Old Long Run/Dictum Ridge

Kids are ready to go... - Click to Enlarge

6/27/03 - 6/29/03

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I was all set a couple weeks ago to go to Camp Jeep as a trail guide. I was psyched.  Free Hotel for the week, free food for the week, and four days of wheeling, not to mention the spectrum of activities available during the down time. I had planned to bring the kids and was working on getting Maria interested. Then it happened. Life interfered and I found myself looking for a new assignment inside my company. This led to a new position and the likelihood that I would be working on a proposal for some new business just when I had planned my trip...

I held off as long as I could but in the end, I had to call the hotel and cancel the room, and send Chris and Carla a message that I was out. It was not a happy day. To add insult to injury, the proposal activity didn't come together and I probably could have gone after all. But seeing the future is not among my skills.

Birthday CakeBirthday Cake

So I ended up with the weekend open and a sympathetic family ready to join me (Birthday Boy) for a camping trip and some wheeling. I posted on the club board but got no takers for the wheeling so I figured we'd just run Old Long Run and do the camping.



Let's rename this section "Packing the Rack" since there were no other people to meet. When we go camping, we do not travel light like a back packer. But this time, I did pare down the list of items to a more manageable number, mainly because we decided that we'd cook breakfast only (no cooler and no array of utensils); and restrict our changes of clothes to two. But we more than made up for that by deciding to bring all the bikes. The kid bikes would have been easy to handle - I just throw them on the rack and we go. But the two big bikes made things a little complicated.

Kids are ready to go...Kids are ready to go...

I assigned the planning for this to my subconscious and by Friday night I had it all worked out: I would pack two trunks with the camping gear, put the camp chairs, kids knapsacks, and our duffle bag on first. Then I would put the bikes on top of all that with generous tie-downs to anchor everything, with some padding in between the bikes to protect them from themselves.

As I was packing the rack, the FedEx truck drove up and the driver delivered the bike rack I had ordered earlier in the week. That would have been perfect except it requires a receiver hitch that I do not have yet. The hitch for the Volvo is on order and should be in later but was not going to help us today, so I stashed the bike rack away after a brief longing glance.


I stuffed the interior crevices with sleeping bags and pads, jackets, beach stuff, pillows, and so on. By the time I finished, the rear seating area looked like a padded room. I stowed a 5-gallon container of water on the floor behind the passenger seat, figuring it might be necessary to have some water before we reached the campground. Little did I know...

Road Trip In

We finally got packed and ready to roll around 4:30 pm. I was happy to find that the Jeep still rode and handled well, even packed to the rafters. I can't say enough good things about the Old Man Emu springs and Edelbrock shocks. The Jeep really sucks up the road with this set-up. We drove down the beltway and paid the price for leaving at rush hour. We got off and took a cut-off that got us over to Route 7 headed west and we continued until we reached Route 81 headed south.

Everyone was hungry so we went to KFC and got a bucket of bird. That was around 6:30. We took an hour to eat and got onto Route 81 headed for Harrisonburg. The decision to take the road less traveled paid off and we reached Harrisonburg about 8:30.

We provisioned ourselves at Sheetz with gas, eggs, milk, and a few other items, then made a quick stop at Food Lion for Coffee. Now we were ready to make our final destination for the day: Brandywine Campground in West Virginia. Up and over the mountain we went.

Brandywine Recreation Area (Campground)

We reached the campground at about 10:15pm. I stopped at the registration board to fill out a card and choose a site. I was pleased to find Bob Tennyson, the Forest Ranger assigned to recreation, greeting me.

Bob and I have exchanged several phone calls and e-mail but have never met. This was a change meeting that you could never plan. While my poor wife and kids waited in the Jeep, Bob and I talked about the Old Long Run issue, and other things in general. I excused myself to go set up camp and we said our good-nights.

I recalled how nice it was when we stayed in site 23 in May last year. The site was just across the street from the rest rooms and was in a nice section of the campground. So I took that site again pulled up in the dark to get unloaded.

The kids immediately wanted to start riding bikes, and against my better judgment, I turned them loose. Soon we had a skinned knee and the biking came to a conclusion. The first aid kit got pressed into use and we were down by one Band-Aid.

