Backpacking in West Virginia

Andrew and I spent our Memorial Day weekend in the woods. We went with our backpacking Meetup group down to the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. Before this trip, my only experience with West Virginia had been driving through the tiny northern sliver along I-70 on our way back home to the Midwest, but that little sliver made a big impression with me. The steep hills give way to beautiful views of mountain valleys. I was thrilled when Christine picked West Virginia for this trip. The drive down took seven hours. We took Friday off from work so that we could arrive at the campgrounds before dark. Skirting the District of Columbia always takes time and patience; I was lacking in patience because I had forgotten to drink coffee that morning. The upside of our cafe at work is that we stay nicely hydrated on our choice of coffee, tea, pop, and lemon water; the downside is that I have developed a caffeine dependency due to the massive amounts of coffee that I drink.

Last summer was a bum camping year for us, due to the apartment flood and subsequent move, so I was eagerly anticipating the time outdoors. I feel like I'm slowly getting better at the backpacking - specifically the packing part of it. It is so easy too bring too much food and gear, to think the pack "isn't that heavy," and then to suffer all weekend because of it. Last year we brought too much food and I brought too much clothing, but this year we did so much better. We brought just the right amount of food and I greatly limited my clothing by packing it all in one small bag. The only things I added over last year were a light mesh bug net for my head and a lightweight packable chair, both weighing less than the extra food and clothing that I didn't bring a long. They were great additions in terms of comfort, especially having a chair back after a long day's hike.

The hike itself was lovely. The trail was relatively flat, a welcome change over last year when we hiked on the west rim of the park referred to as the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. The trails were thickly forested, lined with giant rhododendrons. Hiking in the shade is so nice, not having to worry nearly as much about sunglasses or sunscreen coverage wearing off. This hike had a new feature for me - stream crossings. At several different points on the second day, we had to take off our hiking boots and switch to water shoes (sandals in my case) and cross the stream, with the water reaching up to mid-calf at most places. The cold water felt wonderful, numbing our tired feet in between stretches of the hike. Once we reached our campsite, Andrew and I went wading up to our waists in the cold water and I sat on the edge of a waterfall.

Sometimes I try to explain backpacking to my friends, coworkers who aren't outdoorsy, and I struggle to make it sound appealing. Bugs aren't fun. Climbing, out of breath, up a hill isn't fun. The way my mind clears about three hours into the hike, though, is really wonderful. I'm able to start composing stories in my head, solve the unsolvable problems. The soreness the day after we get back is fun, because it tells me that I did something with my weekend, that I used my muscles and saw a view of the world that I can't get by driving to a scenic overlook.

I don't have any pictures to share. Our good camera is heavy and the light camera wasn't sufficiently charged. If you want a look at the Monongahela National Forest, check out the pictures on Google Earth.

A note about Meetup:

If you ever have to move to a new city, I highly recommend using Meetup to find other like-minded groups of people. Meetup is a site for groups to publicly post their events - some are free, some are paid, depending on the group. Andrew belongs to a rock-climbing group, a couple of mountain biking groups, and this hiking group. I belong to a book club, a local "do fun stuff" group, and the hiking group. Meetup sends email alerts when a new event is posted.