Crazy Ass Backpacking/Whatever Girls’ Weekend

Things often turn out differently than I think they will.

I mean, that’s the truth with pretty much anything–from that potato salad I posted on Monday to trying to understand family dynamics. And, trust me, I don’t like it. I’m a planner. I’m really big into Google Docs (or Drive, whatever it’s called now), researching the wazoo out of places to eat on the internet, and, when I was in college, mapping and remapping my class schedule for the upcoming semester.

So when my friend, A., said she could come to town a week earlier than we planned, I was flustered. For about a second. I mean, that wasn’t the plan. But I’ve been trying to focus more on Embracing the Unknown or Letting Go or Learning to Love Life (or any cheesy phrase you want to throw in the mix), so I took a deep breath and texted back something to the effect of “of course, sounds awesome!”

And then I subsequently hatched the backpacking plot.

See, A. and her now fiance-then-boyfriend thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail the summer after A. & I graduated college. Talk about ballsy, no? And since hiking would be the only thing we’d want to do the weekend she visited, I figured why not just backpack between the three peaks Roanoke’s well known for–Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. Even better, the entire valley had been fogged when A. hiked them on her thru-hike which meant she never got to see the views from any of the peaks.

Plan set in stone, I cleaned the house, gathered my backpacking gear, and we set off last Friday afternoon for Dragon’s Tooth.

With a slightly later start than we’d hoped (a pit stop for a bear bag rope and a new Camelback for me–my 10 year old Platypus bit the dust, unfortunately), we tromped up the trail towards Dragon’s Tooth. Now, can we talk honestly for a moment? Backpacking is freaking hard work!!! I mean, geez, I know it had been a few years since I’d last backpacked anywhere (faaaar too long, I know), but I totally forgot that backpacking is completely different than hiking. Especially if one’s pack doesn’t fit properly, which, it appears, mine does not. And although I do not hold it against her whatsoever, A. totally left me in the dust. A. is in much better shape than me. For reals.

Thankfully, since the trail to the peak was an out and back off the AT, I could ditch my backpack before scrambling up to the peak (there is rebar involved–I would have killed myself, just fallen off the side of the mountain if I’d tried it with my pack) to meet A. Red faced & sweaty, I was beyond thrilled to see the top. Given that I’d just hiked the mountain two weeks before, it was an embarrassing way to test my fitness with and without a pack.

At least the views were spectacular.

Since the sun was setting and we didn’t know how long we’d have (with the mountain range blocking the sun), we tromped back down the trail, I picked up my pack, and we set off for the first campsite. (We’d been aiming for one farther down the trail, but it was almost night by the time we got to the site, so we needed to settle for it.)

A group of four plus one dog (a very mean, growling dog that acted like it was going to bite us the entire time) was already there and, although I’m not the biggest people-person, A. reassured me that it was fun to camp with another group, and we then set up our tent and pulled out the fixins for dinner–chana masala and basmati rice (the chana masala compliments of an Indian grocery store, the basmati rice the prepackaged & cooked stuff available in packs at Target). (The meal was fine, not the greatest, but not all that bad for two pre-cooked items in vacuum sealed packs.)

Then the adventure began.

We’re sitting there on a really uncomfortable log talking with the other people (who, it appeared, had hiked up with a cooler full of beer and intended to stay up late drinking and talking loudly–not exactly the best camping partners) when a black widow spider the size of a quarter skitters out from between our legs. Oh. My. Shit. It’s officially the biggest black widow I’ve ever seen. Ever. And I’ve seen a few. The red hourglass on it’s jet black body? Oh, that thing was keeping time it was so big, so red, so defined.

One of the other campers killed it. I was on the fence about the issue–I mean, it was in its own habitat, who are we to kill an animal in its home that isn’t hurting us? The catcher is “yet,” though, so I see the other side of the issue. Kill it before it hurts you.

Post-black widow, we cleaned up our area, hung our bear bag (something which our camp mates had no concept of), and crawled into our tent. The other campers are loud as can be, their dog growling menacingly at shadows in the trees. I put in my ear plugs and try to sleep, though I don’t, and, as time goes on, I hear the group get periodically louder with moments of screaming, though I can’t tell what the words are.