Meanwhile, we managed to get the tents set up thanks in large part to the bright light provided by the Coleman Propane lantern. The time we came here with Wayne, he had lent me his. That was enough to convince me that I could not put off getting one of my own. I am glad I did, and glad I resisted the urge to leave it behind when I was trying to scale down our packing list. I would have been hating life in the dark without it.

The kids were making a lot of noise and another camper came walking over. Maria apologized for the kids and the fellow camper waved it off and told that he had come to repeat what the Ranger had told everyone earlier: There had been some Bear visits because of food and trash. He wanted us to be sure that we knew and advised that we keep our food put away so the bear would not come to our site.

Well you can imagine the reaction. Maria gave me this hopeless look and the kids jaws just hung open. We have talked about bears before and I have tried to teach them how to behave. I have camped here before expecting bears so I wasn't too surprised, but I knew that Maria was going to be uncomfortable. And honestly, I don't think I would be very happy if I heard one prowling around in the wee hours either. So we thanked our neighbor and he headed home.

With the tents erected and our stuff all sorted out and located, I tried to get the kids to go to bed. That was a joke. They were so excited to be back in the campground that they wanted to play, explore, ride bikes and talk all night. I finally escorted them to bed and after a couple of stern warnings, they stayed put. Maria and I went to bed shortly after.

Site 23


I woke up around 6:00 am. I don't like to get up early but I knew that the kids would be up soon and wanted to get the breakfast started and maybe even feed myself and Maria before they came into the picture.

Site 23Site 23Maria

So I set the stove up and got cooking. Maria and I were able to eat before the kids woke up, and then fed them. It worked out well.

Next we made our plans for the day. Since Maria prefers not to go 4-Wheeling, and we had brought the bikes, she decided she'd like to stay in camp, maybe ride down to town and check out the antique store, and spend some time on the beach. So we drove down to Brandywine, located the antique store, pizza restaurant, and convenience store. We bought lunch stuff for everybody at the store, and headed back to the campground.  As soon as we got back the kids jumped on the bikes.


Maria decided that the 6 mile round trip, with the uphill return ride, was more than she wanted to tackle, so she decided to spend a laid-back day in the camp and on the beach. I calculated that our ride up FR 72, down and back up Old Long Run, then back to camp would put us back at camp around 4:00 pm. Maria was happy with that so I loaded up the kids and off we went.

Old Long Run

Almost out of habit, we stopped at McDorman's to air down and disconnect.  The kids decided to play games with me and stuffed their faces full of sticky candy.

Clowning at McDorman'sClowning at McDorman's

There wasn't a soul in sight so at 11:00 am we headed over to the entrance to FR 72. It took us 20 minutes to get from the bottom of FR 72 to the trail junction where Long Run Road (FR 72) continues to FR 85; Second Mt. Road goes left; Gauley Ridge Road goes right. We stopped and ate our lunch in the shade of one of the trees. Nobody came by.

Lunch spotLunch spotLunch spot

Once we finished eating, we turned down Gauley Ridge Rd and soon reached the entrance to the top of Old Long Run. It's pretty clean, and down the whole run we did not encounter any fallen trees.


We took our time, enjoying the scenery and stopping to watch the frogs in one of the mud holes.


The kids are really developing a love for the woods and have become fearless. My main job when they're out of the Jeep is to make sure that they don't get too confident and wander off into trouble.


We reached the crossing that I had attempted in February and completed with my winch. I was able to do a post mortem on what went wrong and I saw that I took a bad line over some rocks when I could have just gone to the left a bit and been fine. Funny how everything looks so simple with the swollen river, ice and snow taken out of the picture!

We crossed and continued down. It was about this time that I began to notice that there was monofilament fishing line that appeared to be strung down the center of the stream at about waist height. At first I attributed it to a lost line that a fisherman had simply cut and left behind.

But after traveling nearly a mile downstream and seeing a continuous run that remained centered on the stream at about the same height, I decided that it was probably put there on purpose. There were no birds nests or other tangles of line, it remained at the same height all the way, and was very straight and true.

At the crossings it went into the water, and resurfaced past the crossing. The best I can figure is that it was put there as a trip line to reveal any entrance to the stream by vehicles. Who knows?

We drove all the way down to the gated portion. It was disappointing to see the gate. This does not bode well for the continued use of the trail, and creates problems of its own. We turned around and prepared to go back up the way we had come in.

