This was one of those trips that had strange beginnings. My wife was called to render
tax assistance on short notice and so she flew to Hartford for the weekend. I claimed the
kids and, after watching the OCC message board discussions about people wanting to go to
the forest but not knowing the trails, decided I could help there. So I posted a sign-up
sheet and netted three vic- er, I mean interested parties for Saturday and three for
I dialed my Yahoo! membership to send the messages from the board to my blackberry mail
account, pinged a couple of the people so that they had my cell number and e-mail address,
and called it good. Friday evening after work I got my wife off to the airport and packed
the Jeep. By now this routine (packing to go camping) has become pretty tight and I can
usually get it done in a couple hours even with watching the kids and mixing a quick meal
By 7:30, I had the Jeep loaded and the kids strapped in. By 10:30pm after a stop at
Sheetz and Food Lion for some food for the weekend, we were lumbering over the speed bumps
campground in WV. The kids were champs at helping me get the tent set up in the dark
and soon we were settled in for a good nights sleep. But not before a mild scuffle between
the boys left Tom with a bloody nose. I think a recent BMX bike crash might have made his
nose a little tender, still healing, but it was a mess. Of course we had to make lots of
noise so everyone around us knew we were in town...
I woke up without an alarm and barely checked the time as I got breakfast (oatmeal and
muffins with milk) going for the kids. I was dismayed to discover that I had not brought
the coffee, but carried on with the routine and soon breakfast was done, the kids were
outfitted for the trail, and we headed out for McDorman's. We got there about 9:15 AM.
Just as we entered the store, Gino, Jonathan and Kofi arrived. This was great! We'd get on
the trail fairly early and have lots of time to get some miles burned.
The usual airing down and disconnecting went smoothly. We then discussed our trail
choices. Everybody seemed to want to hit Kephart so we agreed to go there first. We
planned to go up Flagpole later if time (and equipment) allowed.
During the drive to Kephart I pulled off one of the turnouts to let some faster traffic
play through and soon we reached the trail head. We pulled in, dropped into 4-LO and
started the drive to the end of the trail.
Not much to report. The crossing over Kephart is in pretty rough shape, much to our
pleasure, though the fallen trees in the stream marred the beauty of the spot. Further in,
the last crossing before the rock obstacle at the end seems to be a little rougher than
before. It has gotten gradually rougher over the last couple years. Again, no complaints
I played on the rocks a little as I crossed and everyone else took their own
lines. We stopped and chatted briefly about the rock obstacle and then one by one
everyone took their turn going up. And everyone did it nicely.
We turned around after a short break and came back down.
Then, led by Gino, drove back to one of the clearings and stopped for lunch, around
12:15 PM. For once I remembered to take the camp chairs along and the kids were very
grateful. So was I!
After lunch I walked around picking up the trash strewn about. It wasn't bad, really,
but any trash is always disturbing to me. This is just another party spot to some people
and their lack of regard shows. I would later discard a 1/2 full 50 gallon trash bag at
We reached the road again in plenty of time to continue exploring. I led the group back
down Route 33, and after a few turns, we reached Union Springs Road and made our climb up
the mountain. The road was showing some signs of improvement. Further in, it was very
dusty. Since I was the only fully closed vehicle, and since the trail was hard to lose, I
dropped back and let the open vehicles go ahead.
For the few turns that required advice, I quipped them to Jonathan over the CB. We
reached the turn-off onto Stone Camp Road, the trail that runs along the top of the ridge
all the way to Flagpole. To my surprise, we found the Chrysler Minivan (the one that we
found vandalized on previous trips) had been moved several hundred yards up the trail,
closer to the road, and up a fairly steep hill with rough terrain. No accounting for this
as the vehicle appears to be 100% disabled. Perhaps it's being used for winch practice or
someone is slowly working it closer to where a regular flatbed can take it away? The
main rough climb up to the top of the ridge was about the same as usual and fun for all.
We started hearing CB chatter from another group, so we engaged them and found out they
were camping on top of Flagpole. Pretty soon we met up with a few of them who had headed
down towards Meadow Knob. They caught us just above the turn-off that descends down into
Dunkle Hollow and past Switzer Dam. We stopped to talk and the kids got friendly
with the Australian herd dog.
We spent some time looking at the other guys' Jeeps. Typical, right? I passed out a few
cards and we continued up to Flagpole.
It was like a convention up there! The group we talked to on the CB was easily 20
people strong, with about 1/2 that many vehicles, including one Camaro... Talk about
having your four-wheeling ego shattered! Actually it's not very surprising since pavements
comes all the way up from one direction - we come in the "back way".
We waved as we passed their camp and went up to the geographic "top" of the
Knob. Just as we got out to take in the wondrous view, a large group of Jeeps and other
4x4's came onto the field and right up to our location.
They got out, strutted around for a few minutes, then loaded up and left. There were
some interesting vehicles in the group. I'm not sure they were set up so much for wheeling
as looking big and shiny, but Jeeps are Jeeps are Jeeps.
From there, our little band back-tracked down to the turn-off.
