Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts tagged ‘deer’

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park

August 7,8, 2018

Martha was having 12 ladies over for bridge. We have a small house, so I decided to retreat to the mountains in the Airstream. I am embarrassed to admit I have never been to Big Meadows, and why pack up all that stuff and only go for one night, so I signed up for two. It was 91 degrees, and I worked up a good sweat by the time I got everything packed up. It’s a beautiful drive from Stanardsville on 33, then north on the Skyline Drive. We have had great rains, and everything was so green and lush, with flowers blooming everywhere.

A very nice lady, Elizabeth, checked me into the campground. I chose a site that was a foot too short. They don’t like you to have a tire on the grass, so it took me a while to wiggle the truck into a reasonable spot. I was backed up to the forest with some tent sites, but no one was in them. This is a big campground and it was busy, especially for a Tuesday, but it was a good 10 degrees cooler at 3600 ft. I explored the campground and went to the Visitor’s Center. There is a good walk-through history of the making of Shenandoah National Park. On the other side is a huge picture window looking over the meadows across the parkway. I wandered out on the porch looking for what animals might be out there. I poked through the adjacent camp store, which was big and well-stocked.

I was tired by the time I got back to camp, so I built a fire in my new Solo Stove. It worked great, as advertised. All the holes around the top and bottom allow the fire to burn efficiently and hot. Sitting around a campfire is great on a perfect night. Looking into the fire is mesmerizing. However, the smoke is another thing altogether. It seems to chase me around the fire. Move my chair and it follows me. Often I have to close the Airstream windows so the smoke doesn’t go in.  Try to cook over or in it is a unique, smoke-filled challenge. The Solo Stove, as it is advertised, burns more efficiently, so there is less smoke, and it goes straight up. On this night, I am happy to report, it burned as advertised. By the time I finished dinner and the sun went down, the temperature dropped quickly. Somewhere in the night, I pulled the blanket up……in August……in Virginia!

By 6:00 in the morning, I was parking the truck next to the meadows and loaded my camera gear. I was late! There were already five people walking up the road, and two serious photographers setting out ahead of me. One was a lady with a nice Cannon camera and lens, the other a man with a tripod, big telephoto lens, long pants and rubber boots. I tried to follow him, but he was gone before I could get ready. A path led left into the field, and I followed it. There were deer everywhere. On the other side of the road, people were taking pictures of them. Soon there were 15 bucks grazing ahead of me. I approached slowly, but it was soon evident they were used to people, and hunting is not allowed in the park. I eased my way until I was within 50 feet of them and started shooting pictures. It seemed they were all 8-point bucks with fuzzy antlers, and they were all fat and healthy-looking. Trouble was they were so engrossed in eating, they rarely lifted their heads. I could see they were watching me out of the corner of their eye as they grazed along. Soon the two photographers joined me, then went ahead. The lady said she had been following them for an hour. She inched her way ahead of them until she was within 15 feet. They couldn’t care less.

In between shots, I looked down and around me. There was so much food, it was amazing – blackberries, blueberries, other berries, and a wide variety of flowers. Butterflies twitted around, sometimes zooming past for long distances. With all this food, I wondered why they were traveling so far. It was partly cloudy, which kept the light perfect for a long time. After several hundred deer shots, I continued up the trail until I saw the gentleman with his tripod set, obviously looking at something. As I approached, he pointed and whispered, “Bear.” I just caught a glimpse of his butt as he walked around a corner. The photographer and I talked for a while. He loves to come here. Living in DC, he got up at 4:00 to get here by 6:00. He said the young bear had walked around for a while, then stood up in front of him, probably checking him out. He spoke to the bear to let him know he was there, and the bear went on eating. As we were talking, the bear walked around a big bush and down the hill. The gentleman said he was going to look for birds along the trees. I followed the bear.

For about an hour and a half, I followed the bear. Same problem though – he was eating so much, he rarely lifted his head. Every couple of minutes, he would briefly check out the surroundings before resuming the buffet. He kept his eye on me, and I on him, but gaining courage, I crept closer. Then he went into some tall stuff, and I couldn’t see him. This made me a little nervous, but it must have made him nervous too because he soon stood up to look around. I clicked off 8 shots before he went back down. A doe walked down the hill before spotting the bear. She turned toward me, walking along the side of the hill, always checking the bear. I was standing still watching both. She walked within 5 feet of me as I clicked off shots. She had a big tag in her ear.

I picked up another trail heading toward the parking lot. Not concerned with wildlife now, I was amazed by the amount of berries and flowers. Then I was walking in water. The middle of the field was a wetland, obviously the headwaters of a stream, probably the Rose River. I went back to the trailer, fixed a cup of tea and downloaded pictures, too many pictures. Thinking I had downloaded all the pictures, I closed the program and reformatted the cards. An hour later I realized there was no standing bear! I had stopped the program too soon! Grrr!

That night while packing the truck, I saw a young bear right behind the trailer. I grabbed the camera and got off a few shots before a ranger came up with an air horn, quickly chasing him off. He said they had to cite two campsites for leaving food out. Brian was his name, and we chatted a bit. He told me the best places to look for bears.