Around 1:30 am, A. nudges me and asks if she thinks we should pack up, that she doesn’t think it’s safe for us. Turns out that our camping neighbors are tripping on acid (or something–I don’t know the names of whatever people love these days) and one of them decided to pull out a knife and then scream that he’s going to kill us all. Fantastic. Someone’s tripping and wants to kill us. Plus it’s 1:30 and we haven’t slept at all. What’s a girl to do?

(Also note, in her six months on the trail, A. has never experience anything like what happened that night. I’m right there with her. We normally wouldn’t leave the trail, but given the circumstances it seemed really stupid to stay there with those people–no telling what would have set them off and how we might have been hurt.)

We stayed low for a little longer until the others quieted down a little and then broke camp in 10 minutes flat. Hit the trail at an almost run, our headlamps the only light source since it appeared to be a new moon. Thankfully we were only a few miles from the car, so it didn’t take too long, though I kept wondering if a crazy person was going to run up behind me and carry me off into the dark (ohhh imagination). Down in the parking lot we turned off our headlamps, looked up, and stared at an expanse of stars littering the sky–the milky way off in one corner, no moon smudging any stars out. It was everything we hadn’t been able to experience back in camp, a gift during the insane events of the evening.

The next morning, groggy and bleary eyed, we stumbled out of our beds around 10 am and ran down the hill to The Noke Truck for breakfast tacos. A. ordered chicken tacos, but I went with the morning’s special–scrambled egg tacos with cheese. Beats trail food, no? And we ate it outside on our patio, so that’s like nature-y, right? (The tacos were great–nothing special, just eggs and tortillas and cheese and salsa, but simple can be so perfect sometimes.)

Too soon after eating, we met up with friends at Pop’s and, not being hungry, we split a sandwich and ordered milkshakes. I figured on top of my Irish Cream soused coffee, more coffee would be good in the form of an espresso chip shake which could explain for why we stayed up until 3 am that night talking. On so little sleep, why would I do that? The avocado-swiss-artichoke-mustard-tomato sandwich at Pop’s never fails and it was the perfect midday snack. At that point it appeared that our backpacking trip had turned into an eating trip. I’m never one to complain with that shift in events.

The rest of the day was passed in a blur of cookie making (our second time making Ricki’s Coconut Macaroons–super yum), documentary watching (Appalachian Trail by National Geographic, the Dr. Bronner’s documentary, and Religulous), wine drinking, and talking. Let’s just say it started to look like a more typical girls weekend than fleeing for our lives in the dark on the Appalachian Trail. (smile)

The next morning was an early one (why oh why did we stay up till 3 am??) since we wanted to hike McAfee’s Knob before I needed to pick G up at the airport (he’d been out of town all week at a conference). Although I’d hiked it several times already this year, McAfee’s never gets old and I was stoked to tromp it without the cumbersome backpack from Friday night.

On the trail we spotted some wildlife beyond squirrels (always exciting) including a deer and an Eastern Fence Lizard (identified by A.
from the other week–thanks!), and even caught up with two groups of late-season thru-hikers who had been on the trail for two months at this point. (A. shared some great tips and a bag of cheese with them–strangely, since moving to Roanoke, I’ve never run into any thru-hikers on the AT until that day. Awesome timing.)

We took about a million pictures on the knob and I even managed to scootch to the edge and have a few taken of me. Sunny and not too hot, we couldn’t have picked a better day to hike, though I could have done without the sunburn (forgot sunscreen, whoops). And it was awesome to be up there when A. finally got to see what all the hubabaloo is about McAfee’s–awesome hike all around.

We raced back down the mountain since I needed to get G at the airport and A. then headed back home to Greensboro. Since both of us were starved, G was all for going to The Homeplace, the celebrated family style Southern restaurant in Catawba between Dragon’s Tooth and McAfee’s Knob. Though I wish A. could have joined, I was pretty excited to check the restaurant out after hearing about it for years from thru-hikers and others who love hiking and then refueling at the Southern establishment.

Holy food, you get a lot. We shared three meats–fried chicken, country ham, and roast beef–along with all the fixings: coleslaw, biscuits, green beans, pinto beans, mashed potatoes, baked apples, gravy, and cobbler for dessert. Enough food to feed…well, maybe one thru-hiker…but second and thirds are encouraged if you can stuff it all in. Which I’m not ashamed to say I did my fair share of.

