Published: April 28th 2007April 28th 2007
The deer and me
What an adventurous day. The simple plan of the day was to wake up, grab food, go to Humpback Rocks to do some hiking, come back, and enjoy the rest of the day. As you can probably guess, that's not what happened.
We did get up, and we did get food. We did, also, make it to Humpback Rocks in Shenandoah National Park; however, before we got there, we got stopped and searched by a National Park Ranger/fake policeman. Rob was speeding, and just before we made it to the parking lot below Humpback Rocks, he saw the flashing lights behind him and had to pull over. I really didn't know that National Park patrolmen had the authority to pull people over and write tickets until now. The ranger came up to the car, and before even asking for the car registration, he was interrogating Rob about whether or not we had drugs, alcohol, or weapons in the car along with us. He also tried to make the whole tone of the inquisition conversational by asking us where we were headed and if we had been to Humpback before. It didn't work. We were
perplexed. We gave him no reason to believe we were drunk, or were planning on getting drunk on the hike, or that we were carrying illegal substances, and we answered honestly when we said we had none of the above. The ranger took Rob's license and registration back to the ranger mobile and returned with a warning, but still instructed Rob to get out of the car and stand behind it. Keith and I were amused and confused. We sat in the car, watching Rob empty his pockets of his keys, gum, and wallet.
Whether Ranger Rick found reason to believe that we had pot in the car when Rob pulled out his very illicit belongings from his pockets (chewing gum, you know, is illegal in places like Singapore) or because he wanted to be a fool, he came up to the car and asked Keith and myself to get out. Once we were out, the second ranger (yes... both had to be out to maintain the scene) asked us to stand behind the car as a precaution while the first ranger searched the incredibly empty car with his gloved hands (seriously, there was a cd case, my bag,
and probably an empty bottle of water in the car). He found nothing. But before we could get back into the car, the second ranger asked Keith to empty his pockets. He pulled the actual fabric out of his pockets, displaying only his car key. I laughed out loud. The whole deal was so ridiculous that it was hilarious. When we got back in the car, Ranger Rick told us that we were asked to step out of the car because Keith looked nervous. It made no sense at all, and we were stunned at what just happened when we were allowed to drive off to the parking lot of Humpback.
The whole, strenuous way up to Humpback Rocks was spent talking and laughing about our flirtation with the law. I only wish I had taken a picture or video of the whole thing, but looking back on it, I probably would have been handcuffed and taken away, accused of a serious crime, and locked away for life knowing how insane the park patrol rangers are in Virginia. Although that video would be a hit on YouTube. It'd be so "My Cousin Vinny," national park style. We were still
laughing about it when we finally reached the top of the mountain, panting and out of breath, but completely enamored with the view. The trail itself up is a steady climb up and at times, seems vertical. The entire area is wooded, though you can peek through the still budding trees and see the blue silhouette of the mountain range. It was sensational. After about 20 minutes of heart pounding exercise, we turned the corner and saw it: the Humpback Gap overlooking the valley below the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The rocks jut up and out of the mountainside at a decent angle and give you these wonderful panoramic views of the mountains and valley below. I can't stress how impressive the views are. The pictures don't do them any justice at all. When you stand on these rocks and look around you, you have to wonder how far you can actually see. As you move out the end of the rocks (if you can brave the strong winds that rush past you), the views become more sweeping and commanding. It's impossible to take the scene all in and digest it; I wish I could--there's just too much to see
at once all together. When you look down, you see the tiny tops of trees and part of a road that curves around alongside the mountain before disappearing. When you look out past the rocks, you can see the rise and fall of the outlines of mountains tinted in various shades of blue. Looking around you can also see in the valleys little communities that are blessed with waking up to this environment each and every day. The day itself was a bit foggy and misty, but every now and then we'd get a patch of sunlight that would roll around the valley and light up the landscape. It was truly fantastic. We took our obligatory pictures of the vista, spent a few more moments taking in the day, and decided to head back down.
Heading back down proved difficult, more difficult that the walk up. Both difficulties were of physical nature--the first being a physical hardship of the body, the second, a physical hardship of our location. In other words: we got lost. Bad. When we got off the rocks and back in the woods, we found a path that we assumed would loop back to the trail
we took up. Why we didn't turn around when we ended up in the woods with no path and only the slope down to guide us is beyond me, and a question I continued to ask myself the further and further away we became from knowing where we were and the closer and closer we became from the sun setting. At the time, just heading down seemed like a good idea, I guess, and we soon cleared out of the woods and found a path. We looked around for a second, saw where the path descended, and decided down was still the direction we wanted to go.
So we started walking. And walking. We were going down at a grade not even worth mentioning. For an hour and a half or so we were on seemingly flat ground, barely descending in altitude, we walked back and forth on switchbacks that struck me as handicap accessible. Keith mentioned at one point, an hour into the trail, that it appeared as if we weren't going anywhere... and that was the truth. A little bit later, at a fork in the trail, Rob saw some grass and predicted we'd be at our
parking lot soon. We were a bit hopeful, only to find that after the grassy patches we were greeted soon with a rise in altitude. We had a conference and, on Keith's suggestion, went back to the fork in the trail and took the other way down with the promise that if the trail took us to our demise, Keith would be the first to be fed to the vultures.
That trail went down faster, and at first was very promising. That didn't last long. We noted at the very beginning that the trail looked comparatively less used that the other one we were on. It reminded me very much of the Robert Frost poem... "two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." It didn't make much of a difference to us. We soon hit an increase in vegetation and fallen trees before we lost the path completely. It wasn't looking good. We had to turn around.
As we turned back and around, our luck turned around a little bit too. Coming back up along the path, we met another hiker who was
incredibly more prepared for the day than we were, complete with two hiking poles and all, and learned that we were indeed on the Appalachian Trail. He was hiking with a friend who was up on the trail we were at before turning around and told us to bushwhack up with him so we could look at the map in the friend's possession. We did, some of us with more difficulty than others (read: my jeans were really starting to constrict me at this point), and met the guy with the map. It didn't help us much because our trail wasn't on the map, but it helped us more than we could help ourselves. We discovered we had two options: continue on a few miles to a shelter and then hike a few more miles down to the parking lot, or head back up the long and winding trail. In the end, we decided to take the lesser of two evils and return where we came from, back up the flat track of land into forever; however, on the way back up, it seemed to go up a lot more than I had remembered it going down. Maybe it was
exhaustion and fatigue and severe hunger that made it seem so, but the trip back up the mountain was not delightful at the time. It took us about an hour and a half to finally get back to our trail that we needed to be at, during which time I transformed into hungry bitch mood to delusional, wouldn't pass a field sobriety test mood (if only Ranger Rick could have seen me then). I had a rather hard time walking towards the end, and when I wasn't walking or running to chase the deer we saw in a random spurt of energy, my knees were shaking pretty bad. Getting to the car was a huge relief, and getting food was an even bigger relief. I could have eaten a bear, I was so hungry.
The rest of the night went off without a hitch. Rob retold the day's story to everyone he saw, and we spent our last night in C'ville hanging out in the house with Rob's roommates. It was a great night again, though I kept thinking how sad I'll be when I have to leave tomorrow. I have a big enough problem with endings, not to
mention real endings with some of the people and the location. I mean, I really have enjoyed coming to visit in Charlottesville and have met a lot of great people in the last year. Why else would I take five visits in a little over a year? It's been great, and while I'm not looking forward to leaving, I'm gonna love the drive back to Champaign tomorrow because I get to stare at a map when I'm not driving. It's going to be great!
There are more photos below