Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fall Camping at Big Meadows

I’d hoped to get out to Shenandoah last weekend but the sudden freezing temps threw me for a loop and I had to winterize.  Luckily this year it only took about an hour to get all the tasks done, this is down from it taking close to 5 *weeks*  last year! LOL!  This weekend, however, ended up being a much better weekend for fall camping!  This was also going to be the 1st time I really camped with the RV winterized.  I’ve slept in while it was winterized at my parents house and taken it on day trips, but never spent the night “out” with it winterized.

One the best parts of having an RV and driving it to school is that I’m not only “home” but also “on vacation” as soon as I walk to the van!  Friday was one of the longest days ever, I think we need to consider making Nov 1 a national holiday, and the moment that I stepped into the RV was pure bliss!  A tall drink and a snack and the prospect of heading to the mountains and life was perfect! 

Traffic wasn’t so bad and soon I found myself at the exit to take the scenic route through Marshall to Sperryville.  As I rolled through the countryside and saw the brilliant fall colors and the mountain rising up in the distance all the stress of the week started flying out the window with the breeze! It took about 2 hours to go from my classroom to Big Meadows, but it was as if they were in 2 entirely different worlds!

I’d been a bit worried about the campground filling up, but I didn’t need too, it was about 1/2 full!  The Rangers were assigning sites so I had to stand in line and wait as she answered every question under the sun for the two parties in front of me.   When I finally got up there I learned that the sites I’d stayed in before and liked were occupied but, since I was only staying Friday night, I could have a site “on the rim”!  There’s a line of sites that are right on the edge and have limited views of the mountains – better right now because there aren’t any leaves at the high elevations! I took it! 

My site happened to be almost on top of the site next to me and a bit secluded from the other sites.  I felt bad for intruding on their space, and really bad for pulling and immediately turning on my generator to heat up dinner.  It was only for 10 minutes and when I turned my generator off I noticed that theirs was on!  I had a nice chat with them – they were a couple in a pull-behind from The Outer Banks.  They were headed to see her family in Russellville, KY.  I’m pretty sure we used to take day trips to Russellville, KY from my grandparents place in Scottsville, KY.  Small world! 

From my picnic table I had a great view of the mountains changing color as the sun set!  I couldn’t see the actual sun set, just the evidence of it! My "Rim Site” also had cell phone signal!  That was very exciting!  I knew that I could get a great signal if I walked up to the picnic area, but I didn’t expect that there was anywhere in the campground that had a signal!  The only catch with the site was that it wasn’t very level.  I debated turning the fridge off (it was low in the back and I can’t even begin to fix that.  Not only that but getting it level is such a frustrating proposition and I’m not entirely convinced it’s necessary), but I really wanted to see if the fridge would stay on – it’s been having some issues running on LP but it’s not fitting a pattern that makes sense.  I decided that if I was uncomfortable sleeping I’d turn the fridge off and I wasn’t so I left the fridge on, hope it didn’t do damage!

By the time I finished dinner and meeting the neighbors the sun had set and it was quickly getting dark.  I headed out to get in a walk before it was too dark.  I love walking through the campground and checking out everyone’s tents, RVs and other gear!  On my way in I’d noticed another Sprinter Van camper – a Roadtrek 19ft Short Sprinter - so I walked that direction and as luck would have it, the owners were outside (they are 2 people living in a teeny tiny van, of course they were outside! LOL!).  They were both really nice, avid hikers, backpackers and campers,  they’d been through several Volkswagon van campers long before they got their Roadtrek.  We chatted about good hikes, RV troubles, and RV solutions!  I never got their names but they were from Michigan.  By the time I continued on my way it was totally dark.  I looked at my phone – it was 7:00.  Winter Camping Problem Number 1: it gets dark hours before bedtime and we haven’t even changed the clocks yet!

I continued walking even though it was dark, what else was I going to do?  It was really dark though and my eyes couldn’t adjust to the dark because there were so many flashlights, propane lights and car lights interfering, so I went back to the RV to deal with Winter Camping Problem Number 2: doing the dishes.  I hadn’t thought of this until I had a dirty soup bowl from dinner.  Luckily SNP has Utility sinks in the bathrooms for just this purpose.  I grabbed the dishes and my headlamp and headed out.  I had to walk all the way across the campground to find a Utility sink but when I did I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had hot water!  I got the dishes clean and headed back to the RV.  It was 7:45.  So much for doing the dishes as an “evening activity”. 

