[b]“Brian. Brian. It’s 3:30.”[/b]
I looked out the door of my Notch. It seemed like it was going to be a great morning. The pre-dawn sky was bright on top of the ridge and looked to indicate good weather. I checked my phone. 6:56am. Just a few more minutes before wake-up time.
I leaned up on an elbow to survey the scene a bit better. To the left, Mountain Slayer was passing by his HMG Echo and heading towards me, returning from his morning cigarette. Karan was cowboy camping directly in front of me. Sven the Swedish Hiker was still in his cuben DuoMid to my left. The others were camped behind me.
Mountain Slayer approached my tent. “Before I forget” he said, as he squatted down and laid some cash in front of my tent door.
“What’s this for?”
Oh yeah. Of course.
Rustling sounds from Sven’s DuoMid indicated that he was stirring and getting antsy. If I didn’t give the wake up call soon, I knew he was going to be giving one. “Watch out” I told Mountain Slayer, “this is going to be loud.”
My mouth felt strange as I began the call. Something felt off. I had to focus extra hard to form the words.
“Brian. Brian.” Karan’s voice came from my far right. Not from directly in front of me where I could see him. What the heck?
What? It’s bright out and I had just checked the time - it was approaching 7am. I tried to look at my phone to confirm the time, but there was no phone in my hands. Even stranger, I was in my sleeping bag, laying on my side. It was dark.
My brain worked furiously to reconcile two different realities that seemed to exist simultaneously. The one confirmed by my senses won over the other.
In a rush of realization I understood what had just happened. I had just given a rousing DC UL style wake up call. At 3:30 am. In my sleep.
Yeah, this was going to be an epic trip.
[b]Failing Jesus' Test[/b]
Organizing the cars was already proving interesting. Haley’s Mom, Haley, and Blue Blazes were heading down earlier on Friday to spread out the mileage splits. Merritt and Magnet were coming from directly east of the trail. Brian C. was meeting the DC contingent at the Strasburg commuter lot. That left four of us, B.A., Sophie, Taylor, and me, heading out from Vienna.
After picking up Brian C. we stopped at a Sheetz to grab some food. (Yes, B.A. was driving.) We were sitting around the table eating when an older man with a big biker beard approached our table and squatted down at the end of the table. “Can I talk to you for a bit. I don’t have any money. Can I ask you for some help?”
“I don’t have any cash” Brian C. replied.
“Do you you want some food?” I asked.
“No” the man answered as he stood up. “That’s the great thing about Jesus Christ” he said as he walked away. We all exchanged puzzled looks and statements of how odd that was and resumed eating.
A minute or two later the man reappeared with some money in his hands. “See, I actually have money. I was giving you a test. While you sit there eating and someone comes asking you for help.” and proceeded with a few more seconds of a lecture that didn’t completely make sense to any of us, the gist being though that we somehow had failed a test from Jesus. Then he just walked away.
We devoured our food with renewed pace, as we were ready to leave the oddness of this particular Sheetz behind. Before all of us could finish though, a younger man walked up to our table and put $4 down on the table. “Here, have this” he said, and then walked away.
This was way too bizarre. We watched him leave with the older man from earlier, and hurriedly finished our food so we could get out of there.
We left the weird offering on the table.
[b]The Understated Climb[/b]
Arriving at the Ramsey’s Draft parking lot, we joined Merritt and Magnet who had arrived almost an hour before. We geared up, donned headlamps, and with the high water and the fallen log that had been there for at least the past two years no longer laying across the Draft, started off the trip with a quick feet-wet crossing. After 2.4 miles and 1300 feet of gain, we set up camp for the night.
Aside from the false alarm wake up call at 3:30, which apparently was fully formed and comprehensible, the night passed otherwise uneventfully with lows just above freezing. The real wake up call came at 6:30, with the eastern horizon already a deep shade of red. We watched the pre-dawn sky as we packed up camp, trying to hold out until the sun finally showed itself. But with no clouds to hold the color and the brighter light washing out any interesting shades other than pale blue, and the morning being quite chilly, we lost patience waiting for the sun to show up and started moving before sunup.