We went down the mountain via Dunkle Hollow, to Route 33, halfway up the Virginia side
of Shenandoah Mountain. There, we stopped to reconnect and chat.
I split off from the group and headed back to Brandywine. The rest of the group headed
back towards Harrisonburg and home. We had an excellent ride; I hope this group comes out
again as the boys and I really had a good time wheeling with them!
On my way up the mountain, the last little bit of gas in my tank sloshed away from the
pickup tube and the engine faltered. So I crossed my fingers and watched for a turn-out on
the road. The trick was the road is narrow and windy with no shoulder. Stopping to drain
gas into my tank would require a place to get off the pavement. Fortunately I found a spot
on the other side of the road so we stopped there and drained my jerry cans into the tank.
In truth the only reason I had brought the cans was to use up the gas before it got
stale. As such I had not filled up at Sheetz like I usually would. So this running out of
fuel was, in a sense, planned.
Pretty soon I had 10 gallons in my tank and zero gallons in my cans, and we were
heading up the mountain. As we reached the top, I noted the storm clouds running along the
ridge on the West Virginia side and dropping rain off in the distance. It looked like we
were in for some "weather"...
We got to camp about 10 minutes ahead of the rain. The kids really wanted to go
swimming but with the rain coming it didn't look like that would happen. When we got to
camp I hurriedly set up the fly over the picnic table. I managed to get it done just
before the first drops of rain came down. For the rest of the weekend, I would thank Mark
Long, Wal*Mart and the big idea I had that maybe a dining fly was a good idea. We were
able to sit at the picnic table out of the rain and almost ignore the bad weather!
We ate a nice dinner of MRE's that had been nestled next to my radiator overflow all
day. They were heated to (guessing here) about 210 degrees and were just right. The kids
found that they didn't like the turkey or the beef stew so I heated up some macaroni and
cheese for them. Pretty soon we were done eating and the kids took off to ride bikes (in
the rain) with the hoards of other kids there who were camping. Again I say I no longer
wonder about the bikes I see strapped to the backs of camp-bound vehicles. If I didn't
bring those bikes, I think my kids would kill each other and me...
We did have a little snafu though. One of the other kids camping didn't have a bike and
was asking to borrow Ted's bike. So Ted very nicely lent him the bike for a couple trips
round the loop that runs around the site we chose. A little later, Tom was sitting at the
picnic table with me and the boy came by again to borrow a bike. This time Tomi let him
borrow the bike and off the boy went. After a little while, Tomi got impatient and went
off looking for the boy and his bike. A little while later I hadn't seen Ted or Tom for a
while so I started walking around looking for them.
They were nowhere to be seen, and I started walking further down the road towards the
entrance, though the boys have instructions not to go down there. It was almost dark and I
was getting concerned. Soon I caught up with Teddy and the boy who had borrowed Tom's
bike. Tom was not with them. Great. I am suppressing the urge to go into panic mode. After
walking all the way down to the entrance and all the way back, I met Tom walking back down
toward me. It was a huge relief as by now it was completely dark out.
We went back to camp, I made some adjustments to the tent as I found Tom's sleeping
back had fallen off the air mattress and gotten wet. Fortunately these synthetic bags work
even when wet. I got most of the heavy moisture off it, and later when he went to bed I
opened it up so he could lay on the dry portion and gave him my flannel top sheet to cover
himself. It stayed warm enough all night that he was perfectly fine, though I must have
checked him three or four times before morning came, , just to be sure.
I have no idea what time I got up though it must have been around 7:00 AM. I got some
hot water going and soon had oatmeal for the kids, along with Tang and Instant Milk. to
make a long story short (because it's mostly about the kids bike riding, evading my
requests to help strike camp, and some mild fighting between them and me,) we got camp
taken down and packed by 9:40 AM. I drove down to the store in Brandywine and aired up,
reconnecting to keep us shiny side up as we went over the mountain. The last thing I
needed was to pop a bead or flop going around a curve loaded down like a refuge. I was
going to get gas but the price was almost 30 cents a gallon more than in Harrisonburg so I
canned that idea until we got into town later.
Going up the mountain I caught some CB chatter so I chimed in and soon saw Pete, Rick
and Bill coming 'round the mountain. I guess they must have gotten to McDorman's around
9:30 AM, waited til about 10, then decided to come find me at the campgrounds. They turned
tail when we met up and we all stopped at one of the wide spots and made our plans for the
As I was loaded with all the camping gear, I was not going to make it under a couple of
the low trees on Kephart. I knew that the group wanted to run it so I suggested we go run
Dry River and Old Route 33, then I would leave them at Kephart and head for home. That
seemed to please everyone so off we went.
I figured the best way to run it was to enter down by Kephart, then run it north-west
to where it exists from the place where the stream runs down the trail. Then we could
cross the road and run Old Route 33. And from there, they could cross the road again and
catch Kephart. All-in-all, we'd hit pavement between each of the sections for only a few
Bill had loaded my Kephart marks so he knew where to find that entrance. I had all my
tracks and waypoints loaded for GWNF so I was ready when the mark for the entrance to Dry
River came up. We stopped, they all aired down, disconnected, and then we went in.