It was very nice outside and I had a great view of the lights of Luray and no one behind me, and there were no bugs so I decided to throw the back doors of the van open and enjoy the crisp evening air and the view from the coziness of my bed!  I decided that the LED overhead lights were too harsh so I kept my headlamp on.  It was just like “real” camping…aside from the big giant comfy pillow and the ultra leather covered memory foam mattress! LOL!  I checked a few things on my phone and then read my book until it was bed time. 

I was nice and cozy all night in my sleeping bag!  It only went down to 45* which was perfect! I woke up around 6:15, which for me, is sleeping in since I’m usually up by 5:15, but the sun wasn’t going to rise until 7:45! Another problem with Winter Camping, although this will be fixed, for a little while anyway, with the time change. I finally started moving around 7:15 and by 7:45 I was enjoying breakfast at the picnic table watching the sun rise!  I couldn’t see the actual sun rise – my van was blocking it – but I watched as the light grew stronger and brighter! 

A little before 9 I headed out of the campground, stopping at a bathhouse to fill up on water in hydration pack and in some bottles to put in the black tank (it wasn’t going below freezing, I wasn’t using antifreeze when water is free, I’d just have to fill the tank so I could dump it.) After getting water I stopped at the Wayside and got some SNP stickers for the table and headed to the trailhead.  There was hardly anyone in the park.  It was very quiet and peaceful. 

By 9:45 I was parked in the Stony Man overlook and heading north on the AT toward the Corbin Cabin Cutoff Trail.  Dad and I had hiked this same loop about 10 years ago and it kicked my butt! It’s about a mile and half down hill followed by a mile and a half uphill – about 1,300 ft of elevation change., then you walk about a mile on the AT which is rolling ridge line (32 floors according to my fitbit). The whole hike about 4 miles total and I added an extra mile by starting and ending in the overlook rather than trailhead parking area. When Dad and I did this hike it was an all day thing and I remember the uphill being painful and I was near tears on the AT portion because my feet hurt and I was so tired.  Today I did the hike in about 3 hours and it wasn’t a big deal at all!  It seemed easy! :-) 

Back at the RV after the hike I changed my clothes and ran the generator to heat up lunch. I was a bit worried about destroying the peace and quiet in the overlook by firing up my generator but I did it anyway.  It wasn’t long though until a group of about 10 motorcycle riders roared into the overlook making a lot more noise than my generator! 

After lunch it was time to begin thinking about the other things I needed to accomplish this weekend – the grocery shopping, the cooking, the chores, prepping for parent conferences…   It was so nice driving along Skyline Drive enjoying the fall colors and the fresh air I decided not to head into Sperryville but to take Skyline Drive all the way to Front Royal.  The first few miles of the North District were very nice – plenty of color and few cars.  Soon I came to a whole bunch of cars stopped in the road, with people out of their cars aiming cameras into the woods.  Bear Jam.  I did get to see both bears – mama and cub – before they lumbered off into the woods! The closer I got to Front Royal the more people I encountered.  The overlooks were full, the trailheads had cars overflowing out of them parked on Skyline Drive, there was no parking at the Elkwallow Wayside or the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center.  I’ve never seen so many people in the park.  It was crazy.  There was at least one other bear jam – and yes I got to see that bear too! A small cub who seemed to be all alone.  There was another spot where a bunch of cars were stopped and there was a Ranger directing traffic, I believe there was a bear in the woods, but I couldn’t see.  As I headed out of the park there was a HUGE line of cars between the Entrance Station and 340, probably taking more than an hour just to get in. 

As I blew past them all I was grateful I’d timed my visit the way I did! Very few people were coming in last night and this morning on my hike I saw 2 people and one dog and then I was heading out by the time most people were heading in!  This will probably be one of the last weekends for the big crowds, winter will arrive soon and that usually means all the people go away!

Overall it was a perfect 24 hour vacation! Can’t wait to do it again!

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