Back to Backpacking: A Trek Through the Highlands

After two months of not being able to do much backpacking thanks to lots of snow and ice, we were finally able to head out this weekend. The destination was Grayson Highlands National Park in Virginia, the temperature was chilly but bearable, and the weather was probably going to rain. Sounds like fun!

The plan called for us to hike along the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the area, from the parking lot to a camping area a few miles down the trail, and back again the following morning. Simple enough, really, as long as you can actually follow the trail. A winter with lots of ice and snow had rubbed the characteristic white blazes that mark the path of the A.T. off a lot of rocks, and following the trail was not always easy. We never got really lost, although we did occasionally meander a bit.

Grayson Highlands is famous for a couple of things: first, it’s dominated by wide-open meadows (called balds) that give it an Alpine feel, which is unusual for the Southeast U.S. Second, wild ponies are allowed to roam across the entire area. They’re very accustomed to humans, and will usually let you get quite close for pictures, although feeding them is forbidden (A.T. thru-hiker lore tells of people who fed them and were then followed for miles by pesky, hungry ponies.)

There was plenty of snow still on the ground, especially under the shelter of trees. This made things particularly interesting when we reached the campsite, as we had to either pick between a campsite that was out in the open and exposed to the wind or a campsite in the trees which was covered in six inches of snow. In the end, we chose a more exposed campsite, and as a result, that night was marked by fitful bursts of sleep punctuated by long periods of nervous wakefulness. Laying awake, watching the wind warp and bow the side of the tent like a particularly flimsy boat sail, and listening to the velcro-fastened vestibule snap back and forth in the gusts, I wondered how long it would be until the tent just collapsed. But as the light of dawn broke, the tent was still standing proudly. It held up just fine until a few minutes later, when someone tripped over one of the stake lines as they were walking by. (Luckily, by then it was time to pack up anyway.)

All in all, a fun trip. The first day was beautifully clear (albeit windy), and the second day… well, it was fogged in, wet, and cold, but still fun. Let’s face it, if you can’t have fun in bad weather, or at least bravely fight your way through it, then backpacking probably isn’t for you.

That said, I am looking forward to maybe one day having a trip that doesn’t involve testing my tent in rainy, high-wind conditions.

March Musings, on the Anniversary of an Adventure

March 8th. Unless it’s your birthday or your anniversary, it’s the sort of day that’s likely to pass unmarked and unnoticed, just another Monday ticked off the calendar.

The last time March 8th fell on a Monday was March 8th, 2004. It’s a day that holds special meaning for me because on that day, I started walking North from Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. I kept walking for about five months and 2,183 miles, and by the time I finished I had hiked the length of the Appalachian Trail. It’s still, without a doubt, the longest, craziest adventure I’ve ever embarked on. (The trail journal I kept during that time can actually still be found online at That also happens to be the longest blog/journal I’ve ever kept.)

It was an interesting time in my life. I had just graduated college in December 2003, but I wasn’t ready to get a job. I wanted to do something special, something crazy, and I settled on the Appalchian Trail. It was an odd choice… I had never been much of a backpacker, outside of what I did in Boy Scouts, but it represented an adventure, a chance to test myself, not just in terms of the outdoors, but in terms of making friends and meeting people, too. Mostly, it was a chance to do something different, something extraordinary.

Most people say that hiking the Appalachian Trail changes your life. For me, I was never sure if it did or not. After I finished, I came home, found an apartment, later a house, and got a job, which I’ve been at for over five years now. Nothing extraordinary happened, in fact things were pretty mundane… but I think my mindset did change. It just didn’t always manifest itself in an obvious way. It altered the way I looked at the world, subtly but definitely. And it got me hooked on travel, although even that took a few years to fully manifest.

Now, once again, it’s Monday March 8th. I think I’m on the verge of another moment similar to the one that launched me North up the Appalachian Trail, but I’m not yet at the point where I’m ready to post about it in anything but vague terms. But suffice to say, if I follow through with what I’m planning, in a few months this blog is going to get a lot more interesting. As they say on the TV news, stay tuned for details.

A Question and a Good-Bye

Does it count as a rejection if a magazine to which you submitted a story closes down before they get back to you with an answer?

Atom Jack Magazine closed, which is a shame, as I thought they printed some dang good stories (and available for free, even). I was obviously not exactly a regular reader, though, seeing as they announced the closure in December and I didn’t notice until now. (I submitted my story in November… I just thought they were taking a while to respond!)