The first crossing was bone-dry and rocky.
Once past that, we found lots of muddy rough spots. At the T-junction, we turned left
and headed down to the short loop that brings us back to the T. At the far end of that
part, we encountered a very large group of campers who had taken over a big section of
ground right in the middle of the trail. That was one thing, but the thing that struck me
with something bordering on horror and disgust was the incredible volume of trash that was
practically covering the ground. It reminded me of the worst outdoor music festival I had
ever attended. There was so much litter that it was hard to imagine anyone would enjoy
camping there because it so marred the area. And here we are worrying about getting kicked
off the trails because a few wheelers can't stay on the main trail! This scene is probably
another reason we're getting kicked out of the woods, though I must say it is quite rare
in GWNF. Giving them the benefit of the doubt (maybe they plan to clean up after
themselves...) we passed through their "camp" and waved, then reached the top of
the loop where we played briefly on some driftwood.
The crossing there was bone dry so we crossed it and drove up a ledge. I had to
drift to the left to clear a root, but everybody else went over just fine.
Then we doubled back to the T-junction. From there we continued along the valley
that runs along the rock face. Along the way there were lots of muddy ruts to drive
We turned up the entrance to the dam. I called to the groups attention the small
"no vehicles" signs posted at each of three rutted hill climbs. As tempting as
they looked, it was easy to stay off them knowing they were not legal. We drove up
to the dam and stopped for a minute while the boys went down to the water and played
around for a few minutes.
When the boys came back, we turned tail and made for the exit to pavement. As we drove
along I was rambling about the problems of staying on the legal trail, and so on. To my
surprise, another group appeared coming up the hill and the lead vehicle (a large green
Jeep) turned left and went straight up the illegal hill climb! Man...
I tried to get my camera out thinking I would get a photo of the vehicle, driver, and
plate, but digital cameras come to life in their own time, and it wasn't fast enough for
this. Instead I flagged down the second vehicle and asked if he was in CB contact with the
Jeep driver. He was so I asked him to relay to the driver that the hills were illegal,
posted as such, and would he please finish up and come back down. I passed the same
message on to the Land Rover driver behind them and we left the scene. I don't want to get
all righteous about this but it did hit a nerve.
The flooded section of the trail on the way out was pretty dried out though I did hit a
rock that was submerged where I had never hit one before.
The whole streambed seemed significantly altered. The pool near the road seemed to have
been dismantled, or at best was just dry from lack of water. Some campers had set up camp
more or less on the road, so we went around them and kept moving out to pavement.
Old Route 33
A short hop down the road and across to the other side and we were on Old Route 33. It
was pretty, easy and except for one switchback, dead easy. The switchback was entertaining
because it was washed out and required a good drop down and hard right with a narrow
shelf. Loaded like I was, it was necessary to be a little bit more careful than usual, but
I had done this loaded before so I only got out briefly to check the width of the shelf
and make sure my right rear wheel would not fall off the edge. We drove down to Route 33
again after brief comment and note of the OCC Adopt-a-Trail sign near the entrance.
At Kephart, I stopped to reconnect my sway bar and wished the rest of the group happy
wheeling. A really nice Toyota FJ was parked at the entrance and its driver was airing
down. I gave him a card and suggested the group would probably be happy to have him along,
then crossed back to my Jeep, said goodbyes to Pete, Rick & Kelly, and Bill, then hit the road for
some late lunch, gas and home. On our way past Rocky Run we saw one of the groups
from the top of Flagpole Knob yesterday. They were stopped on the side of the road
doing some emergency repairs. For a moment I considered stopping but decided my
priority was getting the kids fed and home. It looked like they had what they needed
and plenty of help, so my contribution would probably have been limited.
We drove up to Golden Corral and the kids picked their way through a light lunch and a
heavy desert. We got gas at the Sheetz on the way and saved a good 30 cents a gallon. On
the way down to Route 81 after lunch, somebody came on the CB calling attention to some
guy's Jeep. It caught my ear so I listed and soon realized it was someone who thought they
knew me and they were talking about me! So I got on and said Hi, who's this? It turned out
to be none other than Steve and Jandy Leibl from PA. I wasn't too surprised to hear them
around hear because Jandy's parents live in Harrisonburg. But in fact, Steve and Jandy
were on their way to Tellico, so this chance meeting within CB range was pretty
incredible. We passed the time of day before traveling out of each others range. Small
From here on out it was just the usual long ride home. The kids decided they wanted to
listen to some high-decibel heavy metal, while my caffeine-withdrawal headache wanted
something else... Tomi noticed an interesting moth on the railing as we rode across
White's Ferry, and the digital camera (unpredictable shutter timing) cooperated for a
half-way decent picture.
We got home and I managed to get the kids to help me unpack and wash the Jeep. I can't
believe I lived through a double playing of The Best of Eddie Money!
What a great weekend - lots of wheeling, some incredible weather, and as always, the
forest was beautiful too!
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