Monday, July 23, 2018

Bugged Out In Virginia: Part 11 - A Crowded House

You might wonder how in the world I ever got to have that milkshake after Paul was so determined to march on and not stop in Glasgow (Virginia, not Scotland!) . It was the weather was full of rain and misery and after that night on the mountain with campers everywhere all around us, Paul was ready to come off the trail. 

We actually had one more night on the trail before we could get to the campground. We were heading to the biggest shelter anyone had heard of. It was supposed to be a 2 story building that could sleep over 8 campers. We hustled as much as we could in the hot humid weather to get there in time to maybe get a real place to sleep. By this point, it was starting to be a lot less fun, and Paul was starting to wonder if this was the worst trip ever, or if it was merely the second worst trip. While he was working on that puzzle, I was telling myself, "only one more day to a burger, a shake and a shower". We ended up at the Bryant shelter right before dark, and it was full of people, but somehow they made room for us. Yes, Popeye was there ahead of us. A big family was there as well. Somehow they had hiked in with 4 young kids. There was a couple young hipster guys, and two women that I figured were together as a couple but were having some kind of fight. I never quite solved that one, but the younger one and I talked a bit. She was a firefighter from St. Cloud, Florida and pretty much gave me the impression that if there was any sexual harassment at her job, she took care of it personally. Even though that place was way overcrowded, it was fun and we were happy, because by dinnertime, it was pouring down rain and we were dry. A funny side note, the outhouse didn't have a door on it, so while on any trip to the bathroom, I made sure that I made a lot of noise before I went walking up to it. And, I made a lot of noise while I was in it as well. 
After Pam, sending me so many text messages about ticks in the woods, I was pretty sure I had one on me, and was already sure I had contracted Lyme disease. The firewoman took a look at the spot on my leg and told me to just yank it out, making sure I got the head. At least I didn't pass out while doing that.

I lay awake all that night, feeling little crawly things on my skin. We were packed like sardines on the raised platform of the first floor of the shelter, with Firewoman on one side and her friend on the other. They never said one word to each other the whole time that I was there. I actually was hoping I didn't start snoring or doing anything else embarrassing while there. You'd think I would have slept better because of the dryness and safety of the group, but the youngsters decided to stay up late playing with flashlights on the second floor and every once in a while, I'd get a beam right in the eyeballs. Another strange thing with the rain that night was that I would get hot, take the blanket off, and then get cold, while remaining sticky the whole time.
When the morning finally rolled around. I was ready to go. We had been hearing stories from everyone about this awesome campground, their cabins, and short order food. I found their phone number and Paul had enough signal to call them and make a reservation for lunchtime pickup.
The day was looking up, and I was just having my first cup of coffee. All we had to do was to get down that mountain in two hours...

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Bugged Out In Virginia: Part 10: The Marginal Man

I was sitting on the side of the two lane old road by a bridge. There was some kind of gravel parking lot with a few cars in it, and every once in a while a backpacker would cross the road and head up the trail. You could hear people splashing around in the water under the bridge, but I didn't even feel like going over for a look. It was hot and humid and I felt like I hadn't had a shower in a week...well, that was pretty much true. It is a thing that I disliked, but still didn't feel inclined to go jump in that 30 degree water in the creek.  I had my mind on more important things, like what was the first thing I was going to do when we got picked up...if our ride ever showed up. Paul and I weren't doing that much talking any more. We had called ahead from the top of the mountain, and our pickup driver had warned us that cellphone reception was spotty down by the parking lot. Paul was walking around holding his phone up, looking for service. I wasn't sure if that was to check on our ride, or if his business was still running or if his stuff was laying out in the yard in front of his home. Yes, he had more important things than food to think about, but I had lunchtime on the brain in a big way.
Even with all of the dreams of food in my head, I was still fascinated by something that I guess I can trace back to my early days in college. Back then the rage was studying society, and I was a huge fan. I can remember thinking how cool it was the way we could just have long hair, and everybody would know we were cool and smile...I mean other young people. The older people would just scowl, and say 'damn hippies!' under their breath. But, that initial Flower Power feeling didn't last as long as I would have liked. I started running into guys with hair longer than mine, that were just mean old rednecks with long hair. And the girls could dress like a flower girl and still be all stuck up.
In front of me now, was a group of through hikers sitting in a semi-circle, and you could really tell it was a closed group. It is the modern day hippie thing, you're in your twenties, nothing to lose, and decide you're going to spend 6 months in the woods with other cool people just like you....only it turns out they are not so cool after all. Most of us find that the mere act of setting foot on the trail with a pack and the intention of spending the night in the woods, is enough to have joined the fraternity of friendly brothers and sisters....but not so fast. Because if you're an old guy or girl, you must be a section hiker, and therefore get marginalized. It would be like a runner waving hello to somebody walking done the street...that doesn't happen. To a runner, walkers are a lower lifeform. And that's how it is with section hikers. These guys in front of me treated me pretty much the same way I got treated in Hawaii by the locals. You ask a question and they look at you as if their hearing aid battery is dead. They speak to each other in low gutteral tones, punctuating the shorthand conversation with occasional looks my way and the a short laugh would follow. It's not always like this, but you recognize the situation when it happens. The trail belongs to THEM, and how dare some old folks or anybody else that doesn't seem cool, try to invade this sacred place. Then an attractive punk-looking young girl walks up, and I suddenly realize that they can hear AND talk. Then another young girl walks by looking more introverted and normal, and they totally ignore her. Wow, I thought, pack membership exists in the woods as well as in high school. I thought about it for a moment and felt glad that I wasn't back in my twenties, trying to fit in with the cool smelly guys. All I really had to worry about was when our driver was going to pick us up and deliver us to the campground with the world's best hamburger.