Gated areaGated areaGated areaGated areaGated area

At that moment a couple came into view riding mountain bikes. We passed the time of day and I left them to contemplate the gate. For the rest of the ride back up the trail they would catch up and fall behind again when the going was easier for us and tougher for them.

Dictum Ridge

Finally, we came back to the top of the trail and drove up to Clines Hacking to see if anyone was there. It was deserted. It was about 2:30 pm and even though we'd had a nice ride, I really didn't want to go back down FR 72. It just doesn't seem right. That's when I remembered the Dictum Ridge Trail. It runs down Dictum Ridge and rejoins Route 33. It would save me going back down FR 72 and might actually represent a time savings.

But there is a rub: There is a series of rocks near the lower end that are very difficult to get past. I reasoned that I would be able to manage going down them even though I had tried and failed to climb up. So we turned onto the trail and started down the ridge.

Entrance to Dictum Ridge

We saw a sign marking it legal for OHV's (pretty rare to see them these days...). At a fork in the road, we took the right and found ourselves in a nice clearing with a couple of fire rings. Adjacent to one of these, we found huge pile of trash.


It pains me to see this in an otherwise beautiful place, and I never understand how people can leave their junk behind when it is so easy to just bag it and take it back out.

DuringDuringPaul and Ted

I wonder what they think when they come back to the same place and their junk is there spoiling the scene for themselves and others?

All wonder aside, we took a "before" picture then picked up the mess. My boys were very good about helping me, and soon all the trash was stored in two garbage bags in the footwell on the passenger side of the Jeep.


We took the "after" shot and went back down to the trail.

The route continues through several pretty sections with clearings on both sides, following the ridge top.

Mountain Laurel

Finally, we hit gradually rougher terrain and the descent becomes steeper. We also passed a large muddy section that has been bypassed. Finally, we reached the main obstacle.

I've not yet been able to make it up the rock. But I have seen people come down and while I found it a bit intimidating, I finally felt that I was up for an attempt. I got out and checked the rock stack-age and found that it was pretty well stacked - that is to say there were dozens of boulders the size of baseballs up to basket balls forming a loose marble-like ramp up/down the face of the rock.

I turned around to engage the kids but they were both asleep. So I got out alone and walked down to the the bottom of the obstacle. Since I was on my own, I used some twigs to mark the line I wanted, and took a look at the huge pile of rocks that were stacked up against the main fin that I would have to descend. It looked manageable and I decided to give it a try. I plunked my camera down on a ledge and started the filming, then walked up to the Jeep to get started.

For anyone who has not been out to the GW National Forest, suffice to say there aren't too many extreme wheeling opportunities. Correction, there are none. With the possible exception of Dictum Ridge. Even then, 99 44/100ths of the trail is dead easy, two-wheel drive is all you need. MAYBE you need 4WD for the lower part of the Rt. 33 end but even then, it's just "interesting".

Jim tries Dictum

The reason for running Dictum is "the Rock". Take a look at it, this is a buddy of mine attempting to go up, there is a lot less rock stack there, and you can see the drop off the side (the face of rock facing the camera).

OK, so rock stacking isn't really very cool, but this shelf is pretty sheer, and I figure that my main reason for being there is to get to the road quicker. So I tidied up the rocks some, placed my camera on a shelf to film the action and went back to my Jeep, mentally noting my desired line.

The first two minutes of the video show me driving the Jeep carefully down the rocks until I reach the final ledge. the first part wasn't too bad though I did have to be careful to set up my back wheels to get around a gap in the surface that would have pitched me off the edge. Then I had to work my way back to drop down into a little gouge, again avoiding the edge.

A couple times you can see the Jeep get a little tipsy and I pause to let it stabilize before continuing. Finally I get past all the preliminary stuff and get my front wheels down off the ledge and onto the pile of loose rocks.

Click for Movie (18MB)

I moved forward a couple inches and all hell broke loose. My rear slipped to the left about 2.5 feet, off the side of the shelf, my passenger front wheel went for the sky, and I was looking at the drop off the side of the shelf road coming up quick. I started thinking that I was going to find out what it was like to roll hard, right off the edge of the ridge. I decided that I was not going to let that happen and took rapid action to mitigate the possibility.