Is the food phenomenal, mindblowing? No. But it’s Southern-style comfort food and it’s hard to beat that. There’s not much of that up here in Virginia and the restaurant reminded me so much of home that it was hard not to fall in love. Oh, and a word of note, whatever time they tell you the wait will be, it’s probably half that. We were told forty-five minutes and it only took fifteen. G said that’s typical of the restaurant.

Did the weekend turn out as planned? Nope. But it was amazing–AND we didn’t get knifed on the trail. That’s always a plus! A. is moving out to Nebraska to be with her fiance is in grad school there, so this was our last hurrah. And what a weekend it was. Tons of memories, not dying, hiking fantastic trails, sunset off Dragon’s Tooth, good food, friends, wine, and plenty of time to talk. Love that girl. Going to miss her. Not going to miss black widows or people tripping on acid. Let’s keep them to a minimum!

The Homeplace
4968 Catawba Valley Dr
Catawba, VA 24070
(540) 384-7252
Open Thursday-Sunday

10 Responses to “Crazy Ass Backpacking/Whatever Girls’ Weekend”
  1. WOW what a night you guys had!! yikes! the scenery looks gorgeous — but i’d do without the black widow!

  2. FoodFeud says:

    Whoaa, wild times. Glad you guys are okay! The photos of you two on the very edge are just as scary to me, wow, but it looks incredibly beautiful.

  3. OK, you’d never catch me on that edge! Yikes!

    Glad you escaped the crazy people & had a good trip!

  4. eileen says:

    That is definitely one of the most stressful camping stories I’ve ever heard! The most I ever had to deal with is people getting loud due to drunkenness–and that was at a public campsite where they got fined by the rangers, as opposed to way up away from other humans. Glad the rest of your weekend went better!

  5. Ricki says:

    HOLY MOLY what an adventure, indeed! I would have been out of there much sooner (maybe the spider? Maybe the first sign of noise? Maybe the growling dog?–any and all!). And are you mad, women, to sit that close to the edge??? (Well clearly you made it back, but still. . . ). Glad it turned out fun and you got to see the view from the knob. And eat some amazing food! (Thanks for the shout-out re: macaroons, too!) :D

    • Jes says:

      The macaroons are becoming something of a tradition for us! Seems we make them every time we see each other–love how food connects people!

  6. blueridgebluecollargirl says:

    Oh my Lord…that was indeed a crazy ass camping trip! Reading about it made my Mama-heart beat faster (I think you’re around my daughter Ariel’s age), as did looking at the shots of you sitting on the edge of that cliff. Yikes! I’m relieved to know that all turned out well—sounds like the rest of the weekend was lovely. McAfee’s Knob will always hold a special place in my heart as I hiked there when I was nine months pregnant with Ariel. It was probably a stupid thing to do when I was past my due date, but I remember it fondly.

  7. Renae says:

    Wow, that’s quite a tale. The black widow was bad enough, but at least that seems like a relatively normal backpacking experience. Who goes backpacking on the AT and has to run from a knife fight? That sounds more dangerous than living in Baltimore! I’m glad you were able to spend the rest of the weekend enjoying a lot of comfort food; sounds like you needed comforting after that. You’ve pretty much talked me out of ever going backpacking :) At least you have a great story to tell.

    I was going to ask when you went to McAfee’s Knob with your mom but figured I’d look stupid somehow, but now I need to know. Who took the picture you are both in? Is there just always some other hiker about you can ask? Is there a third member of your party that you didn’t mention? Is there a park ranger whose sole job is to take pictures of hikers on the overhang? Did you take a tripod and do you have some super-powerful remote for your camera? Am I overthinking this? I MUST KNOW.

  8. chow vegan says:

    Yikes! Glad to hear you guys made it out ok! Love the outdoors but not much of a camper myself. Eating trips are definitely more my speed. :-)

  9. Anya Tsent says:

    Ahhh good times, good times :D When people ask me about the weekend I almost got knifed in the woods I’m just going to refer them to this post and call it a day.

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