wild, wet, and wonderful, West Virginia.
Country roads really can take you home... It started late on a Thursday night when we headed from Winston Salem, to Elkins, West Virginia to meet Stewie (about a 5 hour drive). Rain was in the forecast for the whole weekend, but I was going to be hiking with two marines -- so I wasn't really worried.
Spending this first night at a hotel, we woke up early Friday and headed towards Dolly Sods Wilderness in the Monongahela National Forest. Located in Grant, Randolph, and Tucker Counties - it was about a 2-hour drive from Elkins (7 hours from Winston now).
Within Dolly Sods is the Red Creek. This creek drains and because of this drainage, a shrub-land habitat is produced containing bogs and heath Eco-types that have acidic and free-draining infertile soil. What does that mean? Think spongy. You know those playgrounds that have the rubber floors? It's like that... a big squishy sponge. These areas are typically found farther north, like Canada/Alaska. But here they are, in West Virginia sitting high and just waiting for you to explore. Full of grassy meadows, red spruce trees, hardwoods forests, and an incredible ecosystem like nothing else around, we were packed, prepared, and ready to take on West Virginia at full force.
If you were wondering - the drive was something out of a magazine. Curvy roads, farm houses with wrapped around porches, and nothing. Absolute nothing. No phone signal (we lost that hours ago), no direction, and no worries.
West Virginia, take me home.
The sky was full of clouds and the wind was whirling wild as we made our way to the parking area around lunchtime on this Friday afternoon.
We were absolutely pumped.
Leaving one car at the Blackbird Knob Trailhead (4.7M) and one at the Red Creek Trailhead (6.4M) -- it allowed us to hike in and out and drive back to a car when we finished.
So, we started in at the Red Creek Trail and were to do a total of 11.1M in 3-days. In those 3-days we had hoped to find peace, complete solitude, and something else that none of us can really explain - but we seek it, you seek it, we all seek it - the mountains is where it can be found and so we set out in search of it.
So what are your reasons for hiking? I myself have plenty of reasons why, but the one and most prominent is so I can feel grounded. I sit in an office all week with money-hungry assholes. In the office world we fight, we get revenge, we talk about each other, and we do our best to make everyone else's job seem less important than our own. It is there, where egos get the best of you. So to the mountains I go for an escape.
There's something about being with yourself and just being lost in thought. Peace. Quiet. Stillness. Air. What other reason do you need other than to just get away? Here in the woods all 3 of us are the same. We are equal individuals with one goal: hiking in, eating, sleeping, hiking out. Nobody to judge, nobody to hurt, nobody to worry about -- except each other.
We found wild onions growing off in the forest and Stewie ate them while we watched -- because I'm not really the onion loving type.
We soon found ourselves completely immersed in the forest, and the feelings I long for soon crept over me as I began to feel alive.
As we continued hiking in, the day was beautiful. No clouds, no rain, and just the sun and a little breeze. We had made it to a stopping point around dinnertime and began to set up camp. We didn't see very many people and it was really nice to feel like the only 3 people in the world.
We went ahead and pulled our two tents together, putting a tarp overhead to protect against the forecast of rain.
Packs off and still a little daylight left, we hiked to the top of a hill to catch a view of the river and a couple of small waterfalls.
I was able to take my camera and get pictures here, however, this would be the last time my camera came out of my pack. Everything else is from our phones, and the GoPro...
Here is where the first droplets began to hit my forehead, and we quickly decided it was time to get back to camp so we could fix dinner and prepare for the worst.
Getting a fire started and having the weirdest of dinners -- macaroni and cheese with bits of chopped up hotdog, and all inside a tortilla wrap -- this actually completed me in more ways than one. We also carried in a beautifully crafted Barrel-Aged Maple Scotch Ale from Sierra Nevada, that is appropriately named, "Into the Woods".
Having ate and drank the dinner of champions, we were soon ready to call it a night as the rain kept coming in and we were getting tired.
Waking up to more rain on Saturday, we quickly fixed breakfast: scrambled eggs -n- bacon -n- cheese. And the rain that had been predicted, was here. And it rained, and then it rained some more. It didn't stop raining, actually, and it would continue to rain for the rest of our time. This rain wasn't a downpour, which I am thankful for, but it was definitely wet... we embraced it fully and ventured on.
The weather was still nice, I wasn't cold, wasn't hot. A good in-between. I had brought some "water shoes" from Amazon (ALEADER Mesh Slip on Water Shoes). We were to cross the river a few times and they held up exceptionally well. I was able to hike in them all day and besides my feet getting a little muddy, they provided great grip and moderate protection considering the environment I was in. Costing less than $30, I was very pleased.
Also giving me protection from the elements were my Marmot Raincoat, REI Co-Op Traverse Backpack rain cover, and my favorite cheap Amazon fleece leggings. All of these things became necessary and provided much comfort and protection as I never once became soaked.
Hiking all day on this particular day -- we explored some, hiked some, ate some, and enjoyed the time spent with each other. It was absolutely beautiful.
We soon found ourselves on top of a mountain bog. It was incredible. The ground was so soft, spongy, and just, something like I have never seen before. We were the only ones out here. I really felt free.
Finding our way under a group of hardwood trees, this provided the necessary coverage from the rain and we set up shop. We saw deer, listened to the frogs moan, and attempted to start a fire, but that idea was a little far-fetched as the ground and wood were relatively wet...
We were here, for what felt like forever. We huddled inside the tent for most of the night, eating soup and talking about everything, about nothing, and about whatever else in between. There in that moment, was a bond created between the three of us that will remain indescribable, but forever memorable. Stewie and my Ginger have known each other for a long time. Spending time together as young Marines, and continuing to spend time together as adults, they have been through a lot. Hearing their stories, asking my own questions, and hearing them relive some difficult moments from the past, were some of the special moments during this night.
As we all tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags and drifted away in sleep, we all knew, that this had been a night and more importantly, a trip, that would stay in our hearts and carry us through the harder days that were bound to come as we made our way back into the "real world". Sharing moments like these with others is something that doesn't happen often, and I find it to be the most rewarding part of camping as we immerse ourselves into the wild. THE BOND created will forever be ours, and maybe that is the best description I can give, that is my reasoning behind setting out into the wilderness.
If you give three people nothing but the essentials for 3-days, they will come out with the knowledge, the peace, and the love that otherwise would have been missed, in a world that begs for materialistic attention.
The next morning we woke up, and got the hell out of Dolly Sods.
Wet, miserable, and ready for that bag of Doritos I had in the car, we hiked up, and along the river until finding the best place to cross. The river was raging, and once we did cross, the current was extremely strong and we hooked arms to carefully maneuver over.
Finally approaching the end of the trail where our second car was parked - we felt a sense of relief as we had made it. Feeling accomplished, refreshed, and ready for anything, we picked up our other car and parted ways, heading back to our lives.
The mountains of West Virginia are much different than home. Of course, the rain gave us a much different perspective, but I find that perspective isn't everything and it's much more important to indulge yourself in the present moment. Never let a perspective stop you from truly seeing the opportunities that lay ahead.
Out here our opportunities are endless. Out here we were able to escape it all for a weekend. Out here, there were the three of us, West Virginia, and just a little bit of rain.
In the end nothing can stop us from the need to escape. "Come to the woods, for here is rest." -- John Muir