(Click for 3 minute video)

The video is about 18MB, with most of it being pretty dull stuff so I cobbled together five or six frames for a 200KB animated GIF for people with slow connections. You don't get the full effect because you can't hear the rocks starting to give way, the engine and the Jeep landing, but you get the idea...

Here are some video captures

I turned into the slide, leaned into the middle of the Jeep, poked the throttle, and popped the clutch (engaged it to put power to the wheels), and pretty much jumped the Jeep off the shelf, getting some good air with all fours, landing hard with some room to spare. I swear I can hear my heart on the video camera as I shut it off... My heart was in my throat and the clarity of the moment will not leave me for a long time. Everything was in slow motion, and I am still surprised that I was able to get out of it without a serious injury (or death, as the Jeep manual is so fond of saying...).

I shut the Jeep off and got out. I realize now that I didn't fully appreciate the situation at that moment because I simply went and got the camera, and then started the Jeep back up and drove away! What was I thinking? I wish I had gone back and looked at the tracks to try and understand better what happened. I don't think I even looked at the video until I got back down to Route 33. And let me tell you, that last 200 yards of trail seemed a lot tamer than I have ever perceived it.

Update: 4/30/04  I found these pictures on the web.  It seems that somebody else had worse luck than me....(Click to see the whole series)



Route 33

We got down to the road about 3:15 pm. I decided to seek a turnout, air up and reconnect my sway bars. I soon found a spot that fishermen use, stopped and got to work. I let the kids out so they could stretch their legs. Soon, Brock, driving a TJ stopped, so we talked and I showed him the video that I had just made coming down Dictum. I showed him some of the stuff I have done to my Jeep, we traded contact info and he went on to catch up with some of his friends.

Meanwhile the kids were swarming like hornets so I finished up putting the Jeep back into road trim and we hit the road for the other side of the mountain. We got stuck behind some slow moving traffic, but that just gave us time to enjoy the views going up and down the mountain.


We got back to the campsite at about 4:15 pm. Fortunately the time I estimated for the trail was not all used up and the extra time I spent to get aired up and connected was available, without making us terribly late. Maria had spent the day like a big kitty cat, snoozing, reading, sunning by the beach, and a little bike riding. I showed her the video and was surprised how well she took my brush with disaster.

We got cleaned up and headed into Brandywine for the parade that was scheduled for 6:00pm. As we drove into town we were met with a line-up of fire trucks, hot rods, beauty-queens, marching bands, and tractors.

Maria and TedMaria and Ted

The sun was shining, everything was sparkling clean, and the kids were bug-eyed. I parked at the corner store and we waited for the parade to come by.

Color GuardBandTractor

Soon the color guard came, followed by the rest. Every other car was throwing candy and the kids managed to get several pounds between them. We got a big kick out of seeing this slice of Americana.

Beauty Queen

Candy thrown!

I hope the small towns like this one and the one I grew up in never disappear because you just don't see this sort of thing in the so-called "big city".

Once the parade was done we went to Fox Pizza Den and had - what a surprise - pizza for supper. Then we went back to the camp for a marathon bike riding session. At every chance they got, the kids broke out the bikes and tore off riding the camp ground roads, creating their own little scenarios and generally having a blast.

A little girl camping with her family nearby came out to ride with them. During one of these sessions, she got a flat, and it looked like she would not be able to ride her bike for the rest of the weekend.

I remembered that I had a can of Fix-A-Flat, so when her Dad came by, I asked if he wanted me to try fixing the tire with it. He agreed so I broke it out and we put some in the tire. It came right back up, fizzled a little and then the tire stopped leaking. Within five minutes the kids were back to their games and the tire held up the rest of the night and through the next day.

I started a log fire. The flames were large and there were lots of sparks at first. I looked up to see where they were going and discovered that a large hemlock was positioned directly above the permanent fire pit and spent a painful 5 minutes watching every spark that hit the tree, waiting for it to erupt in flames at any second. Gradually, the sparks died down and I was able to stop my fire watch.

The kids got ready for bed and then came to sit by the fire with us. We took turns trying to make up scary stories, then voted to see who told the best one. I tried hard to make one up that would scare them, but they've gotten pretty hip to my story telling. But I did have them going for a while when I made one up about a robot monster with two shining blue eyes. After suitable buildup, I made believe I was frightened, and pointed through the woods at two blue dots of light, hoping they would think it was the "robot monster with two blue eyes". Teddy just calmly told me that it was a camp lantern. So much for scary stories...

