Friday, November 30, 2012

Milestones Along a Trail

How did I want to spend the day of my milestone birthday? Well, I happened to have the day off, and Ted was home from college for Thanksgiving break and so the question almost answered itself: out for a hike (with some geocaching, of course) with my favorite hiking partner followed by dinner with the whole family.

Before Thanksgiving break I had scoped out some new hikes between Arlington and JMU, figuring that I might actually drive down and pick Ted up and then go hiking on the way home. As it happened it didn't work out that way as I had to run to NY to help out my dad, whose house was significantly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. We decided to stick with one of the hikes we had researched, even though it meant driving about half way back to JMU - a little crazy given that Ted had just come from there.

Our destination was Signal Knob, an area at the very north end of the George Washington National Forest. This area is close to but distinct from Shenandoah National Park and Skyline Drive.That particular trail offers two possible loop hikes, but both were pretty long. I figured that we might give out and do a shorter out-and-back hike given that I'm recovering from a badly sprained ankle and that Ted's only exercise since leaving for school has been twelve ounce lifts.

The Signal Knob trails have a very rocky tread and so I was glad, with my weak ankle, that I had worn my hiking boots. At the trail head we passed a bench with a set of car keys on it, along with a note - someone else had found the keys along the trail and had brought them back to the lot. Given that the lot was nearly deserted, whoever's keys they were had clearly found another way home (of course the trail system is served by a number of parking areas, and so the good Samaritan may not have brought the keys to the right lot).

We continued up the mountain. It's a pretty trail with a number of good views along the way. I started out dressed for the cool morning. As we hiked I warmed up and shed some layers.

We took a break at Buzzard Point to look for a geocache. Unfortunately the GPS location was bouncing around something awful and so we eventually gave up despite logs saying it was an "easy find". We hiked through a few more switchbacks, each of which presented a nice view, until we finally reached a point where we had to make a decision. Hike any further and we were pretty much committed to doing the whole loop.

The last of this year's Fall foliage
I decided to try and get a picture of some of the last of the fall foliage. As I lay on my back on the trail pointing the camera up into some leaves the only other people we saw all day happened by - and amazingly, it was two geocachers we knew! One was there to make his 9500th geocache find (that's pretty extreme, even among committed cachers). We chatted for a bit then they continued down the mountain, back towards the parking lot. They did give us enough of a hint about the location of the Buzzard Point cache to allow us to find it on our way down.

We bumped into them again as we puzzled over the best route to the other geocache on our list. We had noticed on the way in that along the trail we had gotten within 250 feet of it, but that those final 250 feet appeared to be a pretty vertical rock scramble. Again, our cacher friends pointed in the general direction (yes, we had to take on the rock scramble) and Ted and I headed on up while they continued down the mountain.

After getting to the right location, finding the cache was easy; it was a large ammo can in plain sight. We took a break to catch our breath and enjoy the view, then headed back down.

On the way home we made our usual stop at the Gainesville WaWa market for soft pretzels and drinks (coffee in my case, a mammoth soda in his). It was a really nice day over all and it was really great to get a chance to spend some time with Ted.

By the way, overall my birthday celebration included:
- A dinner party at our house with friends
- Hiking with Ted
- A kayaking outing at Mason Neck
- Dinner out at Mad Fox with Valerie and the boys
- This hike
- Dinner with Henry, Colleen and my dad at Picket Fence in Brooklyn
- I also sort of include a Thanksgiving weekend jam with Bob C.'s crew, Thanksgiving dinner out, and going to see the Klezmatics next weekend.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pre-Birthday Paddle

Yvonne, Tom, Cyndi, Me, Dave, and Rob (photo by Suzanne)

My half-century birthday is not being observed in one big bang party. Rather, it's being celebrated through a series of events: a dinner party at home, dinner out with my brother and dad, dinner with my family, and the subject kayaking outing with my kayaking friends. Mason Neck State Park has become the traditional location for my birthday paddles and so I invited a group of my friends out for a trip from Mason Neck to Leesylvia Park .

The group wound up being eleven people - quite a nice size, and at that was down a few at that from the original count due to some last minute drop-outs due to the weather (not everyone has full cold weather gear, and conditions were right on the edge in terms of needing it) and personal reasons. As always we got a punctual start despite some folks coming from as far away as Baltimore.

It's that time of year where it's impossible to dress properly: if you're dressed warmly enough for immersion you wind up sweating while you paddle. I tried my best to ride the line and still wound up working up quite a sweat inside my dry suit. A few people on the trip got cold; I can't fathom how that could be when we were exerting ourselves on a 50 degree day while all bundled up - and I'm almost always colder than everyone else. Admittedly, there was a bit of a wind blowing: more than forecast, and enough to turn Belmont Bay into an interesting mish-mash of chop.

I was pretty tired starting out, as I had driven back from Brooklyn the night before after spending a few days working with my brother to clean up my dad's house after it flooded during Hurricane Sandy. I had gotten up early and made a mad dash around the house gathering up and loading my gear. However, being on the water always invigorates me and I soon forgot my weariness as I watched the eagles and negotiated the choppy ride over to Leesylvania, where we took an early lunch break in one of the picnic pavilions. Dave and Cyndi shared a hummus platter, I brought a box of cookies from a fine Italian bakery in Brooklyn, others had other good stuff - there was plenty of food for all! Tom brought along his suggestive Banana Guard.

Ralph hops a freight train
We launched back into the surf and headed under a high railroad bridge into Neabsco Creek. A freight train rattled over the bridge just as we were passing under it, adding noise and drama as it clackity-clacked overhead. Soon, though, quiet returned and we enjoyed the calm waters of the creek. We even spied a few tundra swans as we did our exploring.

The ride back was into the wind, which meant a pounding ride as the boats smashed over the waves. My wooden kayak doesn't have a very buoyant bow and so it tends to slice through rather than go over waves. This makes for a smoother but slower and wetter ride as waves roll across the front deck. In any case, the ride back was an exhilarating workout and we all arrived back with smiles on our faces, even the few who had lost feeling in their feet.

About half the group stopped at Glory Days grill for a post-paddling warm-up snack. All-told, the tally was eleven people, twelve miles, four eagles, three tundra swans - and a partridge in a pear tree (oops, I shouldn't make that reference until after Thanksgiving - sorry!).

Track Map
For the record, my birthday celebration included:
- A dinner party at home with some close friends
- Dinner out with my dad & brother on fashionable Cortelyou Rd. in Brooklyn
- This kayaking trip
- Dinner outwith Valerie & the boys at Mad Fox
- Sad to say, a little extravagance in clothes shopping in preparation for my new job.
- Since my birthday was the day before Thanksgiving, our Thanksgiving dinner out was kinda sorta a birthday celebration too.