Here’s a short story about a cold weather adventure I had last year. With the weather dropping, I thought you all would enjoy! Groggily stumbling into my office, Elena – my HR director – began feigning a friendly speech.
Elena: “Andrew, your PTO is going to be docked; there’s 97 hours on the books, 17 hours need to be taken before 2020.”
Andrew: “Schedule me a five-day weekend so I can get away from here for a while. We can do that, right?”
Elena: “Does it matter what days?”
Andrew: “I gotta be at the courthouse in a few minutes, let me know what you put me on for.”
Welcome to our recurring series of “The Path Less Traveled.” In this series, we want to take you along for our exploits out in the wilderness while hiking, camping, exploring, and general adventuring. This will include our small daily victories, foibles, tips, tricks, and reviews of gear we authentically appreciate and frequently utilize. While a well-worn trail can often be the pathway to a leisurely day, the paths less traveled can often spur on some of the greatest memories, misadventures, and fun we could imagine. Join us in the Comments as we share our travels and hopefully, we can all come together for a greater appreciation of the outdoors.
Thick Thighs Save Lives, but Cold Weather is my Demise
I texted the girlfriend to find a warm destination for a three-day hike.
Our prosecutor brought us to a restaurant during recess. The cheese steak sandwich was drippy, napkin on lap, jacket off. Sent another message to girlfriend asking if she had found anything. No response.
Girlfriend: “The waterfalls at Pisgah are nice, 30-mile loop on the Art Loeb trail.”
Andrew: “Gimme more details later, ok?”
Cattle call day dwindled down, documentation and billing complete. Home was twenty minutes away.
I receive a phone call from an unknown, but local number, pretty sure my extended warranty wasn’t about to expire. Highway empty, phone on Bluetooth, still ignored. Phone call again. Same unknown number.
A woman franticly asked me if I knew if my girlfriend had drugs in her apartment. I didn’t recognize Theresa’s voice since she was running 100 miles a minute; girlfriend’s landlord. Theresa frequently inspected her properties and was well known for only accepting reputable tenants, police respected her.
A police buddy asked Theresa whether she thought the girlfriend’s house had drugs in it after stopping her and finding drugs in the car. Theresa wasn’t able to get ahold of the girlfriend so she contacted me. She reported to the officer that there were no concerns.
Andrew: “This is all news to me.”
I turn around at the closest U-turn. Apartment was quiet, girlfriend’s car wasn’t there. I check a drawer where I saw a propane blowtorch-like lighter before. Yep, a few glass bowls and silicone dab holders. I’d seen these things in discovery of evidence files at work, but never in real life.
Hurriedly packed my belongings in the trunk, got out of Dodge; key in the mailbox.
There was an initial discussion when beginning dating that I had a zero tolerance for any drugs. Emphasis on Zero Tolerance. A few days later, received a text:
Girlfriend: “I miss you.”
Andrew: “Get some help, get clean.”
Didn’t respond to any other calls or texts. Wanted to get away from all that. Wanted to get away from work, too.
Change of Plans
New Year’s 2020 rolls around, trails in North Carolina no longer sound appealing. The weather’s gonna be nearly 40*F in Davis the days Elena scheduled me for. Suitable enough for camping at Dolly Sods.
The trip out to Dolly Sods was less interesting than usual. Rolling through the Monongahela National Forest is usually a treat due to the untapped flora and fauna in the area, my attitude at the time was as positive as the 1929 stock market.
Heading further east, I notice things starting to look a lot more like what I’ve seen in Acadia more so than other parts of West Virginia. Dolly Sods’ environment is unique for this area, as the trees, terrain and weather are much more like higher altitude, greater north places like Canada, Aspen, or Southern Lake Tahoe.
Two hours of driving later, I see the recreational areas have barred gates locked.
