When Josh and I lived a sedentary life the possibilities for indulging in hobbies was near endless, fiscal resources aside. In our first few years on the road it was an adjustment to pursue interests that also matched our nomadic lifestyle. Dropped were the sewing machine and woodworking tools but we became avid backpackers based on our enjoyment in camping. Having limited space for extra items in our tour vehicles forces choices to be made as to what you take and what you give up. So why not indulge in travel related hobbies? We dive, we hike, “he” fish.
Last week the opportunity presented itself to hop over to Shenandoah National Park, a favorite and frequent destination for us. Since our break was a nice chunk of time we decided that starting with a four-day hike was just the ticket. The plan was to do about 40 miles total on trails new to us. It would be pretty much going up the mountain each morning and back down the other side near water in the afternoons to set up camp. Evidently the local black bear population had similar ideas. We were just into the first day when another hiker mentioned seeing a black bear on the trail. So onward we went, keeping an eye out. Josh was about 50 yards ahead of me on the trail when, and I’m NOT exaggerating, a small black bear fell out of a tree about 10 feet BEHIND him after he walked under a tree next to the trail! Yes, the little guy pancaked onto the trail. Flopped around for a second to get his bearings (tee hee) and scuttled off. Now I have very little experience with bears but I remembered that you are supposed to make yourself big. So I did, I put my arms up but then I got scared and made Josh walk back down the trail to come get me. It was a bit unnerving and from the small size we were not sure if it was a cub or not. But onward we marched, having a laugh about “Flapjack” the Bear (seriously he landed like a pancake out of that tree). While the trail was a bit advanced and the miles high, it was all worth it. Day two rolled around and it was another perfect day, slightly overcast but dry. We were going into a higher trail, more forest than stream for most of the day, so one would think we wouldn’t have another bear encounter. Well that was incorrect. About midday Josh scared up another little fella, this one on the ground thankfully, I made myself big and Josh again had to walk back and get me. Now laughing at my “getting big” reaction. The third day was a stroll (not really it was a tough trail) to the bottom of another valley and stunning run with some large pools. After a post hike dip we got to our set-up duties. We each have tasks we prefer when it comes to get the camp set up. I like to put up the tent and filter water, while Josh tends to deal with cooking and putting up the ropes for securing food at night (you know from BEARS). While ensuring that we were parasite free and hydrated I got my first look at a full grown Appalachian Black Bear, they are similar to humans in size. She was about 150-200 lbs and wholly unimpressed with my presence. I got big, yelled for her to go away, she just chuffed at me and continued milling about the stream. Thankfully Josh heard me and knew I needed some help. He came over and banged rocks together; seriously there are so many things to remember when it comes to bear scaring. She got the message and sauntered off. So yeah we got the full bear experience and realized the other two were likely young adults on their own. Not yet savvy to life without Mom. Our little adventure didn’t stop there, round about 4am it started raining and we realized there were leaks in our rain fly. YUP!!! So….we decided around 6am to just pack up and hit it, we had 8 miles uphill to be made before we could get to a park store and some dry. While it was a fairly miserable day, the trail was stunning, excluding the plethora of ever swelling river crossings, and there were NO BEARS.
We spent the next two nights at one of the park’s lodges, to dry out, and well, there are some real perks to this job. I don’t say this often about hotels but it was very romantic, I think we will repeat that experience at some other parks in the future. Upon getting to the lodge and airing out our gear, we examined the tent and discovered more than just a leak; all the glue had disintegrated from the seams and plastic windows! While this might seem like a deal breaker for some on more camping, Josh felt like it was nothing that a couple hours and roll of duct tape couldn’t fix.
That very refreshing stay (along with the tap house at the lodge restaurant) put us back in the mood to hit the trail. Off we went for a three-day jaunt on one of our favorite trails along Big Run. This was going to be a ten-mile loop with the most perfect campsite at the bottom. The plan was to make a paradise, it’s really that lovely, and spend two nights. Relaxing on the middle day fishing and day hiking. At the top of mountain it was a touch buggy but after the rain with the sun out, which is to be expected. Off we went, laughing about the cute bears we had seen from the car playing peek-a-boo with us (yup, add two more). During the descent, the black flies started to get worse and worse, to the point where we were using our pack towels like horse tails trying to clear them from our faces every second. Without the flapping, about every two steps, you were swarmed with flies dive-bombing our ears, eyes, and noses. We busted the five miles down and set up the tent just to get a break and eat. During the ten seconds the flaps were open for us to load in at least 30 of those little SOB’s followed us in. There had been some hope that at the lower elevation and water the swarm might taper off, this was not the case. A decision was made to just scrap the 3 day trip and get the heck out. (Or you might say bug out). That’s how we made a 10-mile death march (haha Dave) all the while being attacked by black flies. Just to add some spice to the end we ran into a momma back bear and her two cubs, although at this point I had no time for their shenanigans and ran them off hollering while slapping at black flies.
We were exhausted and bitten, but Pippi-less. She stayed with a nice family outside the park for all this. Pippi is not a hiker. Honestly she isn’t much for nature. When we do go camping she fusses until we zip her into the tent. Weird dog. We boogied out (doing those ten miles and all the elevation in 6 hours) heading to Luray. Instead of a pleasant day of fishing we played tourist and took in the caverns. It was a lovely tour but the place is a TOTAL tourist trap! (If you can only do one, go to Mammoth in KY)
So at the end of the day, it was a hoot. Being road warriors you should consider hobbies that will enhance your travel and give you options in the places you go. We hike and we dive. Over the mountains and under the oceans. While many people might recommend choosing hobbies that don’t require “gear” these probably aren’t lifers. Sometimes you just wanna have your own stuff.
***This is part of a series of posts called “Travel Tuesday“, each covering topics unique to our lifestyle***