Thursday, October 27, 2016

Gusty Gales Howling on my Hike

Determined to build up my leg strength I was up on the skyline Drive once again on Saturday for another hike, this time a bit longer and more strenuous. I had come close to backing out because of the weather, because although bright and sunny through the glass, it was a raging, howling windstorm once the door was opened. I'd opened the patio doors to let Kota and Rosie Lee have some fresh air, and they both rapidly backed away once a gust blew in. We watched as ferocious gusts ripped the leaves from the trees, they twirled and lifted, and were then hurled furiously to the ground.
I left Kota and Rosie Lee inside, snug by the heater, and headed out before their contented coziness convinced me to stay home with them.
I was surprised to see cars already lining up to get in the park and wondered if they were hardy hikers or there just for the panoramic vistas; the wind had blown any misty haze into eternity, the views were clear and magnificent. But starting early as I was, the sun hadn't heated up the day, and it was freezing cold as I set off on the trail I hoping I wouldn't get an earache, I had thoughtlessly forgotten to bring a hat. The winds roared through the branches as I slipped and slid my way down the trail, loose rocks already hidden under a thin carpet of fallen leaves. The noise was so loud from the gales, like an approaching freight train, that sometimes I ducked involuntarily, imagining that a tree was coming down and about to crush me. The leaves rustled furiously on their branches, sounding like ocean waves crashing across a pebble beach.
It was actually quite difficult taking photos of pretty leaves on the ground as they never stayed still, blowing across the trail or billowing up as soon as I got down close to them. I had to take ten photos to get one relatively good image. Everything out here was in constant motion with these winds, and it was cold, so I had to keep moving. I wondered if there would a good chance of seeing bears out here since with the racket from the gales they wouldn't hear me, but then I guessed they'd likely smell me sooner; with all the human hiker scents in the vicinity being slammed into their nostrils from the winds.
I'd turned on to a trail that led further down hill, in fact getting very steep, with huge rocks on either side, and beautiful hues of reds in the ground from the maples above me. I was so intent on clambering down on the rocky trail and taking photos of the beautiful surroundings that it wasn't until I'd hiked another mile or so on flatter ground that I realized I wasn't on my intended trail. I had to turn around and head back since I had no idea where I was walking to. It's amazing that I actually let myself out alone to hike these trails... It was harder work this time climbing up the rocks and I kept stopping to puff and pant at regular intervals. That is the actual path in the immediate photo above.
Eventually I was back on more level ground but still the air was filled with the sounds of trees creaking and moaning as they bent and rubbed against each other. If it wasn't for the bright sun falling on the golden autumnal colors vibrant from last night's showers I may have given up and turned back after a couple of miles, but despite the harsh winds the scenery was beautiful. My cold hands were thrust deep into my pockets after every photo and my jacket was zipped up tight.
I did come across some more fungi on the trails but didn't want to keep checking my phone to identify them, instead wanting to keep my hands in my pockets, but there was a cluster of these odd looking specimens on the side of the trail, about a dozen of them looking like they had just emerged and had some more unfurling to do. Oyster mushrooms maybe?
I carried on walking but then a pine tree made a weird noise as its trunks rubbed together that I swung round with my heart in my mouth, thinking it was a bear snorting behind me. Not even 3 minutes later, after I'd only just pulled myself together from that fright, a bear DID appear, about waist height and crossing the trail 40ft in front of me. He didn't seem to have noticed me with the commotion from the wind so I walked quickly up to where he'd gone, pepper spray in one hand and my camera in the other, but all I saw was a brief patch of black fur in the bushes and then he'd gone. He had looked a little harried so I was kind of glad our paths had only crossed and not collided.
After hiking about 7.5 miles I returned to the parking lot which by now was full of vehicles. The wind had dropped a little but I was glad I'd enjoyed my hike before the hoards had arrived. As I drove out of the park, cars were stretched down the mountain waiting to enter.But I was done with this blustery bothersome weather. I stopped briefly at a farm to buy apples and cider, then headed back home, hoping there would be a free spot on the sofa for me.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Tramping and Tripping along the Appalachian Trail

