Muddy Paws and Burnt Marshmallows

When it comes to camping I feel that one can have either a secluded experience or one that is more social. This likely depends on one’s own preferences for their trip as well as the camping location. In Shenandoah our experience leaned more-so on the social side than the secluded. Incidentally, those I met tended to find me as opposed to I them. The first group I met was a family of Germans. I had spent part of the previous day attempting to place their accent, but when I actually met them their origins were apparent. I was digging around in the car for one thing or another, when the father of their group came over, inquiring as to whether or not I had a wine opener. I did! I gave him my pocket knife, its little swirly magig to be used for the first time. He thanked me proclaiming that I had saved their dinner, and invited me to roast marshmallows with his family after they’d had dinner.

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Our own fire never really managed to actually…become a fire. The German family had a better, albeit smaller one than is shown here. I blame the wood.

Later on, both Meleah and I went over, roasted marshmallows (the children were all shocked when I stuck mine straight into the fire; I received a few “failed” marshmallows after that) and discussed. Overall, they were fascinating to talk to. The conversation contained a variety of subjects such as obesity, global warming and Meleah’s dysfunctional camp stove. The two adults were environmental journalists. They were from Berlin, visiting the man’s brother in Washington D.C. We talked about how Germany has a female president. Meleah and I expressed that we would favor having a female president elected in the U.S. This sparked a discussion wherein the German man basically said that he did not feel that she was doing any better or worse than male presidents before her. The summary of our reply was that we hoped for just that. It was not that we felt a woman would do better; we wanted a female president instated to show that a woman is equally capable of both the successes and mistakes of male presidents.

We also befriended a hiker off the Appalachian Trail called Muddy Paws. She was a total badass. She’d double majored in English and History with a minor in physics. She was fluent in French and Arabic. At some point she’d lived in Idaho where she got a job working for a pregnant Native American woman. Working with Native Americans is the sam
I found Muddy Paws descriptions of hiking the AT particularly interesting. On the trail everyone has nicknames. For example, I met another AT hiker called Little Bird who was staying with Muddy Paws for the night. They told me about another hiker they’d met who snored really loudly—his nickname was Gilgamesh. She also told us about how all along the trail there are small huts where campers can sleep. Muddy Paws she did not sleep in these too terribly often, since they were usually had a lot of very smelly, snoring men. Still, she described camaraderie among hikers on the AT. She’d met a lot of people, made friends and it was common to run into people she’d met earlier on the trail. Little Bird was one of these. They had met earlier and when we met Muddy Paws she was waiting for Little Bird to arrive. Hiking the Appalachian Trail has since been placed on my To Do list.e as working with a foreign country. This later aided her in getting her current job with the Department of Energy in D.C. This woman was hiking around 20 miles a day with her dog. The dog got tired before she did, and she carried it the rest of the way to Shenandoah! She ended up hitch hiking out of Shenandoah, because the dog couldn’t take much more. Moral of the story: I want to be Muddy Paws when I grow up. Whenever that happens…

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Shenandoah National Park: Where the Wildlife Simply Does Not Care

View from the Entrance to a Hiking Trail

Meleah and I’s stay in Shenandoah National Park consisted of overcast skies, intermittent showers and plentiful periods of sunny weather. Sunny days are commonly known to be pretty, and in Shenandoah they undoubtedly were. Nonetheless, when the sky was cloudy, an intermingling of darker and lighter grays, Shenandoah glowed a lush and vigorous green. It was a bit chilly at night. Still, I was perfectly comfortable snuggled down in a sleeping bag, with a sweater, and flannel jammy pants. When it did rain it was usually during the evening or early morning so we had ample time to hike and explore. The park had so much to offer. It has a variety of camping arrangements as well as numerous trails all throughout the park, many of which lead by or to waterfalls. WATERFALLS!

One of the trails we went on called Dark Hollows ended at a waterfall. It was a fantastic walk right alongside a stream with pools to splash about in and many a large and sometimes slippery rock to climb. While hiking, I would sporadically hop off the trail and take advantage of these rocks as seats and write for awhile. I feel that should I ever write a novel these would be the ideal place to do it. The waterfall at the end was not exceptionally large, but it was definitely gorgeous. It was fun too! There were a lot of great spots to climb among the rocks, pools to wade in and I found a tree up among the rocks that had grown in a shape perfectly fitted for my butt. All of which I took full advantage of, but I didn’t get to play in the waterfall itself because Meleah wouldn’t let me ride in her car if I wa

s soaked. The downside to the hike was that it was one of the more popular ones. It wasn’t so bad while on the trail, but people gathered, talked, and took pictures by the waterfall. Luckily, the waterfall drowned out the noise, so I was able to chill on my tree, writing in my notebook and enjoying the waterfall.

Our Ranger Guide

We also went on a ranger guided hike about the park from a geological standpoint. It was really cool. Our ranger was an older guy who had abandoned his career working with computers in some windowless office for the far more enjoyable work as a ranger in the great and wondrous outdoors. He had a huge backpack full of laminated pictures and rocks. Along the trail we’d stop and he would give small presentations. We learned about different tectonic movements that had contributed to the formation of the park, ages of rocks, and different geological formations in the park among other things. On this entertaining, informative adventure we saw a bear! And a daring one at that. Upon sighting it our ranger began calling out “Hey bear,” ensuring it knew we were there. It was a bold little bastard though and charged us. Our ranger immediately began clapping and yelling, which caused the bear to quickly change directions. It ran off a few yards, and began foraging about, generally acting as though nothing had ever happened. We continued on.

We learned soon after that bear sightings had been exceptionally high around the time we were there. This plagued me a bit later that night. One of the only place to get cell service was at the amphitheater, which was quite a ways from our camp site, but still within walking distance. Meleah usually went there a couple times daily. She is a better planner than I. I only called anyone once during our stay there, and it was after dark. I had gotten the strong urge to contact the outside world, so I grabbed a flashlight and went on a walk to the amphitheater. It wasn’t so bad, until I left the camping areas, then I got a little nervous. I walked calmly, but I couldn’t help but think about the black bear we’d run into earlier that day and the fact that there were so many in Shenandoah. Luckily, I stumbled into some fellow campers. It was a middle-aged man pushing a stroller with three small boys in tow. Bear spray is one thing, but I’m pretty sure the best protection against wild animals is children—loud, rambunctious, flashlight wielding children.

Bears were definitely not the only animal showing their face around Shenandoah. When driving in Shenandoah one should be exceptionally careful, because deer are absolutely everywhere and they’re not very skittish. Deer walk through the campsites, they’re along the roads, and once while walking about at night I went right past a group of them sleeping near the shower buildings. They really do not care about your existence as a human being. At one point I watched a woman heading for the restroom stop because a deer had appeared and was walking past her, nibbling at the grass on its way. It was so close she could have reached out and touched it. This would have been a bit stupid, because it is a wild animal. She just held still and watched though.

If I had the chance to go back to Shenandoah National Park I would do it in a heartbeat. It was truly an experience I will not forget.