Sperryville, VA: Shenandoah National Park

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Flag of United States  , Virginia
Saturday, June 30, 2012

On Saturday morning, June 30th we had trouble communicating with our posse due to the downed towers, electrical wires, and other infrastructural damages in Sperryville, VA.  I left the Marriott in Strasburg, VA with a wheat bagel as my only solid food to fuel a 7-hour hike; I love the Marriott but this one has the worse breakfast options.  My first attempt to explore Shenandoah National Park did not seem to go very well.

At the Old Rag Trailhead, Watky and I spoke to NPS Ranger Aubrey Smith about the hiking route; she recommended that we complete the 10.39-mile loop instead of reaching the summit and descending back the same route.  She insisted that the nearly two-mile stretch of exposed boulders that we would have to scramble over would slow us down and that we'd have to move against opposing traffic which would create a bottleneck effect at narrow passages.  We didn't see our posse at the rendezvous time of 9am; 45 minutes later, I made the call to gear up and go ahead with the hike.  In Colorado the ascent time is usually 6am with a 15 min. wait time; we'd leave thereafter or risk dealing with an afternoon lightning storm.  After moving only 3 feet from the car, Thinh, Cindy, Kong, and 12-y.o. Jimmy walked up to greet us and we were soon off on a mission to take Old Rag (3291 ft / 1003 m).  We would gain 2,688 ft. of elevation in about 3 hours under very humid condition.  We found ourselves shedding our layers; my wicker shirt was soaked...thank goodness I brought a small hand towel.  Along the way, we taught little Jimmy about life science.  I showed him the circular pits called "opferkessels" created by standing water erosion and the microscopic life forms that thrive in there.

Beginning in the 1920s the Commonwealth of Virginia slowly acquired the lands through a controversial act of eminent domain (the right of government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation) and handed it over to the Federal Government on the condition that it be made into a national park.  Many families were forcefully uprooted and the entire community eventually dissolved; the few who stayed eventually passed on.  I believe Annie Lee Bradley Shenk was the last official resident of the national park until her death at age 92 in 1979.  The Commonwealth intended to ban African Americans from the park entirely at its formation, but when the Fed objected (not because they disagreed with a Jim Crow Virginia) the Commonwealth settled with enforcing its segregation laws in the park's facilities.  It was not until after WW II that the National Park Service desegregated all facilities in all national parks.  I was very satisfied when I arrived on the summit.  The view of the rugged landscape of north western Virginia was breath-taking.  I'm spoiled with the untamed wilderness of the high Rockies but this isn't a bad place!  I enjoyed the rock scrambling and wondered what it would be like to be here in an October weekend when the deciduous trees explode in colors of lemon, orange, and strawberry.   Atop a prominence on the summit, Kong performed tai-chi while the others searched for the peak marker or took refuge under the low lying trees from the intense sun ray.  I jumped from boulder to boulder without a care in the world and Watky posted the video on Facebook.  My Garmin watch ran out of battery and didn't capture approximately a mile of the trail; I had to recharge it so in the picture below you'll see an extrapolated straight line.  We were actually hiking a little south of the Brokenback Creek which I dipped my towel in to take an elephant bath.  

In that thick salty Hell of the Virginia heat, I found a heavenly refuge along the creek's cool rocky bank.  Sitting there under the canopy of tall summer trees for just a moment with eyes closed and Life's Pleasures on my mind, the cool water transported me to the top of Rascal Summit in the Lost Rat Couloir at the foot of the Great Continental Divide. I found myself quietly reciting an excerpt from Dante's La Vita NuovaIn that Book which is my memory,On the First page of the Chapter that is the Day when I first met you,Appears the words, "Incipit Vita Nuova." / "Here begins a New Life." 

I find myself missing Home...and for some reason, the rock scramble reminded me of a quiet time along a beautiful California coast with my Santa Barbarian, Noelle, in our black T-top F-body 4th generation Camaro.  We were parked at an undisclosed location, perhaps at North America's greatest meeting place of Land and Sea with a commanding 50-mile view.  We saw the fog magically rolled in and gawked at each other with animated facial expressions.  We now live separate lives and keep in touch at life's convenience.  I don't think I will ever stop thinking about her.  How could anyone stop thinking about the most beautiful red-head on Earth?  LOL!!  Thinh called out as he left the creek and I rushed to follow him back to the trail and re-initiate the descend.  At the end of which, an ice cold home-made apple cider made me forget the heat.  A few miles drive down the road I found myself devouring a delicious burger at a local diner, that would have otherwise had a fair taste.  It's incredible how hunger changes one's taste buds :)

In my study after a great trip
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