Thursday, November 8, 2018

Maryland Rocks: Part 5 - The Roller Coaster

It was a brisk, overcast morning, with a wind that ripped right through your clothes and we were loving it. I had learned to wear layers of light clothes, something that Paul had tipped me off to early on. Your first inclination for weather like this would be to bring the warmest clothes you had in your closet, but besides the weight and bulk considerations, you'd be surprised at how much heat your body generates while hiking up mountains with a backpack. In fact, I carry a 'puffy' jacket nowadays that stuffs into a bag the size of a cellphone, but will keep me warm when we stop for a break. 

This was to be a very interesting day, as we passed through state parks on the way. We were still seeing quite a few of the trail runners passing us in the woods and at one point we came by a very old church with a folding table manned by 3 young people and stacks of goodies on the table in front of them. Paul hurried us by, saying that was stuff for the trail runners that were doing the 50 mile challenge. It wasn't until about an hour later that Andre caught up with us from his late breakfast. He was still slurping on a Gatorade and a bag of chips that he picked up at the table. "Hey did you guys get any thing good from the church table?", he yelled up to us from behind. "I said, "No, that was for the...." and stopped seeing the now-empty bag of chips and watching him drain the bottle of energy drink. Paul said, "Yeah, and now you have to carry that trash until the next garbage can!"
My fingers were clenching and I was counting backwards from ten, telling myself that I didn't really want anything good to eat today anyway. In a few days I would see real food again, if we both lived that long..

It wasn't long before we came to something in the woods that I've never ever seen before: a real campground for backpackers. There was a building with running water, flush toilets, showers, even electricity for Andre to charge up his giant phone that always seemed to be just about dead. Those of you that think sleeping in a tent is the big deal, have never pooped in the woods. They laugh at my giant roll of toilet paper that I carry, but like Scarlet in Gone With the Wind, I will never be without toilet paper again.

While we marveled at this awesome campground that even had a treasured trashcan, a young athletic man walked up with 3 children in tow. It turned out that he was a trail runner and had just finished his run. And...he still had the energy left to watch his kids alone, while they ran all over the campground. All of them were less than 8 years old and did not seem at all shy about running through the woods. There was no sign of his wife about. I seem to remember having trouble taking care of 2 young children alone, and had vowed to never go out in public with them without Pam coming along. Don't get me wrong, I'd gladly take them out alone now that they are in their 30's.

This guy was so full of enthusiasm and life, that I can understand why he didn't warn us about the roller coaster. I mean, we have hiked tough parts of the country, and when we came up to a sign in the woods that warned of the next 13.5 miles of difficult hiking, we initially laughed. "Bah, after Maine, there is nothing in Virginia, Maryland, or West Virginia that can be a big deal." We quit laughing after the first mile. Calling it a roller coaster doesn't make a lot of sense until you see it in person. Usually, trails zigzag back and forth going up mountains, set at some angle that the ATC determines is doable for a reasonable person with a backpack. Whereas this trail slowly went straight up and then back down, throwing in rocks all over the place, just in case the hiker thought that wasn't difficult enough.  Apparently, instead of avoiding this place like the plague, locals treated this as some kind of test. We actually got congratulated for finishing if we had a choice. We were told "not everybody makes it..." I'm glad I heard all of this after the hike, by the way.
I can still remember coming down one of the steep inclines and meeting a backpacker on the way up. We greeted each other with the usual 'morning!' and he followed up with "I'm kicking this mountain's ass!" and I almost believed him...

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