagpole.
One of their group had decided to stay on Meadow Knob and camp out. We met them in
the meadow and spent a few minutes talking. The weather was beautiful and I imagined
a night on Meadow Knob would be perfect, if not a little breezy!
After we drove through
the little bowl there, we continued up to the top of Flagpole, and stopped to admire the
Then we got back in the
Jeep and headed for Dunkle Hollow and the road out. Just after the turn off to go
down, I stopped and located
a Geo-Cache that we had tried to find on our last trip.
This time I had a better
read on the coordinates and we found it in a few minutes. The kids took a sticker
and a polished shell, and I left a Hot Wheels ATV.
We continued down the
mountain, meeting several vehicles along the way. Finally we met a Rockingham County
police officer in a cruiser who was taking one of the switchback turns a little wide and
fast. We stopped and passed the time of day. I told him about the
mini-van. After a little chat, we drove out to pavement.
To our surprise, just as
we turned onto the road, Rob's wife drove by on her way up the mountain and back to
camp. So we followed her back. We spent the evening getting cleaned up,
organizing our stuff to pack in the morning, eating dinner and having birthday cake in
honor of my 21st birthday (which was 27 years ago...)
The weather by this time
had turned dry and cool, and sleeping was wonderful.
The kids had been great
all day. When I was repairing the brakes, they had discovered the joy of riding
their bicycles on the paths in the woods. Later, when we were making dinner, I
attached one of the FRS radios to Teddy's bike and let them go off down the camp road to
Ted checked in frequently on
the radio and was very good about staying in range and out of trouble. I think we'll
get a couple more of these radios so each of us can have one. They have greatly
improved our ability to stay in touch with one-another. They have also made it
possible for the kids to have a little bit more freedom because we can check in with them
and get them to return to us when it's time. The kids also showed a keen interest in
bugs. Donna had a book along with colored illustrations. Soon Teddy was
spouting off the names of all the caterpillars and bugs he was finding. It looks
like we'll need to pick up a couple field guides for him, and bring them along!
We packed up on Sunday
morning. Steve and Donna got finished and left. Soon Rob and Lucky were ready
to go, but waited until I had a trunk packed for them to carry for me. They took a
trunk and our sleeping bags, which made the load a little easier to strap on, and of
course made it lighter. They left and we finished packing.
When we got done, we went
out and paid for the site. Then we went to the pond. The kids and I went
swimming. While I didn't succeed in getting the kids to learn to swim last year,
they are doing better than they were then so progress in that area continues.
After we finished swimming,
we went into Brandywine and had some lunch at Fox Pizza Den. It was pretty good,
nothing was left over. I got the kids some ice cream and we hit the road for
Maria was sleeping and I
could not resist one more little trail ride. So I turned up Old Route 33. It's
easy though a couple spots provided a little bit of difficulty getting under some low tree
branches. There was also one spot where my fully loaded, aired up and connected Jeep
had to be tip-toed down a small wash-out. But it was a pretty ride, a welcome
alternative to the same straight and true Route 33 from the bottom of the mountain to
I stopped on the way through
Harrisonburg and returned the metric flare wrenches I had purchased - I bought both SAE
and Metric the day before just to be sure I had what I needed. I decided to keep the
S.A.E. ones in the tool box for next time.
We got home around 8:30 PM
after following the recommended route produced by the Garmin V. It took us up Route
81 to Route 7, then over Route 340 to Route 270 and home down Route 355. It was
pretty efficient and bypassed the Whites Ferry, and all the traffic on Route 66. Not
a bad way to go!