We finally got the kids into bed, then went ourselves. Maria discovered the joys of the large mummy bag and I used the old sleeping bag unzipped and laid out as a blanket with a top sheet. It was warm enough but by morning, it was chilly.

I got up around 6 again and repeated the breakfast routine. The kids wanted to go bike riding so we turned them loose while Maria and I began striking camp. It went pretty well. Finally, we had everything taken down, disassembled and packed in their individual storage devices.

Stick worm and Wooly

Along the way we found a worm that was posing as a stick.  It chose a bad location - the tent line, and we figured out its little trick.

Now I went about getting it all back into the trunks and then put back on the rack or in the Jeep. This took a while but we finished up around 10:00 am. Then we drove down to the pond, the kids leading the way on their bikes.

We spent the rest of the morning on the beach. I got Teddy to play with me in the chilly water, starting the process of teaching him how to swim. I hope we will have more and frequent chances to do this so he and Tom can become skilled swimmers.


Ted seems to like the water so I had to set the limit of how deep he could go (chest height) and to remind him that if he goes under that he just needs to "stand up". I think that lesson has now been learned and we'll move on to holding our breath and the dog paddle. The goal is to have him swimming by the end of the summer.

Butterfly HunterButterfly HunterButterfly HunterButterfly HunterButterfly HunterButterfly Hunter

Meanwhile, Tomi was chasing yellow and black butterflies around the beach in the hope of catching one in his pail and bringing it home. Fortunately I did not have to confront dealing with a captured butterfly as a pet because he was unsuccessful, though not for lack of trying! After we went swimming, Teddy joined the hunt and the two of them ran around like crazy men. Then we took a break and ate some snacks that one of the campers had given us when he was leaving.

We rinsed off at the outdoor showers and got ready to leave. Tom rode his bike back to the parking lot, opting to ford the stream rather than take the foot bridge. Fortunately, the crossing was made for vehicles and therefore was not deep or filled with fast running water. But it did remind me of his adventurous nature.


Teddy took the bridge and came in for a landing with a skid. He could end up being my street racer if I am not careful...   So with everything packed we said farewell to the campground and hit the road for the long ride home.




On the way up the mountain, we spotted a minivan with hood up at one of the turnouts. The family was standing next to it watching it steam. I stopped to offer some help and soon learned that the top radiator hose had burst, allowing the coolant to escape. It looked like we could fix the hose temporarily so I went looking for my duct tape in the Jeep. Well, needless to say the Jeep was stuffed to the point of exploding, so finding a roll of duct tape could have been a tough job. But lately I have been keeping it in the rear corners so I can just reach in and grab it. I tried to find it by groping around and just when I was about to give up, I put my hands on a roll.

Next I had to get a couple tools out of the boxes on the roof rack. That was complicated because the bikes were stacked on top of them. But I was happy to find that I could coax the box open without moving the bikes. I grabbed a pair of drop-jaw pliers. The engine was hot so I put my leather gloves on, and removed the hose. With the driver helping, we wrapped   the hose back and forth several times to bind the split back together in the hope of making the hose work long enough to get him and his group home. We popped the hose back on the engine and radiator.

When we were packing, I had contemplated emptying the 5 gallon water jug. But I decided that it wasn't very full, would not take much space, and could come in handy. The decision to keep the water proved useful and soon it was being poured into the radiator of the minivan. No leaks appeared and the driver thanked us and went on his way. I may not have used many of the things I carry along "in case" but I am becoming popular with fellow travelers!

I stowed my stuff and we continued on our way to Harrisonburg where we took on food, fuel, then went to the Jeep wash. Maria kept the kids busy while I got all the junk off the Jeep. We made a stop at the Golden Corral (buffet) and had something to eat.  Fast, Cheap and...  Then we got on the road and headed for home. Along the way we stopped at various places for various reasons, last at Hill High Orchard for pie a la mode, and then took the ferry crossing back into Maryland, and home.

The weather was terrific all weekend, and I think I can speak for everyone by saying that it was one of the best outings we have had to date. I am thankful that everyone enjoyed themselves, and that we got off the trail in one piece!

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