Exploring Shenandoah National Park
I’ve mentioned it before, and I’ll say it again. Living on the east coast certainly has its perks when it comes to proximity to trails. So, when the beautiful epicurean told me she needed to make a trip to the University of Virginia for work, I was eager to tag along and run some trails in nearby Shenandoah National Park. I was able to set aside my dislike for UVA due to my Virginia Tech alumnus status, and embrace my time in Charlottesville, VA.
We made the 5 hour drive on a Thursday afternoon, leaving me enough time for a shake-out run around campus before dinner with friends. Upon returning to the hotel, I discovered that I had forgotten the cap for my hydration bladder. This certainly didn’t bode well for what I hoped would be an extended trip to the park. I considered duct tape my best option after a quick search revealed no nearby stores with new bladders. I stayed positive, and got everything squared away for a long jaunt in the woods the next day.
I had planned to wake up early to make the 45 minute drive to the trailhead, but need to wait for stores to open so I could find some duct tape. After my first stop was a bust, I found myself at Walmart and surprisingly discovered a cheap bladder that seemed like it would fit in my pack with some creative adjustments. It certainly wasn’t ideal, and the cheap valve ultimately ended up slowly leaking and wetting out my shirt, but it worked well enough that I was able to focus on the adventure at hand!
I arrived at the Old Rag Mountain trail parking lot around 10am after a winding but uneventful drive. There was a couple getting ready to venture out on a hike, but the lot was empty otherwise. Temps were in the 30s with a slight breeze and overcast skies, which no doubt kept more people away. Over the course the day, I maybe saw 5 people, and seemed to have the entire park to myself, which was just fine with me! After a few confusing minutes, I found the trailhead and even managed to accurately use a compass to send myself in the direction I had planned. If you know how directionly challenged I am, then you realize what a big deal this was for me!
The route I had originally mapped out didn’t involve summiting Old Rag Mountain. However, I’d heard more than a few amazing stories and seen plenty of pictures of the views, so clearly I needed to climb! I took the more runnable trail up to the summit with little issue, and bagged some serious elevation gain in the process. The views at all stages of the climb were as incredible as promised, and I was quite thankful I had decided on the detour. I’ll let the pictures tell the story!
After Old Rag, my next destination was Lower and Upper White Oak Falls. As I navigated my map and the trails I was running, I couldn’t help but be impressed with how well I’d been able to follow the map I’d laid out for myself. This no doubt seems pretty trivial to most folks, but it seemed like a major accomplishment for me. I took in the gorgeous scenery along the way, stopping for pictures and I made sure to pause enough to appreciate the silent, still winter beauty around me, minus the snow that the park had clearly not seen as of late.
In all, I wandered to the tune of 22 miles or so, complete with over 6,000 feet of gain, which made for a quality training run. More importantly, however, the opportunity to explore a new national park and further remind myself of why I love being out on the trails so much. I probably could have spent the rest of the day and all night out there and been perfectly happy, but my empty hydration pack and lack of additional nutrition made for a logical end to the day. Plus, I had another delicious dinner in Charlottesville waiting for me when I got back. All in all, it was the perfect opportunity for #chasing42!