Last weekend, my friend April and I went hiking at Thompson Wildlife Management Area, off exit 13 of I-66 in Virginia. The weather was a crisp, clear 60 degrees. We got out the door at 7:30 on a Sunday, which I think is a pretty noteworthy accomplishment all on its own. Sunday mornings are my favorite time to go for a hike because there is never any traffic on the roads, a rarity in the DC metro area. But, shh, don’t tell anybody; I want it to be our little secret.
We got to the trailhead at about 9am and proceeded very quickly to get lost (hey, we don’t mess around!). OK, more accurately we weren’t sure which was the first turn on the route because the book I was using specified “70 yards” and apparently the trail has moved in the years since the book was written (or, ya know, something like that). And with the exception of the A.T., the local trails aren’t well signed or blazed. We quickly regained our bearings and got on our way.
As our designated Spider Sweeper, my face and arms made friends with every web in our path, and there were quite a few. In fact, I collected the many fibers and brought them home. I think I’m going to knit a scarf out of them…and use the leftovers to make socks. In addition to the onslaught of spiders, in a patch of small-budded wildflowers we came across a hoard of butterflies. In fact, I got to chit chatting with one, and he accompanied us down the trail for a while. He was a pleasant fellow, if a little flighty (giggle, I do amuse myself so).
Oh! And I can’t even begin to describe how excited I was to hear the hollow hammering of a woodpecker’s beak against the trunk of a tree at one point. I stopped dead in my tracks just to appreciate it. And, of course, Woody the Woodpecker immediately popped into my head. What, you thought you’d get through this post without an old cartoon reference?
At another point, I was a little disconcerted to hear the sound of a rifle repeatedly shot in quick succession. I had looked online on the Virginia game department’s website before leaving for the hike as well as read the information boards at the trailhead to check the latest on the hunting season in the area. It confirmed that 1) groundhogs and doves are currently in season and 2) Sunday is a “no hunting” day in Virginia. So, when we heard the shots, I thought 1) I’m glad we’re both wearing bright colors, 2) sounds like the crud has been pulverized out of that animal (or the hunter’s a terrible shot), 3) it’s Sunday!! Argh!
The main reason I wanted to hike in this area is that the route follows the A.T. for about five miles and intersects two shelters. I thought it’d be a good idea to get a visual since I’d never seen one before. I’m glad to have made that decision because it turned out to be a great hiking spot. Just about the whole hike is in the shade of trees with only moderate grades throughout (3,200 feet of elevation change total) – nothing too steep for me and my 30 pound pack. There’s a patch where we hiked past Thompson Lake, which incidentally is awfully low against the high water line right now, and another patch that abuts private property with views of rolling pastures on the other side. And we came across less than maybe 20 people over eleven miles of hiking, including a few women on horses (who incidentally pointed us back in the right direction when we got off course…us lost? I’ve never heard of such a crazy supposition).
The A.T. shelters were definitely not what I expected. We stopped in at the Dick’s Dome and Manassas Gap Shelters. Each had a different style, the former a “geodesic dome” shape and the latter similar in appearance to a log cabin. However, they were both solid structures with three walls (and one wall open). Each had a clean outhouse nearby as well as a tall metal bear pole in the vicinity. The bear pole resembled a really large free-standing coat rack with a heavy metal prong attached by metal chain link, which appears to be for hanging a food bag on one of the high “branches.” I was anticipating coming across a ramshackle wooden lean-to with a tuna can on a string to hang food. Maybe these were the exception, not the rule, but they were a pleasant surprise nonetheless. Wilderness, shmilderness, this felt like the Ritz (crackers, not hotels).
The one thing to be aware of about this hike is that traversing some of the side trails (i.e. – not the A.T.) felt more like bushwhacking than a stroll in the woods. The trails are clearly not heavily trodden and have an entire summer’s worth of nature attempting to reclaim its territory. There were several spots where I made the acquaintance of blackberry bushes. How do I know they were blackberry bushes, you ask? Well, when I was in AmeriCorps in 2004, my team had a project where we removed invasive Himalayan Blackberry bushes from river headwaters, and I have the scars to prove it. Those buggers have an easy-to-tell leaf structure and thorns lining their stems. They’re unmistakable to me. And, let’s just say my arms were a little worse for the wear after the hike. We also found ourselves doing a fair bit of climbing over and under tree trunks and branches strewn across the path, which – I do declare – was pretty fun.
During the entire hike through Jumangi, there was only one frustrated blowup at Nature. Now, I’m not going to tell you which of us was unhappy with aforementioned Nature [points at April], but she’s come a long way toward making peace with the out of doors. If you knew her, whichever of us I’m talking about, you’d forgive her unhappy moment, methinks; I mean, she did spend three days in the hospital nine years ago as a result of a nasty brown recluse bite. And now she’s joining me on my crazy hikes through the woods, Peter Pan Lost Boys style. <Sniffle, tear> So proud.