This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure to participate in my dear friend’s wedding in Charlottesville, VA. I took the opportunity to run a little experiment (if you haven’t yet guessed, I’m a fan of experiments) to confirm my suspicion that long hair is more trouble than it’s worth (see Stylish Trail Haircut for context). I waited until 1) Friday rush hour 2) in the DC metro area 3) right before a holiday weekend – what I shall call the perfect “traffic trifecta” – to hit the road. It was my good fortune that the thermometer said 97 degrees (and a gazillion percent humidity) and that my car has no working A/C (look to future blog posts for more of “Jor’s Economizing Habits and Tips”).
Within a matter of minutes, I felt the sweat begin pooling on the insides of my elbows and the backs of my knees, and then beads of moisture formed on the nape of my neck. By the time I arrived at my destination, not only was I suffering from the “I have to pee so badly it hurts” cramps, but also it was impossible to tell that I had washed my hair five hours earlier. In fact, to drive the point home, upon seeing me at the hotel, a friend asked if I was going to shower before dinner. Ipso facto, long hair is more trouble than it’s worth on the trail. Q.E.D.
Now I know my experiment wasn’t double-blind or anything, but I’m pretty sure it’s statistically significant to three standard deviations. So, I guess it’s decided then, the hair’s coming off.
On Monday morning, we all said our goodbyes and parted ways. I drove down I-64W to the Blue Ridge Parkway. There’s a hike about 6 miles off the main road called Humpback Rocks that’s well known in the area. It’s one mile either direction (out and back) with a 700 foot elevation gain. It also hooks up with the AT, so I decided to turn it into about an eight mile round trip. Within ten seconds of turning right onto the Parkway, the decent – if not slightly dreary – day became blanketed in fog, immediately bringing to mind The Hound of the Baskervilles (anybody? anybody? sigh, seriously obscure Sherlock Holmes reference. Blame my parents. What ten year old reads Sherlock Holmes? I mean really. Needless to say, the fog was super eerie). I literally couldn’t see fifteen feet in front of my car. I drove the six miles to my destination cautiously, at one point braking hard as a doe and two fawns startled me on my right.
When I arrived at the visitor center, I stopped in to exchange a few words with the ranger, tied the laces on my hiking boots, and put on my pack – this time gracefully (I’m sure) loaded with canned goods in addition to superfluous water and sleeping bags. I was planning on asking my friend to borrow her toddler for weight, but I didn’t think she’d be too keen on lending away her wee tot. Anyhoo, thus laden, I walked about five minutes to the road and took a deep breath before crossing the Parkway in the dense fog, hoping no cars were approaching. My progress to the Rocks was slow and steady; I managed to hoof it in 35 minutes. After dropping my pack and taking the requisite photos of the white abyss (usually more picturesque on a clear day), I began my hike in earnest to a picnic area 2.7 miles away.
Over the course of the next hour and a half, I trod carefully – if not heavily – in the thick air and increasingly heavy rain. I found myself tired and a bit clumsy, both of which I attributed to the pack and rain-slicked rocks. It began to occur to me that, although only about 2:45pm, it was getting dark with the deteriorating weather. I stubbornly pushed on, thinking I was just a few minutes from the picnic area (goal oriented despite the fact that there was nothing much to “see”), but as it approached 3pm, I thought better of it and turned around. I hadn’t brought a headlamp, and besides, I had several family/friends expecting phone calls from me within a couple short hours; I didn’t want them to worry.
As I reversed course, I also had a snack. Within minutes I felt completely refreshed and re-energized. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d only eaten breakfast and nothing else. I’m usually pretty self aware, but this time it escaped me. The rest of the hike back to the visitor center, I felt like a different person, speedy and sure-footed. I’ll definitely have to take note for later: don’t forget to eat!
A couple of other tidbits I took away from this hike:
1. I need to spend some serious time shopping for hiking shoes and socks. I was wearing an awesome pair of Merrells that I got at an REI attic sale. They’ve served me well through many miles of hiking, but my feet were sliding around like mad with the rain and the steep inclines. By the time I was done, my feet were moist and tender. Another day with those conditions, and I’m sure I’d be on my way to blisters.
2. I really cannot wait to start using my new hiking poles. Up until this point, I’d always borrowed friends’ hiking poles but decided it was time to buy my own. They arrived in the mail (ordered from Sierra Trading Post) on Friday, just after I’d left for the weekend, so I was sans poles for the hike. After falling on my bum a couple of times, poles seemed like a really good idea.
When I finally returned to my car nearing 5pm, I changed into dry clothes and headed back to the highway. As soon as I turned off of the Blue Ridge Parkway, the fog abated, and I made my way back home. All in all, a successful (and eventful!) weekend, if I do say so myself.