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.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I wonder what they think when they come
back to the same place and their junk is there spoiling the scene for themselves and
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.
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
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".
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
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.
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
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
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)
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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