In the meantime, Paul had found cell reception and had contacted the campground. When I called from the top of the mountain, I had asked the important questions: what kind of food they had, how soon could I get it after she picked us up, and did they really have milkshakes? And if they had milkshakes, what were the flavors?  I got all of the positive responses I could wish for and then began the mountain descent in earnest. She had estimated it would take us 2 hours to reach the base by the bridge and I was hoping she was factoring in our age and the fact that we were flatlanders. I probably made the best time ever on that downhill run, dreaming of all of the wonderful things that were in front of me. You see, that is what backpacking does for you. It reminds you of all the things we have around every day that we can't always have if we were away from civilization.  I was really in the zone until we found ourselves waiting next to the other hikers that made me remember that even backpacking has a class hierarchy going on.
As long as they understood that I was first in line when we got to the campground diner, we were going to get along fine....

Monday, July 16, 2018

Bugged Out In Virginia: Part 9 - The World's Most Popular Campground

I stood outside my tent, looking at the colorful array of tents all around me in every direction, in a place where you might expect to see a person or so. We were on top of a mountain, far from civilization, I thought. This should have been a place of woods, and possibly 4-5 people blending in with the surroundings. Instead, it looked like I was at Woodstock. . Another thing was in spite of my light sleeping, if you can call what I do on these trips 'sleeping', I was apparently one of the last people to get up. The Boy Scouts were hard at work and all around me people were putting their tents away, brushing teeth, boiling water, and more. The youngest scouts were getting lessons on how to pack things, and finding out who had KP duty that morning. Somehow through all of this, Paul snored on. As I surveyed my surroundings and marveled that we had somehow managed to find a postage stamp-sized bit of grass to pitch our tents in the dark, I found another amazing thing...there was Popeye, kilt and all, emerging from his tent on the far side of our group. It turned out that he had shown up way past dark and managed to find a spot anyway. It seemed that he could hike faster than us, but liked to take his time stopping to just enjoy a beautiful view now and then. This was quite different than the normal through hiker, who seemed to be seeing how fast they could get this thing done.
People were everywhere and everything was wet, but not as wet as it could have hadn't rained the night before and we knew that we had dodged a bullet there. I finally got Paul going and by that time only one or two people were left at the campsite. What we found out from some of the scout leaders was that inadvertently, two scout troops from two different states planned a trip to the same place on the same night. What we didn't understand beforehand, was how they ended up here with so much stuff. It turned out there was a gravel road only a mile away. There was nowhere to park, but plenty of room for a bus to drop off a load of kids and camping gear. They were going to hike 5 more miles to another spot and then get picked up again. There were plenty of grumpy backpackers about all of that, and how it's against the rules to have more than 8 people in a group, but the advice I gave the scout leaders was this: bring cookies. A nice package of Oreos will shut up even the grumpiest through hiker, and Paul would probably carry their packs for a bit as well.
We hiked on out of the shelter area on to the top of the mountain where we encountered Popeye once again, sitting there in his kilt, in a field of tall grass, free of trees and an almost unobstructed view of mountains in all directions, except for the giant radar tower behind him. We stopped and talked for a bit, wondering aloud if the radar tower keeper ever shared snacks with hikers...sort of a trick or treat thing? But no friendly ranger appeared, and we marched on, me fully renewed in my talk about the village of Glasgow, with free showers, more pizza than a man could eat, milkshakes, brownies, and probably the most coveted thing in the world: a hamburger. I didn't dare let my mind wander to the sides I would have with that hamburger...would they have those crappy shoestring fries, or those really good crinkle cut steak fries? Paul tolerated this for a few hours and then came back with how we had to stick to the plan and Glasgow wasn't on it.....