“Okay, no problem. I’ll just hike up the hill.” I take the Red Creek Trail to Blackbird Knob, back to Rt 75. By this point, my thighs were feeling windswept, but thankfully my hands and feet remained warm. The temptation to head back to the car was present, but not at the forefront of my thoughts. To make it easier, I take the fire road up rest of the mountain; trash and beer cans littered everywhere. Despite the fire road gated since October, it sure as hell looks like there were a bunch of hee-haw beer drinking belligerence going on, especially at the picnic sites. I make it to Bear Rocks, by this point I was getting as tired as it was getting dark.
I headed east on Bear Rocks Trailhead and began noticing the major difference that tree density has on a quasi-ridge. At 4000 ft, about a quarter mile higher than where I parked, the wind was more brutal than the first time I heard Slayer at Warped Tour, the tree foliage blown back to mostly one direction, like you saw on those old Maxell ads.
About ten minutes in, my tolerance for weather broke. I set up my tent, heated up some water for tea, put in my ear plugs and went to bed. Sleeping was more difficult than usual, Mother Nature and Father Time having a domestic violence dispute all while baby weather was having a traumatic temper tantrum. It was 10pm and I was awoken not by the sounds outside of my tent, but by how cold I was… that and needing to pee. Being privileged, I knelt, unzipped the downwind side of my tent, and watered the foliage around me without having to egress.
My mobile phone indicated the CPU cores were at 5*C, I was desperate to warm myself up. Stuck my backpack in my sleeping bag, put my feet in the backpack. Despite having a 20*F sleeping bag, the insulation wasn’t helping enough. Retroactively, I doubt the backpack did either as it was insulating two foot shaped ice cubes.
Then, 2am comes around and I’m shivering. Weather stations only report 5 – 7 mph winds in Canaan Valley and Petersburg at this time, but I swear it felt like the wind was at least 15 mph. Being on a valley on top of the mountain with weathered trees and rocks leads me to believe I’m right. I wrap myself in one of those aluminized Mylar emergency blankets. I’ve had one in my bag for every trip and have never actually used one before. This made me excited to use it, but at the same time embarrassed that I had not prepared enough to “survive” out here.
My lack of patience led me to not focus fully on the environment, relying on past experiences and conditions. This is where I failed.
You’ve Realized this isn’t a Short Story, Right?
Next, 6am rolls by and the sun is starting to emerge over the horizon. My body is warm, feet still cold. I unzip my jacket, and end up using my Flameless Ration Heater inside the tent, inside my sleeping bag, inside the backpack.
Dude, if you don’t have an emergency FRH in your bag, what are you even doing with life? This thing WORKED! I was worried about the hydrogen gas, but did crack the downwind side of my tent at the top.
I swear I slept on a rock or root or something that night because waking up was enjoyable, but undesired. My back and neck were not getting any younger, and my body was nagging me for putting up with it. Packing things up was a chore.
For the sake of expediency, I planned on taking the fire road all the way down to my car. Not only was I cranky because of the cold while filtering some water (Thanks Luke!!!), the litter around me pissed me off. I decided to get my 13-gallon trash bag out and fill it with all the soda and beer cans I passed by.
It took about 3 hours to get back to the car after leaving camp, mostly for stopping and picking up Bud Light and other cheap beer trash from the ditch. It was frustrating seeing all the trash, but it was also frustrating stopping every thirty seconds or so to hunker over and pick up a can. There were several times where I wanted to just be like “fuck it, I’m tired, going home.”
My persistence paid off. By the time I reached Red Creek Cabins, I had collected 12 pounds of trash. That was the same weight as my backpack, sans water. I left the bag at the DNR office, and turned on my lovely, lovely thermostat in my car.
Not only had I hiked nearly 20 miles in a 20-hour period, I had persisted against the cold, my biggest enemy… or so I thought. While my patience runs thin for many things, I was able to take pride in cleaning my environment to ensure others have a nice place to be.
When you’re out in nature, no matter your mood or mental state, be sure to leave things better than you found them.