I went to McLean, Virginia on Thursday to visit Sue and Jim Keith. I couldn’t help but stopping at the meadows for a brief walk. It was late in wildlife terms, 8:00. It was sunny, warm, and there were no deer, but butterflies were everywhere. I took a brief walk in the opposite direction of yesterday. I wanted to continue, but it was time to go. I hadn’t driven ½ mile before I saw a young bear cross the road. I stopped and put my emergency lights on. That little rascal scrambled right up a rock cliff and ate berries from a bush half way up. Three bears in two days! That’s pretty good, or were they all the same young bear?

Elizabeth, Brian and another nice gentleman make a great crew at the campground. They are so patient in a busy place with 200 campsites. Lots of Appalachian Trail hikers come to pitch their tents and get a good meal. I want to go back and explore those meadows a bunch more. Wonder when Martha is having bridge again.

Finish Hiking AT in Shenandoah National Park

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Sunday, November 20, 2016

I had seven miles to walk to Compton Overlook to meet Martha. I was sore and tired, but it felt good to be finishing the hike. It was still blowing very hard when we got up, and it was cold. The water bottles weren’t frozen, but they had ice in them. Nick was nice enough to boil me some water for coffee. We didn’t know if Kelly got the messages through the InReach, so we didn’t know if Nick’s girlfriend or Martha would be on the way to pick us up. I figured at worst I would walk or hitch to Front Royal and get a room. 

I set out at 7:30 not knowing what kind of hike I had, but I knew by now that 7 miles is a 5-hour morning for me on this trail. I had a lot of layers on as I started up the steep hill form Gravel Springs Hut figuring I would take some off when I got to the top, but I didn’t. It was cold and that wind was really blowing. The first part was pretty level and the whole day was relatively easy with a couple of mountains to go over. I flushed a couple of grouse at the top of one. That was nice to see. I haven’t seen grouse in Virginia in a long time. Trying to take pictures at the top of the first mountain, the howling wind about knocked me over. It was dangerous, so I moved on, trying to stick to the business at hand – getting to the pick-up spot in reasonable time. I stopped for a breather at one point and a tree limb fell right in front of me. All it would take is for one of these trees to give up in this fierce wind and fall on you. Thank God that didn’t happen. 

The last mountain, Compton, wasn’t so big, but by the ninth day, everything was difficult. I knew it was the last one, so that helped a lot. I was surprised to see hikers at the top. It as Sunday, so I knew people would be out, but it was also cold and nasty with that wind. More hikers passed me on the way down the other side. Someone was bringing a group of community kids up the mountain for a hike, one having a Superman backpack. I shook his hand, congratulating him for hiking up this mountain. Cute kid!

It was difficult to control my pace as I got closer. I wanted to go faster, but you always know that one bad step and there goes a knee or an ankle of a pulled muscle. Every day I felt something sore. Of course the feet are always sore, one way or another, and I had plenty of blisters. Today I felt like I could pull a muscle behind my left knee, the top of the calf muscle. 

I got to the parking lot just after 12:00, but Martha wasn’t there. I had 3 bars on my phone, but couldn’t make a phone call. I could see that she got my message to pick me up, and she replied at 10:15 that she would soon be on the way. I knew that would take about three hours to get here. It was cold standing there in that wind. I drank more icy water in wind that kept wanting to blow my hat into Never Never Land. I took out my rain jacket and put it on for another layer. I didn’t want to take out my long john pants and put them on in the parking lot. People were coming and going, and there were probably 10 cars in the parking lot. I was impressed there were so many out on a tough day like this. It was 29 degrees and blowing gale-force winds. I didn’t see Nick anywhere, and hoped he had gotten through to his girlfriend. 

I walked down the side of the road a couple of hundred yards to keep moving and try to stay warm and also see if I could get cell reception, but that was no use. Even if I got through on mine, what were the odds that hers would have reception? I figured 1:30 was a good target, so I kept walking, once considering getting the sleeping bag out. It might look foolish, but it would be warm! Sure enough at 1:30 I saw that beautiful truck round the bend! It was so good to see Martha! She had a big thermos of hot tea that really hit the spot! 

I requested lunch at Skyland for lunch, although I wasn’t really hungry. I had eaten an energy bar while I waited, but I wanted to drink a lot of something and I wanted that split pea soup! I drank half of the tea on the way. Never having seen this part of the parkway,  we enjoyed spectacular views. It was interesting to drive back past all the places I had walked. It seemed like a long time ago as we went back. Nine days. It’s pretty amazing how far you can walk in nine days! 

When we got to Skyland, it was 28 degrees with a fierce wind. Martha scurried across the parking lot into the building. I didn’t have any scurry in me. No split pea soup so we ordered chicken and rice, which was the best ever, with big chunks of chicken. It was almost like a chicken pot pie without the shell, a meal all in itself. Martha ordered a wedge salad, which was great, and I had the fish and chips, stuffing myself. It’s worth the trip up here just for the soups!