Water was flowing well alongside the Dividing Ridge Trail, so we topped off, descended to the road, and ascended up the other side to Hankey Mountain. The climb, while still impressive, was a lot easier than I recalled from the last time. We had some relief over the next few miles with easy forest road walking to Lookout Mountain and dropped down to North River where we topped off on water again. About 17 miles down and another 10 more to go, with Little Bald Knob standing between us and camp for the night at Camp Todd.
I had caught up to Merritt and climbed with him most of the way up to Little Bald Knob. Seven miles and a net gain of over 2600 feet. With multiple 100+ foot drops along the way, the gross gain was certainly a lot higher. About a third of the way up, Merritt declared that I had understated this climb. Yeah, it was a lot tougher than I remembered.
Merritt and I gained the top just after sundown. For some reason I recalled doing a little bit of road walking up there, and wanting to get down to camp without spending too much time night hiking, I hurried down the road with Merritt following me. I could have sworn I had seen some blazes that way, but several minutes in, things weren’t feeling familiar. After going longer than we probably should have without seeing any blazes, even with the earlier experience of the road walk on Hankey Mountain having been poorly blazed, we pulled out the map and turned around. A 2.4 mile detour for Merritt and me on an already big day.
We pulled into camp long after dark, with welcoming shouts from Blue Blazes. She and Haley’s Mom had pulled into camp a bit after 6 after doing the North River crossing. With one foot already on the opposing bank, Haley’s Mom lost her balance and went into the water, so she spent much of the evening drying out her pants by the fire. The crossing didn’t phase Haley, who loved every second of it. B.A., Magnet, and Taylor had all opted for doing the extra 9-tenths and the bridge crossing, getting into camp just after dark. Sophie pulled in a bit after them. Seeing the headlamps across the river, she did the crossing in the dark. Merritt and I opted for the bridge, as did Brian C. who pulled into camp not long after us.
A big day for everyone, with the crew doing the bigger split having clocked 28.7 miles and 6200 feet of elevation gain.
[b]24...25...26[/b] and [b]"You guys can't eat that much!"[/b]
It was much warmer Saturday night, with a front moving in and bringing along some gentle showers starting around 4:30. With the time change, it was Karan who almost gave the early shout this time, wondering why I hadn’t done the call at 6 am like we had discussed, before realizing he hadn’t set his watch back yet.
The rain stopped as we finished packing up. It took a while for the legs to loosen up on the morning climb up to Hiner Spring, the big day before having taken a lot of pep out of our steps for the first little bit. Getting to Hiner Spring, it was time for the home stretch. 24...25...26. Blue Blazes was keeping count of the number of times we crossed Ramsey’s Draft. Everyone’s feet got wet. B.A. switched to flip-flops once rock hopping was no longer possible. We finished with 9.2 miles and 1900 feet of gain on the final day.
Having successfully pulled off the loop, we all headed into Staunton to reload on carbs at Shenandoah Pizza. B.A. doubted just how much hungry backpackers could actually eat. The table barely fit all our food, and we had to momentarily make use of another table before quickly polishing off enough of one pizza to make room for the rest. Needless to say, we all ended the weekend fully sated with food, mileage, and a fantastic weekend out on great trail with good company.
Kudos to everyone for pulling off a much bigger day than I anticipated on Saturday. Extra kudos to Taylor for earning his Veteran stripes on such a big day, and to Merritt for setting a backpacking PR at over 31 miles.
Great trip report! You forgot Corey Hart though :P
That 3:30 AM wake-up call was epic - it just makes me laugh how you gave the wake-up call (something along the lines of "wake-up DCULers, its rise and shine time, time to hit the trail....") all of a sudden while you were dreaming. One of the most bizarre things for me on a DCUL trip. Hahaha!
And that Little Bald Knob climb was a total 3,450 feet elevation gain over 7 miles. http://caltopo.com/m/31FD Ouch!
Inquiring Minds Want to Know: was Little Brian involved in the dream at all?
No, this one was strictly PG.
Now if it had been The Look / DOC putting down the wad of cash, then things might have been a little different, 'cause we all know what that would have been about now, don't we!
Damn, missed the 3:30 am wake up call [:D]