Friday, November 25, 2016

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

I struggled with the title of this post for a minute. I thought about "Chuck and Grace Do The AT" and tossed that in favor of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving." In the spirit of Peanuts, Thanksgiving does not have to be big and opulent to be great. It's not about things or food. It's about being with the ones you love and celebrating that you're still here enjoying this show that we call life. Our Thanksgiving yesterday was non-traditional, tiny, decidedly on the cheap, and above all, wonderful.


Grace aka Brown
Our Thanksgiving was a day with our dogs Charlie and Grace, who goes by Brown more often than Grace, hence our Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. They don't often appear in the blog because they stay home most of the time. Grace is an eager and enthusiastic hiker and if we just had her, she'd go with us often. Charlie, on the other hand, is our problem child. He's a fearful dog, doesn't do well in new surroundings, and dreads traveling. You can see the difference in the two in the photo below as they get fitted out in their harnesses: Brown is eager to go; Chuck is hating life.

Chuck Hates to Leave the House; Grace is Ready
The reason we're hiking at all on Thanksgiving this year is that the nest is empty. My girls went to see their cousins in Tidewater and Carter went to be with his father in NoVa. After going through a little despondency that we wouldn't have a big Thanksgiving as we have forever, we decided to make lemonade out of these particular lemons and just have a day to ourselves on the trail. What we forgot was that in going to his dad's, our usual dogsitter, Carter, would be unable to take care of the dogs. So, we decided to hike some place close (Charlie hates travel) and give the dogs some exercise. The closest hiking for us is the AT at either Snicker's Gap or Ashby Gap, both about 16 miles from the house, Snicker's being easiest for us to reach.

Approach Trail from Snicker's Gap to AT
We had most recently hiked north from Snicker's Gap to Raven Rocks in April, but it had been years since I have been up to the wildly popular Bear's Den Rocks on the south side of the gap. Since I have been south on the AT here, there have been a lot of improvements and the AT has actually been relocated a touch in this area, for the better. Among the improvements are the signs that you see, attesting to the popularity of this easily reached location in close proximity to a large urban center.

Sign the AT and the Approach Trail
The main attraction here are the Bear's Den Rocks with their view of Route 7, the Shenandoah River, and the Shenandoah Valley with Berryville and Winchester in the background. Given that the rocks are situated an easy walk from a major four-lane highway, herds of people visit the rocks, while only a tiny fraction of them continue south on the AT. As a result, the area around the rocks is trampled nearly to death and is never quiet. Yesterday was no exception. Thanksgiving Day saw lots and lots of visitors to the rocks.

Route 7 and the Valley from Bear's Den Rocks

I Love the Pines on the Rocks

Bear's Den Rocks with Bands of Quartz

Close Up of Quartz Banding
Despite the popularity of Bear's Den Rocks, very few visitors head south from them on the AT into what is affectionately known as the Rollercoaster, a series of hills to be scaled and descended over and over again for miles. The climbs aren't very high as a rule, but they are relentless and they can be pretty steep in sections. This section of the AT doesn't offer any reward (no waterfalls or sweeping vistas) and so many hikers refer to the hills as PUDs, pointless ups and downs.

Whatever you call them, these hills are a really good workout and while each hill is not that strenuous on its own, at the end of the day, you will know you have been on a hike. Because the park corridor is so narrow through this section (we passed two houses backed onto the trail and heard guns and chainsaws blazing all around us), the trail doesn't really have the option of making wide sweeping S curves around the sides of hills; it really does have to go straight up and over for the entire section between Snicker's Gap and Ashby Gap past the Mount Weather complex.

Only Color of the Day

Cool Shelf Fungi

Boulder Wearing a Crown of Ferns
I had it in mind to walk to the Sam Moore shelter and have lunch there, but the climb up from Spout Run on the last hill before the shelter pretty much wiped Charlie out. Ann too. While he seemed to be having a good time doing his thing and drinking in and wading through every creek (as opposed to Grace whose feet shall never be wet), his roll slowed to a crawl going up the hill, so we stopped on a convenient trailside rock and had lunch and water, dogs first, then humans.

In honor of Thanksgiving and as a surprise for Ann, I made sandwiches of turkey breast, cranberry relish, and a traditional dressing so we could have a little mini celebration trailside. Not having any breakfast to speak of, I was famished and demolished my sandwich while both dogs begged for (unforthcoming) handouts. Ann seemed to be pleased at my little surprise.

Turkey, Cranberry, and Dressing Sandwich
After lunch, we headed back north in the direction of the car. The weather was really fantastic for this late in the year. Although it was mainly cloudy all day with a few sprinkles here and there, it was warm, in the lower 50s. There was no question in my mind, when I took the dogs out at 7:30 in the morning, that I would be wearing shorts. I wore shorts and a long-sleeved polypro shirt while Ann, reacting to the horrid weather of the prior weekend, was fully layered. We definitely have different cold tolerance levels.

On our hike back, we passed a couple and three singles coming south, including two SOBOs. It strikes me as very late in the year to be thru-hiking with snow looming in the Smokies, but hey, more power to them. I hope they get to Springer without too much bad weather and without having to bypass the higher peaks for snow.

The Dogs Seemed to Like the Rocks

Tuckered Chuck

Sleepy Brown Dog, Where's the Eagerness Now?
The final climb back towards the rocks and Bear's Den Trail Center is a good climb. At one point, I thought I was going to have to carry Charlie but with enough enforced stops, he made it on his own. After a final look-see at Bear's Den Rocks, we descended to the parking lot and the car. Charlie, who is deathly afraid of the Jeep and traveling, has never looked happier to see the Jeep. He and Grace crashed in the back seat and slept the 20 minutes back to the house.

After getting cleaned up, we decided to cap off our Thanksgiving by seeing Allied (a really well done movie) at Alamo and having some drinks at the bar beforehand. For a movie theatre, they have a pretty decent selection of craft beer including rotating Brooklyn and Dogfish Head taps. In spite of this, I seem pretty much to gravitate to Bell's Two Hearted Ale when I am there.

Cobbler Mountain Cider for Ann

Bells' Two Hearted Ale for Ed
Our Thanksgiving was unusual (a hike with the dogs, beers, and a movie) but it was really great in that Ann and I got to spend all of it together without having to worry about seeing to others. It's the first Thanksgiving I have not cooked in 35 years, 30 for Ann. There's always next year for that. I loved having the day completely off to do whatever we wanted. And I thinks the dogs had a good time too. It was a Happy Thanksgiving.

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