Driving back along the parkway, I wound back the clock, seeing all the places I had crossed days before. It was a lot of mountains to slog over. I think Mary’s Rock was the most difficult, both going up and coming back down. It’s steep with a lot of rocks. On the other hand, I had met a couple from Culpeper who love this hike and come regularly. 

I’m glad I did it. I was sure tired and worn out. No doubt it would be a lot easier for a young person. 10 miles a day is an all-day job for me. I learned a lot, and saw places I have never seen. I feel more comfortable in the woods alone. I know more about how to get water and appreciate it a lot more. There are places I want to come back to with Martha, and I’d like to camp at the campgrounds. I have huge respect for through hikers who spend months on the trail. I can’t even comprehend spending four months hiking the whole thing! Then again, if I were 25 years old, I’d be very tempted. We have a great national park in our back yard. It needs our help. They are understaffed and underfunded, and it is tremendously porous. You can fish any stream with a fishing license on hundreds of miles of trout streams. You can hike hundreds of trails from the bottom and not pay a dime. The only way they get a fee is if you drive the parkway, and you can get a lifetime senior pass to ALL the national parks for $10. You can stay in these shelters for free!  Canada would not let you get away with this, and therefore their parks are in much better shape. 

Day 6 on the AT, Rock Springs to Skyland

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Thursday, November 17, 2016

It’s not far to Skyland, and it really wasn’t a hard hike, but I was worn down. It took me all morning. As I approached, a lovely voice said, “Stay the night!” Huh? “Stay the night. Get some rest.” Great idea! I’m in! I walked down to the lodge and went into the restaurant building, not knowing where to go. I asked a nice-looking young man where I check into a room. He just looked at me, with a big pack on my back, unshaven for six days, older than dirt and exhausted. He didn’t say a word, but motioned to follow him, taking me back out the door, up the steps and across to the Administrative room, opening the door for me. I patted him on the arm that felt like a lineman for the Packers, and said thank you. He just nodded and went on. I wanted to hug him! 

Ever wonder how it possibly takes so long at the airport when you check in? What can they possible be typing? This was the case with the lady checking me in. A large man waited patiently beside her. After what seemed like 20 minutes, she gave me a key. I had asked for the cheapest room, and it was a hike to get there. Fortunately it was all down hill, across from the Conference Center and playground. I never knew this was here. I sat down, barely able to function and called Martha. Fortunately she picked up. I told her I had a room at Skyland, and she could come if she wanted, but I knew she had other things to do. She asked me what I needed, and I gave her a long list. She told me to take a nap and she would be up later. 

Since there was no laundry, I put all my dirty clothes in the bathtub and put Dawn soap and water in it. Then I took a shower, stomping the dirty laundry like I was smashing grapes to make wine. I shaved, put on my second set of clothes and hung the wet clothes all over the deck. Surely the neighbors would love this! Now I had to wind my way back up the path to the dining room and get some lunch. 

I can’t remember her name. Maybe it was Rita, but she was the best! She could see I was tired and hungry. I ordered a Pepsi, split pea soup and the Everything Omelet. Rita filled my Pepsi glass every time I drank it dry. It really settled my stomach, but I’ve gotta tell you, the split pea soup saved my life! I couldn’t eat the whole omlet – only half, and there was a fruit cup that I took with me. I thanked Rita and headed back down the hill. I laid down, but couldn’t sleep. I heard footsteps in the leaves below. Sure it was a bear, I had to get up and check. It was a lady walking slowly along the edge of the grass and leaves. 

Martha got there about 5:30 with two bags. Long johns, pink gloves, a hat, and a complete restock of food. Too wonderful! I could never have made it without her doing this. There was nothing useful in the store – just tourist stuff. Someone later told me they usually have it, but since the season was over, they didn’t restock. 

We drove up to the restaurant for dinner. Another very nice lady waited on us. More split pea soup please, and I’ll try the blackberry lemonade. Both were wonderful. Martha had shrimp, and I ordered trout with rice and something else. Same deal. I kept guzzling that blackberry lemonade, and she kept bringing it. Surely I was dehydrated. I managed to eat the excellent trout and a little rice, but couldn’t manage anything else, but that was more than I had eaten in the last four days combined. 

I was stuffed and tired and fell asleep soon after getting in bed. They have great beds and quilts, so I left the door cracked for some fresh air. The heat system is a bit antiquated, but far better than a hut! At 5:00 in the morning there was a loud growl and Martha screaming about something in the room! Turning on the light, I fully expected to see a bear, but nothing was there. I quickly shut the door. She said it was in her bed, so we tore back the sheets. She said, “there it is!” A baby mouse ran along the wall, scared to death. I reopened the door, and he was quite happy to get the hell out of there. Laughing and relieved, we laid back down. 

She had to go play tennis, and I knew I had to hit the trail. I thought it would be an easy day, but when I looked at the map, it wasn’t. Driving me to where I had gotten off the trail, I thanked her profusely for coming all this way. I could not have made if she hadn’t. I had no way to restock my supplies. I thanked he profusely! She said something about go get ‘em. Finish it! I was happy for the encouragement, the support and the love.