Monday was a vacation day for me, which I had thought I'd be spending in a horizontal position nursing a sore head after the Redskins afternoon, but instead I was up early and off for a hike. I was doing the Thornton River Trail, a 10.5 mile loop, which some rated as moderate, and some as strenuous, but I had all day so I could take it slow. With bottles of water, snacks and my camera I set off for the Skyline Drive.
Sperryville was quiet as I drove through the town, only a tree full of vultures fanning their wings and soaking up the warm rays of sun were my only sightings of life as I passed through. I found the parking lot and loading up, started walking the trail. I've never been any good at map reading so it was a good mile or so later that I realized I had missed a turn. The supposed copse of pine trees was nowhere to be seen and the trail I was on was climbing higher and higher. Up and up and up it went until I realized I was walking along the ridgline.
But the climb was pretty so I was constantly wondering what was around each cormer. As the sunlight dappled through the leaves small light patches and shadows were cast on the path. The steps with mossy rocks on each side looked so inviting it seemed as though I was walking into a fairyland. So I kept climbing and puffing until I reached the summit where I could ease up on the effort and instead saunter along the trail, kicking up the first thin carpet of brown leaves for this season. Fall was definitely coming here, most of the trees were golden with the odd red tinged maple tree, and the breezes constantly blew down leaves that fluttered past me to the ground.
I saw some amazing fungi as I hiked. This one quite high up a tree was something I'd never seen before and intrigued me with its heart shape. I think it was a Lion's Mane Mushroom which if it was should taste pretty good, like seafood.
I wasn't sure if this was decaying Hen of the Woods mushrooms, there were a few around. I'm pretty certain I came across a few Destroying Angels which I nearly picked because they looked so fresh, and so white, and so much like edible mushrooms but common sense told me not to even touch them.
I'd covered about 3 miles and decided to turn back. i had no idea if I could loop back on another trail as I had no phone signal, and stupidly hadn't brought my hiking book with me so I had to play safe rather than chance getting lost. I did pass a couple of folks who were hiking the whole AT and wished them a safe trip for the remainder of the trail. One young girl though, striding alone, fully loaded with supplies, breezed past me, causing me to cough and suppress the urge to gag. She'd evidently been hiking a long time but wasn't making good use of the bathing opportunities that are available at a few of the shelters. I stared after her as she quickly disappeared into the distance and thanked God I wasn't having to follow behind. After a few gulpfuls of fresh mountain air I'd recovered enough to continue. My hip was hurting so I was glad this would be a short hike, and even happier that I'd be seeing my chiropractor on Tuesday to get straightened out.
The parking lot was pretty full when I arrived but most of the folk there were sitting at tables eating lunch or checking out the gift store. I felt pretty good as I strode to the car having completed  my exercise quota for the day. And the rest of the afternoon could be spent chilling with the cats guilt free. Maybe I'd get a go in that new rocking chair...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hail to the Redskins!

I managed to snaffle 4 football tickets and a parking pass from the Boss Man for the Redskins v Eagles game on Sunday so went up to FedEx field with Steve, Mark and Nick. It was going to be a nail biting game as the Redskins had actually won their last 3 games and the tension between the reds and the greens was always a little high. This made me chuckle as there's also a rivalry between greens and reds among rural folk, but this is referring to tractors, the John Deeres against the Case. I'm a firm red girl, love me a Farmall tractor. I was also concerned about the start of the match since the Eagle's left guard native American Allen Barbre won't call the Redskins by their name, instead preferring the term 'pigskins'. And he was planning a kneel during the National Anthem.
 But despite all the rumors of possible scuffles and trepidation, everyone seemed to be in a great mood, and we never got to see the start of the match anyway since we were busy chugging back a few jars in the parking lots and scarfing some snacks. This was bliss for me as the last 2 games I'd been to were in the pouring rain with zero opportunities or even a desire for tailgating.
 Once we heard the National Anthem being sung we started towards the gates. I was disgusted at the trash left behind in the parking lots and especially the wanton waste of food.
 But we got to our seats without a hitch, which were pretty good, and the boys appreciated the welcoming committee as we sat down.
 There's really no point in a running commentary from me as I barely know one end of the pitch from the other. The game is a hash between English football and rugby with way too much stopping going on for no apparent reason in my book. I understood when a touchdown occurred and that was about it. The game did start off extremely well for the Skins who leaped ahead with 14 points but by halftime the Eagles had nearly caught up, so we resigned ourselves and prepared for the inevitable loss. And got more beer. And then I started focusing on the characters in the crowd rather than the game.
 Then to my complete astonishment, the Redskins zoomed into the lead again, and now the game was neck and neck with a riveting atmospheric tension. Everyone was on their feet and I was cheering at the top of my lungs and waving my beer because everyone else was, and then the Skins won! 27 - 20! The crowd was euphoric with high fives being slapped left, right and center. We had a really cool Eagles fan behind us who we'd been sparring with throughout the game and we consoled him quite sportingly without any trace of smugness.
 Everyone dressed in red was elated, and even the horse cops gave us huge grins. We managed to leave the grounds without too much hassle and were back in Haymarket for pizza and beer before we knew it. The traffic had been a breeze, and the day a resounding success. No hangups, no malice, no fights, no arguments, just a game of ball played and supported by a huge gang of really good sports. And for me, the photo below summed it all up. As Gary Gygax, the game designer and author, said, “Games give you a chance to excel, and if you're playing in good company you don't even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game.”Hear, hear!