PA and VA – Memorial Day Weekend 2011

After a pretty crazy few weeks in San Diego, then back in PA, it was time to get the heck out of dodge. So on Friday I headed to REI for a pair of hiking boots and some suggestions on good hikes the “area”. I was a bit bored with PA trails and was thinking of going to the Adirondacks up in New York — a drive of some 5-6 hours. I was pretty much decided after checking out the great pix in some books at REI, but then one of the REI reps pointed out that May-June might be black fly season (yes, they have a season for flies).

Black Flies Suck. And Bite.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s balanced and objective 1993 article, “Bloodsucking scourge of the Adirondacks,” black flies are bad.  Or as the author Andrew Maykuth says, “Relentless swarms of biting flies make parts of the Adirondacks so inhospitable that tourism grinds to a halt. Some inns simply shut down for the few weeks after Memorial Day. Golf course business falls off to a trickle. Fishermen suddenly comprehend what it is like to be bait…  Unlike mosquitoes, which insert their tubular snouts directly into a capillary like an oil driller sinking a well, the tiny black fly obtains its blood meal by tearing through the skin with razor-sharp teeth, like a bulldozer opening a strip mine… Then, with its spongelike mouth, the black fly drinks up a pool of blood. Its saliva, which acts as an anticoagulant, leaves a rivulet of blood flowing long after the bug has gorged and flown… A cloud of black flies can leave a victim with oozing, poxlike welts that take weeks to subside.”  So, the Adirondacks were out.

Shenandoah National Park
The next option?  South to the Shenandoah Valley.  I have been following bits Bill Bryson’s path along the Appalachian Trail from A Walk in the Woods.  The PA trails had been a bit disappointing, but according to Bryson the path through Shenandoah is quite lovely, though in part this has to do with the availability of cheeseburgers.  Either way, the park offers actual views and day-hikes away from the “green tunnel” of PA hikes, so I was sold.  It’s a 5 hour drive, more or less, from Conshohoken, PA to Harrisonburg VA in the Shenandoah Valley noteworthy only for the oddities of trying to get anywhere on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

This long, narrow park is most famous of Skyline Drive, which gently winds its way from the north entrance at XXX to the south end near XXX.  Over some XX miles, the Drive offers a leisurely, somehow nostalgic view of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and greater Virginia to the east from more than XX lookouts.  The Appalachian Trail follows the same ridgelines, and periodically traverses the Drive.  With all this going on, the Park can be cozy, crowded, or both.  It is undeniably beautiful.

From Harrisburg to the West, I drove into the Park on the 33, turned south on Skyline Drive after paying the $15 admission fee — a bit steep — and headed toward Two Mile Lookout and the trailhead for the Rocky Mountail / Trail Run loop.  I overshot the trailhead to pick up some whater at the Loft Mountain “comfort” stop, then ran to the campground store to pick up some deoderant (don’t ask).  Some 40 minutes driving the park on Memorial Day Weekend, and I saw fewer than five other cars.  Nice.

Rocky Mount / Gap Run Trail
The RM/GP loop is roughly 9.4 miles (9.5 or so from the Two Mile pullout).  The route takes you down a ridge line to a saddle junction with the Gap Run trail, then up to Rocky Mount (2,741′), down into a canyon junction with the Gap Run trail, then back up to the first junction.

Along the way, ran into 1 tick, some old lichen, a nice view, a heck of a lot of humidity, 1 snail, 1 awesome turtle, and oppressive heat (80+) and humidity.  Given that I was wearing long trekking pants and shirt, and long socks — all due to tick trepidation — and my normal sweat load, I started feeling flushed and a bit nauseated about 6 miles in (on the climb back to the Gap Run / Rocky Mount trail junction).  So that sucked, but otherwise a very nice trail.  Pretty.

Plenty of food and water, though need things less sweet.  More salty.  Don’t like this whole tick thing.  Didn’t see another person on the trail after one father-son passing on the way in, so that was nice.  Very peaceful.

Ticks Suck
I’m pretty sure the first, small tick I found on my shoulder in Shenandoah was just getting down to business, so hopefully no bite there.  By the small gray body and white spot on the back, I assume it’s a Lone Star Tick, which means I can blame W. if I get Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.  According to Dogs Inside Out (dogsinsideout.typepad.com/dogs/science/), “Rickettsial diseases can make humans and dogs very sick, and one that is tick born can kill–Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)…. The Lone Star tick, with its telltale white spot on its back, carries RMSF… Very few ticks actually carry RMSF, just one in 1,000.”  So that’s comforting.

The second tick didn’t show up until Gettysburg.  I looked down and this big orange / red mother was going to town on my shin.  Couldn’t have been there for more than a few seconds, so I have no idea if I carried it from Shenandoah or Harper’s, or just picked it up in the grass of the battlefield.  Either way, I quickly pulled it off and crushed it.  Kinda spooky.  No bite mark or indicators that day or the next.

Skyline Drive
1950s…

The Highway to Hell
On the road from Shenandoah via Charlottesville on the 29, I crossed State Route 666.  How can you ever drive by that without noticing?  Also, how in the world did someone use that route number in a state as religious as Virginia?  Very odd.

Cousins in Annandale VA
My uncle and his wife live with my cousin David and his family, so there’s a lot of action going on.  Spent some time catching up with the my uncle, who’s Alzheimer’s is definitely getting worse, and the family.  Great to see them all, but the tension caused by my uncle’s decline was evident on everyone’s faces.

On a lighter note, David brought out bunch of family history information from the Browning side.  I’ll need to ship this back to California and do something with it at some point.  Kind of lost interest in genealogy over the last few years.  At some point you realize that little lines on a family tree don’t really connect you to anyone — it’s the people alive today who really matter.

Cops & Robbers
Turns out a few days before I got there, David’s garage and shed had been burgled, and many of his lawn tools and weights had been stolen.  The day I got there, David had found some of them at a neighbor’s house, called the police, and when I arrived they were in the process of waiting for a warrant to search the house.

There were cops surrounding the neighbor’s.   Later that night, we ended up rummaging with the policy through a backyard full of equipment to try to identify what was his; and then through the house to find smaller items.  At night with police and flashlights and loud denials of guilt, it was all very Bad Boys and sad at the same time.  What an odd life these people had chosen — stealing from the same neighbors their kids play with during the day.

Harper’s Ferry
It’s interesting how the Civil War and other events in US history are so much part of the fabric of the East.  On the West Coast, history is more notional, meaning non-existent, so it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the history of even a little place like Harper’s.  It’s no wonder Europe is so exhaustingly wonderful at times.

In the case of Harper’s, we have a small town that played key roles in the expansion of canals and railroads, major Civil War battles during which it was captured multiple times, and of course John Brown’s Raid on October 15, 1859.  Every building, standing or fallen, seems to beer a marker to convey its place and history to schoolchildren of the future.

Maryland Heights and Overlook of Harper’s Ferry
Did a hike.  Very hot.  Overall walking was almost the same as previous day hike, but wearing shorts and t-shirt.  No water.  No food.  No pack.  Much more enjoyable.

Gettysburg
No time to write this part up.  Fetish of battles, dressed up, competition for monuments, somber and yet kitchy…

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